Russia may have increased the frequency and intensity of missile and drone attacks on the Ukrainian capital, but Kyiv’s air defenses appear to be holding firm.
So what is the military advantage of targeting urban populations, and why? Vladimir Poutine In doing so?
Historically, wars were fought to destroy the enemy army and occupy its capital. Mr Putin remains focused on destroying Ukraine’s combat capability (just witnessed the fierce war of attrition in Bakhmut) and occupying kyiv by placing it under air siege.
But will this assault help the Russian war effort, or is it simply the actions of an angry and frustrated autocrat?
Russia tried to take Kyiv very early in the war (remember the 40-mile convoy of military equipment), but although that attempt failed, Mr. Putin will still see the Ukrainian capital – the seat of power – as the ultimate reward.
Most military analysts believe that the goals of Mr. Putin’s so-called special military operation remain twofold: to secure Crimea; and seizes the Donbass.
Aware that military means are always limited, Russia the lens should be laser focused on these lenses.
After peaking at Bakhmut, Russia should now leverage its “superpower” advantage to target Ukrainian supply lines and its preparations for the upcoming offensive.
It will be very difficult for Ukraine to hide its military preparations from Russian satellites; in addition, Russia will have a multitude of spies operating in Ukraine who would be able to provide real-time targeting information to inform Russia’s ballistic missile capability.
Instead, in apparent response to Ukraine’s “recklessness” in conducting drone attacks on MoscowMr. Putin is targeting his limited stockpiles of missiles at the civilian population of kyiv.
Why is Russia attacking kyiv instead of military targets?
Alex Crawford describes the scene in kyiv after the Russian attack
Did Putin make the same mistake as Hitler?
During World War II, Nazi Germany was preparing to invade Britain, but Hitler had to destroy the RAF first.
The Battle of Britain brought the RAF to its knees; however, angry at Allied efforts to bomb German cities, Hitler pulled his foot out of the RAF’s throat and turned towards London.
An irrational decision, but which allowed the RAF to recover and reverse the course of the war.
Did Mr. Putin – a politician with no military experience – make the same mistake by targeting kyiv?
Drones imported from Russia: irritating but generally not deadly
Russia uses long-range Shahed 136 drones – imported from Iran – to carry out most of the strikes against kyiv.
These inexpensive and simple drones fly at around 100 mph, and while they pack a bad punch, they’re not hard to shoot down (although wreckage still destroys lives).
They are no different from wasps in the summer; irritating and painful if they sting, but usually not fatal. In addition, few drones pass now.
Russia also continues to fire long-range ballistic missiles against kyiv; these are generally very accurate weapons and more difficult to shoot down, but the provision of specialist Western air defense capabilities – such as the US Patriot – proved extremely effective in protecting the capital.
So why does Russia continue to waste limited stocks of expensive missiles against non-military targets?
First, Ukrainian military capability is hidden, mobile and dispersed.
A Time-Sensitive Targeting (TST) capability involves linking satellite imagery with HQ analysis, before tasking a unit to pursue the target – and quickly. Simple? For the Russians, no.
TST is difficult and requires great teamwork between different agencies – the West invests heavily in the people and technology needed for success; Russia no. Russia cannot conduct high-rate TST, so it does what it can – target civilians.
Second, Mr. Putin has no military background, so strategy, doctrine and main effort are not phrases that resonate with him.
Instead, he is driven by symbolism – Bakhmut had limited military value, but Mr Putin wanted a success for his May Day celebration.
Likewise, he wants to punish President Volodymyr Zelensky for his boldness in the response, but like Hitler and the Battle of Britain, Mr. Putin lets emotion take precedence over military strategy.
Ballistic missiles are complex weapons; Russia is currently using them faster than they can be replaced.
Waves of missile attacks on kyiv have no military advantage and do not contribute to Russia’s war ends; they are simply the actions of a frustrated leader who seeks to vent his anger against his stubborn adversary.
This lack of ruthless focus on military objectives is a critical weakness in the Russian military machine, which we can expect to see exploited in the months to come.