Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Russia-Ukraine War: Putin’s Retaliatory Strikes On Ukraine Aimed At Sobering The West, Not Kyiv

On October 10, Russia retaliated massively against Ukraine in response to the attack on the Kerch bridge connecting Russia and Crimea. The Russian retaliation was demonstrative; aimed at deterring future Ukrainian “terrorist” attacks on critical Russian infrastructure.

Kerch Bridge Attack Aftermath

Russia struck Ukraine’s energy-producing, military command, and communication facilities using cruise missiles and suicide drones.

Targets were struck all across Ukraine. Besides Kyiv, Russian ground, air, and sea-based cruise missiles struck targets in Lviv, Ternopil, and Zhytomyr in West Ukraine, Dnipro, and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east.

Civilian casualties were low — between 10-15, but power generation infrastructure was severely hit. Power outages occurred in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Poltava, Ternopil, Lutsk, Rivne, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Ukraine has reportedly pulled out its old stock of diesel locomotives to move freight.

According to the Russian MoD, “All assigned targets have been neutralized.”

BBC reports, quoting official Ukrainian sources, that Russia launched 83 missiles, of which more than 43 were shot down.

President Zelensky blew hot and cold following the attacks. He said, “They are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the Earth,” sounding very intimidated. Later, in a defiant video, he said, “Ukraine cannot be intimidated. It can only be more united.”

Putin’s Justification & Message

In a televised address to the nation, Russian President Putin justified the retaliation by saying that Russian investigators had determined that the attack on the Kerch bridge, masterminded by Ukrainian special services, was an act of terrorism aimed at destroying Russia’s critically important infrastructure.

President Putin accused Ukraine of sponsoring other terror attacks aimed at Russia’s electricity and gas infrastructure, including an attempt to blow up the Turkish stream gas pipeline.

He pointed out that Ukraine had carried out three terrorist attacks against the Kursk Nuclear Power Plant in Russia, repeatedly damaging the high-voltage lines of the power plant.

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (via Twitter)

President Putin warned that if Ukraine persists with terrorist attacks against Russian infrastructure, Russia’s response will be harsh and proportionate to the level of the threat posed to the Russian Federation. He added after a pause that no one should have any doubts about it.

One translation suggests that Putin said, “Russia’s response will be harsh and proportionate to the level of the threat made against the Russian Federation.”

What Putin said could imply that the next time Ukrainian President Zelensky spoke of a preemptive nuclear strike against Russia, Russia would preempt it with a preemptive nuclear strike on Ukraine! It is subtle but disconcerting!

What Putin said also implied that Russia would not persist with such heavy attacks for the time being.

Likely Ukrainian Response

Going by his record, it is highly unlikely that President Zelensky will heed Putin’s advice and desist from future attacks on Russia’s critical infrastructure.

Indeed, it is likely that he will order a step up in Ukrainian attempts to attack Russian infrastructure to provoke Russia further. Zelensky knows that Ukraine’s only chance of surviving as a nation is if NATO directly confronts Russia.

French diplomat Claude Blanchemaison, former ambassador to Moscow, speaking on a TV channel in the West, is reported to have said that the attack on Kerch bridge was engineered to embroil the West in a confrontation with Russia because Zelensky knows that without American help, Zelensky and the Ukrainian Army would not be able to succeed in the confrontation with Moscow.

Putin’s Message And The West’s Likely Response

Putin knows Zelensky. So it’s unlikely he articulated the contours of Russia’s response in the future to sober up Zelensky. More likely, he wanted to sober up the West.

It’s likely that the West, determined to weaken Russia by the pronouncements of its officials, will ignore Putin’s message for now because there is still room to weaken Russia.

According to the Ukrainian President’s office, following the attack, Zelensky had a telephonic conversation with President Biden at night in which the US president “promised to transfer modern air defense systems to Kyiv.”

Ukraine has been urging the US to supply the 300-kilometer MGM-140 ATACMS missiles for the HIMARS systems it has been receiving from the US. It’s conceivable that Ukraine will now put pressure on the US for the supply.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry official Alexei Polishchuk suggested that Russia has other red lines that Ukraine should never cross besides terror attacks on Russian infrastructure – the supply to Ukraine by the US of long-range missiles. He was referring to ATACMS missiles.

As things stand, the only conceivable off-ramp for the West is public unrest and change of governments in NATO nations. Political leadership tends to be more influenced by the impending loss of power at home than by the strategic goals of a powerful ally.

Whether nationwide unrest is wishful thinking or the cold reality of approaching winter remains to be seen.

  • Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. 
  • Reach out to the author at vkthakur (at) gmail.com
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