ISW on the developing Ukrainian defense industrial base and Russias strikes on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Russia’s ongoing strike campaign against Ukrainian energy facilities aims in part to devastate the Ukrainian defense industry, confirming ISW’s ongoing assessment that Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities aim to degrade Ukrainian defense industrial capacity. Putin stated during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on April 11 that Russian drone and missile strikes against Ukraine’s energy sector are connected to Russia’s goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine – one of his three stated goals in Ukraine. Putin characterized Russia’s ongoing strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure as a “forced” response to recent Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian oil and gas facilities and openly stated that Russian strikes indirectly aim to degrade Ukraine’s defense industrial capacity. The recent Russian strike campaign is degrading Ukraine’s power generation capacity while also exploiting reported Ukrainian air defense missile shortages in a renewed effort to collapse Ukraine’s power grid. Putin likely hopes to prevent Ukraine’s defense industry from developing to the point of near self-sufficiency in the long term as a strong defense industry could put Ukraine in a good position to defend against future Russian aggression and significantly reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Western aid. Significant delays in Western aid, due in part to successful Russian information operations and Western hesitancy, have created an opportunity for Russian offensive operations and Russia’s strike campaign.

ISW continues to assess that the development of Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB) over time can allow Ukraine to sustain its defense against Russia and longer-term national security needs with significantly reduced foreign military assistance. Ukrainian officials have expressed their intention to expand Ukraine’s DIB domestically and abroad since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov previously identified increased Ukrainian domestic production of weapons and military equipment as a priority for 2024. US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller has stated that the short- and medium-term provision of Western air defenses to Ukraine will be a critical element of Ukraine’s ability to stand up its defense industry, which will, in turn, decrease Ukrainian dependence on Western aid and especially US aid to Ukraine in the long term. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently emphasized that Ukraine cannot mitigate the lack of sufficient air defense systems and that only Western-provided air defense systems, namely Patriot systems, allow Ukraine to defend Ukraine against the intensified Russia strike campaign. ISW continues to assess that the US will not need to send large security assistance packages to Ukraine indefinitely if Ukraine can sufficiently expand its defensive industrial capacity, but the West’s provision of air defense systems and missiles to Ukraine is crucial for Ukraine’s ability to defend its energy infrastructure and its developing defense industry against Russian strikes.

Comment: Some of you are apoplectic over anything from the ISW, but I think they lay out this situation quite well. Surely we’ve all noticed that Russian air strikes have finally, after two plus years of dicking around, embarked on a clear strategy with a solid military goal… making a solid run at knocking out Ukraine’s major energy facilities. It’s sure smarter than taking pot shots at apartment blocks, although that continues. And, as ISW points out, it does seem to be aimed at crushing a developing Ukrainian defense industrial base. That’s some sound, long range thinking.

The obvious solution for Ukraine is to obtain more air defense systems. She needs all kinds and a lot more of each of them. Western Europe should be able to double Ukraines present three Patriot batteries. The US should give a few more. Unfortunately, everybody seems to want to hold on to what they got. But in an oddly unexpected move, the European Parliament moved to hold the discharge of the EU Council budget until additional Patriot systems are committed to Ukraine. Macron is also backing up his tough talk of a while ago with concrete aid. Japan, on the door step of China, is sending her Patriot missiles to the US so the US can resupply Ukraine with the missiles. There appears to be progress, but will it happen fast enough.

Ukraine is producing its Bohdana self-propelled howitzer at a rate of eight per month. They started the war with a few prototypes. Ukraine has also become one of the world’s leading producers (and users) of drones. The Czech Republic and Estonia have managed to scrounge up a buttload of ammunition around the world and the rest of Europe seems willing to foot the bill. Europe is finally upping the production of both artillery pieces and ammunition.  

The US? Who knows. The White House is not only afraid of the Kremlin’s nuclear weapons, but also that Russia’s energy industry might be damaged by Ukrainian drones. A sizable minority of the Republicans in the House are content to see Putin rewarded for his war of aggression. At least the isolationists are doing it out of principle. Even the Japanese Prime Minister told a joint session of Congress to grow a pair.


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17 Responses to ISW on the developing Ukrainian defense industrial base and Russias strikes on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure

  1. cobo says:

    The Russian war on Ukraine is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only have the world’s current conflicts awoken the western nations to the need for sound industrial policies, it also helps us understand who is with us and who is deserving of less trust. While we’re restlessly awaiting an Iranian attack on Israel, why don’t we attack Iran first?

