Winning the Interdiction Fight in Ukraine

This quick take is part of our Crisis Crossroads series, which highlights timely analysis by CSIS scholars on the evolving situation in Ukraine and its security, economic, energy, and humanitarian effects.

While most analysts are focused on Russian land operations in the Donbas region, the next phase of the war will likely be decided in western Ukraine along the network of roads, small airports, and rail lines connecting the nation to Europe. To survive, Ukraine needs massive shipments of ammunition and fuel, which Russia will increasingly attempt to interdict. If Ukraine can protect these lines of communication, Kyiv has a real chance to deny Russian military objectives and force a political settlement.

In military theory, interdiction represents actions to disrupt, delay, or destroy enemy military capabilities—to include precursors like logistics—before they can be brought to bear against friendly forces. While historically interdiction includes activities ranging from the maritime commerce raiding to aerial strafing of rail lines and other logistics nodes in Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam, modern interdiction often involves cruise missiles, cyber operations, and special forces.

The war is becoming a race to resupply and interdict as both sides seek to gain a competitive advantage. For Russia, the military challenge is how to alter the correlation of forces and means to support its ability to breakout in the south and east of Ukraine. Russia can mass combat power in both areas, but it struggles to exploit breakthroughs against determined Ukrainian resistance and counterattacks, which rely on the flow of ammunition, fuel, and weapons from Western nations. Therefore, Moscow most find a way to interdict Ukrainian logistics at operational and strategic levels to sustain its current scheme of attack. As Ukrainian ammunition stores become critically low—including stocks of 152 mm artillery—Moscow will use long-range strike and sabotage to interdict emergency resupply efforts. This pattern is already present as Russia diverts long-range precision strike assets, which are running low, to attack rail and fuel facilities.

Denying interdiction is often more about creativity than resources. The main thing Ukraine and its backers can do to deny Russian interdiction is to complicate Moscow’s targeting cycle. Russia doesn’t have an infinite magazine of long-range munitions. Through a mix of non-kinetic efforts that degrade missile guidance alongside the use of decoys, denial, and deception, Ukraine can start to decrease Russia’s ability to target effectively, a phenomenon known as virtual attrition in military theory. Imagine empty shipping containers and dry fuel tanks being struck by Russian cruise missiles based on bad intelligence. These efforts can be further augmented by joint security operations designed to protect critical lines of supply.

Benjamin Jensen is a senior fellow for future war, gaming, and strategy in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. 

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Benjamin Jensen
Senior Fellow, Futures Lab, International Security Program