Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

Russia Implements Innovative Tactics to Sabotage Ukraine’s Power Grid

Over the past two winters, Ukraine has endured a barrage of Russian airstrikes aimed at crippling its energy infrastructure, plunging its citizens into darkness and using freezing temperatures as a weapon of war.

Ukraine survived the assault thanks to Western air defense systems and energy-saving measures adopted by its citizens, while families cooked on camping stoves and doctors operated with flashlights.

As Ukraine weathered the winter storm, Russia resumed its attack in recent weeks, hitting the Ukrainian power grid with an intensity and in a manner never seen before during more than two years of war.

“Their tactics have changed and, unfortunately, not for the better for us,” Svitlana Grynchuk, Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister, told CNN.

In the first two years of the war, Russian attacks were more dispersed, launching salvos of missiles against large areas of the Ukrainian energy system. Now, attacks are more precise and focused, with dozens of missiles and drones raining down on a single target.

“In such a short time, in a few weeks of these massive Russian attacks, almost all of our year-long reconstruction and repair efforts have been destroyed in a few days, in a few attacks,” Grynchuk stated.

The turning point occurred at the end of March, Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of the Kyiv-based Energy Industry Research Center (EIRC), told CNN. That day, Russia launched one of its largest missile and drone attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, targeting at least 10 regions of the country and briefly leaving more than a million homes without power.

“On March 22, Russia began to implement its new attack strategy,” Kharchenko said. “The new strategy consists of massive missile strikes against specific targets, when a large number of missiles and drones are simultaneously concentrated on a very limited number of targets.”

Since then, Russia has bombed Ukrainian power plants across the country, and on Thursday completely destroyed the Trypilska thermal power plant, the largest in the Kyiv region. DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power company, also stated on Thursday that Russia had caused “serious damage” to two of its plants, and that approximately 80% of the power generation facilities it manages had been destroyed by Russian attacks.

“Instead of continuing to focus its attacks on Ukraine’s transmission systems, since late March Russia began launching massive attacks against our power generation infrastructure,” Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK, told CNN. “Unfortunately, the enemy has evolved its tactics and is using high-precision weapons. The result is a huge increase in its destructive effectiveness compared to 2023.”

Since Ukraine keeps energy stored, attacks on thermal power plants have not caused immediate and prolonged blackouts. Thermal power plants are mainly used to balance general needs, especially during intense heating periods in winter, when consumption skyrockets.

In addition to the intensity and concentration of the attacks, their calendar has also changed. Previously, most Russian attacks occurred before winter. Now, they have occurred in an unusually warm spring.

There are two reasons why Russia may have waited until spring to launch its new strategy.

First, Russia needed time to accumulate the weapons and intelligence needed to carry out the attacks, Kharchenko said. “It is clear that this strategy was hatched a long time ago, that they spent a lot of time developing it, that they collected information and prepared very carefully for these attacks,” Kharchenko said.

Second, Russia may have waited until Ukraine’s power plants were less protected by air defenses, an increasingly scarce resource after two years of war, and with U.S. aid paralyzed for months by Congress.

“My hypothesis is that Ukraine had protected its energy infrastructure quite well before the winter, because we expected such attacks to occur,” Olena Pavlenko, president of the Ukrainian energy think tank DiXi Group, told CNN.

But after the end of winter, according to Pavlenko, it is possible that some of the anti-aircraft defenses have been relocated, for example, to the Ukrainian front lines. “It’s not a mistake, it’s just prioritization. We think that if the winter ends, we can probably use the air defense system in other places,” he said.

The Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, in the northeast of the country, has been the most affected, according to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko. More than 200,000 people were left without power after the Russian attacks on Thursday. Since the city is so close to Russia, hypersonic missiles can reach it in a matter of seconds. “Due to the proximity of the border, terrorists have the opportunity to use various types of weapons in large quantities,” Halushchenko declared on Ukrainian television.

Ukraine has demonstrated a remarkable ability to repair damage to its power grid. Some of its high-voltage substations – key nodes that reduce the voltage of electricity so it can be transferred over power lines to homes and offices – have been restored more than 10 times, Kharchenko said. Dozens of them have been restored at least three or four times. “They are attacked, restored and attacked again. If they were not restored, a significant part of the regions would already be without electricity.”

And the pace of repairs has skyrocketed, Maria Tsaturian, head of communications at Ukrenergo, the state operator of the Ukrainian power grid, told CNN. “In peacetime, it took a month to replace a damaged large autotransformer with a new one. Now we do it in less than a week,” she said.

But Ukraine now faces a completely different task: repairing not just substations, but entire power plants. While substations can be protected with sandbags, anti-drone nets and other security measures, large power plants can only be protected with anti-aircraft defenses. Although this restoration work is possible, it may be futile.

“We can restore everything. We have a very good and very motivated team,” said Andriy Gota, general director of Centrenergo, which manages the now destroyed Trypilska plant. “But again, without a sufficient number of missiles for air defense, it will be a useless exercise, to put it mildly.”

Instead, Ukraine could also be considering a change of course. Instead of rebuilding large – and, without air defenses, vulnerable – power plants, it could change the way it produces its energy.

“Instead of 20 large plants that concentrate a large production capacity and have a significant participation in the energy balance, there should be between 150 and 200 small plants spread throughout the country that can supply a city if one of them fails” Tsaturian said.

Kharchenko stated that Kharkiv urgently needs a similar system. “It is now clear that Kharkiv needs to bring gas piston engines in large quantities, install them secretly and protect them… There is no alternative to this. Any larger installation will simply be destroyed by attacks.”

Although the next winter is months away, the Ukrainian energy grid may be strained during the summer months, when the use of air conditioning increases consumption.

To compensate, Grynchuk said Ukraine has “an additional mechanism to balance the system and maintain stable functioning: imports.” He detailed that Ukraine is asking its European allies to increase the import limit to 1.7 gigawatts.

But the priority, he said, is to receive air defenses. “Without air protection, we see the tragic consequences and destruction that Russian attacks can cause. That’s why we really need air defense.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *