Ukrainian Strikes Expose Gaps in Russian Air Defense, According to ISW

Written by Henrik Rothen

Jan.22 - 2024 8:46 AM CET

Ukrainian Strikes Expose Gaps in Russian Air Defense.

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The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has raised questions about the efficacy of Russian air defense systems in the Leningrad Oblast, particularly against attacks originating from the south, in its January 21st report.

This concern follows the recent fire at the Novatek natural gas company's terminal in the port of Ust-Luga, Leningrad Oblast, near St. Petersburg. According to an unnamed source in the Security Service of Ukraine cited by Ukrainska Pravda, the incident was the result of a planned Ukrainian operation.

The ISW suggests that the current air defense setup in Leningrad Oblast might not be fully prepared to counter Ukrainian strikes. Historically, Russian air defenses in the area have been oriented towards potential NATO attacks from the west, not considering the possibility of southern attacks.

Amidst ongoing tensions, Russia has been bolstering its "Leningrad military district" near the Finnish border. This build-up is perceived as a means to intimidate NATO members and possibly prepare for a future conflict. However, continued Ukrainian strikes on Russian military assets in the region could necessitate a shift in Russian defensive strategies.

"The emergence of Ukrainian strikes in Leningrad Oblast may compel Russian forces to redistribute short-range air defense systems to safeguard strategically valuable targets," the ISW report stated.

Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine's Air Force, commented on January 20th that while Russian air defense systems are robust near frontlines and in occupied Crimea, their coverage is less extensive on Russian territory. "Russian air defense is thinning out. The front line and Crimea are heavily defended, but Russian territory lacks sufficient air defense equipment," Ihnat observed.

The attack on Novatek was part of a wider pattern of strikes targeting military installations within Russia, including infrastructure in Tula, Smolensk, and Oryol oblasts. There has been an uptick in reports of strikes on rear areas in Russia, although official comments from Kyiv on these attacks are rare.

The ISW's analysis indicates that if Ukraine persists in targeting deep rear areas within Russia, it could significantly strain Russia's overall air defense capabilities, potentially leading to a strategic shift in their deployment and operational focus.

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