Appetite For Risk: Russia Now Conducting Strikes Just 200 Yards From NATO’s Eastern Frontier

IZMAIL, UKRAINE - AUGUST 2, 2023 - The Marine Terminal building shows damage caused by the Russian drone attack on the port infrastructure of Izmail situated on the Danube River Wednesday night, August 2, Izmail, Odesa Region, southern Ukraine. (Photo credit should read Nina Liashonok / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty …
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Russia is raining down drone strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure on the Danube River, with targets hit just 200 meters (220 yards) away from the Romanian border, demonstrating Russia becoming less concerned about antagonising NATO, the United Kingdom says.

While Ukraine has traditionally exported its enormous grain harvest by the Black Sea, Russia’s occupation and the collapse of the grain deal has seen it looking to the Danube River on which bulk carrier ships can navigate cargo at least as far as Bavaria in Germany. Reacting to this, Russia in its policy of blockade has started striking those inland river ports too in a bid to prevent Ukraine earning foreign currency with imports.

Yet some of Ukraine’s Danube River ports butt right up to NATO’s border: the Port of Reni in the Odessa Oblast is just yards away from Romania. Indeed, at this point of the Danube, the Ukraine-Romania border runs down the middle of the river.

The willingness to strike at targets like this so close to NATO’s eastern flank shows Russia is becoming less risk averse, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence says. In one of their frequent intelligence digests, the MOD relates that in the past fortnight “Russia has conducted several waves of strikes against Ukrainian ports on the Danube River” using Iranian drones in an attempt to scare off foreign ships from doing business at Ukrainian ports.

These drones have “struck targets as close as 200 metres from the Romanian border, suggesting that Russia has evolved its risk appetite for conducting strikes near NATO territory”. Nevertheless, there is still an element of balancing risk for the Russians, the UK MOD claims, stating it is likely they are using drones for these very-close-to-NATO attacks because Moscow believes they are less likely to cause an escalation with the West than cruise missile strikes on the border.

Last month, strikes against the NATO-adjacent port of Reni destroyed grain storehouses and storage tanks with a wave of 18 drones, just three of which were said to have been shot down. It was reported at the time that Romanian soldiers stationed on their side of the river were able to watch the attack take place and record social media video, witnessing blasts and hearing the drones’ engines.

Another port that sits on the Ukraine-Romania border is Izmail, which was struck by Russia’s drones this week. Reuters reported the attack damaged near 40,000 tons of grain destined for export “to countries in Africa as well as China and Israel” and that port facilities including the marine terminal [pictured, top] were damaged. Russia counter-claimed that the building was being used to house “foreign mercenaries and military hardware”.

While Russia’s pressure on Ukraine’s export infrastructure appears intent on damaging the Ukrainian economy, it potentially has serious repercussions for Europe, too. Much Ukrainian grain exports are not to Europe, but to the developing world including Africa and the near east, and it has been suggested an increase of hunger will be a driver of mass migration north.

Ukraine is not ignorant of these discussions, and has recently used them as leverage for more military support from the West, saying the European Union should give more weapons to Kyiv to limit its own exposure to mass migration.


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