Ukraine’s ‘De-Naftification’ of Russia (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 63


Executive Summary:

  • The provision of US-made ATACMS and other Western long-range capabilities looks to enable Ukraine to strike military targets in Russian-occupied Crimea.
  • The passage of the long-delayed US aid package has given Kyiv’s other Western partners momentum to commit more support to Ukraine as Russian forces prepare for an impending offensive.
  • Ukrainian forces will likely continue their highly effective “de-naftification” campaign in targeting energy and military facilities within Crimea and Russia.  

Ukraine’s strikes on military targets deep within Russian territory have picked up in recent months (see Part One). Overnight on April 23 and 24, Ukrainian drones attacked and set ablaze oil refineries in Smolensk, Voronezh, and Lipetsk (Ukrainska Pravda, April 24). In the first half of April alone, Ukraine attacked energy facilities in eight Russian regions, including oil refineries and electric substations (BBC News Ukrainian, April 20). Earlier, the Shahed 136/131 drone factory near Yelabuga, Tatarstan—more than 1,000 kilometers from Ukraine’s eastern border—was also attacked (Espreso, April 2; see EDM, March 4, April 11). More recently, Russia’s 112-year-old submarine supply ship Kommuna was damaged in an attack on Sevastopol (Ukrainska Pravda, April. 21). Against the backdrop of a new infusion of Western aid, Ukraine’s “de-naftification” campaign against Russia looks to destabilize the Russian home front further (see EDM, December 21, 2023).

Early in the war, Russia blocked and threatened Ukrainian shipping from Odesa by controlling Snake Island, the “Boyko Towers,” and basing a large naval contingent in Sevastopol. In July 2023, Russia demanded the West lift sanctions in return for renewing the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Kyiv and the West refused, and the deal was not renewed (see EDM, July 19, 24, 2023). Since then, Ukraine has independently removed these three threats and is now exporting more grain than before the invasion (Armiya Inform, June 30, 2023; Holos Ameryky, September 23, 2023; Glavkom, September 29, 2023; Radio Svoboda, February 21).

Western views on Ukrainian attacks inside Russia can be divided into hawks and doves (UAInfo, July 4, 2022; Henry Jackson Society, October 30, 2023). The hawks—which include the United Kingdom, the four Scandinavian and three Baltic states, Poland, and Czechia—have publicly stated that their goal is Russia’s complete military defeat, and, as such, they support Ukrainian strikes on energy and military targets within Russia. The doves have been led by the United States and Germany, who have yet to clearly define their goal in supporting Ukraine, though the US Congress’ recent approval of the long-delayed aid package offers a glimmer of hope.

France has emerged as a leader in supporting Ukraine’s more aggressive tactics. At the July 2023 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Vilnius, Paris came out in support of Ukraine’s NATO membership for the first time (LB.UA, June 20, 2023). French President Emmanuel Macron has even raised the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and has not opposed the use of long-range SCALP and Aster 30 missiles against Russian targets in Crimea (UNIAN, March 14).

France stresses that Ukraine has a right under the UN Charter to launch attacks inside Russia. In early January, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman asserted, “There is an aggressor state, Russia, which is carrying out a strategy of terror by deliberately striking essential civilian infrastructure, in violation of international humanitarian law, and an attacked state, Ukraine, which is acting in self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter” (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 3). French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne later confirmed that Ukraine has every right to act in self-defense (Le Monde, January 15).

In contrast, Washington has urged Kyiv to halt attacks on Russian energy installations (Ukrayinski Natsionalni Novyny, March 22). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by pointing out that the attacks are being carried out by domestically produced weapons and asserted that he would not accept Western restrictions. Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna described Russian energy as a “legitimate target” from a military perspective (TodayUA, March 22). In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did admit that Ukraine decides its own tactics and that it is up to Kyiv “whether to take actions that go beyond its borders” (NV, April 28). The newly approved US aid package reportedly includes long-range ATACMs, which would allow Ukraine to strike military targets in Crimea. UK, French, and US long-range missiles are not capable of damaging the Kerch bridge to such an extent it is put out of action; only German Taurus missiles are capable of successfully fulfilling this task.

Germany has similarly straddled a balancing act between Ukraine’s right to self-defense and not allowing German weapons to be used inside Russia. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said that Ukraine’s right for self-defense is defined “within the bounds of international law” (Telegraph, August 23, 2023). German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, continues to stand by the decision not to send long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine for fear that “improper use … threatens to strike Moscow” (RBC-Ukraine, April 24).

Germany and the United States have also been ambivalent regarding Ukrainian attacks in Russian-occupied Crimea. Both governments, nevertheless, denounced Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea and view the peninsula as part of Ukraine (The White House, February 26, 2021; Deutsche-Welle, March 16). Therefore, an attack against targets in Crimea would not be considered strikes on Russian territory. The changed US position on ATACMs looks to put pressure on Scholz to unblock the sending of Taurus missiles to Ukraine, which will be critical in attacking the Kerch bridge and liberating the occupied peninsula.

Caution over the Russian response and its potential global impact has produced a faulty policy approach in some Western countries of providing insufficient military aid to Ukraine in an untimely manner (BBC News Ukrainian, November 27, 2023). This approach has four primary roots. First, higher oil prices due to global shortages could become a central theme of the upcoming elections in the United States and elsewhere. Second, the fear of nuclear escalation, in which Russia would react by launching a tactical nuclear strike against Ukraine, has weakened the resolve of some Western states (Holos Ameryky, July 27, 2023). Similarly, in 1990–91, US President George H. W. Bush feared the disintegration of the Soviet Union would lead to a “nuclear Yugoslavia,” which led to his ill-fated “Chicken Kyiv” speech (, August 1, 1991). Third, some Western leaders fear that a complete military defeat of Russia will lead to its violent disintegration. Ukrainians, however, welcome that rupture, viewing it as necessary to de-imperialize, demilitarize, and decolonize the Russian Empire (LB.UA, November 23, 2023). Fourth, discouraging Ukrainian strikes within Russia stems from the fear of escalating and spreading hostilities beyond Ukraine. Yet, Moscow has already escalated the fighting by intensifying its military cooperation with Iran, North Korea, and China (see EDM, February 22, 28). During the first two years of the war, Chinese-Russian trade dramatically increased, with China becoming one of the largest importers of Russian energy but refraining from supplying military aid. That is changing as Beijing is now reportedly the “main supplier” of Russia’s military-industrial complex (, April 13; European Pravda, April 19).

Kyiv will likely continue its multifaceted attacks against military targets and energy infrastructure within Russia (Holos Ameryky, April 20). While the United States has opposed such attacks, the provision of long-range ATACMs will allow Ukrainian forces to strike Crimea. As a result, Germany may be pressured to unblock Taurus missiles for Ukraine. Additionally, the passage of US aid has given fresh impetus for more support from Kyiv’s other Western partners. Two days after the US Congress approved the aid, the United Kingdom announced its largest military support package (Militarnyi, April 23). That momentum will be crucial to maintain as Russian forces look to be gearing up for an impending offensive.