Russia relies on psychological terror more than battlefield victories, says ISW

18 October 2022, 03:35 PM
A new wave of missile strikes and drone attacks proved that Russia relies more on psychological terror. (Photo:REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko)

A new wave of missile strikes and drone attacks proved that Russia relies more on psychological terror. (Photo:REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko)

A new wave of missile strikes and drone attacks on Oct. 17 proved that Russia relies more on psychological terrifying Ukrainians than on the effects of such strikes on the battlefield, according to an assessment by the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), published on Oct. 17, following mass Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilian targets.

 “The October 17 drone attack on residential infrastructure in Kyiv is consistent with the broader pattern of Russian forces prioritizing creating psychological terror effects on Ukraine over achieving tangible battlefield effects,” the ISW’s analysts said.

The ISW cites observations made by U.S. military analyst Brett Friedman on Oct. 17, that a Shahed-136's payload is about 40 kg of explosives, whereas a typical 155mm M795 artillery round carries nearly 11 kg, which means that one Shahed-136 drone carries about three shells worth of explosive material but without the consistent pattern of fragmentation.

Video of day

Friedman suggested that the five Shahed-136s that struck Kyiv on Oct. 17 had the effect of 15 artillery shells fired at a very large area. Such strikes can do great damage to civilian infrastructure and kill and wound many people without creating meaningful military effects. This analysis suggests that Russian forces are continuing to use Shahed-136 drones to generate the psychological effects associated with targeting civilian areas instead of attempting to generate asymmetric operational effects by striking legitimate military and frontline targets in a concentrated manner.

Meanwhile, further calls of the Russian Federation to Iran to obtain additional missiles, including the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missiles, are likely to compensate for its increasingly attritted missile arsenal.

ISW also mentions a fratricidal incident in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast on Oct. 15 between conscripted servicemen at a training ground. The analysts believe it to be likely “a consequence of the Kremlin’s continual reliance on ethnic minority communities to bear the burden of mobilization in the Russian Federation.”

The ISW has previously reported on the prevalence of volunteer battalions formed in non-Russian ethnic minority communities, many of which suffered substantial losses upon deployment to Ukraine. This trend continued following Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization, after which authorities continued to deliberately target minority communities to fulfill mobilization orders.

ISW analysts have also previously noted that the asymmetric distribution of mobilization responsibilities along ethnic lines has led to the creation of localized and ethnically based resistance movements, which the Institute forecasted could cause domestic ramifications as the war continues.

“The Belgorod shooting is likely a manifestation of exactly such domestic ramifications,” the ISW wrote.

“Ethnic minorities that have been targeted and forced into fighting a war defined by Russian imperial goals and shaped by Russian Orthodox nationalism will likely continue to feel alienation, which will create feed-back loops of discontent leading to resistance followed by crackdowns on minority enclaves."

Meanwhile, Wagner Group financier Yevheny Prigozhin and Wagner-affiliated social media outlets are increasingly commenting on the ineffectiveness of traditional Russian military institutions and societal issues, which may indirectly undermine the Kremlin’s rule. While Prigozhin does not directly oppose or criticize Putin, his growing notoriety within the nationalist community may undermine Putin’s “strongman” appeal by comparison, the ISW believes, adding that emerging discussions about a civil war in Russia may further disrupt the Kremlin’s narratives about national, ethnic, and religious unity within Russia.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian sources continued to discuss potential Ukrainian counteroffensive operations northwest of Svatove on Oct. 16 and 17;

  • Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian Forces are conducting counteroffensive operations in Kherson Oblast on Oct. 16 and 17;

  • Russian forces conducted ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast on Oct. 16 and 17;

  • Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian concentrations of manpower and equipment in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on Oct. 16 and 17;

  • Russian authorities continued measures to exert full control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP);

  • Moscow city officials announced the completion of partial mobilization in the city on Oct. 17, likely in an effort to subdue criticism among Moscow residents of reports of illegal mobilization in the city;

  • Russian and occupation administration officials continue to promote “vacation” programs to residents of Russian-occupied territories likely as pretext for the abduction of Ukrainian citizens and the resettlement of Russian citizens.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google News

Ukraine Today
Fresh daily newsletter covering the top headlines and developments in Ukraine
Daily at 9am EST
Show more news