How the Electric War Is Redrawing the Ukraine Map – In Black

Yves here. John Helmer provides an important update on the aims and progress of Russia’s attacks on the electric grid. If you’ve been following the combat closely, you have probably already learned that Russia has changed from its strategy of fall-winter 2022, of targeting transmission, to targeting generation facilities. The former approach was intended to deplete Ukraine’s air defense missiles, as well as get an understanding of how the grid functioned.

Now Russia is moving systematically to deprive Ukraine of power. While big targets include key cities in the east, like Kharviv, as well as the high priority Odessa. But the attacks have now moved to striking facilities all across Ukraine.

Protracted blackouts, as Helmer points out, will result in pretty much all of the remaining civilian population to leave, allowing military operations to proceed with fewer constraints. Helmer also points out that the stopgap of moving the remaining supply around Ukraine both risks the grid itself, as well as user equipment. One would think critical devices would sit behind surge protectors. But theory and practice often differ, and surge protectors can degrade.

But on top of that, no or extremely erratic power will make Western fantasies impossible, not just weapons manufacture in Ukraine but even NATO operation, which depends on being able to charge or fuel many devices.

Helmer also notes the Russians have successfully struck fuel storage facilities. At least one, according to YouTubers, was believed to hold a not-trivial amount of European gas. Whose bright idea was it to keep it in a theater of conflict?

Also finally notice that Russia is reported to be close to implementing a reverse-surge drone which could potentially send reverse surges into European power suppliers, as in Poland, Romania, and Moldova. Ouch!

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

The electric war, which in its first phase commenced in September 2022,  has now entered its second and final phase – final, that is, for the Ukraine.

This is strategic; war has never been fought like this in Europe. The US and NATO general staffs and politicians have been taken by complete surprise. “The Ukrainians are building Maginot and Siegfried lines according to the instructions of their foreign advisers,” according to a Moscow analyst, “as if the Russian offensive will be men, artillery and tanks running across the landscape towards Kiev. But they won’t have to. The offensive against Ukrainian electricity cannot be stopped at these lines.”

Without effective defence for its power generating plants, distribution hubs, and grid lines, the Kiev regime’s power is being stopped across the country;  the major Novorussian cities in the east – Odessa, Kharkov, Dniepropetrovsk – are being blacked out and their populations forced to evacuate; the warmaking resupplies of the NATO allies are being cut off at borders which are now exposed to reversal of electricity surges threatening the plants and grids of southern Poland, Romania and Moldova. Even European and American money for President Vladimir Zelensky’s regime needs electricity to move.

“The Russian General Staff is thinking electrically,” comments a NATO veteran and expert in applying electrical engineering to war. “The way the strikes are unfolding causes the Ukrainians to perform at lot of switching. Anyone who knows anything about high-voltage switching understands that the more it’s done, the greater the likelihood there is of some kind of fault occurring, including surges or transients,  occurring. So, leaving enough power on today so the Ukrainians can throw switches tomorrow may be part of the plan.”

“Even if the French/NATO plan a deployment in the Ukraine, what will they be deploying to?” the military engineer adds. “If the current Russian plan of attack is causing swings of 300+ volts, it’s not even safe to plug in a cell phone. We can safely assume that all manner of appliances and other expensive electrical or electronic equipment has been destroyed in the affected areas. Indeed, even if the power engineers manage to get the power back on, millions of light fixtures, especially the electronic/LED variety, are burned out. Diagnostic equipment (medical and technical), process instruments, programmable logic controllers, power supplies, inverters, frequency drives, bank machines, computerized checkout, refrigeration equipment, are burned up”

“Who knows what’s happening there. It must be chaos, and if it isn’t, it will be soon.”

The Russian General Staff doesn’t telegraph its punches. The daily Ministry of Defense operations briefing – blocked for many US and allied audiences – concentrates on the five combat groups, Western, Southern, Eastern, Centre, and Dniepr;   and their operational  directions along the Donbass line of contact; at present, they are Kupyansk, Donetsk, Avdeyevka, South Donetsk, and Kherson.

Last Friday, for example, the briefing began almost nonchalantly: “Tonight [March 29], the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation launched a group strike with high-precision long-range air, sea and land-based weapons, including aeroballistic hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, at energy facilities and air defence of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The objectives of the strike have been achieved. All objects are affected.”

The next day, March 30, petroleum and fuel oil storages, which have been dispersed to shield them from attack and are necessary to power the emergency generators, were destroyed in the Poltava region.  On Sunday, March 31, the targeting of gas storage and gas production around Lvov was also reported by the Defense Ministry in Moscow. “The Russian Aerospace Forces carried out a group strike with high-precision weapons on the facilities of energy infrastructure and the gas-producing industry of Ukraine. As a result of the strike, the work of the defense industry enterprises for the manufacture and repair of weapons, military equipment and ammunition was disrupted. All targets of the strike have been achieved. The objects are affected.”

The detailed targeting of the electric war campaign can be found in the Russian military bloggers who compile their reports and maps from a range of Russian and Ukrainian sources, including videoclips from residents in the targeted cities.

The westward extension of the missile and drone targeting has included Khmelnitsky, Rivne and Burshtyn, around the Galician capital of Lvov, in this map and summary from Militarist for March 29.

