It is not uncommon to hear reports of attacks on either Russian or Ukrainian critical infrastructure since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Due to these types of attacks, the Russian and Ukrainian governments, as well as critical infrastructure companies, have taken drone and missile self-defense measures to protect these vital assets.

Attacks on critical infrastructure are not relegated to facilities located on and around the war’s front lines. A recent report from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL), with research support from the Ukraine Digital Verification Lab (UDVL) at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has confirmed 66 instances of conflict-related damage to Ukraine’s power generation and transmission infrastructure.

The report reveals an additional 157 damage incidents, bringing the total to 223 identified instances between October 1, 2022, and April 30, 2023. These verified instances of damage have been observed across 17 oblasts throughout Ukraine, with almost 53 percent concentrated in just five: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, and Kherson oblasts.

The geospatial and temporal patterns of these incidents, coupled with statements regarding the attacks from Russian public officials and state-sponsored media, suggest a coordinated and extensive campaign aimed at disabling critical power generation and transmission infrastructure throughout Ukraine to advance Russian military objectives. These incidents are spread across the majority of Ukraine’s oblasts, even reaching areas far from the active conflict zones.

Ukraine, for its part, has retaliated against Russian critical infrastructure targets, often well behind the front lines deeper into Russia. The Kyiv Post reports that the Russian military, focused on the front lines and covering critical government and military facilities, has urged oil and other energy companies to take responsibility for protecting themselves from Ukrainian drone threats.

According to reporting from the Russian news site Important Stories on March 21, Russian companies have taken action in response to calls to safeguard themselves against Ukrainian kamikaze drones. The report revealed that oil and other energy firms have issued over 300 tenders to procure counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems since early April 2023. It is unknown whether any of these systems, if deployed, have been effective against the incoming Ukrainian drones and other aerial threats.

In response to the Russian aerial threat, Ukraine has prepared three levels of protection against Russia’s attacks on critical infrastructure, according to an official Ukrainian website.

At the initial level of defense, gabions and sandbags are deployed to shield against debris generated by drones and missiles. As of November 2023, the State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine is fortifying 90 facilities spread across 21 regions using this method.

Moving to the second tier of protection, concrete structures are erected around the primary network of Ukrenergo (Ukrainian National Power Company). This defensive measure encompasses 22 substations and 63 autotransformers across 14 regions, effectively shielding them from direct air assaults by Russian forces, including UAVs and missiles.

A third level of defense has been devised specifically to counter Russian missile attacks. The Agency is fortifying 22 substations in 14 regions, ensuring they are shielded from direct impacts by enemy missiles.

What does this mean for critical infrastructure security around the world?

Although the war doesn’t currently directly impact critical infrastructure in other countries around the world, the attacks in both Ukraine and Russia have highlighted the vulnerabilities of these national assets.

A recent commentary from Rand suggests balancing survivability, adaptation, and mitigation for Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Still, those tactics could apply to any country seeking to protect its critical infrastructure.

Survivability includes reducing the size of and dispersing electricity generating and distribution facilities and increasing reliance on spread-out solar farms. Adaptation includes building resiliency in critical infrastructure such as water and gas and developing a rapid repair program when these services are interrupted. Mitigation includes hardening the infrastructure and strengthening structures. It could also include using technology to reduce the threat or impact of aerial attacks on critical infrastructure facilities.

Will changes in laws and regulations in the United States and other countries, if they occur, provide options for critical infrastructure to protect themselves? Will those facilities take a proactive stance, or will they wait for an incident “closer to home” to take action?

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Post Image- Map showing the geospatial distribution of identified incidents of damage to power generation and transmission infrastructure across Ukraine by oblast from 1 October 2022 to 30 April 2023. This map utilizes the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) Field Information Services Section subnational administrative boundary data. The naming conventions for oblasts, Crimea, and cities with special status are the short form “Anglicized Variant” (AV) names established by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names Geographic Names Server (GNS). (Image Credit: Yale School of Public Health Humanitarian Research Lab)