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Ukraine

Terror As Strategy: Is There A Method To Putin's Vengeance?

This week’s massive strikes by Russia on Ukrainian territory brought back the terror of the first days of the invasion across the entire country. Were they strategic strikes, or simply a retaliation for Ukraine’s attack on a strategic bridge in Russia-occupied territory in Crimea?

a man stand in the middle of the crater left by a russian rocket on a kids' playground in Kyiv

Civilians observe the damages on a children's playground in the center of Kyiv after it was hit by a Russian rocket on Monday.

Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories

-Analysis-

KYIV — The toll continues to rise after Russia's massive missile strikes across Ukraine, including the capital. Emergency services say 19 people were killed, 105 were injured and there was widespread damage to the country's energy infrastructure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had struck "with precision-guided weapons at energy, military command and communications facilities."

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But it was clear from the beginning that the strikes also struck residential buildings, civilians and vehicles, which the United Nations warned may amount to a war crime. Indeed, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had two goals: energy facilities and people.

“This is perhaps the most massive blow to Ukraine since the beginning of the war,” says Russian military expert Yuri Fedorov.

Still, Ukrainian military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko put the strikes into perspective, saying that no attack could be as strong as those of Feb. 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Russia will not be able to repeat that," he said. "It simply will not be able to overcome a one-time blow of that magnitude.”

The question lingers after scenes of bloodshed in cities far from the front line: was there a strategic rationale behind the strikes? And will October 10 represent the beginning to a new phase of the war.


Damage to the power infrastructure

Energy infrastructure facilities were the main targets of missile strikes. According to the National Police of Ukraine, in total, about 70 objects were damaged, of which 29 were critical infrastructure, 4 multi-story and 35 private residential buildings, as well as a school in the capital.

“This is the first missile attack of this magnitude on the Ukrainian energy system,” commented Yuriy Korolchuk, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies.

According to his estimates, it may take several days to deal with the consequences, during which rolling blackouts are possible, primarily for businesses, in order to serve the population and water utilities. “The danger is that, in addition to strikes on large energy facilities, there is massive damage to substations,” said Korolchuk.

“The fact that key infrastructure facilities are damaged does not mean that they are completely out of order,” says military expert Fedorov. “It's all recoverable. In order to completely cut down an energy enterprise, for example, a thermal power plant, it must be severely destroyed. One cruise missile is not enough. At least a few strikes are needed for the damage to be serious. I think that everything that happened on Monday is fixable. The question is whether Russia will continue to deliver such strikes. In this case, of course, the power system may suffer, but it is almost impossible to completely disable it.”

Revenge as strategy?

The explosion on the Crimean bridge was of military and strategic importance for Ukraine. According to military experts, it made it difficult to supply Russian troops in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. In Ukraine, Russians have targeted not only infrastructure facilities, but also playgrounds, museums and educational institutions.

Russia has nothing to gain from this.

Kovalenko believes that Russia tried to take revenge on Ukraine for the explosion on the Kerch bridge with Monday’s strikes. “It was important for Russia to demonstrate that it is capable of responding to such threats to its very important facilities,” he said.

But for Kovalenko, it is clear: there is no military logic to the strikes: “There is no logic to strike in order to gain some advantage in the tactical and strategic balance of forces in the war zone. These are completely unrelated things. Russia has nothing to gain [from this], either tactically or strategically in the war zone.”

And the risk of a boomerang in pure military terms is high: "Now there will be a faster reaction from Ukraine's international partners in terms of arms supplies and additional sanctions against Russia.”

Was the goal of those strikes to destroy key infrastructure and stop production in Ukraine or damage energy supply to have citizens fear winter and capitulate?

Danylo Antoniuk/ZUMA

A new tactic against civilians?

On the other hand, Kovalenko notes, Russia may seek to create a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. “If critical infrastructure is destroyed, the main victims will be civilian facilities (hospitals, maternity hospitals, etc.)," he explained. "It could turn into one of the biggest catastrophes in the history of modern Europe. This fits within the framework of terror, in the [Russian] tactics of conducting military operations against the civilian population too."

In this approach, Moscow looks to avoid facing off against the Ukrainian military, and focuses on inflicting pain on the civilian population. "It would only reinforce its status as a terrorist state," Kovalenko concludes. "But this is a rather ambiguous tactic, since it does not solve strategic tasks in the war zone, it only generates even greater fury, the desire of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to win back territories, to move forward."

According to Fedorov, in addition to revenge for the Kerch bridge, the Russian authorities could pursue two more goals: a strategy to destroy key infrastructure in order to stop industrial production in Ukraine, especially among enterprises that repair military equipment, weapons or produce new ones.”

“But the main [goal] is to suppress the will to resist among the population, society, citizens of Ukraine and intimidate them with the prospects of a cold winter, when there is not enough energy for heating homes, electricity for everyday household and technical needs. Moscow expects that the population will not stand it and demand capitulation," Fedorov says.

The military expert says the new strikes are unlikely to affect the course of the war. “There were practically no strikes on military targets. The troops operating on the battlefield were not hit. Indirectly, this may affect the course of the war, because the lack of electricity can delay transportation, including the supply of weapons to the front, if such deliveries are carried out by electric trains,” he says.

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