Focus Ukraine: Russia returns to energy terror, Ukraine's President changes political top managers

Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk, Oleksiy Kushch

17 mins - 2 de Abril de 2024, 07:00

Agenda Pública and United Ukraine Think Tank present Focus Ukraine, a weekly article series analysing how the military conflict in Ukraine and the political and economic situation in the country will evolve. The articles are written by Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk and Oleksiy Kushch, experts of the United Ukraine Think Tank.

Russia is using increasingly powerful weapons and indiscriminate shelling to achieve its goals. The President of Ukraine has made a series of dismissals and appointments in an attempt to partially reboot the management team to formulate adequate responses to the growing risks of destabilization. Russia's renewed terror against energy facilities in Ukraine exacerbates the issue of finding a new energy balance for the country.
For Russia, the current war against Ukraine is an attempt to undo what they see as a wrong history. Putin believes that Ukraine is "artificial". Therefore, Russia openly states that in its understanding Ukraine should not exist at all. And this is reflected in Russia's actions. The Kremlin declares the occupied Ukrainian territories to be regions of the Russian Federation, and makes no secret of the fact that it deports those it considers dangerous to the occupation regime from the occupied Ukrainian land. The Order of the Russian People's Council, approved by the Moscow Patriarch on March 27, contains a statement that the "special military operation" is a "holy war" and that as a result Russia should gain exclusive control over Ukraine. The definition of the war as "holy" also determines the brutal nature of Russia's warfare.

The Russians do not limit themselves in the means of destruction they use against Ukraine. For example, in Velyka Pysarivka in Sumy region at the end of March, they probably used a so-called one-and-a-half-ton bulk explosive bomb, ODAB-1500. The bomb releases an aerosol, which is then detonated, allowing it to hit large areas. In general, Russia has significantly expanded the use of high-yield guided bombs.

Russia failed to disrupt Ukraine's energy system in the winter. But it is trying to do so now with the help of missiles and Shaheds. The strike knocked out the Zmiivska TPP in Kharkiv region. Ukrenergo is forced to apply emergency shutdown schedules for the period of evening peak consumption in addition to Kharkiv and Kharkiv region in Sumy, Poltava and Donetsk regions. In addition, emergency blackouts are used in Dnipropetrovska, Zaporizka, and Kirovohradska oblasts. There are power outages in Kryvyi Rih and Odesa. These strikes have little or no military significance. The goal is to cause suffering to civilians. Russia does not hide this. In particular, the murderer of oppositionist Litvinenko, FSB officer and State Duma deputy Andrei Lugovoi said on the air of Russia 1 TV channel: "Kharkiv needs to be de-energized so much that it becomes unviable. So that the 800,000 people who stayed there would get into their cars, on foot, with packages, on wheelchairs, and head west. The same should be done with other cities, including Kyiv." In addition, the Russians have been conducting massive attacks on the above-ground infrastructure of underground gas storage facilities in the Lviv region.

For example, from March 18 to 24, Russia attacked Ukraine with 190 missiles of various types, 140 Shahed drones and 700 guided bombs, and used ballistic and hypersonic weapons that can reach targets extremely quickly, leaving people little time to seek shelter and escape. The attacks have primarily targeted energy and critical infrastructure and residential areas in densely populated cities, causing significant casualties and destruction, as well as man-made accidents in entire regions. On March 27, for the first time since 2022, Russians attacked Kharkiv with guided aerial bombs. One person was killed, and a three-month-old child was among the 19 injured. The attack targeted a multi-story residential building. At least 14 residential buildings and a secondary school were damaged.

Russia has not given up on continuing its offensive. The occupiers are trying to advance in different directions. But, according to Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, "recently the number of positions we have regained exceeds the number of positions we have lost. The enemy has not managed to advance significantly on strategic directions, and its territorial achievements, if any, are of tactical importance. This situation is under control." And "only in February-March of this year (as of March 26), the enemy lost more than 570 tanks, about 1,430 armored combat vehicles, about 1,680 artillery systems and 64 air defense systems." In an interview with CBS News, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia could be preparing for a new offensive in late May or June. The enemy's intentions are being carefully monitored and its capabilities are being analyzed. The situation in the east has been stabilized. It is better than it was 2-3 months ago. Russia has a significant advantage in the number of weapons, ammunition and personnel. Incidentally, General Syrsky also noted in his interview that "a few days ago, the enemy's advantage in terms of ammunition was about 6:1." This poses a threat of new attempts to break through the Ukrainian front. Ukraine informs its partners about the degree of threat and current needs for weapons, military equipment and ammunition.

The United Nations Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has submitted its 38th report on the human rights situation in Ukraine for the period from December 1, 2023 to February 29, 2024. 

As a result of its work, it recorded the executions of at least 32 Ukrainian prisoners of war by the Russian invaders over the past winter. 

