Russia Launches Heaviest Missile Strikes Against Targets Across Ukraine

Russia wasted little time in responding to Ukraine’s “terrorist attack” against the Kerch Strait Bridge. Early this morning Russian forces executed a well-coordinated and massive missile strike against targets across Ukraine. “This morning, a massive high-precision strike was conducted on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, military command, and communications,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a video address to his security advisors. “In case Ukrainian terrorist attacks continue on Russian territory, our response will be tough and proportional.” Infrastructure and military targets were struck from Kiev (Kyiv) to Lvov. Over fifteen Ukrainian cities were struck this morning.

Despite Putin’s claims that the targets were military and infrastructure, the Ukrainian government says otherwise. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy said in a video posted to social media that the Russians are “Choosing targets to harm as many people as possible.”

There could be some truth to this. However, Zelenskiy has a well-known penchant for exaggeration. Civilian infrastructure and communications nodes are legitimate targets of war. Ukraine’s own attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge took place at a moment when there appeared to be civilian traffic going across the span. This did not make the bridge any less of a legitimate target.

The attacks, mostly carried out by cruise missiles, have resulted in large-scale power and communications outages around Ukraine. Air raid warnings went off through the day, sending Ukrainian citizens to basements and bomb shelters in scenes reminiscent of the war’s first days. It is not clear if today’s strikes will be followed up by further attacks in the coming days and hours. Putin promises proportionate responses to future attacks on Russian soil, so at first look these missile attacks look to be a one-day affair. Yet if Russia senses real success building as a result of today’s action, expect to see similar strikes in the near future.

Ukraine Update 27 September 2022: Referendums And Pipelines

The referendums held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine have drawn to a close and the votes tallied. Russian-installed election officials in all four regions report overwhelming majorities in favor of becoming part of Russia. The referendums took place in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Combined, these four areas represent fifteen percent of Ukrainian territory. Now, their days of belonging to Ukraine are numbered.

As expected, the referendum results have prompted Russia to move rapidly to annex these regions. Annexation is expected by the end of the week. From that point forward, in the view of the Kremlin, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will become sovereign Russian soil. Putin will address Russia’s parliament on the subject on Friday and Russian lawmakers could consider annexation legislation as early as next Monday.

Today, Russia has swung back to playing the nuclear threat card, intending to deter Ukraine from moving to retake the territories after the annexation becomes official. As sovereign Russian soil, the territories will be placed under the protection of the entire Russian military arsenal including nuclear weapons. Moscow is also hoping to influence the tenor of the war and warn off the United States and Europe from continuing to contribute significant military and other material support to Ukraine as the war drags on. It is apparent the referendum and coming annexation, coupled with the latest nuclear threats from Moscow appear primed to move the war into a new, potentially more dangerous phase.

Then there is the matter of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline ruptures beneath the Baltic Sea on Monday. It is becoming apparent the leaks were deliberate, which leads to the question of who would be responsible for an act of sabotage on the pipelines. That subject will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.

Referendums Begin In Russian-Controlled Areas of Ukraine

Staged voting in referendums across Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine began on Friday as international condemnation of the referendums increased considerably. The results of these referendums will assuredly be in Russia’s favor. When all is said and done, and the vote totals counted up, Moscow will move to annex the areas of Ukraine now under its control, as well as a swath of territory under Ukrainian control at the moment. This is not a new tactic. Vladimir Putin’s government used it in 2014 after Russian troops entered and took control of Crimea. In that instance, the referendum and subsequent annexation exerted Russia’s will and intentions. The ballots now being handed out in the Russian occupied areas asks a single question: Do you wish to secede from Ukraine and create an independent state that will enter the Russian Federation?

The referendums are being held over four days in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizka. There have been significant made by Russia to ‘Russify’ these regions over recent weeks. Access to Ukrainian cellphone networks and internet services was severed. The ruble has replaced Ukrainian currency and schools now teach a Russia-based curriculum. One fear of residents in the occupied areas is that annexation will lead to conscription into the Russian armed forces. The prospect of Ukrainian forced to fight fellow Ukrainians is not appealing to many of the residents who still remain in the occupied areas.

What comes in the aftermath of the votes being tallied and the eventual annexation has the power of potentially setting this war on a new and inherently more dangerous path. On 27 September, we’ll look closer at what the referendum and subsequent annexations could have in store for Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the world.

Ukraine Update 21 Sept. 2022: Putin Ups The Ante

Vladimir Putin has upped the ante in Ukraine and made it clear that he is determined to end the war on terms favorable to Russia. In an address to his nation Putin announced the call-up of approximately 300,000 reservists. The Russian leader cited Western material support for Ukraine as the primary reason for the mobilization. He labeled the move ‘necessary and urgent’ in light of the advanced weapons that the United States and European nations have been pouring into Ukraine since February. Russia’s standoff with the West has not dissipated. Putin accused the West of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and warned that Russia has nuclear weapons of its own. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast has alarmed the Russian government. This was made apparent by Putin’s support for referendums being hastily set up in territories occupied by Russian forces. Annexation of these areas will make them part of Russia. After that, any potential Ukrainian attacks against them can be considered aggressive action against Russia itself. Putin has declared he is prepared to use every weapon in Russia’s arsenal to defend ‘Russian territory.’ 

 “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in the address. “This is not a bluff.”

As for the partial mobilization, 300,000 is a significant number of reservists. It will be some time before these citizens-turned-soldier are ready for duty. How useful they will be on the frontlines in Ukraine remains to be seen. Some will inevitably end up there, but not all. Most likely, not even the majority. The move also runs the risk of sewing domestic dissent inside of Russia. Protests broke out across the country in response to the callup. Russian police and security forces detained over 1,300 demonstrators. Although unsanctioned protests can result in prison terms for those found guilty of organizing or attending them, a significant number of Russians chose to take part. The prospect of reservists being called up hits close to home for many Russians. Suddenly the war in Ukraine, which has seemed far away and of little consequence for the average Russian citizen, is now standing at the front door.

Azerbaijan-Armenia Hostilities Flare Up Once Again

Fighting has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the most violent clashes since the conclusion of their 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Each side placed responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities on the other. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia claims fifty of his country’s troops were killed in overnight clashes with Azeri forces. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry in turn, offered an explanation which accused Armenia of conducting ‘large-scale provocations’ that prompted retaliation. Earlier today, Pashinyan claimed the tempo of hostilities had decreased somewhat, however, Azeri attacks on Armenian positions continue.

The Russian foreign ministry has announced it brokered a ceasefire between the two nations early Tuesday, although this has yet to be independently confirmed. There is a considerable number of Russian peacekeepers to the region and Moscow has made great efforts to be viewed as the arbiter in the Caucuses, a volatile area.

Russia’s engagement in Ukraine and the recent battlefield setbacks it has suffered there might have enticed Azerbaijan and Armenia to act with less caution. This sudden escalation is leading to concern that Russia could find itself engaged in a second war near its border. It is in Moscow’s best interest to prevent a fresh conflict from breaking out now. Especially with Vladimir Putin set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday at the Shanghai Cooperative Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.