A Major Shift in How Russia Fights: Missile Strikes Across Ukraine Retaliate For ‘Terror Bombing’ on Crimean Bridge

The Russian Military on October 10 launched major missile strikes across major Ukrainian infrastructure targets in all major regions ,with the Kiev region absorbing close to one third of strikes. The attacks come two days after a bombing of the Kerch Strait Bridge on October 8 took it out of commission for several hours and caused three deaths, which was quickly commemorated in Kiev with a celebratory postage stamp. The bridge which connected the Russian mainland with Crimea, a peninsula absorbed into the Russian state from Ukraine in 2014, has long been seen as a key potential target for attacks by both Western and Ukrainian analysts. On 9 October Russian President Vladimir Putin announced regarding the attack, which was widely seen to have crossed a red line: “There is no doubt. This is an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure… This was devised, carried out and ordered by the Ukrainian special services.” 

Although traffic across the Kerch Strait was quickly restored, the attack led to calls within Russia for strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure which would mark a major change in how Moscow has pursued its military objectives so far. While Russia has since February avoided major strikes on civilian infrastructure, and is widely seen to have expected to win the war quickly and have no need for such strategic escalation, multiple setbacks the battlefield have fuelled widespread speculation that such steps could be forthcoming. In particular, the announcement by President Putin in July that Russia “haven’t started anything yet” in Ukraine was seen as an indication that Moscow could be preparing for a very different form of warfare in which its forces showed less restraint. “We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems that everything is heading towards this,” the president said at the time. Russian sources claimed military and communications assets were also targeted by the strikes alongside key power generation infrastructure.

Missile strikes on Ukraine were launched from the territories of both Russian and Belarus, the latter which has shown growing signs of preparing to potentially join the war effort directly beyond its current provision of bases. Tu-95 and Tu-22M bombers, Iskander ballistic missiles, Kalibr ship-launched cruise missiles, and Iranian-supplied drones, were reportedly all used in the attacks which targeted bridges and power generation equipment. The drones have played a fast growing role in the war effort, and were the only aircraft confirmed to have participated in the attack from within Ukrainian airspace. Although far less extreme than prior strategic warfare efforts using precision guided weapons, such as the U.S. Military’s attacks on Yugoslav, Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan infrastructure, the Russian strikes could still represent a turning point – one widely referred to in the West as a “terror bombing campaign.” Ten deaths from the strikes were confirmed several hours later, however, with casualty numbers remaining conservative considering the scale of the strikes. The targeting of power generation capabilities, possibly followed by further strikes on key infrastructure needed to support living standards, could place considerable further strain both on Kiev to accept terms for a conclusion of hostilities, and on its Western supporters to provide more material backing to allow the Ukrainian government to sustain its war effort for longer.