New U.S. Report Finds Systemic Russian Targeting Of Ukrainian Energy Infrastructure

Russian occupiers have attacked Ukraine's power grid dozens of times to 'freeze it into submission', during the first winter of the conflict, a new U.S. report, issued by the State Department-supported Conflict Observatory program, suggests, TURAN's Washington correspondent reports.

Yale University researchers found more than 200 instances of damage to the country’s power infrastructure between October 1, 2022, and April 30, 2023, amounting to more than $8 billion in estimated destruction in 17 of the country’s 24 oblasts, or administrative units. In the majority of these incidents, the damaged infrastructure was far from the front lines of conflict, calling into question whether the strikes were directed at legitimate military objectives, the State Department said on Monday.

Of the 223 instances identified in the report, researchers were able to confirm 66 of them with high confidence, meaning they were able to cross-reference the damage across multiple trustworthy sources and data points, according to Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Nathaniel Raymond. The findings are consistent with those previously reported by the Conflict Observatory.

"... [T]he fact of the matter is, especially in Ukraine in the winter, electrical power is essential to what is used – in international law the term means necessary for survival," Raymond told TURAN's Washington correspondent during a virtual briefing organized by the State Department's Washington Press Center.

"We’re still in the midst of the winter period, as bombardment has been ongoing and continued attacks on energy infrastructure.  So this remains a topic of significant concern, especially for the impact that it has on civilians, and it’s another issue that we want to continue to see improvement and rapid advancement when it comes to the validation and verification of these strikes so that more material is able to be processed and moved forward for broader accountability," said Caitlin Howarth, the Conflict Observatory's director of operations.

The researchers also documented statements from the Russia officials that have expressed specific intent to commit attacks against infrastructure of a civilian nature to have an effect on civilian security and well-being., motives that might place the Russian attacks in violation of international law, including the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

"We found four identified incidents consistent with a potential violation of Article 56" Raymond said. Article 56 of Additional Protocol 1 includes special protections for objects, including dangerous forces.

"So we see two categories of statements from Russia’s Government as it relates to justifying the strikes.  On one hand, they are saying that there is a legitimate military reason, which may in some cases potentially be true; but on the other hand we see statements by Russian officials and Russian-aligned actors that suggest that these strikes are specific retaliation for Kerch Bridge and are specifically to attempt to inflict harm on civilians," he explained.

Raymond called the report "one of the most important one", as it represents a technical achievement in the effort for everyone to document these attacks in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The State Department said in its media note that the threat to civilian lives and livelihoods in Ukraine is entirely of Russia’s making. 

"Vladimir Putin began this war, and he can end it by withdrawing Russian forces from Ukraine’s territory. Until then, the United States will continue supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s aggression and its pursuit of accountability for the atrocities Russian forces have committed against the people of Ukraine," reads the Department release.

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