- It is likely that Russian physical and cyber attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure will continue to disrupt Ukrainian governance and create an even greater burden on the humanitarian network both in Ukraine and the rest of Europe.
- Russia is likely to be running low on stocks of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) due to the impact of sanctions and the expenditure rate versus production.
- Despite the lack of modern PGMs, Russia is likely to continue to use older, less accurate Soviet missiles and re-purposed anti-ship/anti-air missiles to strike Ukraine.
- Russia is likely to pursue efforts to purchase the required munitions/capabilities abroad. Iran is the most likely foreign source of guided missiles, whilst North Korea may provide additional artillery and rocket ammunition.
- The appointment of Sergei Surovikin as the head of Russia’s operations in Ukraine is unlikely to cause a significant improvement in effectiveness nor a strategic shift in emphasis. It is unlikely that his ascent will lead to increased missile bombardments, nor will he be able to leverage the aerial bombardment techniques he used in Syria due to the contested airspace.
On 10 October 2022, the Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) carried out a bombardment campaign against military, governmental, infrastructure, and civilian targets. Eighty-three (83) missiles and 24 loitering munitions were launched, with Ukrainian officials claiming to have intercepted approximately 50% of all munitions. According to reports, the RFAF used a wide breadth of munitions, including:
- Shahed-136 UAS
The strikes caused damage to power stations and other energy infrastructure, causing outages across many urban settlements. Figures, as of 11 October 2022, indicate that 19 people were killed in these strikes and over 80 more wounded.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, stated that these strikes were in direct response to the attack on Kerch Bridge, Crimea, on 8 October 2022. Former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, warned of further escalation if Ukraine continued to provoke Russia.
What is the Current State of Russian Missile (Including Loitering Munitions) Stockpiles? And What are Russia’s Key Challenges?
Multiple intelligence analysts and organisations have concurred that Russia is likely to be running low on stocks of modern PGMs. Indications that this is the case include the use of older Soviet-era guided weapons, the repurposing of other weapon systems, and the purchase of essential military equipment (namely Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)) from overseas.
The fact that the kind of large-scale bombardments seen on 10/11 October are not frequent is far more likely to be due to a shortage of munitions than because Russia does not want to. Without air superiority, guided weapons fired from stand-off ranges are the only way for the RFAF to strike deep into Ukraine. In the current contested air environment, it is impossible for the RFAF to conduct large-scale bombings as they have done in Syria.
Anti-Ship Missiles (such as Kh-22) and Anti-Aircraft missiles (like the S-300) have also been repurposed from existing stocks into land-attack variants, although with greatly decreased accuracy – these weapons are unsuitable for point targets. It is likely that these Soviet weapons are reaching the end of their storage life, so it is probable that they are being used as ‘terror weapons’ against area targets including Ukrainian cities to have an effect without the cost of disposal.
Russia is also likely to be short on UAS. The RFAF have purchased several UAS from Iran, including loitering munitions and reconnaissance drones. Both sides have also been seen to crowd-fund UAS, although in Russia this is predominantly commercial-grade small-UAS – whereas the Ukrainians have even managed to crowd-fund a Bayraktar TB-2. In addition to carrying out attacks of their own, UAS are an essential component of an accurate fires complex for use in conventional battles, and a lack thereof is likely contributing to the poor levels of support that Russian artillery is providing to the infantry.
The majority of modern Russian UAS and PGMs use Western-sourced components which cannot be domestically produced. For more detail, please see the excellent report ‘Silicon Lifeline: Western Electronics at the Heart of Russia's War Machine’ by RUSI. Sanctions (some of which have been in place since 2014) against military-specific and dual-use technologies (such as computer chipsets) have almost certainly caused significant disruption to Russian domestic weapon production, which is outstripped by demand.
Sergei Surovikin’s Appointment – Change in RFAF Strategy?
To understand the possibility of a concerted bombardment campaign, it is important to consider Russia’s appointment of Sergei Surovikin as the head of its Ukraine military operation.