This is much more than in any of the previous periods. And this is definitely an incomplete figure. Based on the results of interviews with those released from Russian captivity, the UN Mission found that Ukrainians are subjected to violence, including sexual violence. Beatings, torture, threats of execution, starvation, and inadequate conditions of detention with denial of medical care are part of a system deliberately created by Russia to inflict suffering on Ukrainian prisoners of war. There is no access to prisoners of war. Russia deliberately and systematically disregards the norms of international humanitarian law regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. At the same time, Russian propaganda insidiously calls on the Ukrainian military to voluntarily surrender, depicting the deceptive benefits of such an act. The International Committee of the Red Cross should ultimately do its job or openly state that Russia is preventing it from doing so, rather than playing along with Russian aggressors.

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At the same time, Russia is actively putting pressure on neighboring NATO member states through air attacks. For example, on March 24, a Russian missile that struck Ukrainian infrastructure in our western regions crossed the Ukrainian border with Poland and flew for 39 seconds in Polish airspace. Despite the fact that Poland's air defense system, which is integrated into NATO's air defense system, was on alert and Polish fighters were in the air, no fire was opened at the missile. This decision is controversial, as it is clear that the missile flew according to the program. In addition, this is not the first such case. For example, a fallen Russian X-55 missile was already found near the Polish city of Bydgoszcz last April. Now, the Polish side has quite reasonably summoned the Russian ambassador for explanations, who did not appear at the Foreign Ministry and left Poland. Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Shejna said that NATO is considering the possibility of destroying Russian missiles near the Alliance's borders with the consent of the Ukrainian side and taking into account international consequences. The interaction of NATO and Ukrainian air defense systems in covering western Ukraine is logical and correct and will strengthen both sides.

Our existing air defense systems, in particular Patriot, which can shoot down almost all types of Russian missiles used by the enemy to attack Ukraine, are not enough to protect Ukraine. The actual needs are much higher. In addition, we need more ammunition for air defense. Ukraine is still the only country in the world that is attacked by missiles on a daily basis. "Patriot is needed here and now to protect human life. There is also an urgent need for other types of weapons, including artillery shells. The help of allies and especially the United States is critical to deterring the Russians. The world must understand that Putin does not plan to stop with the seizure of Ukraine. Russian aggression could spread to other countries, including NATO members. To prevent it, Russia must be stopped here in Ukraine.

Large-scale reshuffle in the Office of the President of Ukraine: public figures are being replaced by non-public analysts and administrators who will apparently focus on implementing specific projects rather than communicating with the media
At the end of March, a number of important reshuffles took place in the presidential vertical. Back on March 26, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree dismissing the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov. He was replaced by the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Oleksandr Lytvynenko, who is a well-known professional but non-public analyst. As for the reasons for this resignation, various prerequisites are mentioned: from Danilov's harsh statements against the Chinese special representative to the fact that the resignation had been in the works for quite some time. At the same time, it should be noted that both Danilov himself and representatives of the Presidential Office stated that the former NSDC Secretary would remain in the President's team. On the evening of March 29, Zelenskyy announced that he had agreed to send Danilov as ambassador to Moldova, citing Danilov's personal desire. It should be noted that even as Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov actively commented on the "Moldovan theme" in the context of the possible spread of Russian aggression. In particular, back in February 2023, he announced that Russia was planning to stage a coup d'état in Moldova and had trained a group of Chechen militants for this purpose.

On the evening of March 29, Volodymyr Zelenskyy also made changes in the leadership of the Presidential Office. Deputy Heads of the Office of the President Andriy Smirnov and Oleksiy Dniprov lost their positions. Smirnov was responsible for the judicial direction and preparation of international tribunals. He had held his position since September 2019. In his position at the OP, Andriy Smirnov was most recently involved in the creation of the Special International Tribunal. After his dismissal, Smirnov wrote that it was an honor to work with Zelenskyy.

Oleksiy Dniprov is the only deputy head of the OP who remained in Zelenskyy's team from his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko. 

During the terms of both presidents, Dniprov was exclusively involved in bureaucratic processes in the OP and was the chief of staff. 

Smirnov and Dniprov will be replaced in the Presidential Office by Iryna Mudra and Olena Kovalska. The former has been Deputy Minister of Justice since May 20, 2022, responsible for international courts and the confiscation of Russian assets. Olena Kovalska worked for a long time in the banking sector, and from 2021 she headed the Main Department of Strategic Communications in the Presidential Office, then was the head of the office of the head of the OP Andriy Yermak and a member of the presidential working group on the creation of a tribunal to try the Russian authorities for the crime of aggression.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy also dismissed Serhiy Shefir from his position as First Assistant to the President of Ukraine, a position he had held since May 2019. The dismissal decree appeared on the president's website on March 30. Serhiy Shefir is one of the closest confidants of President Zelenskyy and a personal friend of his since his youth and Studio Kvartal-95. A number of other presidential advisers also lost their positions.

