Ukraine hits Russian refinery almost 800 km from border as drone sophistication increases


Ukraine launched a wave of long-range drones against targets deep inside Russia on Tuesday, Russian officials said, hitting at least two oil facilities in the attack on eight regions of Russia in one of the biggest displays so far of Kyiv’s expanding drone capacity.

Also Tuesday, soldiers who Kyiv officials say are Russian volunteers fighting for Ukraine reported to have crossed the border into Russia, as they have several times during the war. Russia said it had beaten back attempted incursions, but it wasn’t possible to verify either side’s claims and the reports of border fighting were murky.

Alleged incursions reported occasionally during the war are the subject of claims and counterclaims, as well as disinformation and propaganda.

One Ukrainian drone struck and set ablaze an oil refinery in the Nizhny Novgorod region, according to regional governor Gleb Nikitin. That region is located some about 775 kilometres from the Ukraine border.

Drone technology improving

In another deep strike, a drone was shot down in the Moscow region, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Though it was brought down well south of the city centre, the drone was close to Zhukovsky Airport, one of Moscow’s four international airports.

A fire burns in the distance at night.
A fire breaks out following a Ukrainian drone strike at an oil depot in Oryol, Russia, on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Another drone hit an oil depot in Oryol, 116 kilometres from Ukraine.

The strikes appeared to be evidence of Ukraine’s growing sophistication in domestic drone technology and its brashness in taking the war to Russia, after the Kremlin’s forces launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last year that his country had developed a weapon that hit a target 700 kilometres away, in an apparent reference to drones.

Ukraine has also increasingly deployed sea drones in the Black Sea, where it claims to have sunk Russian warships.

Kyiv’s forces are hoping for more military supplies from Ukraine’s Western partners, but in the meantime are struggling against a bigger and better-provisioned Russian army that is pressing hard at certain front-line points inside Ukraine.

Zelenskyy claims battlefield situation improving

Zelenskyy said that recent Russian advances have been halted and that the battlefield situation is now significantly better than in the previous three months.

“We had some difficulties due to the lack of artillery shells, long-range weapons, sky blocking and the high density of Russian drones,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with France’s BFM TV and Le Monde published late Monday on the Ukrainian presidential website.

Kyiv’s increasingly bold attacks behind the 1,500-kilometre front line running through eastern and southern Ukraine are coinciding with Russia’s presidential election March 15-17. President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win another six-year term, but Ukraine’s attacks on Russian soil could embarrass him and attacks on oil facilities could raise gas prices.

WATCH | Canada sending hundreds of military-grade drones to Ukraine: 

Canada sending hundreds of military-grade drones to Ukraine

Defence Minister Bill Blair announces the government is sending more than 800 military-grade drones to Ukraine as concerns mount that Kyiv is faltering on the battlefield, and that it can no longer rely on the United States for support.

Industry sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the main crude distillation unit was damaged in the oil refinery attack, which means that at least half of the refinery’s production is halted. 
The NORSI refinery refines about 15.8 million tonnes of Russian crude a year, or 5.8 per cent of total refined crude, according to industry sources. It also refines about 4.9 million tonnes of gasoline, 11 per cent of Russia’s total.

The Russian Defence Ministry also said Tuesday that drones were intercepted over the Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Leningrad and Tula regions of Russia.

Separately, the ministry said that one Tochka-U ballistic missile, with a range of about 70 kilometres, and eight Vampire missiles, which are fired from trucks and have a range of about 20 kilometres, were shot down over Belgorod.

Russian border defences reportedly being tested

Russian border defences are also reportedly being tested, though it was impossible to independently verify any side’s battlefield reports.

Fighters from Ukraine made an attempt to cross into the town of Tetkino, which lies right on the border, the governor of Russia’s Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said Tuesday.

“There was an attempt by a sabotage and reconnaissance group to break through. There was a shooting battle, but there was no breakthrough,” he said in a video message on Telegram.

The Russian Defence Ministry also said four attacks by what it called Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups were driven back in Tetkino.

Soldiers from the Freedom of Russia Legion, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Siberian Battalion released statements and videos on social media claiming to show them on Russian territory. They said they wanted “a Russia liberated from Putin’s dictatorship.”

The authenticity of the video couldn’t be independently verified.

Three soldiers in camouflage near a mortar on wheels in a brown landscape.
Service members with the Freedom of Russia Legion under the Ukrainian Army prepare to fire a mortar at a Russian military position in Donetsk region, Ukraine, last March. (Alex Babenko/Reuters)

Russia’s Defence Ministry gave its own version of events, saying Ukrainian fighters made at least four attempts on Tuesday to cross into Russia’s Belgorod region, but that all attacks were repelled by warplanes, artillery and missiles.

The representative of Ukraine’s intelligence agency, Andrii Yusov, told Ukrainska Pravda that the military groups are made up of Russian citizens.

“On the territory of the Russian Federation, they operate completely autonomously and independently,” he said.

In May, Russia alleged that dozens of Ukrainian militants crossed into one of its border towns in its Belgorod region, striking targets and forcing an evacuation, before more than 70 of the attackers were killed or pushed back by what the authorities termed a counterterrorism operation.

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