Russia uses hypersonic weapons as war enters bloodier phase

RRussia’s use of hypersonic missiles against Ukraine appears to mark a shift in strategy in response to its battlefield losses, which could signal a new phase in the war while serving to show the world its abundant might. of fire.

Western military analysts point out that President Vladimir Putin’s ground campaign is bogged down, with Russian troops failing to achieve their initial objectives and underestimating the extent of Ukrainian resistance.

They say the result is likely to be increased use of artillery bombardment, causing even more civilian casualties.

“Ukrainian forces defeated the first Russian campaign of this war,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment, released Saturday afternoon in Washington. He cited Russia’s initial goal as seizing kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and other major cities to overthrow the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

But rather than making a ceasefire more likely, he said satellite images showing Russian troops digging around kyiv and elsewhere suggest a stalemate that “is likely to be very violent and bloody, especially if it breaks out.” prolonged”.

Signs of a shift in military strategy come as President Joe Biden prepares to travel to Europe to rally more support for Ukraine. The US has agreed to supply Ukraine with drones, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, small arms and ammunition, adding to weapons that have already helped ‘inflict dramatic casualties on Russian forces’ .

On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its military had used hypersonic “Kinzhal” or dagger missiles the day before to destroy an underground weapons cache in southwestern Ukraine.

Then again on Sunday, Russia said it had fired missiles to destroy a fuel depot in the Mykolaiv region. Authorities issued an air raid warning early Sunday for about an hour.

Although no strikes were confirmed by Ukraine, a senior official said Ukrainian cities were being targeted by more destructive artillery, including Kinzhal missiles, “due to offensive failures”.

The comment by Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, was Ukraine’s first official response to Russia’s claims that it had fired the missiles twice in three days. If verified, the strikes would mark the first use of the advanced nuclear-capable weapons system in war.

“Russian operations have changed,” British defense intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull told reporters on Friday. He cited “an attritional strategy” which will involve “the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower”.

“This will lead to increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and an escalation of the humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and said it was hitting military assets with high precision.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said Putin could deploy hypersonic missiles to regain momentum in the invasion of Ukraine.

“I wouldn’t see that as a game changer,” Austin said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I think the reason he’s resorting to these types of weapons is he’s trying to restore some momentum.”

As the war enters its 25th day, the United Nations has said 10 million people have been uprooted, including those who fled the country and others displaced inside Ukraine. As losses mount, Zelenskiy renewed his offer to negotiate with Putin, saying even the slightest chance of a negotiated settlement must be taken.

“I’m ready to negotiate with him,” Zelenskiy told CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired on Sunday. “We have to use any format, any chance to have the opportunity to negotiate, the opportunity to talk to Putin. But if these attempts fail, it would mean that it is a third world war.

The Kinzhal, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, flies 10 times faster than the speed of sound, or more than 2 miles per second, Putin said when he announced the system in an annual state of the art address. the nation in 2018. It was among several next-generation strategic weapons that Putin believed could overcome any US defenses.

Hypersonic missiles travel on lower trajectories than conventional ballistic missiles, making them harder to detect. They can also maneuver to evade missile defense systems.

An update from British defense intelligence said that as its forces bogged down in the field, Russia had increased “indiscriminate shelling of urban areas”.

“Russia is likely to continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it seeks to limit its own already considerable casualties, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the UK said. .

(Updates with Biden’s trip, the U.S. Secretary of Defense beginning in the sixth paragraph.)

–With help from Ros Krasny and Tony Czuczka.

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