It’s been a little over four months since Russia launched an illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It seems longer, because in those months so much has happened. Russia has attempted, and failed, to capture the capital city of Kyiv. There has been the tragic reduction of the coastal city of Mariupol; the horrors discovered in Bucha and other towns after Russia withdrew from northern Ukraine; what seem to be a hundred offensives and counteroffensives; and the slow grind of Russian artillery erasing villages, towns, and cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
At this point, the invasion of Ukraine has retreated from the front pages of newspapers and the headlines of newscasts. It’s even hard to locate on the interior pages and rarely given a moment on channels that stream news 24/7. For most of the world, the invasion of Ukraine has become background noise.
But what Russia is doing in Ukraine—specifically what it did on Thursday in the city of Vinnytsia, and in many locations before that—demands to be seen. Because Russia is reserving its most sophisticated weapons to deliberately attack targets unrelated to any military goal, far from the battlefield, for the purpose of maximizing civilian deaths. All war is hell. People, both soldiers and civilians, suffer and die. But what Russia is doing in Ukraine isn’t war. It’s terrorism.
[Warning: Very graphic images]
On Thursday, Russia launched three Kalibr cruise missiles from a warship, possibly a submarine, located in the Black Sea, into the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine.
While Russia has employed large volumes of unsophisticated, blunt-force weaponry in its bloody crawl across the landscape of Ukraine, the Kalibr is a precision weapon. It is a large, very high speed missile originally designed as an anti-ship weapon. It’s 30 feet long and reaches speeds over Mach 3. It not only carries a half-ton of high explosives in its warhead, the sheer speed of the heavy missile gives it tremendous kinetic energy. It’s an extremely formidable weapon that Russia claims is capable of traveling over 400 miles and still hitting a target only a few feet on a side. It is a precision-guided missile with the ability to dodge many defensive systems and strike a target the size of a small ship with extreme force far beyond the horizon.
On Thursday, the targets these precision-guided missiles hit were an office building, a cultural center, and a medical center in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, more than 200 miles from the nearest area under contention.
That attack in Vinnytsia needs to be seen, not because it’s uniquely horrible, but because, horribly, it is not unique. This first glimpse shows some of the destruction caused by those missiles, but the casualty counts are far from accurate.
This next video takes the camera closer to the destruction. But even here, the numbers fall short of what’s been tallied at this point.
In addition to the medical center, a museum and a building containing offices and shops was struck. What was not hit was anything that might possibly be regarded as a legitimate military target.
Ultimately, what that attack meant was this. These aren’t just baby carriages. They’re babies.
This attack, using Russia’s high-precision weaponry, didn’t just deliberately strike at civilian centers. They timed the attack to mid-morning, ensuring that the maximum number of civilians would be present. They reached out to a city hundreds of miles from the nearest area of conflict and blew apart mothers and babies on their way to see the doctor.
This isn’t the first time Vinnytsia has been hit by missiles. Back in March, as Russia was seriously attempting to contend for all of Ukraine, missiles struck the television tower, airport, and a Ukrainian Air Force building on the outskirts of the city. All of which might easily be regarded as legitimate targets of war—even if those attacks did result in a reported 10 civilian deaths.
Throughout the war, there have been outrages. Russian planes deliberately bombed the opera house at Mariupol in spite of signs showing that it was being used as a shelter for children. Russia’s less sophisticated missiles have rained down on cities across Ukraine on an almost daily basis. In locations like Kharkiv, Russia still regularly throws artillery shells into the heart of the city for no other reason than to prevent the citizens there from having anything close to a normal life. And, of course, there were the mass graves, torture chambers, and body-strewn streets of Bucha that were exposed after Russian forces retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv.
In the last month, as Ukraine has secured more weaponry from the West, including M777 howitzers and HIMARS rocket systems from the United States, it has used these new, more precise forms of artillery to systematically attack Russian ammunition depots, equipment sheds, and control centers. The have been a series of spectacular explosions. And yes, there is no doubt that in pressing these attacks against military targets there have been civilian deaths. But there is an enormous gulf between those actions and deliberately seeking to maximize the damage to civilians.
Russia’s tactics in Ukraine have been simple: Shell towns and cities into rubble using artillery until nothing remains, then advance over the rubble. Ukraine’s strikes against ammunition depots in particular seem to have made an impact on that strategy, and there are some signs that it is slowing Russia’s advance.
But in response, Russia hasn’t used its best weaponry to go after those howitzers and rocket systems. It has deployed them in a series of attacks against civilian centers, of which Vinnytsia is only the latest.
All war is hell. But what Russia is practicing isn’t war. It’s terrorism. What happened on Thursday in Vinnytsia wasn’t a military operation. It was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks.
At a bare minimum, Russia should be declared a state sponsor of terrorism. Legislators, including Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, have been urging President Joe Biden to make this designation since May. Should Biden or Secretary of State Tony Blinken make such a designation, it would sharply expand restrictions on exports to Russia.
Countries are rarely added to this list because the restrictions are so severe. They limit not just what the U.S. can send to a state sponsor of terror, but obligate the U.S. to call on other nations to limit what they provide. Right now, the list contains just four nations: Cuba, Syria, North Korea, and Iran. Russia richly deserves to join this list.
And that should be only the first step.
Russia’s government isn’t just the sponsor of terrorists, they are engaged in acts of terrorism. