While the chances of this campaign forcing Ukrainians back to the negotiating table are slim from the perspective of Ukraine and the West, Putin and his minions see it differently. They threaten, coerce, and intimidate their own people every day to acquiesce; why doesn’t this approach work for everyone else?
The Ukrainian military was also a target. Russia hopes the strikes will divert military resources and Western aid to defending and rebuilding the power grid. Such an attack could help Russian General Sergei Surovikin and his embattled and demoralized ground forces.
More broadly, Russian missile and drone strikes have imposed enormous economic costs on the Ukrainian government. With an unreliable power supply, foreign investors will not return to Ukraine, denying the country’s need for foreign investment. And, crucially, it deprives Ukrainians of a source of export revenue. Waging war is expensive, and the Ukrainian government needs every penny. The degradation of Ukraine’s grid may have halted plans to export electricity to Europe and reduced its ability to earn foreign exchange.
The attacks also provided fodder for horrific Russian propaganda aimed at domestic audiences. Putin can point to them as successful military operations, to which Ukrainians have had limited reaction. British strategist Lawrence Friedman suggested, “The Ukrainians cannot do the same to the Russians…the Ukrainians are winning on the battlefield, but they cannot counter the Russians at the strategic level.” However, recently The attacks on two Russian airports suggest that the Ukrainian military thinks otherwise.
Many missiles were shot down. But many Russian missiles and suicide drones are still capable of hitting power stations, substations and other civilian infrastructure. However, if anything, the current missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian targets appear to have strengthened Ukraine’s resolve. Until Ukraine can prove to Putin that he cannot defeat it in this way, it will need to keep strengthening its defenses. Ultimately, the success of these Russian attacks may depend on who runs out of missiles first.
Because of Russia’s failure to induce concessions from Ukraine through these attacks, the future of the energy war we are seeing now is uncertain. It doesn’t portend some new form of warfare in the future for everyone. However, it is an option for broader, systematic, coercive actions that, along with cyber and physical attacks, may appeal to some national leaders.
We can rest assured that the dictators in Beijing and their military leaders will watch and learn.
Mike Ryan A retired major general, he served in the Australian Defense Force for over 35 years and was the President of the Australian Defense Academy.he is Transforming War: The Future of Great Power Competition and Conflict in the 21st Century.
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