MAP OF RUSSIAN STRIKES AGAINST UKRAINE POWER PLANT TARGETS, MARCH 29

Source: https://t.me/infantmilitario/123071

“Ukraine is moving towards a truly definitive energy crisis”, Militarist reported on March 30.  “In the east and west, thermal power plants are being eliminated one by one by completely demolishing the main turbine and generator sections. Dams also began to collapse from south to north. It is expected that all dams and thermal power plants will be put out of operation in the near future. The Ukrainian military industry will be destroyed both by direct attacks and by the energy crisis. The possibility of NATO-supported domestic production and maintenance will also be excluded. Thus, the logistics infrastructure in the rear may not be able to cope with events at the front.”

The Russian ordnance used is overwhelming; this is corroborated by Ukrainian reports.  Tactically, drones are launched in swarms, the first wave to identify and activate the air defence missile and artillery systems around the electricity targets; in the second wave drones and missiles strike their targets. According to Ukrainian data, in just two days from March 22 to 24, 208 missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were fired at the country’s energy facilities.

UKRAINE REGION MAP OF POWER PLANT TARGETS, OUTAGES CONFIRMED, MARCH 22-24

Source: https://t.me/infantmilitario/122995 

The inadequacy of Ukrainian and NATO means of defence is explained by a Russian source, describing how the long-range, air-launched X-101 missile  has been modified. “The warhead has almost doubled and now is not 450 kg, but 800 kg. For this,  part of the fuel tank has had to be sacrificed. However, given the size of Ukraine and the range of the X-101, the missile will not lose its effectiveness against energy system targets, like the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (HPP). Apparently, it was one of the first recipients.”

The tinkering, testing, and launching are a constant Russian process; there is nothing comparable on the US, French, or European side, although weaponizing electricity is not new. The Iraqi military did it against Iran in February 1984 when high-voltage power lines were dropped into Fish Lake, east of Basra, electrocuting Iranian soldiers attempting to cross the lake.  The Russians have the capability to use drones to drop wires on overhead lines and allow them to settle on the ground near Ukrainian deployments, lines of fortifications, or the westward routes of retreat.

Also, Russian sources believe a new drone weapon is being designed for triggering reverse surges along the Ukrainian grid lines, completing the knockout of the domestic Ukrainian transmission grid, and surging back into the sources of replacement electricity from Poland, Romania, and Moldova.

UKRAINE MAP OF ELECTRICITY REPLACEMENT IMPORT SOURCES

Total maximum power source capacity claimed from imports 3,890 kV. Source: https://kyivindependent.com 

MAP OF UKRAINE HIGH-VOLTAGE TRANSMISSION LINE TARGETS FOR RUSSIAN DRONES

Click on image to enlarge. Key: blue=750kV transmission line; orange=330kV transmission line;red=750kv transmission line. From the south Moldova and Romania are sending power; to cut this off and threaten the cross-border source, the target is the 750kV line (yellow) just west of the Artsyz SS hub  which connects northward to the Pivdennoukrainska NPP. The Polish line (in red) is vulnerable to a strike west of Rivne. The lines to and from Hungary and Slovakia can be targeted south of the Zapadnoukrainska SS. The Slovak and Hungarian sources are unlikely to be targeted, the Ukrainian grid distributing their power more likely. The drone for targeting these elements is designed as an explosive inductor, dropped on and connected to the high-tension lines to produce voltage surges and dips, so that when the Ukrainian utility engineers try to rig repairs, close the breakers or switches, the drone-producing surges will blow the circuits up and down the transmission lines.  

Boris Rozhin, who publishes the Colonel Cassad military blog, has tabulated the destruction of the generating units east and west of Kiev as of March 30.

Source: https://t.me/boris_rozhin/118499
“Updated data on the state of thermal power plants in Ukraine. In 2021, Ukraine controlled 13 thermal power plants (formerly GRES) with a total installed capacity of approximately 22.3 GW. During the fighting, 4 thermal power plants with a total installed capacity of approximately 6.7 GW came under the control of the Russian Federation. The damaged Kurakhovskaya TPP in the frontline zone – 1.4 GW - has been completely stopped. A representative of DTEK said that on March 22, 2024, the Burshtyn and Ladyzhinskaya TPPs were completely destroyed – 2.3 and 1.8 GW, respectively, and Centrenergo reported the complete destruction of the Zmievskaya TPP – another 2.2 GW. Thus, Ukraine has lost at least 14.5 GW of the thermal power plants that operated in 2021. At the moment, the extent of damage is unclear to at least two more thermal power plants which have come under attack – Pridneprovskaya and Krivoy Rog. Accordingly, 9 thermal power plants remaining under Ukrainian control, include 4 destroyed, 2 at least damaged, and 3 thermal power plants that are probably unaffected. The total installed capacity of 5 ‘conditionally alive’ is about 7.8 GW, but most likely much less, taking into account strikes at the Pridneprovskaya and Krivoy Rog thermal power plants.”

What is left of Ukraine’s energy system at the moment, and what can survive if the intensity of the Russian campaign is sustained for several more weeks?

