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The Russian airstrikes, designed to show violence, reveal another weakness

On Monday, Russia fired 84 missiles, many at Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targets, causing power outages in many cities. On Tuesday, Russia launched another 28 cruise missiles. And on Thursday, the Ukrainian Armed General Staff said that Russia had hit more than 40 settlements since the day before. In all, more than three dozen people were killed.

But no matter how often Russia fires on Ukraine, the pro-war Russian nationalists want more, even though attacking civilian infrastructure is potentially a war crime.

“It has to be done constantly, not just once but for two to five weeks to completely shut down all their infrastructure, all thermal plants, all heating and power plants, all power plants, all traction substations, all power lines, all railway nodes. said Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Kremlin’s Council on Interethnic Relations.

“Then Ukraine will descend into cold and darkness,” Bezpalko said on state television. “They won’t be able to bring in ammunition and fuel and then the Ukrainian army will turn into a mob of armed.” [men] with bits of iron.”

But the hawks, who publicly demand on TV broadcasts and on Telegram why Russia isn’t hitting more valuable targets, won’t appreciate the answer: The Russian military appears to have insufficiently accurate missiles to support airstrikes at Monday’s pace, according to Western military officials. analysts.

“They have few precision guided missiles,” Konrad Muzyka, founder of Gdansk, Poland-based Rochan Consulting, said in his assessment of Russia’s sporadic airstrikes. “That’s essentially the only explanation I have.”

Even as NATO allies said on Thursday they would rush additional air defenses to Ukraine, experts said the reason Russia had yet to cut electricity and water supplies across the country was simple: it can’t.

Since May, Russian use of precision-guided missiles (PGMs) has declined sharply, with analysts suggesting that Russian stockpiles of such missiles may be low.

Tuesday’s attacks mainly used air-launched cruise missiles, which Muzyka says are slower than Iskander guided missiles and easier to shoot down by Ukraine. In March, the Pentagon reported that Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles have a failure rate of 20 to 60 percent.

“If Russia had an unlimited supply of PGMs, I think they would still attack civilian targets, because that’s Russia’s way of warfare,” Muzyka said. He said analysts had no confirmed information on Russian missile stocks or production levels, and the judgments were based on the decline in the use of PGMs and Moscow’s greater reliance on less accurate missiles.

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But one clue lies in Russia’s failure to destroy the kinds of targets Ukraine can hit with US-supplied HIMARS artillery.

“If we look at what HIMARS has done with the Russian supply routes, and essentially their ability to wage war, they have done tremendous damage to…Russia’s stance in this war,” Muzyka said. “So technically, you know, if the Russians had access to a large stockpile of PGMS, they would probably inflict similar damage on the Ukrainian armed forces, but they don’t have that.”

“They actually didn’t succeed,” he continued. “They have not even banned the main Ukrainian supply routes. They failed to destroy bridges, railroads, railroad junctions, and so on.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin juggles so many military problems that some Western analysts are already predicting that the war in Russia will fail. Others say it’s too early to write off Russia, especially with hundreds of thousands of conscript reinforcements potentially heading to the battlefield in the coming weeks.

Since day one, Russia has suffered shocking numbers of casualties on the battlefield, eroding military morale. It has suffered repeated defeats, including the failure to take Kiev, a retreat from Snake Island, the flight into Kharkiv and the loss of Lyman, a strategic transit hub.

Ukrainian forces also continue to slowly retake territory in the Kherson region, in their ongoing southern offensive.

Russia’s military mobilization also remains a mess, with angry conscripts posting videos online almost daily complaining of inadequate training and poor equipment. Moscow police raided hostels and cafes on Tuesday to seize and deliver men to mobilization points, and military recruitment continues in Russian prisons, according to independent Russian media site SOTA.

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Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King’s College London, wrote in a newsletter that Russia’s escalation of missile strikes on civilian targets on Monday had yielded no apparent military gain.

“Russia often lacks the missiles to carry out these types of attacks, as supplies are running out and Ukrainians claim a high success rate in intercepting many of the missiles already used,” Freedman wrote. “This is therefore not a new war-winning strategy, but a sociopath’s tantrum.”

Putin’s “need to calm his critics down also explains his lashing out at Ukrainian cities,” Freedman wrote. “The hardliners have been demanding attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure for quite some time and they now have what they wanted. But they will inevitably be disappointed with the results.”

“These attacks could very well be repeated because it is part of the mindset of Putin and his generals that enemies can be forced to capitulate in such ways,” he added. “But stocks of Kalibr and Iskander missiles are running out.”

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Amid Russia’s military setbacks, the attack on Ukraine’s power grid in recent days was intended to shock and terrify civilians, starve them of energy in winter and shatter their will to resist, said Maria Shagina, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

A clear aim of the Russian attacks on six electrical substations in Lviv, in western Ukraine, was to prevent Ukraine from exporting electricity to Europe, Shagina said. The strikes also crippled the city’s power supply.

“Now we see the escalation and arming of critical infrastructure,” she said, adding that it was no coincidence that Russia destroyed Ukraine’s capacity to export electricity to Europe, while Moscow weaponized natural gas, putting pressure on supplies. came to be. countries of the European Union.

“There is talk of an intensification of the war, in the sense that Russia is not even hiding the fact that they have attacked civilian infrastructure, critical infrastructure,” Shagina added. “They are trying to escalate the war as much as possible.”

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Muzyka said Russia, ignoring international conventions, has consistently targeted civilian apartment buildings and infrastructure in two Chechen wars, in Syria and Ukraine.

“They’re definitely targeting the power grid as a way to make citizens’ lives miserable,” he said. “For Russians, attacking civilian areas, residential areas and anything that could potentially affect the lives of civilians is a military goal, because for Russia the war is total.”

“Basically, what the Russians are trying to do is wear down the Ukrainians, lower morale, reduce the willingness to fight and hopefully increase the pressure on the Ukrainian government from their point of view to enter into negotiations with Russia,” he added. .

Ukraine has asked Western allies for state-of-the-art air defense systems to protect its citizens and vital infrastructure. But even as NATO promised more aid, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it would take time to get those systems to Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, Western response has been rather limited,” Shagina said, adding that Russia is trying to “use the full range of measures they can deploy against the West and Ukraine.”

But as harsh as the attacks are, the hawks in Russia say it’s still not enough.

Russian journalist Andrei Medvedev, a member of the Moscow City Council who runs a popular, nationalist, pro-war Telegram channel, urged patience, saying the decision “to bomb Ukraine in the Middle Ages” had not yet been taken. .

Another hawk, Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda’s war correspondent who has his own influential pro-war Telegram channel, said he hoped the strikes were a sign of a new kind of warfare that would bomb Ukraine “until it destroys its ability to loses its function”.

Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.

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