Home Nonmilitary action Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities are an implicit nuclear threat

Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities are an implicit nuclear threat

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A wave of explosions hit major cities in Ukraine this morning. Rocket attacks were reported in the capital, Kyiv, as well as in Lviv, Dnipro and several other cities. Many of the targeted areas are in the center and west of the country, which had been quiet for months after fighting shifted east. Numerous deaths and injuries have been reported by the Ukrainian authorities.

The attacks come after the Kerch bridge linking Russia and occupied Crimea – a symbol of the annexation of the peninsula closely linked to Vladimir Putin personally – was partially destroyed on Sunday 9 October. Kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility for the explosion, which was reportedly caused by a truck bomb, although Ukrainian officials have said anonymously that the explosion was their fault and Ukraine Post has announced that it will issue a stamp commemorating the occasion.

[See also: How much territory does Ukraine control? Use this interactive map to find out]

Russia had already hit a building in Zaporizhzhia on Sunday evening following the explosion of a bridge, which killed at least 17 people.

The myriad of attacks on cities across the country on Monday – apparently mostly against civilian targets such as playgrounds and universities – underscores Russia’s willingness to retaliate by hitting non-military targets, even if it suffered consistent battlefield defeats in recent weeks, as the Ukrainian counter-offensives continue to advance. Ukrainian forces have taken over thousands of square kilometers of territory, mainly in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

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Russian leaders have come under increasing criticism in recent days. Hardliners such as Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticized Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, blaming him earlier this month for Russia’s recent defeats and calling for tougher action against Ukrainian targets. The attacks on Ukrainian cities are a response to calls for further escalation by Kremlin figures.

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[See also: Vladimir Putin’s land grab is an act of desperation]

Attacks on civilian targets in peaceful towns will strengthen, not weaken, Ukrainian resolve. But they can be presented by Moscow as just retaliation for the attack on the Kerch Bridge, even though the bridge is probably considered a military target because it was used to supply Russian forces fighting in southern Ukraine. Meanwhile, many of the Ukrainian targets hit this morning, including parks, were purely civilian in nature. Surveillance video appears to show the Glass Bridge, a pedestrian walkway in central Kyiv, hit by a rocket. Symbolically, the bridge – without any military value – is located a few meters from a Soviet-era arch built to commemorate the “reunification” of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

But above all, the attacks carry with them an implicit nuclear threat, according historian Sergey Radchenko. Moscow shows it has the ability to target Ukrainian cities with missiles. There is no guarantee that the next cannot carry a nuclear warhead, the message to Ukraine and the West says.