Russia struck Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine on Monday, October 9 in retaliation for the Ukrainian attack on Russia’s Kerch Strait bridge in Crimea a week earlier. In the largest attack since the day of the initial invasion last February, Russia’s strikes targeted Ukrainian military and energy infrastructure as well as Kyiv, reports The Washington Post. The Russian military also struck civilian-dense areas, including a university and a playground, according to the Associated Press. Ukraine’s Emergency Service reported nearly 100 people wounded and at least 14 deaths during the morning’s attacks spanning at least 14 regions in the form of strikes from the air, sea, and land. According to Al Jazeera, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, reported 75 missiles launched by Russia, although 41 were neutralized by Ukrainian air defenses.
These latest Russian attacks may be just the beginning of an escalated retaliation to the Ukrainian counteroffensives. According to CBS News, Putin stated that he is not bluffing regarding his threats to use nuclear weapons, and United States officials have expressed their concern over the potential for nuclear escalation in Ukraine, reports The New York Times. The New York Times goes on to explain that tactical, or small, nuclear weapons, are difficult to use with precision but easy to deploy, making them a good tool to make small areas of land uninhabitable. CBS News explains that the most recent U.S. intelligence estimate claims that Russia has up to 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, potentially 10 times more than U.S. tactical nuclear arms in reserves. An attack using nuclear weapons would be the first use of atomic bombs since the U.S. used them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to The New Yorker.
Ukraine’s attack on the Kerch Strait bridge, also referred to as the Crimean bridge, was a Ukrainian demonstration of power that destroyed a symbol of Russian pride and engineering, Al Jazeera states. Russia previously expressed that heavy defenses surround the Crimean bridge, which Russia depended on to transport military goods and supplies. The Crimean bridge, the longest in Europe, was also a demonstration of Russia’s sovereignty claim over Crimea from its 2014 annexation, according to the Financial Times.
Putin may be attempting to revitalize his resources and streamline military power. Al Jazeera states that just days before Monday’s attacks on Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin, a general described as “ruthless,” was appointed to lead the Russian war efforts in Ukraine. Ukraine has steadily mounted a counteroffensive, most recently breaking past Russian defenses and advancing along the Dnieper River, yet another vital supply transportation route for Russian troops, according to Al Jazeera. CBS News shares that some, however, view Russia’s most recent attacks on Ukraine not as a tactical advance, but instead as aiming only to cause a “humanitarian catastrophe,” in the words of Andriy Yermak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Ukraine’s recent successful counter-offensive which allowed them to recapture land occupied by Russia, as well as Ukrainian forces’ continual advancement, may lead to the collapse of the Russian front in the Donbas, The New Yorker predicts. One of the only ways Putin would be able to combat Russia’s collapse in the Donbas may be through the use of tactical nuclear weapons, the New Yorker goes on to explain. Outside of Russia, the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he and Putin plan to create a joint force of troops, providing little explanation, CBS stated. Additionally, Belarus has allowed Russia to attack Ukraine using Belarusian land, indicating closer coordination between the two countries in the war effort, Financial Times explains. The Belarusian and Russian joint military force is a threat to Ukraine, who has expressed a plan to attack Belarus. Belarusian defense minister Viktor Khrenin issued a statement, however, claiming “We don’t want to fight,” according to the Associated Press.
As of now, it is not predicted that Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, The New York Times reports. They share that Moscow is quick to use the threat of atomic weaponry to scare Ukraine. However, Russia has a history of empty threats when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons, including in 2014 during Russia’s invasion of Crimea. According to The New Yorker, many experts believe that a deterrence preventing Russia from deploying nuclear weapons may be their fear of increased U.S. military involvement in the war.
Image Courtesy of David Guttenfelder for The New York Times, Flickr