According to Rozhin, as of Sunday night, “most of Ukraine depends on four main energy sources: South Ukrainian NPP, Kyiv power plant, Vinnitsa 750 kV and Moldovan transit. The total generation is about 8 GW, but even this does not supply all the need for energy, so now the weather is of great importance for the enemy for the production of alternative energy (solar, wind).”

“The sweetest targets”, Readovka.ru reported on March 30, “are the high-voltage substations of 750/330 kV, as well as the border substations through which the energy transfer from the EU goes. First of all, we are talking about the Zapadnoukrainskaya substation in the Lvov region.”

“There are a total of 141 transmission substations in the Ukraine,” the western military engineer source notes. “It’s not at all outside of the Russian capacity to destroy them. Nor is it outside of their capacity to destroy the transmission towers, short-circuit the lines, screw up the synchronization equipment, and so on.”

The Ukrainian media and press releases from the DTEK utility  confirm the vulnerability, especially as the country approaches the June-July period of maximum summer power consumption.   Rolling blackouts are being imposed, then lifted, then reimposed, according to the announcements to domestic consumers.  This means that the utilities and repair engineers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of the attacks.

In Kharkov, for example, the current rolling blackouts of four hours or more mean that food will be spoiling in refrigerators, telephones will be dead, the internet will be down, and services will seize up. Once the liquid fuel stocks dwindle – these are also under parallel attack – the emergency generators will stop running, such food as there is will rot in the grocery stores.

This is a type of siege by electricity. The Kiev regime will be unable to reinforce or resupply the eastern cities, and there will be no Russian ground advance; no Mariupol, Bakhmut or Avdeyevka battles; no electricity until capitulation.

The military sources on whom the milbloggers rely also warn: “Yes, the damage is more than serious,” according to Rozhin, “but you should not accept on faith all the statements of the enemy about the damage received, since it is beneficial for him to overestimate the damage and  foster the impression on our side that the work has been done and so we will not finish off those targets which have already received serious damage, but can be restored.”

The electric war is an operation to bypass the cities which the Ukrainians and their US and NATO military staffs believe will soon be targets for direct Russian attack. The lines of fortification look like this:

FORTIFICATION LINES CONSTRUCTED FOR KIEV, DNIEPROPETROVSK  

Source: https://t.me/boris_rozhin/118484 

A western military source believes, like Russian sources, that the Russian General Staff will make no direct city attacks and will leapfrog over or bypass the new fortifications. Where they have been built to the east of Dniepropetrovsk and to the north of Kiev and Chernigov, the source suspects, “the Ukrainians have created a Siegfried Line which the Russians will use against them later. Some of the fortifications face the wrong way, but the dragons’ teeth, wire and ditches will work fine in reverse when the time comes to enforce the DMZ.”  For more on how the demilitarized zone will be drawn, read this.

NATO intelligence reports,  leaked apparently by the French in support of President Emmanuel Macron’s hints of fresh deployments of French, Polish,  and Baltic forces at the new fortified lines,   are dismissed by sources in Moscow; they warn that the French, like the Americans in Kiev and Brussels, lack the intelligence to distinguish between force and feint.

Note the French arrows of “possible major Russian offensive in June 2024”. Source: https://www.intelligenceonline.com/ Intelligence Online is published in Paris by a group which claims “we are not culturally partisan, either toward France's interests nor those of the third world.... We are very careful not to have any 'national' positioning’ ”.

A western military observer agrees. “My read is that the General Staff are deploying to tie down NATO and Ukrainian forces west of the Dnieper; assembling a credible force to dissuade any NATO move to threaten Kaliningrad; ensuring Belarussian territory is secure from the kind of raids we’ve seen in the Belgorod region.” They are also signaling what the Americans and French can’t admit in public that NATO forces are so weak in terms of manpower, equipment, ammunition, airpower, and capacity to engage that the Russian and Belarussian forces have the capacity to choose and dominate the field on a full spectrum basis whenever they choose.”

“The strategy”, the western military source again, “is to draw more of the NATO forces into the zones which are rapidly becoming de-electrified where they will soon be cut off from resupply or escape.  The loss of electricity in Kharkov is already pitting the Ukrainian and foreign staff bunkers and troops in position against the city’s citizens for access to power, light, everything. It’s becoming an ungovernable situation. That’s the strategy.”

“The unspoken Russian advice is for the French, Poles, etc., to stick to posturing and grandstanding unless they have large reserves of body bags and candles laid up.”

NOTE:  The lead image shows a night strike by drones in the Odessa region on March 30-31.  According to Rozhin’s report, “the Russian forces attacked energy infrastructure facilities in the Odessa region. Coordinates: 46.6995149, 30.9316853.  During the raid, the Ajalyk 330 PS northeast of Odessa was put out of action. After the strike, most of Odessa and nearby settlements were left without electricity. There was a powerful fire on the territory of the facility, which is also confirmed by satellite thermal indicators.  The damage inflicted does not allow transferring power to the city from the South Ukrainian NPP in the Nikolaev region.  Coordinates: 46.4538478, 30.3870876.   Another blow was struck at one of the two autotransformers of the Novoodesskaya 330 kV substation… As a result of the strikes, the situation with Odessa's electricity supply has approached critical: there is no local generation, and power from the South Ukrainian NPP simply does not reach the city.”

