Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine have been ineffective
To read more of The Economists data journalism visit our Graphic Detail page. IN RECENT WEEKS Russia has stepped up its missile bombardments of Ukrainian cities. Between May 1st and May 26th there were 13 strikes on Kyiv, mostly during the night. Yet Ukraine maintains that the countrys air-defence systems are stopping most of the rockets. In mid-May Britains Ministry of Defence confirmed that Ukraine had for the first time shot down one of Russias Kinzhal aero-ballistic missilesa significant setback for the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin had described the Kinzhals as invincible and lauded their hypersonic capabilities. A recent report by Ian Williams, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank, shows that Russias way of using long-range missiles has evolved significantly since the start of the war. In the early months their main aim was to destroy Ukraines air-defence capacity. These strikes were especially intense in the east and south of the country (see map). Russia still has not managed to destroy Ukraines air defences. That is partly due to Ukraines agile tactics and to the arrival of powerful Western anti-missile weapons. The CSIS study also suggests that structural inefficiencies within Russias command system undermined its missile campaign. During the initial bombardment the Russians underestimated the number of rockets required to destroy targets across Ukraines vast territory. As a result they failed to attack some areas with strategically significant sites. Data from Ukraines government show that between February 22nd and July 21st 2022 there were only 20 missile strikes on Vinnytsia oblast, a region in central Ukraine that has the command centres of Ukraines air force and an important weapons depot. Russian decision-making on aerial attacks has also been slow. Russias command structure feeds intelligence into a central system in Moscow, which then disseminates it. As a result, Russian forces have sometimes taken more than 48 hours to strike a target after identifying it. That is not a problem when attacking static targets like large radar systems. But the delay makes it difficult to hit mobile air-defence systems, a problem compounded by Ukraines use of inflatable decoys. Unable to knock out military assets, Russia increased its attacks on civilian targets. In September 2022 the Kremlin deployed Iranian-made Shahed-136 loitering munitions (dubbed kamikaze drones) to attack residential areas. It intensified strikes on civil infrastructure such as Ukraines electricity grid in October, after Ukraine bombed the Kerch bridge that connects Crimea with Russia. In the following months Russias attacks on civilian targets became less frequent but more intense. These strikes have caused terrible damage. Still, attacking civilians is a sign of weakness. The CSIS report argues that the Kremlins aim is probably to press the Ukrainian government to seek peace by weakening public morale and exhausting Western patience and support. If that is the intention, it is so far failing.