    • Eric Newhill says:

      Iran doesn’t have the balls or sufficient weapons to attack Israel in any direct way to actually follow -up on all of their “death to Israel/death to America” rhetoric. They are all about sneaky terrorist attacks via proxies and one-off drone strikes (that usually miss), that sort of thing. The US is there to pound Lebanon into rubble should Hezbollah be tempted to follow Iran’s orders. Hamas is currently being neutralized. The Houthis can’t do anything beyond be a minor annoyance and Iran sure isn’t going to come marching or flying across Syria to attack Israel without being pulverized (if they had the balls to try).

      • Jovan P says:

        This comment by Eric didn’t age well.

        • Eric Newhill says:

          Wrong. It aged *exactly* as I said it would. It was a one-off drone strike that did nothing. Now Iran is saying it is done and begging to not be attacked in retaliation. No balls. My prescience astounds even me sometimes. I wrote that comment before learning of the stupid impotent attack.

          The mighty Iran, what a joke. A bunch of lame punks.

    • gordon reed says:

      Why would we attack Iran, do you want oil prices to go through the roof and destroy the world economy. What has Iran done to the US, if you want to draw up a ledger starting from 1953 we have done immeasurable damage to their country by overthrowing their government in 53 and supporting Saddam and Iraq against them and putting onerous sanctions on them to try to destroy their economy all because they resist our plans for dominating the region.

  2. James says:

    I just saw video from today of a barrage of missiles fired by Hezbollah being taken down by what I presume was Iron Dome. Interesting time for western forces to start expending air defense missiles – it is almost as if the Russian military and Hezbollah are coordinating their actions to deplete western air defense missile supplies. I think we can assume Israel ranks higher than Ukraine when it comes to the disbursement of scarce air defense supplies.

    All of this after the Hamas October 7th attack scuppered an Israel-Saudi rapprochement. Brzeziński warned us not to let the barbarians come together – and now it is happening before our eyes. Darn.

  3. elkern says:

    I don’t think I get all “apoplectic over anything from the ISW”, but when I clicked through to the original, I saw that one of the authors is Frederick W. Kagan, and of course that last name is familiar to anyone here (brother of Robert Kagan, ergo bro-in-law to Victoria Nuland). I will always be suspicious of anything written by anyone who signed the original PNAC Manifesto, so yeah, I assume that there are hidden motivations behind this paper.

    Reading the article, it looks like the propaganda twist is the emphasis on a degradation of Ukraine’s military industry as *the* motivation for Russia’s recent attacks on Ukraine’s electricity grid. The article is pretty careful about this; it notes that Putin said that the attacks are a response to Ukraine’s attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, but the rest of that sentence makes it sound like the main point is to attack Ukraine’s defense industries. I don’t know much about military hardware and tactics, but I do know a thing or two about propaganda, and this is a fine example of the clever use of words to get people to focus on what the writers want them to care about.

    IMO, *the* reason for the new attacks on Ukraine’s grid is to send a message discouraging any further Ukrainian attacks inside Russia proper. Russia has always had the ability to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure, but they have generally avoided strategic bombing. What TTG describes – reasonably – as “dicking around”, I view as a choice to avoid needless destruction while sending the message that Russia could destroy whatever it chooses.

    Ukraine’s leaders *must* have understood this before they chose to attack targets inside Russia, but they did it anyway. Why? My best guess would be that they assumed that they could use the Russian response (bombing the grid) to get more weapons (and money) from the US & Europe – and the OP fits nicely with that “plan”. Seems risky, almost perverse – “let’s get Russia to turn out the lights in large portions of our country, so maybe Uncle Sugar will give us more AA weapons to prevent Russia from turning out the lights”?
    But there’s another down-side for Ukraine: it will make the USA even less likely to trust Ukraine with long/medium-range offensive weapons (which we don’t want to see used in attacks on Russia proper). Without such weapons, any “plans” for Ukraine to regain its lost territory are doomed – which is still the stated goal of Ukrainian (and US/NATO) leaders.

    If there’s a strategic vision behind this, it seems to be for Ukraine to hold out until Russia collapses, but frankly, the USA seems much closer to “Civil War” than Russia does…

    • Eric Newhill says:

      With on the ISW/PNAC distrust/dislike.