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50 comments

  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Over the week-end, civil servant mum reported another wave of refugees of school, but soon to be of military age, arriving.

    Last year, the waves coincided with summer half-term and summer holidays. The children, mainly boys, were often accompanied by mums who left not long after.

    This time, it’s the children, mainly boys again, but without a parent. In many cases, one person, not quite an oligarch from Ukraine and long resident in the UK, is taking responsibility and having the children put forward for private schooling. Questions have to be and are being asked by child welfare officials. The higher ups want the process speeded up and no questions asked about the sponsors, especially financial ability to sustain such commitments. The officials down the food chain have seen this film before, mainly in south and south-west Asia, well-connected types doing the dirty work for the UK and whose source of income is dirty are getting the children of their associates on the ground out.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      Thank you, Colonel. More Ukrainian refugees? You think that the Ukraine will show any more gratitude? Apparently there was a Daily Mail article recently where the Ukrainians were disappointed with all that the UK had done for them. That they and the Germans are saying that the UK has to send more weapons as they are not doing near enough. Also-

      ‘The UK is being overtaken by Germany and the Nordic states as Ukraine’s leading European backers, the industry operatives, who wished to remain anonymous, told the news outlet in an article published on Wednesday.

      The sources also griped that Britain’s leaders are not coming across as bellicose enough compared to French President Emmanuel Macron, who has publicly refused to rule out deploying troops to Ukraine.’

      https://www.rt.com/news/594632-ukraine-disappointed-aid-uk/

      Reply
      1. Michaelmas

        The sources also griped that Britain’s leaders are not coming across as bellicose enough

        Why should they come across as bellicose? From the UK’s viewpoint, the Ukraine conflict has done its job, which was to remove Germany as the industrial motor of the EU, thence promoting the fractionalization and weakening of the EU, all without the UK’s fingerprints being on it.

        Remember, Britain has had one foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years —

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFBgQpz_E80

        Reply
      2. Kouros

        More gratitude? For being so badly and obviously swindled? Now they are refugees?

        The sky was promised. They got over 500,000 graves and a smaller country, million of refugees, and a destroyed infrastructure, and no end in sight on when it will end and how badly it will get…

        Reply
  2. timbers

    Dima reports just now, that people fleeing Kharkiv are so numerous that the 2 lanes East and 2 lanes West from the city are now flooded with cars using all 4 lanes moving to the West.

    I say turn lemons into lemonaide – Biden should declare an humanitarian disaster or whatever gives him the most unilateral authority and have FEMA organize an air lift to America and put Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris in charge of running it. Ukrainians will be flown to Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and swing states sent first to Democratic Party voter registration locations, then to hotels and provided free housing and cash, and granted green cards or whatever the current procedure is.

    That is Biden only change to save Ukrainians from Putin’s evil grasp and defeat Orange Man in November, and I’m sure the elites will have no problem greasing the wheels of administrative fine points to make it so. Weather they have to managerial skills to make it so it another matter.

    Reply
    1. Polar Socialist

      I saw a video of the people evacuating from Kharkiv, and while the road was flooded with cars, “moving” is not the word many would describe the situation.

      Some commentators are saying that as soon as Kharkiv area is cleared of civilians, Russians will solve for good the issue of Ukrainians still bombarding Belgorod.

      There has also been a marked rise in attacks against bridges in Ukraine. And it seems that a guided FAB-1500 can take down a bridge with a single hit.

      Reply
  3. leaf

    What did Lenin say, “Soviet power is communism plus the electrification of the whole country”?
    Well if the banderists want decommunization as they profess, looks like it is in progress

    Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    Should it be pointed out that a lot of the Ukraine’s trains require electricity in order to run? And when you consider that the Russians are also destroying petroleum and fuel oil storage depots, this means that the Ukrainians will find it very difficult to move troop reserves around to meet Russian advances much less keep supplies up to the front. And this applies to diesel locomotives as well. I suppose that the Ukrainians will have to ration what fuel that they have but if they have to retreat, a lot of that will be on foot. The days of the Ukrainians being able to take formations fighting in the far north-east and moving them to the far south are now coming to an end. This is starting to sound like the last days of the Wehrmacht when they were running out of everything.

    Reply
    1. timbers

      Those missiles hitting fuel storage depots in western Ukraine should be stamped with big bold English letters “BECAUSE NORDSTREAM”.

      Reply
      1. vao

        Really? The last time a European country actually revived steam locomotives was the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 1980s (following the oil crisis). And they could do it because they still had a fleet of old steam locs from the 1940s-1950s in storage. Most were basically driven to death.

        To my knowledge, nobody has any kind of industrial capacity for series-building steam locomotives according to standard types, on a reasonable scale any longer, not even in India or China (which were the last countries to do it). There are restoration of old locs, conversions, and single copies of past models — but this is all craftwork, at best manufacture, not industry.

        On what basis could Ukraine, which has a reputation for having let its Soviet industrial legacy go derelict, revive steam-powered trains?

        Reply
        1. Polar Socialist

          Ukraine has about 14 “operational” steam engines from the 50’s, mostly from Hungary and East Germany. My guess is that they will have about the same strategic effect as the Swedish recoilless guns delivered to Ukraine – none.

