Russia responded with cruise missiles after the Crimean bridge was damaged. The bombs are apparently falling indiscriminately in major Ukrainian cities. This is what terror looks like. Why is Putin doing this? Russia expert Stefan Meister explains.

A university campus, an office building, a pedestrian bridge, a park, a busy intersection, a thermal power plant. These were the objectives of the Russian air raids on Kyiv two days after the attack on the Crimean bridge. According to official information, six people died in the Ukrainian capital on Monday, and the civil protection authorities counted 19 fatalities.

According to the Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, the Ukrainian internal security service (SBU) is said to be behind the detonation on the bridge over the Kerch Strait. There is no official confirmation. But this attack, this “terrorist attack”, as Russian President Vladimir Putin himself puts it, apparently triggered something in the Kremlin ruler. Why?

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“The bridge is important as a supply infrastructure for Crimea and the Russian military in southern Ukraine,” explains Russia expert Stefan Meister, head of the International Order and Democracy program at the German Foreign Policy Association (DGAP). It also has a high symbolic meaning for Putin himself.

“He brought Crimea ‘back to Russia’, a great success for him personally.” In addition, the 19-kilometer bridge, which the Kremlin boss personally inaugurated in May 2018, directly connects the Russian mainland with the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed in 2014 .

Do the recent bombings in a dozen Ukrainian cities, with so many civilian casualties, mark a shift in Putin’s war strategy, or is it just a completely twisted way of exacting revenge? “We are at a new level of escalation in this war, in which Russia is attacking Ukrainian civilian infrastructure even harder and more extensively,” says Meister. There is no place in Ukraine that is not safe from Russian missiles.

And further: “The Russian leadership is no longer proceeding strategically, but is lashing out wildly the more it comes under pressure,” said Meister. Therefore, according to the expert, the risk of nuclear weapons being used increases – the stronger the pressure on Moscow grows.

The anxious question, which not only the people in the areas under military attack by Russia are asking themselves, is: How can this spiral of escalation be reversed? “The US needs channels for negotiations with the Russian leadership, should the moment come,” explains Meister. At the same time, Ukraine must be careful about how far it escalates the war. “Here, the western partners should coordinate closely with Kyiv.”

Because: “At the moment we are in a spiral of escalation that cannot only be solved militarily.” Meister pleads: “Military pressure is needed, but also channels of communication and possibilities of a way out.” In Moscow, the hardliners would drive Putin into ever tougher actions. “There needs to be opportunities for top-level talks between Washington and Moscow, as US President Joe Biden is the only relevant point of contact for Putin.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emphasized his country’s will to resist. “Ukraine will not be intimidated, it will only be more united,” he said in his evening video address in Kyiv on Monday.

Russia has appointed a commander for all Russian troops in Ukraine for the first time. He is considered a brutal war leader with a dark history. With his appointment, Putin wants to send a clear signal to the West – and to his critics at home.

In Russia, people have had to do without some amenities for months. The country is being deprived of numerous goods as a result of the sanctions imposed in the course of the invasion of Ukraine. But thanks to the “grey market trade”, some products still end up in the markets – even from Germany.

Vladimir Putin is coming under increasing pressure in Russia. Fierce disputes following the recent defeats in the Ukraine war are dividing the president’s power base. “Putin will probably be gone soon,” says historian Harold James. But that doesn’t have to mean only good things.

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