      So you think that Russia’s recent increased infrastructure attack is a tit for tat deterrent to further attacks by Ukraine into Russia. Maybe. I hadn’t thought of that. I was thinking that Russia was maybe just becoming serious about finishing a war that they should win, but might fumble due to dicking around. Then again, our ideas are not mutually exclusive.

  4. Christian J Chuba says:

    As long as Ukraine was completely dependent on their legacy stockpile and NATO imports, there was no real need for Russia to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. But now that Ukraine is starting to manufacture their own stuff in quantity, it makes sense for Russia to go after it now.

    Russia’s first two years of bombing was no joke for the Ukrainian military personnel and foreign volunteers. Haven’t heard much about the foreign volunteers for at least a year now, I wonder what happened to them.

  5. ked says:

    maybe a smarter move by Russia… but not a winning one.

  6. John Winthrop says:

    Based on the FT article on Russia’s tactical nuclear drills against a Chinese invasion, against a collaborator in a entente of overlapping national interest, if not an ally; Biden (or rather the glorified wonks putting words in his mouth) is applying due caution.

    There was a huge wave (carefully distilled into NAFO/thinkpiece talking points) that Western leaders were “weak” for listening to saber rattling, paper tiger threats. But it seems like the reality in the unclassified settings is a little different to chicken hawking on social media. At the end of the day, the Ukraine is not worth a nuclear exchange to the US (even assuming the likely outcome Russia comes out relatively worse off).

    Another popular point has it China would insist Russia avoid nuclear escalation, yet the very same pundits insist North Korea, a much smaller, and more reliant power, poses an independent nuclear threat. In fact as a Taiwan scenario nears, China may increasingly welcome the distracting spectre of a nuclear exchange in Europe (it’s eagerly building up it’s own nuclear weapons).

    If the world was actually governed by the slogans the DC set repeats, the result would be constant, large scale conflict. Except where ideology and ethnic lobbies inflame an issue (Russia, Israel, anti-Trump sentiment), the actual conduct of Western foreign policy differs considerably to these hot-button issues. Even-handed tamping down of the Kashmir, Armenian, Nile, or Cypriot conflicts contrasts sharply with the the shrill, single-minded, tone when it comes to the Ukraine.

    It’s not necessary to appeal to “whataboutism” (“it’s ok for Russia to invade the Ukraine because Golan heights”). Whataboutism and it’s critics both operate from the premise of universally valid rules. In actuality, it’s particularistic, crazy-paving combinations of deterrence, deals, unofficial understandings, functional conventions “unprincipled” exceptions, and real politic that maintain any sort of “global stability.”

  7. A.G. says:

    “Some of you are apoplectic over anything from the ISW…”

    There is a simple, objective way to measure the quality of a news source, “expert”, or “think tank”: just look what they wrote in the past, and compare it to what we know now. Who passes this test of time can be reluctantly considered a reliable source; who doesn’t, can be ruled out. As no-one is 100% right all the time, bonus points for those who once in a while openly say “we were wrong”, and do not hide it where nobody is likely to look; malus points for the others.

    With that qualitry control applied, ISW is *very* far from being a reliable source of information. Standard propaganda, nothing more.

    • Christian J Chuba says:

      True. Gen. Jack Keane was one of the people who predicted that Russia would take Kiev in 3 days but now attributes this to Putin (who never said it). So we have a history of people who make wrong predictions and do not even own their mistakes.

      Some of what the ISW says might be true but I cannot tell when they are info warring vs reporting something useful. As a result, I don’t bother reading it. Eventually we will know the truth, eventually a body is going to hit the ground just like at the end of ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’

  8. walrus says:

    Words matter. The key to understanding ISW and Jewish writing is to understand this.

    For example, I had a research contract to administer between a University and a venture capital fund run by a very orthodox venture capital fund. I found it delieghtful however my poor scottish finance manager used to tear his hair out. An example our researchers were awarded a pay rise by the University, when our monthly invoice to the fund increased, it was queried “We said we would make a payment towards salaries, no where did we say we would pay increases! Enough already! Oy vey! After much argument they did pay, in full. They were honourable people, but the discussion and argument over meanings? Oy vey!

