Expert: Russia missile attacks on Ukraine attempt to regain initiative

Rainer Saks
Rainer Saks Source: ERR

The recent missile attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are an example of Russia trying to regain the initiative it has been losing in its war, following battlefield retreats and the likelihood its military will not be able to organize new offensives going forward, security expert Rainer Saks says.

Talking to ERR radio's "Vikerhommik" Wednesday, Saks said: "This is an attempt to prevent Ukrainian offensives, but it is even more significant in showing the initiative, in terms of strategic communication, that Russia is capable of continuing to escalate this war. Their talking point, which they have been claiming everywhere, is that they can bring to the war some new direction, which is what they are trying to demonstrate now."

Saks said he also does not believe that the recent attack on the Kerch bridge was the result of infighting on the Russian side. "I don't believe those speculations that it was an attack organized by the Russians themselves - it is, in turn, an information operation organized by someone which has obscured the situation," he said.

With these missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, the Russian leadership wanted to show that it could respond to the damage to the Kerch bridge. 

"This was required in order to maintain some kind of domestic prestige and to keep society under control, to show that Russia can bring some kind of response, plus it was done in the form of these missile attacks. I repeat that Russia has nothing else it can do right now. For as long as they have enough missiles, as long as they can organize such strikes," Saks went on.

On the other hand, it should not be assumed that there is panic in Russia, even though the operational management of this war has been complicated by the supposed intervention of President Vladimir Putin, he said.

"I believe that there is an assessment of the tactical situation from day to day. What makes the situation on the Russian side a bit unstable is that everything depends so very much on the personal assessments and orders of the Russian president. But he can't get to every person, and if such a vertical of power is has already presented, then the response at the operational level is immediately paralyzed."

"I don't think there is any panic in Russia as of now. The Ministry of Defense is mostly dealing with organizing mobilization and coming up with new reserves, while the General Staff is trying to squeeze out the last of the dwindling forces they still have there on the ground in Ukraine," he said.

Russia needs negotiations in order to freeze the situation

In Saks' view, Russia might now want negotiations in order to take the initiative from Ukraine, so as to freeze the current situation on the ground in order to muster the strength for a new offensive.

"Nor does Russia want these negotiations in order to strive for peace, but Russia, due to its being in trouble in the war, wants to formalize these occupied territories under its control via some kind of armistice or some other agreement and then start building up a new army," Saks went on.

"This is a fairly classic situation, whereby one side has lost control over the course of the operation. When Russia started this war, it was convinced at the beginning that if it wanted to, it could slow down, escalate again, control the course of this operation, attack, organizes negotiations. However, now they have lost that leverage."

In addition, Russia's military has now lost the initiative on the front, he added.

Turkey's mediation activities have also been beneficial to Ukraine, for example helping the movement of grain ships, Saks said. He also pointed out that no one in Ukraine has criticized Turkey's initiative so far.

Furthermore, the exchange of prisoners and the still-ongoing gas transit through Ukraine show that there are still some contacts between Russia and Ukraine, he added.

"In other words, the Russian leadership actually understands that the major goal - to defeat the whole of Ukraine - will no longer be achieved at a rapid pace. Now it would be necessary to find some kind of long-term solution, a frozen conflict-like truce for a certain period would be the most suitable option for Russia. Russia now wants to negotiate from this position. That [if there is] strategic failure, then it would be necessary to avoid strategic destruction," Saks argued.

It would not be worthwhile to demonize any meetings of the leaders of the western countries with the Russian leadership if this would result in a reduction of tensions, he added.

"We have somehow such an ingrained approach to foreign policy that the meeting is like an event in and of itself. But content is more important. If, as a result of this meeting, Russia is ready to do something that can be considered de-escalation, or if Russia backs down, then this would be more than okay."

"It is important that Russia receives messages directly from those it considers its enemies, and does not communicate with them through the media. The worst thing is that if you communicate only via the media, it inevitably leads to an increase in escalation. In fact, no one wants that the military conflict goes beyond Ukraine's space. Supporting Ukraine is important, but sometimes it is necessary to get confirmation from your counterpart personally. So, as a result of this, I would not demonize these meetings as such," emphasized Saks. "It is bad if, as a result of these meetings, Russia gets the feeling that the other party has lost the desire to resist - that would be a bad thing."

Ukraine continues to progress

Although it is now a quieter time for the frontline troops, the initiative in the war is still in the hands of Ukraine, and in addition to the territories already recaptured, we can expect new victories from them, Saks added. "The initiative is now in Ukraine's hands. Sooner or later they will launch another offensive, move forward again," he said.

"They have also made some small improvements to their positions, but they haven't tried to invade with a hurrah, so to speak. In the case of Ukraine, the important thing is that they try to avoid unnecessary losses. And secondly, they try to invade in such a way that the occupied areas can be kept, to secure, to clear, to make the rear area safe, so that the offensive can continue, and not exhaust ourselves with the offensive," Saks said.

"So if you listen to the opinions of the military, everyone pretty much agrees that these offensives were carried out in a very by-the-book manner, observing the rules of the art of war, and in this sense it is completely appropriate to act in the way that Ukraine has been doing," he said.

An offensive can be expected in the Kherson area and also in the northern part of Ukraine, from the Russian forces nonetheless, he added. "I don't think they have said their last word yet this year, they will definitely make one more big effort to move forward," believes Saks.

The weak state of the Russian armed forces has also aided the success of Ukraine, he noted.

"The fighting ability of the Russian army is clearly diminishing; it is not possible for them to form reserves, it is not viable to produce enough weapons. The Russian ability to organize an offensive is essentially non-existent. And in this situation, Ukraine, if they were to allow this conflict freeze, then they understand very well that a new and even tougher war will come after a while," Saks added.

"The Russian army has not collapsed, but seeing what the mobilized reserves are, which are sent to the front, I think that in fact, it can quite easily happen that in the next month-and-a-half, the resistance of the Russian army will drop to such a low level that they can - cannot control all these occupied territories anymore."

Rainer Saks was talking to Vikerraadio's Janek Luts and Margit Kilumets.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Vikerhommik, Janek Luts, Margit Kilumets

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