Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Russia’s army is fighting Ukraine the way it was designed to

The Kremenchuk strike shows Moscow will indiscriminately bomb Ukrainian cities.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – On the morning of 8 April, a Russian ballistic missile attack on a railway station in Kramatorsk, a city in eastern Ukraine, killed 52 people. Many of the dead were refugees fleeing west, away from the escalating fighting in Donbas.

It is this attack that came to mind when on Monday 27 June, a similar strike on a busy shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was confirmed to have killed at least 20. Though the death toll will likely rise over the coming days. Ukrainian officials estimate that 1,000 people were inside the shopping centre at the time of the attack.

Both strikes appear to have been indiscriminate attacks on cities that had been spared much fighting. Both utilised highly advanced weaponry to target buildings with no apparent military purpose, which Russian forces would have known contained civilians. Even if they did host legitimate targets under international law, targeting them would still have been illegal: the civilian casualties in both cases were too disproportionate to allow the strikes to go ahead.

The purpose of Russia’s brutal tactics is clear: to sow terror into the hearts of Ukrainian defenders and civilians. There is no way that Russian forces could have not known that a railway station would have been full of civilians at 10.30am, when the Tochka-U ballistic missile hit Kramatorsk station; similarly, the recent targeting of the shopping centre in Kremenchuk could only have been intended to kill civilians.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has admitted responsibility for the attack on Kremenchuk, saying in a statement that its forces hit an ammunition storage facility in the city, the detonation of which “caused a fire in a non-functioning shopping centre located next to the plant”. The admission of responsibility came after Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, claimed the attack was a fake Ukrainian “provocation”. He compared it to Bucha, the suburb of Kyiv where hundreds of Ukrainians were found to have been murdered by Russian troops in the early days of the war.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Along with cruise missile attacks on the capital Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, the first for weeks, the targeting of Kremenchuk sends a message to Ukrainians: nowhere in their country is safe. More than that, the bombings signal that Russia is willing and able to use overwhelming force to punish Ukrainian counterattacks.

Content from our partners
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
City of London Corporation brings stakeholders together to drive climate action

Olga Musafirova, Ukraine correspondent for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe, wrote that central Kyiv could be targeted in retaliation for Western countries providing multiple-launch rocket systems, which Ukraine has requested. Or if it attempts to retake occupied Kherson. Or if it targets the bridge connecting occupied Crimea with the Russian mainland. Resistance will be punished with terror.

In a sense, Russia’s increasingly brutal tactics are a return to form. Its wars – from Chechnya in the 1990s to Syria from 2015 – are characterised by indiscriminate bombing of cities until they are all but razed to the ground, and the flag of Russia or its proxies is raised over the ruins. First Grozny, then Aleppo, then Mariupol. Russia’s military is effective at waging wars of annihilation involving the heavy use of artillery and terror tactics; that is how it is now making slow – if consistent – progress in Donbas. It is less effective at prosecuting regime change “special operations”, the ill-fated initial aim of its invasion of Ukraine.

The recent strikes came ahead of two pivotal summits among Western countries. At the G7, held in southern Germany on 26-28 June, leaders of the world’s richest democracies agreed to ban imports of Russian gold and explore a price cap on Russian energy, intended to limit the Kremlin’s benefits from rising energy costs. That summit is to be followed by a meeting of Nato in Madrid on 28-30 June, which is expected to see the alliance define Russia as a threat and beef up its capabilities for the defence of the Baltic states, which fear that they could be Vladimir Putin’s next targets.

If anything, the attacks on Kremenchuk, Kyiv and Lviv signal that the Kremlin is committed to the war in Ukraine. Kyiv is worried about “war fatigue” setting in among Western populations as their attention turns towards the cost of living and the prospect of a difficult winter. Moscow has no such fear.

[See also: Can Ukraine win the war with Russia?]

Topics in this article : , ,