A recent study produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) highlights how Russia’s missile attack campaigns have altered over the course of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The arguments used in the report suggest there was some logic to the changes of direction taken, even though they may have been forced upon Moscow by its failures.
During the start of the invasion strikes were, unsurprisingly aimed at Ukrainian military targets: air bases, air defenses, and munitions depots. Russian forces were first stopped and then forced back from their primary objectives, which included the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Two months into the war, Russia shifted its focus to trying to prevent the delivery of Western weapon systems by attacking fuel supply, rail and road transportation infrastructure, bridges and logistics routes.
By the summer of 2022 Russian missile attacks had become a mix of indiscriminate attacks on civilian residential areas and targeted strikes against agricultural infrastructure, as if attempting to starve Ukrainians or deprive them of income. Some analysts tried to suggest that the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian property may have been unintentional, a consequence of inaccurate Russian missiles and poor targeting intelligence.
By September, however, it was clear that Russian forces weren’t at all bothered about “collateral damage,” which became even worse because, apparently running low on high-precision missiles, they increasingly used salvoes of anti-ship missiles, such as the Kh-22, and S-300 air defense missiles, for attacks on civilian infrastructure and residential targets as well as Ukraine’s power grid, water supplies and other utilities. It was also at this time that there was the first appearance of Iranian-supplied Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones.
The utilities attacks of Russia’s autumn campaign became more widespread as winter set in, which was a conscious attempt to break the morale of the Ukrainian people by depriving them of heating, light, internet connections and electrical power in general. Russia fired more than 600 cruise missiles and almost 700 Shahed drones in the three months between October 2022 and January 2023.
Russia failed in its aims, but it came close to succeeding. In December the UN assessed that Russia’s offensive had damaged around 50 percent of Ukraine’s power grid. Through a combination of enforced conservation efforts, including scheduled rolling blackouts, and the herculean efforts of power workers, somehow Ukraine managed to prevent a complete collapse of its electrical grid. By late spring power was almost back to normal in most cities and large towns.
By March, it looked as if we had seen the end of these large-scale operations, although the Kremlin did retaliate in short bursts when certain events angered or frustrated Putin or his regime. For instance, on March 9, Russia responded to an alleged raid in the Bryansk Oblast, by firing over 80 missiles, which included six Kinzhal hypersonic missiles towards the Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv regions.
The changes in focus are reactive rather than based on any pre-planned strategy and are largely driven by mounting frustration on the part of its leader as Russia fails to make military progress or gains.
So now what?
In spite of commentators suggesting that Russia was running out of missiles, in May we saw an upsurge in missile and drone attacks, particularly against the capital. To date there have been 18 attacks using multiple combinations of over 150 air- and sea-launched cruise and ballistic missiles, supplemented by over 400 Shahed drones. The one common factor between these assaults is how unsuccessful they have been with more than 90 percent of these projectiles being destroyed in flight, with a small number of casualties and damage – primarily caused by secondary impacts from downed missiles.
And yet, Russia persists in sending wave after wave. There may be four reasons why Russia’s insanity continues:
· To continue attempts to demoralize Ukraine’s citizens and its Western partners. Yet again, Putin is failing, if that is the intention. Yes, being woken by air-raid sirens night after night is wearing, but it is merely adding to Ukrainians determination to win and their hatred of Putin and his regime.
· To force Ukraine to deplete its air-defense assets in advance of the expected counteroffensive which, if that is a motive, is yet another Russian miscalculation. The defense assets protecting the capital and other cities will not be the same as that protecting mobile troops either by type or number.
· To show its own population that it is still capable of striking deep into Ukraine and inflicting the death and destruction some of its most radical supporters are demanding. Yet again, Putin is failing if that is the intention; although he might be tempted to claim that it is only Western technology that is causing that failure.
· To hope that, eventually, Ukraine will run out of air-defense assets and then by damaging the capital and center of government persuade both the Ukrainian authorities and Kyiv’s partners in the West that it is time to negotiate. All Putin is currently succeeding in doing is showing how superior the West’s technology is to that of Russia.
Do the numbers add up?
The Jamestown Foundation, a provider of non-partisan global research analysis on Eurasian security and political developments, has produced an estimate of the numbers of missiles that Russia held at the start of its illegal war, how many missiles it has fired, how many its industry has been able to produce, and how many it now has left. These figures, which were based on Ukrainian military data, are summarized in the table below, adjusted to include the additional missiles fired since their figures were compiled.
|Current Russian Missile Situation (as of May 30, 2023)|
|Missile Start StateFeb. 22 2022||FiredMissiles||MissileProduction|
|Fired May 19-30||90|
|Shahed Fired May 1-30||401|
A number of assumptions are made in these figures, not least how stable Russian missile production is compared with its previous levels and whether Russian claims to have stepped up all weapons production apply to more technically complex missile systems.
It is clear that Russia’s missile arsenal has been seriously depleted and could take years to recover. The other question is, if they fear the imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive, as we have been led to believe, why are they wasting scarce missile resources on fruitless attacks against civilian targets.
Perhaps, as in most things, Einstein had the answer.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter