Putin and his generals are running out of tricks and maneuvers. Though we do not deny the tragedy that happened when Russia started to strike civilian areas throughout (our recent count is at least 77 missiles fired), this event will have a very minimal impact on how Russian troops will defend or attack in the coming weeks.

Sidharth Kaushal, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, told The Wall Street Journal that this attack seemed more like a signal than a strategy.

“What they seem to have done today, which is basically hitting civilian targets and infrastructure, seems to be much more about signaling on their part than delivering any real military effect…though it’s tragic, is actually not of any real military value, and they’ve expended quite an expensive capability.”

Kaushal added that cruise missiles were launched from the sea, air, and ballistic missiles yesterday. They also used Iranian Shahed drones. These missiles would usually carry a warhead of about 1,000 pounds of explosives. This could impact a whole building, so in the case of the attacks yesterday, many apartment buildings and public power infrastructures were affected.

However, these missiles travel low-speed and could be countered by short-range tactical anti-ballistic missile systems. Here in the US, we also have the Ground-based Midcourse (GMD) system with 44 interceptors from Alaska to California. But, the Russians also have cruise missiles that can make simultaneous in-flight maneuvers, making them hard to detect because they emit low radar and infrared energy signatures.

S-300 SAM
Ukrainian S-300P SAM launchers during the Independence Day parade in Kiev, Ukraine in 2008. (Source: Vitaly/Wikimedia)

Ukraine only has Soviet-era S-300 air-defense batteries, which could still be helpful in curbing the damage of the missiles onslaught. However, no air-defense system has a 100% effectivity rate. Ukraine, too, would only have a few systems, which could not be deployed throughout the country. They will have to choose strategic regions for defense and use the other systems for attacking the frontlines.

Though Ukraine doesn’t have the perfect defense, as we’ve previously reported here on SOFREP, Russia cannot obtain air superiority over Ukraine.

“To achieve air superiority, a fighting force must first employ Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), pronounced “seed.” On day one of the war, the Russians launched a little over 100 ballistic and cruise missiles into Ukraine. Most targets were military infrastructure (radar stations, runways, fixed communications towers). Many American analysts thought this was a low number as our Navy had fired over 320 Tomahawk missiles into Iraq on the first night of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And that’s only one type of missile launched by one service.”

“Missiles are great at knocking out fixed or static targets. That’s why the major militaries of the world utilize mobile rocket launchers. Initial missile and rocket barrages are usually followed up by multiple sorties of fixed-wing aircraft hunting out and destroying enemy mobile radar units and rocket launchers. That’s phase II, if you will, of SEAD. The Russians, however, never really employed phase II. And their phase I was limited at best.”

Analysts also doubt Russia’s ability to sustain precision-missile attacks for a lengthened period. Intelligence assessments that Russian inventories of ground-attack precision missiles are very limited. At the same time, since there are sanctions, Russia could only rely on countries like North Korea and Iran for additional supplies.

Ukrainian troops
Ukrainian troops in Sloviansk during the 2020 Russo-Ukrainian crisis (Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine/Wikimedia)

As for the front lines, Ukrainian forces continue to liberate villages in the eastern and southern regions, even after Putin’s illegitimate referendum calling areas like Crimea officially annexed Russian territories.

At any rate, the US and NATO should be on their toes. Just as Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine now at the Brookings Institution, warned us in 2018, Russia is ready to drag Ukraine into a multi-year war if there is no strict intervention from the West.

“It’s important for the West to send a very sharp message to Russia that if you don’t stop this, there will be consequences. It’s a test of the West, and Washington should have responded,” he said.

And Putin is not looking to let go any time soon, especially since their plan for negotiations starts with a bid of all or nothing.

“Russia wants to have a Ukraine that is more Russia-friendly, part of a greater Russian-led civilization, and the fact is that they have alienated Ukraine,” Kurt Volker, U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, told FP. “They’re an even more pro-Western, more pro-NATO, more anti-Russian Ukraine than has ever existed in history.”