          Needless to say, I assume, is that steam engines require enormous amount of maintenance to stay in operation. Even the museum pieces that are not pulling anything heavy. Water, fire and iron is in general a bad combination, no matter which way you look at it.

          Reply
  5. Amfortas the Hippie

    once again, i find myself in awe of the russians…an electrical siege…
    attrition turned up to 11.
    meanwhile the West is once again fighting the war before last, and appears totally unprepared to counter what the Russians are doing.
    my biggest worry…at least since Russia was so obviously Not Losing…is that all the West has left is nukes.
    so it all comes down to the western elite’s ability to…finally….accept reality and modify their expectations, and learn to accept the new way of the world.
    given their hard headed refusal so far, i am not sanguine….

    Reply
    1. MaryLand

      With brains full of hubris addled by Covid and sometimes dementia in charge it has Dr. Strangelove vibes.

      Reply
    2. Randall Flagg

      To your comment about the West fighting with the methods of the last war, so unbelievable that with trillions we spend on the DOD no one there could be bothered to think about possibilities like destroying the electrical grid and maybe that should be defended.
      The big news here for the last few days and going forward is the hype of the Eclipse next Monday and the being in its path.
      Looks like Russia is creating a path of totality that puts the whole nation of Ukraine into darkness. For decades…

      Reply
  6. Aurelien

    There’s a rather grisly concept left over from the Cold War, that of “recovery capability.” It referred to how quickly nations could get back into some kind of normal shape after a nuclear attack: in Britain, as I recall, the official estimate was about ten years. Clearly, if a war ends with the use of nuclear weapons and both sides are devastated, the side that recovers first will have “won.” The old USSR apparently thought quite a bit about this (they saw history as an unfolding process, after all) which is why, according to those who worked on the Soviet ICBM programme, they would have used some of the last warheads to sow bubonic plague and slow things down.

    I suspect that we are seeing a less apocalyptic version of the same logic at work here. The Russians have gone beyond military “victory,” which they are now taking for granted. Their target is now the future viability of an independent Ukrainian state, and they are playing mind games with the West to discourage them from thinking that any kind of long-term financial or military investment would be worth the effort, in a ruined country. And if there’s no chance of a long-term revival of the country, runs the argument, why not give up now? What waste time effort and money and perhaps lives trying to shore up a country which literally has no future because it’s all been blown up?

    Reply
    1. ilsm

      Interesting is timing.

      Russia could have de-electrified Ukraine in January when people would have frozen.

      Reply
      1. eg

        Perhaps the logistical challenges associated with so many fleeing is more challenging than were they simply to freeze in place.

        Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        No, not correct.

        It is only now that the air defenses are so degraded as to be close to kaput. Remember the US said that Ukraine would be running out of air defense missiles about now. Russia in the last two months or so has also made more hits on air defense platforms. Ukraine has gotten so desperate that it is using the Patriot platform, which is meant to sit in one place, and has been moving them around near the front due to lack of alternatives. That makes them visible and easier to hit.

        Not having air defenses left mean Russia can use a lot more plane-launched bombs and missiles, particularly its super heavy bombs.

        Reply
    2. Michaelmas

      Aurelien: ...according to those who worked on the Soviet ICBM programme, they would have used some of the last warheads to sow bubonic plague and slow things down.

      You bring back old memories. I once talked to Kanatzhan Alibekov, a director at Biopreparat, and Serguei Popov, a scientist who did innovative work there. There were other pathogens proposed besides bubonic plague.

      To your point. The Russians could be doing what they’re doing now because: –

      [1] They’re proceeding along the doctrinal lines you suggest of limiting recovery capability in post-war Ukraine;

      [2] Alternatively, they want neither a rump Ukraine nor a conquered former Ukrainian state to occupy and deal with an insurgency in — a scenario Pentagon analysts were salivating over pre-war, remember — but rather an expansive DMZ, where such population as remains will live largely without electricity;

      [3] Or because after the Crocus attack, they’ve simply taken the gloves off and upped the attrition.

      Of course, no one of the above precludes the others at this stage, which may be quite early in the Russians’ scheme of things. Some intelligence suggests they plan to run this operation into 2026.

      Reply
      1. Polar Socialist

        Well, except the major cities blackened out are Kharkov and Odessa, both of which everyone seems to assume will join Russia by the end of this conflict. It’s almost as if they plan to own what they break, which would leave out the recovery capability factor.

        Probably not a place for the discussion, but I’d be interested to know more about this pathogen stuff – namely how to ensure they survive the space trip and re-entry, how to make sure you have pathogen warheads to arm the “last warheads”, and why would the missile forces allow anyone to waste the few remaining missiles for such futile effort?

        Reply
      2. The Rev Kev

        ‘an expansive DMZ, where such population as remains will live largely without electricity’

        Populated by Yves’s bearded men.

        Reply
    3. ChrisFromGA

      I wonder how that German Metal plant relocation is going? Rheinmetall planning to build a foundry using fire and trees, like in “Lord of the Rings?”

      Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yours truly said that in February. I should pull out Rodney Dangerfield lines about getting no respect:

      It’s suited Russia wonderfully well to have Ukraine keep feeding weapons and men into contested spots on the line of contact. It’s not far from Russia, facilitating resupply and even troop rotation. By contrast, Ukraine has had to schlepp all those wonderwaffen across the country. And Russia is also able to destroy anything that might resemble a military training center, further impeding Ukraine replenishing its now enormous losses…..

      With that long set-up, let’s return to our headline question, what happens when the Ukraine military collapses? “Collapse” means a combination of widespread surrenders, retreats/abandonment of positions, and Russian captures of Ukraine forces because they are surrounded and lack the ammo to fight back.

      Some commentators have argued Russia will run to the Dnieper once the Ukraine line collapses in a big enough way. I am doubtful. You’d normally do something like that to force the opposing side to sue for terms. But Zelensky and the neo-Nazis who would be stiffening his spine won’t allow that. Once the military is crumbling, Russia can take territory at its leisure (which is again really abnormal in a typical war but this is not that). Russia can still be very productively engaged in first making sure it has eliminated the Ukraine forces near the front, and of taking all of the territory it incorporated in 2022, the remaining parts of Kherson and Zaporzhizhia oblast.

      The other reason that a big arrow move toward the Dnieper might be seen as suboptimal is the unhinged state of the West. You do not make sudden moves around crazy people. Yet another reason to watch and see how Ukraine comes apart is the administrative burden of occupying territory. That is likely a reason for Russia bulking up its military so much.

      If Russia did want to rachet up pressure on Kiev, some sort of re-run of its 2022 pining operation might be a preferred move. If Russia is lucky, the government will decamp to Lvov, which would be an admission that they expect to lose Kiev and much of central Ukraine.

      https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2024/02/ukraine-collapse-starting-what-happens-next.html

      Reply
      1. Willow

        Yep. West suffers from significant negative economic carry in this conflict, while Russia benefits from positive carry. Which means it pays Russia to be patient and take its time, more so when time is very costly for the West. Its like watching someone bleed out from a knife fight. Do you go in for the final kill while they still have strength? No. You wait. Only keeping up enough pressure so they bleed out more.

        Also, European elections in two months. Russia likely won’t do anything particularly adventurous so as not to take the spotlight away from Europe’s incompetent leaders. Doing enough to make them look weak but not enough to potentially trigger a new found strength (through fear mongering).

        Reply
  7. ISL

    It is interesting how the electricity was left on until Ukraine attrited its military capacity, with the West gleefully counseling Ukraine to follow Brer’ Rabbit’s script while also reducing its own capacity to fight. Now that the last gasp is for France and others to direct insert forces, the West has no force projection logistical capability – even the US capacity as in the Iraq war 30 years ago, which took a year to assemble and had the luxury of pre-positioned cold war supplies – all attrited.

    To achieve Russian objectives of a new security arrangement with the West, though, I fear that it will be necessary to destroy ten or thirty thousand NATO troops inserted into Ukraine, and a number of NATO airfields/bases. A very dangerous time, and it appears the Russian General Staff is approaching (as the electricity war shows) these critical moments obliquely.

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    1. Feral Finster

      If you think that will cause the West to take the bat and ball and go home, then I suggest that you think again.

      At every setback, the West ever always only doubles down, as the rulers of the West pay no price for those setbacks.

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      1. Skip Intro

        But it will make the western troops and systems, which consume substantial energy supplies, stand out brightly against the dark and evacuated civilian activity. While NATO will surely double down, they will now need 8 times the resources to fail the same way.

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      2. Kouros

        “the West” has a big population not in sync with their elites and if the fecal matter hits the fan and body bags start coming home and infrastructure on NATO countries is targeted, we might see a huge number of people taking to the streets, such that no amount of militarized police will be able to cope with especially if said police starts joining ranks… And this can happen in European countries. We saw French firefighters classhing with the riot police in Paris…

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  8. Feral Finster

    With every escalation, we hear that the West is bluffing, that escalation would be reckless even unto starting WWIII.

    The West escalates anyway. They weren’t bluffing. Rather, it is Russia that is loathe to escalate, while the sociopaths ruling the West would without hesitation annihilate 99% of life on earth if that were the price of dominion over whatever is left.

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  9. Alex

    Me calls it bullshit. You want civilians out – you disrupt electricity supply in autumn, not in spring. It’s next to impossible for a modern city in Ukraine to support sizeable population without power and central heating. All that bubbling about some 5d chess clever masterplan does not hold any water. Simplest explanations are the best, so I see it this way: Russian leadership expected to reach kinda sorta agreement with western “partners” to go on shipping natgas and oil in exchange for USD/euros, and to return to business as usual ASAP. Thus destroying transformers – they are easier to replace and their capacity is massively redundant. To cut power supply you don’t bomb transformers in their hundreds, you bomb turbine rooms of powerplants in their dozens. Once turbines destroyed, powerplant can be considered out of comission for years to come. As long as there was hope of reconciliation, permanent damage to West’ pet peoject had been kept at minimum.
    Some time before today our dear leadership came to conclusion they “had been fooled” (yeah, again). So they went after powerplants, mostly in Russian speaking regions. And that’s all. Clever plan my butt.

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    1. voislav

      It’s impossible for a modern city to support a population without electricity period, season doesn’t matter. Without electricity there is no running water (water pumps don’t work and few people have wells), it’s hard to keep food because there is no refrigeration, traffic is a mess, phones/internet doesn’t work. Banks don’t work, so you can’t get money and the whole economy quickly breaks down to barter. This is why there is an exodus out of Kharkiv right now.

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    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you get that knee seen to.

      Making Shit Up is a violation of our written site Policies. There is no evidence Russia has any interest in going back to the West. It has decisively, and surprisingly quickly, reoriented its economy to Global Majority countries.

      You are also ignorant in your comment about transformers. Ukraine is on old Soviet power standards. No one in the West makes those transformers. Ukraine was having to scrounge around to old Warsaw Pact countries to replace transformers in the winter 2022 attacks. Experts have said no one in the West will build factories just to do a big run of one time only Ukraine standard transformers. Only Russia can rebuild the electrical system. They do surge capacity and they already make those transformers.

      You are also required per our written site Policies to read a post in full before commenting. You make clear you haven’t. The map of strikes on May 29 shows three power plants west of the Dnieper as targeted, and the MoD depicted all attacks as achieving their objectives.

      There are many reports of a large-scale civilian exit from Kharkiv.

      If you think people can live in a city with no power for any length of time, regardless of the season, you are smoking something strong. FFS, the gas stations need electricity to pump fuel, as one of zillions of examples.

      The reason the Russians did not take out electrical production sooner was that they knew the point was approaching where Ukraine air defenses would be severely degraded. The US admitted that Ukraine would run out of air defense missiles around the end of March. That not only means better results per # of missiles and drones employed, but also that Russia can now freely use plane-launched bombs and missiles.

      I trust you will find your happiness on the Internet elsewhere.

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      1. Paul S

        I would also suggest part of the reason Russia held off till spring is they still have many ties with Ukrainians and doing this at the beginning of winter would have been too darn harsh on them even in war. Additionally, no electricity=frozen/burst pipes. If they plan on taking Kharkov they would want these buildings mainly intact.

        Other reasons of them now taking the gloves off now can also be attributed as you mention to the near collapse of AD systems as well as the new Ukrainian strategy of targeting not only Russian territory (around Belgorod) on a regular basis now as well as the new attacks on Russian infrastructure such as refineries.

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  10. voislav

    My view is that this serves two objectives. First is to mess up Ukrainian logistics before the offensive, forcing Ukrainians have to ship everything from Western Ukraine, including fuel, food, etc. Population displacement plays a factor here as well, it will destroy local production of essential goods and clogs the roads to further impede movement of military assets. The timing of the move suggests that the Russian offensive is likely in the next few weeks, probably mid-May.

    Second is to filter out the population. By temporarily displacing large swaths of the population they can select who will be allowed back into Russian controlled territory. This will seriously hamper any sort of resistance as most of the remaining population will be Russian-supporting. I think this was one of the major objectives of conducting the campaign in such fashion, it allows people to leave ahead of the Russian troops, so any territory Russia captures is not hostile and does not require military occupation.

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  11. flora

    Interesting post. If RU is able to do this then I wonder the EUzone will rethink the idea of CBDCs and digital IDs. (Probably not, but I can hope.) / ;)

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    1. digi_owl

      Nah, because there is nobody with a engineering background or holistic view left in power. The electric grid and internet runs on magic pixie dust for all they care. After all, most of them have far younger staff members that are “digital natives” to handle all this computer stuff…

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  12. David in Friday Harbor

    I can only imagine the chaos and suffering about to be experienced by the civilian populations of Kiev (metro: 3.5M), Kharkov (metro: 1.7M), and Odessa (metro: 1.3M). A modern city cannot function without electricity for refrigeration, pumping water and effluent, and circulating heat. At least this is not happening in winter — probably by design, because I seriously doubt that the Russian leadership wanted to impose this level of suffering on the civilian population.

    After the Crocus Concert Hall massacre the gloves are off. All of the evidence suggests that the attackers were mercenaries employed by “Ukraine” and the Western spook agencies, not Jihadist fanatics. Just like the Russian government has relied on the Western legal doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” in Donbass, they can now rely upon Western funding and support of the Gaza genocide as a justification and/or excuse for dismantling civilian infrastructure and de-population of Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa. Not pretty; not saying I condone this; but these are the facts.

    As Larry Johnson writes, the infrastructure chaos and refugee crisis will soon make re-supply of AFU east of the Dnieper impossible. They will be bottled-up like Paulus’s army at Stalingrad.

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  13. Willow

    I don’t think it’s necessarily the blackouts per se which are making people leave but rather the signal, which MSM propaganda can’t hide, that Ukraine is losing and Russia is going on the attack. Any sane person would take this as a sign to get out. Targeting the electrical grid also has other significant benefits other than making life hard for people. By forcing the use of diesel generators, sites light up in thermal imaging. The more generators the more important a site is likely to be. They also need to be replenished which creates more easily tracked logistics networks to find sites of interest (which may only be turned on for short periods). Diesel generators use the very same fuel as military vehicles. Creating fuel shortages which thereby restricts Ukraine’s ability to move equipment around. The diesel also has to come from somewhere. Which country is the world’s dominant diesel producer(either refining or exporter of the right type of crude)? Russia. And then there are second order benefits. Increased electricity & diesel supply coming out of Europe to meet Ukraine’s needs just makes the European economic situation worsen. Either by increasing prices or government debt. Just in time for European elections.

