Putin Bombs Ukraine Amid Reported Interest in a Cease-Fire
Ukraine is running out of missiles as Western aid stalls
On December 23, The New York Times published an article entitled, "Putin Quietly Signals He Is Open to a Cease-Fire in Ukraine." Reporters Anton Troianovski, Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes wrote, "Mr. Putin has been signaling through intermediaries since at least September that he is open to a cease-fire that freezes the fighting along the current lines, far short of his ambitions to dominate Ukraine."
Six days later, and somewhat more loudly, Putin pummeled Ukraine with the largest missile and drone attack since the full-scale invasion began nearly two years ago, launching a total of 160 projectiles at regions and cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa. Russia appeared to target critical infrastructure and air defense systems, but also hit civilian infrastructure such as a maternity hospital, a shopping center, and residential buildings. At least 40 people were killed and over 160 injured. On December 30, Ukraine responded by targeting military facilities in Belgorod, Russia, killing 22. Russia has continued large-scale attacks on Ukrainian cities, including one on January 2, which targeted Kyiv.
Putin's large-scale attacks of Ukrainian cities demonstrate that the reported calls for a cease-fire are not serious. Rather, Putin appears to be doing two things with the bombings: attacking critical infrastructure during wintertime and stressing Ukraine's air defenses, which are running low as American aid stalls. Last winter, Russia targeted Ukraine's energy infrastructure, leaving many parts of the country in the cold and dark and without water for hours and days at a time, damaging over 40 percent of the country's energy infrastructure and causing $10 billion in damage, according to the U.N. The January 2 attack left hundreds of thousands without power.
More urgently, Russia appears to be trying to get Ukraine to use up all of its air-defense missiles, which are in short supply due to the U.S. House Republicans holding up Ukraine aid over border security funding. According to Politico, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in Washington last month that all of Ukraine’s U.S.-made Patriot missile interceptors had all been placed around Kyiv to defend against Russian attacks. These systems shoot missiles to shoot down incoming Russian missiles. With all of these systems deployed to Kyiv, they cannot be deployed to the front lines to protect Ukrainian troops or to other key Ukrainian cities. Ukraine uses other air-defense systems such as the German-provided IRIS-T, but the decline in shootdowns -- Ukraine's air force said it shot down only about 70 percent of the missiles launched on December 29, down from waves of attacks where nearly all were shot down -- has raised concerns about the shortage.
In three reporting trips to Ukraine since the invasion, I experienced two large-scale attacks on energy infrastructure: one without air defenses and one with them.