Russia uses hypersonic weapons as war enters bloodier phase

With Putin's ground forces getting bogged down, he's resorting to more lethal warfare that will result in even more civilian deaths.


World News

March 20, 2022 - 8:32 PM

Ukrainian soldiers carry a dead soldier through debris at the military school hit by Russian rockets the day before, in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, on Saturday, March 19, 2022. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content

Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles against Ukraine appears to mark a shift in strategy in response to its losses on the battlefield, one that may signal a new phase of the war while serving to show the world its abundant firepower.

Western military analysts point to President Vladimir Putin’s ground campaign getting bogged down, with Russian troops failing to achieve their initial objectives and underestimating the scale of Ukraine’s resistance.

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

“Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of this war,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment, posted Saturday afternoon in Washington. It cited Russia’s original aim as seizing Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other major cities to topple President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government.

But rather than making a cease-fire more likely, it said that satellite images showing Russia troops digging in around Kyiv and elsewhere suggest a stalemate that “will likely be very violent and bloody, especially if it protracts.”

The signs of a shifting military strategy come as President Joe Biden prepares to travel to Europe to rally further support for Ukraine. The U.S. 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 losses on Russian forces.”

Russian operations have changed to use a strategy of attrition that will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower. This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis.

Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull, U.K. Chief of Defense intelligence

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

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

While neither strike was confirmed by Ukraine, a senior official said that Ukrainian cities were being targeted with more destructive artillery, including the Kinzhal missiles, “due to failures in the offensive.”

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

“Russian operations have changed,” the U.K.’s Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull, told reporters on Friday. He cited “a strategy of attrition” that will involve “the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower.”

“This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, and says that it is hitting military assets with high precision.

Lloyd Austin III, US Defense Secretary. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Putin may be deploying hypersonic missiles to regain momentum in the invasion of Ukraine.