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  14. Revenant

    There was an astute comment that blacking out the Ukraine in the east will reveal the heat and electromagnetic signature of generators that, above a certain size, could be assumed to be legitimate targets….

    The wire-cutting process has a symmetry with the air defence destruction: first attack to light up the defences then attack the defences becomes first attack to light up the defenders (by blacking out the civilians masking them) and then attack the defenders.

    I don’t buy the idea of thrashing the electrical grid to cause surges within the Ukraine or its allies. Burning NATO fingers sounds like a nice-to-have and reducing Ukrainian recovery capacity in the Russian-speaking eastern territory is clearly an unwelcome side-effect.

    Indeed, it is possibly even unwelcome in Banderistan because the Banderites may refuse to retreat west if the conditions are as bad as in the east and less likely to be repaired and settle for partisan activity in prospective comfort….

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  15. steppenwolf fetchit

    . . . ” Protracted blackouts, as Helmer points out, will result in pretty much all of the remaining civilian population to leave, allowing military operations to proceed with fewer constraints.” . . .

    When Israel does this in Gaza, it is called ethnic cleansing. But when Russia does this in Ukraine, it is not called ethnic cleansing, even though it is designed to get “pretty much all the remaining civilian populaition to leave” , if John Helmer’s analysis is correct.

    So I begin to wonder, why are we willing to call ethnic cleansing “ethnic cleansing” when Israel pursues it against Gaza, but we are not willing to call ethnic cleansing “ethnic cleansing” when Russia pursues it against Ukraine? If indeed the goal is the same goal . . . to get the civilian population to leave? Is it that people have decided that Ukraine deserves to be ethnically cleansed because it was unlucky enough to have had the EU, NATO and the US elevate its nazi minority to power over its government?

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    1. OnceWere

      It seems to me that the Russians have taken as much care to avoid civilian suffering in this war as anyone ever has in any war in history. For two years power, water, internet, & transport stayed up. The Israelis started bombing civilian infrastructure from day one. The Russians are responding at least somewhat proportionally to a publicly stated intent on the Ukrainians part to destroy vital Russian infrastructure and numerous such successful attacks in recent weeks. On the other hand, as far as I know Hamas hasn’t attacked Israeli civilian infrastructure and don’t have the capability to do so even if they wanted to. Russia has also been willing to accept Ukrainian refugees – more than a million so far – and will almost certainly allow Ukrainians willing to take Russian citizenship to return to their homes after the war. Needless to say, the Israelis are totally unwilling to shelter Gazan refugees. In short, the situations really are quite different. It’s true that the Russian escalation to bombing dual-use infrastructure will lead to a mass exodus from Eastern Ukraine, and that the exodus will probably be permanent for those Ukrainian patriots who don’t want to become Russian citizens, but I’ve never heard anyone in the West call it “ethnic cleansing” in the numerous cases where it was their bombing of infrastructure that caused a refugee exodus.

      Reply
  16. Arul S

    Yes, Prime Minister Season 1, Episode 1 that aired on 1986.
    —–

    Bernard Woolley: During the last NATO exercises, the US troops dispersed and picnicked in the woods with lady soldiers.

    Jim Hacker: What about the other NATO armies?

    BW: Oh they’re all right..On weekdays anyway.

    JH: Weekdays?!

    BW: Oh yeah. The Dutch, Danish and Belgium armies go home for the weekend.

    JH: So on the whole, if the Russians are going to invade, we prefer them to do it between Mondays and Fridays?

    BW: (Nods)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKQlQlQ6_pk

    Reply
  17. Jorge

    The drone for targeting these elements is designed as an explosive inductor, dropped on and connected to the high-tension lines to produce voltage surges and dips, so that when the Ukrainian utility engineers try to rig repairs, close the breakers or switches, the drone-producing surges will blow the circuits up and down the transmission lines.

    Hmmmphf! Let’s put on the nerd hat. This “explosive inductor” sounds like a tube of coils with a plunger of high-powered permanent magnets, the rare earth kind. The plunger and tube are clamped to the hot and cold wires of the voltage line. An explosive (slow explosive reaction, not fast) pushes the plunger out of the tube. This induces a massive voltage swing pulse into the power line. The plunger & tube need to be heavily insulated from each other, to prevent shorting out the line.

    The entire drone would have to fly to the power line, float, position itself, apply clamps to both wires, then stop the fans since it is held up by the wires. The coils, magnets, explosive and insulator will weigh tens of pounds. This is a big drone! Assuming it is not found, this could then wait for hours (days? weeks?) (on battery) until the “Kablooie” command comes.

    European house power connects directly to the voltage mains, what comes from the street. This pulse would destroy every appliance plugged in, and every charging phone & laptop. It’s like the damage from an EMP, except that an EMP travels by area and this travels through the electrical grid.

    Because the US wired first, we use a weird system where there is a transformer filtering power from the wires into the home. A big pulse would have to push harder to get into American houses. Businesses use various kinds of more direct connection to the grid, and are thus more vulnerable.

    It’s really ingenious and insidious. I’ve been watching a playthrough of “Cyberpunk 2077” which posits bad software destroying things and killing people, but this is just so much simpler.

    Reply

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