Surovikin is a hawkish military commander, who is known for his deployment of “terror” tactics in Syria, similar to those employed against Ukraine in the last 72 hours. Surovikin’s tactics in Syria revolved around intense bombardment campaigns against rebel-held cities across the country. This included significant activity in Aleppo, which was indiscriminately targeted over a period of months. Similar tactics were also employed in Ghouta, south of Damascus, and in Khan Sheikhoun where reports suggested that Surovikin was complicit in the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population. Each operational example reinforces Surovikin’s reputation.
Surovikin is not only known for his harsh tactics, but he has the respect of several hawkish commanders, including the head of Wagner Private Military Contractor (PMC), Yevgeny Prigozhin. The leader of the PMC was quoted as saying “Surovikin is the most capable commander in the Russian army”. This is seen as a deliberate factor in Surovikin’s appointment; Putin has an ally who can quash any dissenting voices over the RFAF’s poor military performance.
The accumulation of these factors has resulted in concern from military bloggers and other commentators that Surovikin’s appointment represents the next phase of the conflict and marks a shift in Russian military tactics.
Can Russia Leverage Support from its Allies?
- Iran. Considering the challenges Russia faces in terms of domestic production, it is likely that there will be increased attempts to source munitions and capabilities from abroad. So far Russia is known to have purchased Shahed-136 loitering munitions (called ‘Geran-2’ by the RFAF), likely to fill their ‘deep strike’ capability gap but is highly likely that the warhead of the munition is too small to have the desired effect. Russia is also reported to be using the Iranian Mohamed-6 and Qods Yasir drones for aerial reconnaissance. There has been some reporting in open source that Russia is dissatisfied with the performance of Iranian drones in Ukraine, although it is a realistic possibility that these reports have been amplified by pro-Ukrainian information operations actors. Despite any real dissatisfaction, it is unlikely that Russia will cease drone purchases from Iran. There has been some speculation that purchases of Iranian weapons may increase, through the Russian ballistic and cruise missile requirements. For more detail, please read ‘Could Long-Range Iranian Missiles Be Next For Russia?’ by The Wire. Iran has a number of domestically-produced missiles which have been developed indigenously to avoid international sanctions, and would likely be able to provide them to Russia at short notice using existing trade routes across the Caspian Sea.
- North Korea. United States (US) intelligence agencies have also reported that Russia is attempting to purchase ammunition from North Korea, which the Kremlin strongly denies. It was reported that the North Koreans intended to sell large quantities of artillery shells and rockets to the RFAF1, as North Korea has the largest supply outside of Russia to feed its masses of Soviet-era/calibre weapons. North Korea also retains domestic production facilities for these munitions. North Korea is less likely to sell its more modern (but still not overly capable) ballistic and cruise missiles to Russia, instead keeping them for national defence. Additionally, North Korean missiles are incompatible with Russian launchers, and therefore launch vehicles and auxiliary equipment would also need to be purchased at greater expense and increased training time.
- Belarus. Belarus is reported to be resupplying the RFAF with both equipment and munitions. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on 11 October that a train with 492 tons of ammunition from the Belarusian 43rd Missile and Ammunition Storage Arsenal in Gomel arrived at the Kirovskaya railway station in Crimea recently2. It is highly likely that Russia will continue to take ammunition and equipment from the ‘Union State’ of Belarus to fulfil immediate requirements caused by newly mobilised troops.
What Impact do the Strikes have on International Organisations in Ukraine?
The increase in Russian strike activity raises the fundamental question of whether it’s safe to conduct fieldwork in Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) temporarily suspended their movements to evaluate the security situation. The disruption caused by Russian strikes against infrastructure and civilian population centres will become more critical as Ukraine approaches winter; NGOs require freedom of movement to be able to travel to areas in dire need of humanitarian assistance. In the coming weeks, this activity will need to be scaled up and assurances will be needed to ensure optimal output.
Well-equipped aid organisations are likely to be able to continue to operate in relative safety if they are away from major conurbations and have their own power/water supplies – aid organisations are unlikely to be deliberately targeted by the RFAF.
