Russian officials claim the Ukrainians attacked one of their major Russian refineries near the Russia-Ukraine border last Wednesday. The oil refinery was reportedly in flames, with smoke rising to the skies as the facility continued to burn. The refinery was located in Rostov, Russia, just 3 miles from the border.
The first drone attacked the facility at 0540 GMT, targeting a crude distillation unit. A second drone targetted and blasted natural oil reservoirs within the oil refinery at 0623 GMT.
“As a result of terrorist actions from the western border of the Rostov region, two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) attacked the technical facilities [of the oil refinery],” Novoshakhtinsk officials said.
Nobody was injured or killed in the attack, but a large portion of the refinery was destroyed, rendering several parts non-functional. According to Rostov Regional Governor Vasily Golubev, the plant suspended production indefinitely.
Although the precise type is unclear, it appears to be based on the UA PD-1 or PD-2 series of reconnaissance UAVs. The area is around 150km from the front line. pic.twitter.com/EssUu6PxyB
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) June 22, 2022
The plant officials called the drone attacks “terrorist actions” from the Western border of Rostov, further clarifying that the plant was evacuated so they could fully assess the damage. Furthermore, fragments of the two drones used in the attack were found within the refinery. However, we were not able to confirm this claim as of writing.
“Before the fire, the plant’s employees noticed a Ukrainian drone. It crashed into the structures of the plant, after which there was an explosion and fire,” an unnamed local official disclosed to TASS. “One of them struck, crashing into a heat exchanger, after which a fire started, the second flew away,” they continued.
It is important to note that Ukraine has not commented or confirmed that they were responsible for the attack. More so, they claim that the drones crashed into the oil refinery during the raid, which may lead the Russian officials to trace the origins of the drones.
It was revealed later that Russia’s Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case due to the attack. However, they are unlikely to catch those responsible since they couldn’t trace back the source of the drones.
The report follows a series of Ukrainian offensives over the past week, with the Ukrainian Armed Forces attacking Snake Island to render Russia’s air defense systems and other military equipment inoperable. Another attack not publicly claimed by the Ukrainians as their doing was the attacks on Russian-controlled Crimean oil drilling platforms owned by the Chernomorneftegaz energy company.
Here is some video of the immediate aftermath. The PD-1 and PD-2 have a max payload of 22kg; but in this instance it is quite possible that the drones have been modified to carry a larger warhead.
Either way, a fascinating example of modern warfare. pic.twitter.com/4V76nAOmPv
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) June 22, 2022
According to the Crimea Administration Head Sergei Aksyonov, three drilling platforms were hit by these attacks, rendering them entirely dysfunctional. In addition, three people were reportedly wounded in the attacks, with another seven missing.
[insert blurb about Ukraine’s attack on Russian oil storage here.]
Possible Reasons Behind the Oil Refinery Attack
Ukraine did not take responsibility for the attack. However, there are valid reasons why attacking oil refineries is on Ukraine’s hit list.
Russia produces 11 million barrels of oil daily and is one of the country’s primary sources of economic wealth. While the export of Russian oil and gas has not stopped, the number of consumers of Russian oil has decreased due to economic sanctions placed on the Kremlin.
Further interfering with the Russian oil and gas enterprise is a way for Ukrainians to stop the government from funding their war.
Interestingly, the Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery is one of the largest oil refineries in Russia, with a capacity of 7.5 million tons per year. So even if the Ukrainians did not own up to the attack, nobody could deny that attacking refineries and drilling operations were good targets to hamper Russia’s war effort.
Did Ukraine Reveal A New Kamikaze Drone?
Footage on social media revealed that if the Ukrainians made the attack, they would have been using a previously unreported drone. Based on the videos on social media, the drone seems to be a single-propeller twin design. The Ukrainians operate two drones using this design: the PD-1 and the famous Bayraktar TB2 drone.
This was not a PD-1 or PD-2 drone unless variants exist with vertical tail rudders pic.twitter.com/P2aH0QJKOp
— Klaus Eriksen (@Fireblade577) June 22, 2022
As corrected pointed out by naval expert H I Sutton, the PD-1 and the TB2 have an inverted V tail, which does not match the video we have seen circulating on social media. The drone on the video features a basic tail configuration with just a horizontal tailplane.
With that said, what type of drone did the public see? Some say it was the elite Ukrainian custom drone unit, Aerorozvidka. However, these Aerorozvidka drones seem smaller than those used to attack the oil facility.
Analysts have also found a Chinese-made, commercially available “Skyeye” drone that resembles the one seen in the footage. Is it possible that Aerorozvidka got its hands on one of these units and upgraded it? Again, possible. However, there is no way to conclude without asking Aerorozvidka directly. Some have even gone on to say that Russian Forpost drones captured the drones that the Ukrainians further upgraded.
If determined that it was the Ukrainians who carried out the attack, this shows the dent Ukraine is now making in the war. However, since Ukraine can directly penetrate its airspace with UAVs, it will divert Russian air defenses away from Ukraine to protect its own territory.
For a country that boasted about its modern air defense systems and top-notch military technology, the Ukrainians seem to have found several weak points within the Russian defensive capabilities.