Vladimir Putin’s latest display of brutality and vengeance might be a fit of fury over his signature Crimean bridge being blown up. But his indiscriminate targeting of Ukrainian civilians also raises the prospect of a horrific new turn in a vicious war.
Russian missiles damaged a glass-bottomed footbridge in Kyiv that is a popular tourist site, tore into intersections at rush hour and crashed down near a children’s playground on Monday. Power outages rolled across the country, in places cutting off water supplies and transport, in strikes that recalled the terror inflicted on civilians in the invasion’s early days but that had largely ebbed in recent months.
The attacks snatched away the semblance of normality that city dwellers, who spent months earlier in the war in subways turned into air raid shelters, have managed to restore to their lives and raised fears of new strikes.
The message was obvious for the world to see: Putin does not intend to be humiliated. He will not admit defeat. And he is quite prepared to inflict civilian carnage and indiscriminate terror in response to his string of battlefield reversals.
But the targets on Monday also had little military value and, if anything, served to reflect Putin’s need to find new targets because of his inability to inflict defeats on Ukraine on the battlefield.
The bombing of power installations, in particular, Monday appeared to be an unsubtle hint of the misery the Russian President could inflict as winter sets in, even as his forces retreat in the face of Ukrainian troops using Western arms.
This possibility that Putin could be heralding a bloody new twist in a war that has gone through multiple strategic phases since the invasion in February was weighing heavy on the minds of political and military leaders in Washington Monday. Their reaction was laced with revulsion that Putin was again unleashing callous warfare against civilians that recalled Europe’s 20th century horrors.