The latest from Vladimir Putin brutality display and revenge could be a fit of rage on his signature Crimean bridge being exploited. But his indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian civilians also raise the possibility of a new horrific turn in a vicious war.
Russian missiles damaged a glass-bottomed pedestrian bridge in Kyiv, which is a popular tourist site, tore through intersections during rush hour and crashed near a children’s playground on Monday. Power outages occurred across the country, in places that cut off water supplies and transportation, in strikes that were reminiscent of the terror inflicted on civilians in the first days of the invasion, but which had largely subsided in the years since. last months.
The attacks stripped away the semblance of normalcy that city dwellers, who spent months earlier in the war in subways turned into bomb shelters, have managed to restore to their lives and raised fears of further attacks.
The message was obvious for the world to see. Putin does not intend to be humiliated. He will not admit defeat. And he is quite prepared to inflict civilian carnage and indiscriminate terror in response to his series of changes on the battlefield.
But Monday’s targets also had little military value and, if anything, served to reflect Putin’s need to find new targets due to his inability to inflict defeats on Ukraine on the battlefield.
The bombing of electrical installations, in particular, on Monday appeared to be an unsubtle hint at the misery the Russian president could inflict come winter, even as his forces retreat in the face of Ukrainian troops using Western weapons.
This possibility that Putin may be announcing a new bloody turn in a war that has gone through multiple strategic phases since the invasion in February weighed heavily on the minds of political and military leaders in Washington on Monday. His reaction was mixed with disgust that Putin was once again unleashing a callous war against civilians that was reminiscent of the horrors of 20th-century Europe.
Retired general predicts what will come next in Ukraine
The attacks on civilians, which have killed at least 14 people, have also drawn new attention to the next steps the US and its allies must take to respond, having sent billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment to Ukraine in an effective proxy war with Moscow.
President Joe Biden On Monday, he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and offered him advanced air systems that would help defend against Russian airstrikes, but the White House did not specify exactly what could be sent.
John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, suggested that Washington welcomed Ukraine’s requests and was in contact with the Kyiv government almost every day. “We do the best we can in later packages to meet those needs,” he told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
Kirby was also unable to say whether Putin was definitively shifting his strategy from a losing war on the battlefield to a campaign to strike at civilian morale and inflict devastating damage on Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure, although he suggested that it was a developing trend. in the last few days and had already been in the works.
“It was probably something they had been planning for quite some time. Now, that’s not to say that the Crimean bridge explosion could have accelerated some of their planning,” Kirby said.
An attack on civilians would be consistent with the resume of the new Russian general in charge of the war, Sergey Surovikin, who served in Syria and Chechnya. In both places, Russia indiscriminately bombed civilian areas and leveled built-up neighborhoods and infrastructure, and is accused of committing serious human rights violations.
The rain of fire on Ukrainian civilians on Monday was also chilling, given that it came after Putin’s latest nuclear threats and days of debate over whether he might use a tactical nuclear weapon. If he doesn’t, it seems unlikely, given his disregard for the pain of civilians, that such a decision would be motivated by a desire to prevent innocents from using such a hideous weapon. Still, Kirby said there was no indication that Russia was activating nuclear weapons or that the United States needed to change its own nuclear posture.
But French President Emmanuel Macron underscored Western concerns that Monday’s rush-hour attacks in Ukraine could herald another twist in the conflict.
“It is a profound change in the nature of this war,” he told reporters.
Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the former director of European affairs at the National Security Council, said that by attacking targets designed to damage Ukraine’s morale and energy infrastructure, Putin was sending a message about how the war would continue in the coming months.
“He was telegraphing about where he’s going when winter comes. He will try to force the Ukrainian population to compromise, to cede territory, by going after this infrastructure,” Vindman said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Vindman: Putin telegraphing where he will go this winter
Vindman called on the United States to provide air defense equipment and weapons that can attack the Iranian-made drones used in Monday’s attacks.
Igor Zhovkva, Zelensky’s top diplomatic adviser, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” that Ukraine had shot down 56 of the 84 missiles and drones that were fired by Russia, in apparent retaliation for an explosion at a strategic bridge that led to annexed Crimea. that is central to Moscow’s war effort and is a symbol of the Putin government.
“So just imagine if we had modern equipment, we could probably increase the number of those downed drones and missiles and not kill innocent civilians or hurt and injure Ukrainians,” Zhovkva said.
Any prolonged campaign by Putin against civilians would be aimed at breaking Ukrainian morale and possibly unleashing a new flood of refugees into Western Europe that could drive divisions among NATO allies who support Ukraine.
Early signs, however, suggest that Putin has once again misunderstood how the world would respond to his brutality. Macron, for example, said the attacks would prompt France to increase military assistance to Kyiv. Traumatic images of Ukrainian civilians livestreaming Russian missiles roaring overhead and exploding may serve to harden Western public opinion facing its own pressure this winter due to Putin’s energy war. And in any case, shooting civilians hints at Russian, rather than Ukrainian, weakness, as it suggests that Putin cannot respond in the field to the humiliating defeats of his forces.
The lesson of this horrible war is that everything Putin has done to fracture a nation that he doesn’t think has a right to exist has only strengthened and unified it.
Olena Gnes, a mother of three who is documenting the war on YouTube, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper live from her basement in Ukraine on Monday that she was angered by the return of fear and violence to the lives of Ukrainians from a new round of Russian “terror.”
But she promised as she cradled her baby that Putin’s tactics would not work.
“This is just another terror to maybe cause panic, to scare you in other countries or to show your own people that he’s still a fucking tyrant, he’s still powerful and look what fireworks we can put on,” he said.
“We don’t feel desperate… we are more certain even than before that Ukraine will win and we need it as quickly as possible because… only after we win this war and only after Russia is defeated will we restore peace here. ”