- Isaac Bly
Winter Over Ukraine
The Missile Campaign
As of December 16th, Russia has released another volley of missile strikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, which has become a pattern. While missile strikes deep into Ukraine occurred from the start of the war, mainly against military targets, these strikes have increasingly targeted civilians. On October 10th, following successful Ukrainian counter-offensives and the Crimean Bridge explosion, Russia began a new campaign against critical Ukrainian infrastructure, particularly electrical infrastructure. Since then, these strikes have continued under much condemnation, and as of the time of writing, more than 1,000 missiles and drones have been launched against Ukraine, which is now facing a stiff winter.
Russia’s attacks on infrastructure is not new; it is strategic bombing by other means, targeting the opponent's interior to reduce their ability and willingness to wage war with attacks beyond the battlefield and usually focusing on reducing industrial output, lines of communication, and morale. The targeting of civilian electrical infrastructure is not new either, with NATO air strikes on Serbian electrical infrastructure being particularly effective during the Kosovo War, which the Russian government condemned at the time (and now used as a precedent by Putin to justify his actions). Beyond just historical precedent, the targeting of electricity is a calculated one. Electricity is a fragile and vital infrastructure that plays a part in most aspects of modern life, from lighting to communication. The recent attacks on December 16th resulted in a more than 50% decrease in Ukrainian energy consumption nationwide in a single day. An effort that has not only upset the lives of civilians but disrupted industrial productivity.
The attack on Ukrainian critical infrastructure has another purpose: to show the Russian population that Russia is still capable of inflicting suffering on the Ukrainians even in the face of military defeat. Despite relatively high Ukrainian interception rates, it is clear that the winter in Ukraine will be much worse than that of Russia, which will count for something. Though the likelihood of it leaning against Ukrainian confidence in victory is low. Historically and in accordance with recent surveys, most Ukrainians still support complete liberation, including Crimea. There needs to be more indication that these strikes have made most Ukrainians consider giving concessions to Russia. Because the Ukrainians still believe in their military's ability to defeat Russia in the field and even secure ultimate victory, the strikes on infrastructure are a price for that victory. And there is a solid historical precedent for this belief. Even when Pyongyang was mostly leveled during the Korean War, the DPRK continued to fight.
However, Ukraine is not helpless against Russian strikes. Not only have these attacks on civilians helped strengthen support for Ukraine, helping secure support for the delivery of American Patriot air defense systems and further diminishing Russia’s standing in the international community with figures such as the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrel, stating these attacks to “constitute war crimes.” Foreign aid and greater preparedness have helped reduce the effectiveness of successive Russian attacks. Still, even with a majority of missiles intercepted on most strikes (according to the Ukrainians), the attacks continue to knock down large sections of Ukrainian infrastructure, with the attacks on the 16th of December being some of the most devastating. Nevertheless, much of Ukraine’s crucial military production and training facilities remain out of Russian reach in Western countries. In addition, the Ukrainian economy is not a closed network like Russia and constantly receives economic and industrial aid from countries not directly involved in hostilities. Beyond billions of dollars to finance the conflict, deliveries of transformers, circuit breakers, and other electrical equipment help regenerate and repair the damaged electrical grid.
The War on Electricity
While Russia has ensured tremendous suffering for Ukraine, they have not ensured victory. It has yet to be a fruitless affair showing their public that they can strike back against the Ukrainians. It is undoubtedly a realm in which Russia has maintained the initiative despite repeated Ukrainian battlefield victories. Moreover, if the strikes have caused any significant degradation in Ukrainian resolve, it has not been apparent. Ukraine's ultimate balance of power remains largely unchanged even if slow economic attrition continues to degrade Ukraine. Nevertheless, Western aid for Ukraine remains largely stable, providing a base of support that the Russians are unlikely to touch.
The Trend of Events
Furthermore, the constant nature of the attacks has provided opportunities for adaptation, whether it be the establishment of heated safe zones or the strengthening of defenses. If there is a trend to be seen, it is that the Ukrainians continue to expand their response to the Russian strikes, calling for further aid, expanding repair services, and improving defensive practices. In many ways, it is a race between Russia to inflict harm on Ukrainian civilians and the Ukrainian government to relieve it.