In general, the reshuffle in the President's entourage can be seen as a continuation of the previously announced reset of the government. It began with the resignations of Minister of Veterans Affairs Yulia Laputina and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. Then, serious reshuffles took place in the General Staff. And now it's the turn of the National Security and Defense Council and the President's Office. This is quite logical, because any really serious reset without changes in the president's environment does not seem possible.

The key feature of the new changes is that public people are being replaced by non-public analysts and administrators, who will obviously focus on implementing specific projects rather than communicating with the media. In fact, the results of these projects will be the basis for drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of the work.

Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities have once again raised the issue of energy shortages in Ukraine's economy
In recent days, the country's largest private power generating company has lost 50% of its generation capacity.

The Ladyzhyn and Burshtyn thermal power plants in the west of the country, owned by DTEK, were destroyed.

In the east of the country, Zmiivska TPP, which is managed by the state-owned Centrenergo, suffered significant damage.

As a result, a number of regions of the country experienced rolling blackouts: Odesa, Kharkiv, Sumy, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Khmelnytskyi regions.

Russia is targeting the so-called balancing generation: thermal and hydropower.

Strikes have been made against DniproHES, Kaniv and Dniester hydroelectric power plants.

At the same time, the basic generation in the form of Ukrainian nuclear power plants has not been hit yet.

Overall, the electricity shortage has affected the most industrialized regions of the country.   

Ukraine's old energy sector, created in the Soviet era, is coming to the end of its operating cycle. What will replace it? The answer to this question should be provided by the country's new energy balance.

Some of the deepest, systemic risks that are currently emerging for the Ukrainian economy are related to the reset of the country's basic energy model, both in the industrial and social spectrums of this issue.

In addition, the existing risks can be analyzed in terms of time vector: the near future and the longer term.

Social energy risks in Ukraine are related to the fact that we have two paradoxical phenomena: on the one hand, there is a terrible energy poverty, when more than 10 million households, or 40% of household consumers, use up to 100 kWh per month.

On the other hand, even such a meager consumption of electricity in Ukraine is possible only on the basis of the lowest tariffs in Europe.

At present, Energoatom (85%) and Ukrhydroenergo (15%) are responsible for fulfilling the SOI (social obligation obligations) to provide electricity to the population at a social tariff.

However, nuclear reactor capacities require modernization and lifetime extension.

And the process of renovation is not eternal - sooner or later, old Soviet reactors will have to be replaced with new ones, which means billions of dollars. Even tens of billions.

Economic energy risks: Since independence, Ukraine has had cheap electricity as a potential systemic element of our factor competitiveness.

Electricity prices for industry are one of the basic factors for the success of the industrial parks concept: not only are free and sufficiently powerful connection points for enterprises to the energy infrastructure important, but also the predictability of electricity prices over a planning horizon of three to five years (or better yet, up to 10 years).

Businesses need affordable electricity to make high-quality and adequate business forecasts, especially for energy-intensive industries.

Currently, Energoatom accounts for more than 50% of generation in Ukraine, which means that the prospects for its development will determine the basic range of both social and economic risks.

From the point of view of the distribution of productive forces, our energy complex was once formed to meet completely different parameters of the industrial and social sectors, of which 60-70% are now left.

Accordingly, the energy system itself must be balanced to the new parameters of the basis, but it will not be possible to do this automatically or in the format of natural extinction of unnecessary waste.

The country's energy balance clearly shows what mechanisms Ukraine still has to make it a surplus rather than a chronically deficit one.

First, we have no choice but to reduce the role of coal-fired thermal generation.

Second, we need to increase the share of nuclear generation in the overall balance.

Thirdly, we need to accelerate the process of full integration of our IPS with the European ENTSO-E, in particular through the functioning of the Ukraine-EU energy bridge (Khmelnytsky NPP - Rzeszow).

In parallel with these steps, it is necessary to solve the problem of low maneuverability of the country's power system by completing existing PSPP projects and launching modern battery stations (a system that stores electricity).

It is clear that renewable energy sources need to be developed, not only solar and wind energy, but also biogas based on biomass (straw and wood pellets).

But the significant impact of these sources is only possible in the next 20-30 years (during which time they will become cheaper).

But the key factor in leveling our energy balance from deficit to surplus is the development of nuclear power.

To do this, first of all, it is necessary to increase electricity generation by completing the "frozen" nuclear power reactors: launching reactors 3 and 4 at Khmelnytsky NPP. This project can be implemented in the near future.

In this context, the completion of two nuclear power reactors at Khmelnytskyi NPP is of strategic importance for the energy security of the state, as it will help to equalize our energy balance, overcoming its chronic shortage.

Two power units with a capacity of 1000 MW each will not only cover the level of current electricity imports from the EU, but will also increase the ceiling for economic growth of our industry, which is currently unable to develop due to limited sources of electricity, especially in winter.

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