    So back to ISW: Yes, Putin has decided to take the gloves off and do longer lasting damage to Ukraine, on this I agree with ISW but “Significant delays in Western aid, due in part to successful Russian information operations and Western hesitancy, have created an opportunity for Russian offensive operations and Russia’s strike campaign.”???? Russian disinformation operations????? What Russian disinfomration operations???? We cannot produce enough weapons and ammunition fast enough! That’s it!

    “ISW continues to assess that the development of Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB) over time can allow Ukraine to sustain its defense against Russia and longer-term national security needs with significantly reduced foreign military assistance. Ukrainian officials have expressed their intention to expand Ukraine’s DIB domestically and abroad since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov previously identified increased Ukrainian domestic production of weapons and military equipment as a priority for 2024.”

    There is not a hope in hell that this can be done. My first job , was at a Government ammo factory. You need specialised machines to make artillery ammo, like 500 ton presses, lots of them. They don’t grow on trees.

    The idea that US Aid can prevent Russia from winning is wrong. However It’s a very convenient idea to peddle because it sets the stage to put the blame for Ukraines imminent capitulation or whatever you call it, on Congressional Republicans – another “stab in the back ” story.

    • TTG says:


      Europe, the US, Japan, South Korea and Türkiye together can produce enough artillery shells and barrels to supply Ukraine. I don’t know if the same can be said for air defense missile production. I have my doubts. Russia is dependent on North Korea and Iran for artillery shells and drones. And Russia and Iran are still heavily reliant on Western technology in their drones and missiles. China is keeping her cards close to her vest in that regard. If she decided to really be an ally without limits, I have a feeling the scale would definitely be tipped in Russia’s favor.

      It will be a long time, if ever, for Ukraine to be self-sufficient in artillery ammunition. It will take US and German factories to be built in Ukraine to come close. Rheinmetall is doing just that. The Ukrainian drone industry is doing very well on its own.

      • d74 says:

        China, looking at this war is a mystery. Its inclinations, what it does, what it might not do … too much misinformation out of self-interest or ignorance. The most we can say is that she does business as best she can in the light of her long-term interests, neither anti-Ukraine, nor frankly pro-Russian. It could supply the Russians with electronic components of indifferent origin. Perhaps machines that allow finer engraving than the Russians have mastered and can handle. That’s a lot.
        The words between Russians and Chinese officials sound like European mantras like “ever-increasing understanding”. We Europeans know that these are words devoid of concrete meaning. Besides, all it takes is for China not to be anti-Russian for Russia to be favored in this war.

        North Korea is a supplier of 152 and 122 mm shells because it owes Russia. It is said to have 10 million in stock. No doubt North Korean factories are working flat out to satisfy their (only) Russian friends. And with old Soviet machine tools that should never have slowed down. It doesn’t know how to make anything else, and it applies itself to it. So far, the people have been well kept in hand, and they don’t count. Reasonable paranoia. They learned the hard way.

        As for Ukraine and its “friends”, I appreciate your tireless optimism.
        First, let’s note that none of our miracle weapons have lived up to their promise. There’s no silver bullet. For example, the Ukrainians want new missile defenses and flak because the Russians have destroyed the ones we supplied. They need tanks and plane because the Russians destroyed the existing ones.

        As walrus points out, heavy industries are a world apart. The investments are very high and the return on investment too low to excite finance. Long-term financial and industrial efforts are an unknown concept to them (and I’m being polite).
        The Russians can reach the entire Ukrainian territory with their missiles. Their satellite surveillance is constant. Do you think they’ll stand by and watch a factory go up without reacting?

        These projects have two other handicaps: energy and time.
        I often discuss this with my engineer son. A workshop that assembles drones or makes light handguns can run on electric generators. For heavy industry, this is out of the question. Their NPPs used to supply 60% of their power consumption, now 100%. That’s just enough for social cohesion (cohesion may not be the right word). The European power grid can’t provide it, except in a very unlikely endeavor. Is it still possible to use coal directly? Yes, if we accept a low quality alloy steel that is incompatible with all military equipment, including high-powered guns. What’s more, the know-how must be lacking.

        Second. Time is short for all these projects. Time is a challenge. I thought we could reform ourselves to achieve industrial results in about two years. I don’t think so anymore. No moral mobilization, unfortunately.

        The future has no magic wand. I’m not particularly happy about writing these tons of demoralization, but I think candor is preferable.

  9. Jose says:

    “Some of you are apoplectic over anything from the ISW…”

    This cab be summarized in one picture:

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