Analysis & Opinions - The Cipher Brief

Russia is Learning that Countries that live in Gas Houses Shouldn’t Throw Drones

| Mar. 25, 2024

Bystander video feeds show scenes of fire and destruction, flames engulfing pipelines and smoke billowing from oil tank farms. In one clip, a twin-tailed aircraft flies slowly over a burning refinery. It loiters, banks, and then plunges precisely into the top of a tall, hydrocarbon filled distillation tower followed by explosions and more fire.

Kyiv is turning the tables on Russia by striking at its hydrocarbon lifeblood. Ukraine’s justified and effective homegrown response to Putin’s two-year campaign of attacks on the nation’s energy infrastructure shows Russia that what goes around comes around.

Instead of supporting the initiative, Washington is reportedly urging a halt to the strikes with The Financial Times citing sources who say that message has been delivered to the Ukrainian intelligence services.

Given the military, economic, and psychological benefits of smacking Russia refineries, why is the Biden administration pressing Ukraine to stop?

Fear of Russian escalation or retaliation has been a persistent theme in the Biden administration. Nevertheless, time after time Ukraine has pushed past Russian red lines with attacks on the Kerch Straits bridge, the Russia Black Sea Fleet, and other targets inside Russia.

One worry is that reduced Russian exports will raise prices at the pump for U.S. drivers, fueling inflation and hurting re-election prospects in November. But U.S. and global oil prices are artificially high because OPEC plus nations have restrained production, not because Ukraine has damaged Russian assets.

Any reduced supply to markets can and should be offset by increased production by the U.S., Saudi, and other OPEC countries to keep prices stable. This war has shown that energy markets are resilient and adaptable.

Since the beginning of 2024, Ukraine’s unmanned air force has hit at least 12 Russian refineries which together are responsible for almost 30% of Russia’s refining capacity. Damage is still being assessed, but critical distillation units can take years to repair or replace. Russia is learning that countries that live in gas houses shouldn’t throw drones.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kolbe, Paul.“Russia is Learning that Countries that live in Gas Houses Shouldn’t Throw Drones.” The Cipher Brief, March 25, 2024.