The major Russian strikes into civilian areas on 10/11 October are also highly likely to galvanise the West to provide more and better air defence systems. The Ukrainian government has been requesting Air Defence as an urgent requirement for several months, and the recent attacks have sped up the initial deliveries of the German IRIS-T and US NASAMS missile systems, which will be able to contribute to a modern air defence network over major cities such as Kyiv and Odessa. Air Defence is also high on the agenda of the impending NATO Defence Minister’s Summit, and more countries are likely to provide additional assets to Ukraine.
- It is highly unlikely that Russia will be able to sustain missile attacks against Ukraine using the quantities of missiles seen on 10 and 11 October. This is likely due to difficulties manufacturing PGMs and ever-reducing stocks – some of which must be retained in case of significant escalation or conflict with NATO.
- It is highly unlikely that the strikes on 10 and 11 October were due to the appointment of Sergei Surovikin as Commander of the Ukraine Operation. It is likely that they were executed partially in response to the Kerch Bridge attack. The timing coinciding roughly with Surovikin’s appointment is likely seen as an additional benefit which can be used in Russian propaganda materials to show a new phase in the operation and to placate Russian military bloggers.
- Sanctions are almost certainly reducing Russian ability to domestically produce PGMs – however, this has led to a diversification in RFAF arms procurement towards international sellers. In addition to being hard to produce, modern PGMs are also very expensive. This may have an impact on the Russian economy as the relative lack of income from natural gas sales begins to have an effect.
- Iran and North Korea are both heavily sanctioned yet can produce weapons and ammunition that fulfil some urgent Russian requirements – therefore the West is unlikely to be able to prevent these sales without direct intervention.
- Russia may use large quantities of Soviet-era-guided weapons that are nearing their end of life. It is likely cheaper, and with some perceived military benefit despite their inaccuracy. It is a realistic possibility that another large-scale attack using older weapons will occur once new Western-supplied air defence equipment is operational, in order to deplete Ukrainian missile stocks and understand the new capability.
- Strikes against electrical, water and telecommunications infrastructure are likely to continue, if not with a lower frequency. This will increase the burden on the Ukrainian government to provide for the citizens, particularly as autumn turns to winter and the conditions worsen. The need to defend infrastructure for the security of the population may force the Ukrainians to position their new air defence systems to protect urban areas rather than locations of military significance or troops on the front line – an added bonus for the Russians who may hope to support new troop arrivals in the east with additional Close Air Support.
- Aid agencies and other western NGOs operating in Ukraine are unlikely to be directly targeted by Russian strikes. Rural areas are also likely to avoid direct targeting, as long as they do not contain troop concentrations, other military equipment, or national infrastructure.
It is likely that large-scale missile bombardments will be infrequent, and usually in response to a Russian strategic or operational loss. Russia is likely to continue to sporadically bombard infrastructure and civilian population centres with older Soviet missiles to place strain on the Ukrainian government without using precious reserves of more modern PGMs. As time passes, modern missiles such as Kh-101 and Iskander-M will be predominantly reserved for high-value military and governmental targets.
It is likely that both physical and cyber attacks against infrastructure will continue, to cause a significant humanitarian burden on both Ukraine and the wider West as winter sets in and conditions worsen. It is a realistic possibility that the targeting of infrastructure will cause increased refugee flows into Europe at a time when other countries are also preoccupied with rising energy costs. It is likely that Russia intends this to erode support for pro-Ukrainian stances and encourage the West to bring Ukraine to the negotiating table. The attacks are unlikely to erode any domestic support for Zelensky in Ukraine.
The West is likely to continue to provide greater numbers of weapons to Ukraine (particularly defensive ones such as anti-air systems), although in the short term it is unlikely to include modern fighter aircraft – another sorely-needed capability for the Ukrainians.
A missile on the ground in front of the damaged Kharkiv Regional State Administration building in Ukraine. Image/Алесь Усцінаў