A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 15, 2022

Why the "Art of Atrocity" Is Not Helping Putin Win In Ukraine

The reality is that Russian atrocities - seen by them as an extension of policy - have hardened Ukrainian resolve, further encouraged global support for Ukraine and have led to upgraded donations of weaponry which have contributed to the Russian defeat on the battlefield. JL 

Mick Ryan reports in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Shopping malls, train stations, playgrounds, hospitals, cultural sites and residential areas are all fair game for the brutal yet clueless Russian commanders. These attacks are further evidence of the ineptitude of the Russian military. They are unable to beat the Ukrainians, so they resort to murdering civilians. This has been a systemic approach from the Russian Army throughout the invasion. Killing civilians and mistreating prisoners is tolerated by the Russian state and the Russian people. This is not just Putin. (But) the reality is they have hardened Ukrainian resistance, and Western support for the defeat of Russia.

A little over three weeks ago, I sat in a large conference room in Kyiv and listened to President Volodymyr Zelensky outline how his country, despite the heroic achievements of its armed forces, would need a continuing flow of military assistance from the West. At the very top of his priorities was air and missile defence systems to “close the skies”, to use his exact words.

The past 24 hours has again shown why Zelensky was so strident about this particular requirement. After the attack on the Kerch Bridge, Russia unleashed a barrage of 84 missiles and 13 Iranian kamikaze drones on Ukrainian cities. While about half were shot down, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Kyiv and others were attacked. None were Ukrainian military targets, but residential, tourist and business areas as well as several civil infrastructure targets.

This is hardly a new act from the Russians. Since the beginning of this war, they have mastered the art of the atrocity. Shopping malls, train stations, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, theatres, cultural sites and residential areas are all fair game for the brutal yet clueless Russian military commanders. These attacks are given a thin veil of legitimacy by the Russian military by calling their targets “military”, but nothing is further from the truth. These are deliberate attacks to terrorise the people of Ukraine.

What conclusions might be drawn from this latest round of missile attacks?

First, the West needs to speed up the delivery of air and missile defence systems to Ukraine. The recent announcement of the provision of the IRIS-T air defence system from Europe is welcome. But there is more that can be done. The US Patriot system should be deployed and the Israelis should be pressured to provide their anti-ballistic missile systems to defend Ukrainian cities. It is a world-leading system that will not only save Ukrainian lives but serve as a deterrent against Russian attacks.

Second, military assistance to Ukraine needs to expand and speed up. The faster that Ukraine can beat the Russian Army, the quicker the humanitarian tragedy that is Russia’s invasion can be ended. This aid must include long-range missiles like ATACMs, main battle tanks and armoured fighting vehicles in their hundreds, lethal drones in their thousands, and training for tens of thousands of Ukrainian service personnel. The combined industrial and military might of the West is a vast overmatch for Russia. We just need the will to use this might to better help Ukraine regain its territory. Australia must be part of this effort.

Third, Putin’s response to the Kerch Bridge, which is the same tactic he has used throughout the war, shows how morally and intellectually insolvent his regime is. There are some who argue that this has been clear from the start; this is true. But, for those who still argue that Putin should be provided with some kind of honourable off ramp from Ukraine, these attacks provide further evidence of the bankruptcy of this argument.


The only way Putin will pull his forces out of Ukraine is if they are forced out. We should stop fooling ourselves that Putin can somehow be cajoled into a negotiated settlement.Fourth, these attacks were further evidence of the ineptitude of the Russian military. They are unable to beat the Ukrainian military, so instead they resort to murdering civilians in the streets. This has been a deliberate and systemic approach from the Russian Army throughout the invasion. There is something repulsive in a military culture that embraces such solutions. It is worth noting that this culture of killing civilians and mistreating Ukrainian prisoners of war is tolerated by the Russian state, the Russian people and is encouraged on Russian state television. This is not just Putin.This is all the more reason why the Russians must be beaten in this war.


The Russian Army, the Russian people (who by and large still support their president) and Putin must know that such wanton cruelty from states and their military forces has no place in the international system. Harsh words and UN motions will not achieve this. The sad lesson of history is that sometimes awful violence is necessary to squelch out an even greater evil. Such is the case now with Russia. The only imperative now must be to thoroughly defeat the Russians in Ukraine. This would also send a message to China that similar military adventures in Taiwan will not be tolerated.

Finally, we should recognise that these attacks have done nothing to cower the people of Ukraine. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of rocket attacks myself, I know what a terrifying experience it can be. I can’t imagine having to support and console children and other family members through such events. But, as a society, the Ukrainian people have remained resilient and defiant in the face of these aerial assaults from Russia. There is much our own nation might learn from the response of the stoic and plucky Ukrainians to this invasion so that we might enhance our own national resilience.

Putin and the Russian military leadership probably thought that they were conducting some form of a “shock and awe” campaign as a retaliation for the Kerch Bridge attack. The real shock is that they could think after eight months of such atrocities, these missile raids would have any impact other than satisfying the sadistic impulses of Russian hardliners. The reality is that through this escalation, they have only hardened Ukrainian resistance, and probably Western support for the defeat of Russia in this war.

That is some strategy.


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