Russian air defense systems in Leningrad Oblasts are not likely designed to protect the region against attacks from the south, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its Jan. 21 report.
The terminal of Russia's Novatek natural gas company caught fire in the port of Ust-Luga in Leningrad Oblast near St Petersburg overnight on Jan. 21. The strike was the result of a planned operation by the Security Service of Ukraine, according to an unnamed source in the agency cited by Ukrainska Pravda.
The ISW said that air defense systems in Leningrad Oblast may not be well-equipped to counter attacks from Ukraine, because they were not designed with southern attacks in mind.
"Russia has historically arrayed its air defense in the area to defend against hypothetical NATO attacks," analysts wrote.
Russian forces are now building up a "Leningrad military district" along the border with Finland in order to intimidate NATO members and possibly prepare for a future war with NATO. Continued Ukrainian strikes on Russian military assets in the region may force Russia to change its tactics.
"Ukrainian strikes in Leningrad Oblast may prompt Russian forces to reposition short-range air defense systems along expected flight routes of Ukrainian drones to defend potential targets of strategic value," the ISW said.
Yurii Ihnat, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Air Force, said on Jan. 20 that Russian air defense systems were sufficient to protect targets near the front lines and in occupied Crimea, but not those on Russian soil.
"Russian air defense is thinning out. They filled the front line and Crimea with it (air defense). But you see that the Russian territory is not so filled with air defense equipment," Ihnat said.
The overnight strike on Novatek was part of a coordinated attack against military targets on Russian soil, including infrastructure in Russia's Tula, Smolensk, and Oryol oblasts. Reports of strikes against rear areas in Russia have increased in recent weeks, though Kyiv rarely gives official comment on these attacks.
According to the ISW, if Ukraine continues to target deep rear areas within Russia, it may "increase pressure on Russia’s air defenses overall."