Russia's use of scarce missiles to slam Ukrainian civilians baffles Western analysts, thrills hardliners
Russia attacked more than 20 cities across Ukraine on Monday with more than 84 cruise missiles and 24 drones, in one of Moscow's biggest single attacks against civilians since invading Ukraine in February. The strikes killed at least 14 civilians and wounded dozens more. Western leaders and analysts condemned the strikes as desperate and brutal attacks with no strategic value, meant mostly to placate Russian pro-war hardliners demoralized by Ukraine's humiliating battlefield gains. Russian hardliners cheered.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attacks retaliation for the destruction Saturday of Russia's Kerch Strait Bridge to occupied Crimea and claimed the "high-precision" rockets targeted "Ukrainian energy, military command, and communications facilities."
"Social media shows that Russians instead hit a children's playground, a park, a German consulate, and a business center among other non-military targets," including some energy and water infrastructure, the Institute for the Study of War research group said Monday night. Russian state media, which for months "has insisted that the country was hitting only military targets in Ukraine, leaving out the suffering that the invasion has brought to millions of civilians," pivoted Monday, The New York Times reports. "State television not only reported on the suffering, but also flaunted it."
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a hawkish leader of Putin's security council, said these missile strikes were just "the first episode" toward "the complete dismantling" of Ukraine's "Nazi political regime."
But Ukraine says its air defenses intercepted about half of Russia's missiles and drones, some of the strikes apparently missed their marks, and Western analysts "doubt that Russia could sustain precision-missile attacks at anywhere like Monday's tempo for a long period," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Western intelligence assessments have said since March that Russian inventories of ground-attack precision missiles appear to be limited," and Western sanctions bar Moscow from importing critical electronics and microchips to rebuild its stockpile.
"Putin likely knows better than Medvedev or the milbloggers that he cannot sustain attacks of this intensity for very long," ISW agrees. Andrei Kolesnikov at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow said Monday's attacks probably reflects Putin's personal rage at the destruction of the Kerch bridge, his "favorite child" of the war.
Putin is trying to show Russia's ruling class he's "still capable, that the army is still good for something," Russian political analyst Abbas Gallyamov tells the Times. "The response was supposed to show power, but in fact it showed powerlessness," he added. "There's nothing else the army can do."