Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles against Ukraine appears to mark a shift in strategy in response to its losses on the battlefield, one that may signal a new phase of the war while serving to show the world its abundant firepower.
Western military analysts point to President Vladimir Putin’s ground campaign getting bogged down, with Russian troops failing to achieve their initial objectives and underestimating the scale of Ukraine’s resistance.
According to them, the outcome is more artillery bombardments and more civilian deaths.
“Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of this war,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment, posted Saturday afternoon in Washington. It cited Russia’s original aim as seizing Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and other major cities to topple President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government.
But rather than making a cease-fire more likely, it said that satellite images showing Russia troops digging in around Kyiv and elsewhere suggest a stalemate that “will likely be very violent and bloody, especially if it protracts.”
While President Joe Biden is preparing to visit Europe in support of Ukraine, there are signs that the U.S. military strategy has changed. The U.S. agreed to supply Ukraine with drones, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, small arms and ammunition, adding to weapons that have already helped “inflict dramatic losses on Russian forces.”
On Saturday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that its military had used hypersonic “Kinzhal,” or dagger, missiles the previous day to destroy an underground weapons cache in the southwest of Ukraine.
On Sunday, Russia claimed that the missiles were fired to demolish a fuel depot located in the Mykolaiv area. There was an immediate warning from authorities that an air raid would occur on Sunday morning for around an hour.
While neither strike was confirmed by Ukraine, a senior official said that Ukrainian cities were being targeted with more destructive artillery, including the Kinzhal missiles, “due to failures in the offensive.”
The comment by Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, was the first official response from Ukraine to Russia’s claims that it fired the missiles twice in three days. The strikes, if confirmed by Russia, would be the first time that the advanced nuclear-capable weapons system was used in war.
“Russian operations have changed,” the U.K.’s Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, told reporters on Friday. He cited “a strategy of attrition” that will involve “the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower.”
“This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Russia repeatedly denies that civilians were targeted and insists it targets military assets with precision.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested that Putin might be using hypersonic rockets to get momentum back in Ukraine’s invasion.
“I would not see it as a game changer,” Austin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I think the reason that he’s resorting to using these types of weapons is because he’s trying to reestablish some momentum.”
Now in its 25th year, the United Nations stated that 10,000,000 people were displaced by the conflict. This includes those who had fled Ukraine and other displaced persons within Ukraine. Zelenskiy reiterated his willingness to meet with Putin and offered to help him reach a settlement.
“I am ready for negotiations with him,” Zelenskiy told CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We have to use any format, any chance in order to have the possibility of negotiating, the possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail that would mean that this is a Third World War.”
Putin stated that the Kinzhal can transport nuclear or conventional warheads and fly 10 times faster than sound speed, more than 2 miles per hour, when he introduced the system during the 2018 state-of the-nation address. Putin stated that the Kinzhal was among many new strategic weapons of the latest generation and could be used to defeat U.S. defences.
They travel faster than traditional ballistic missiles and are therefore harder to spot. You can even maneuver them to get around missile defense systems.
A U.K. defense intelligence update said that as its forces bog down on the ground, Russia has increased “indiscriminate shelling of urban areas.”
“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the U.K. said.
(Updates from Biden trip, U.S. defence secretary beginning in 6th paragraph.
–With assistance from Ros Krasny and Tony Czuczka.
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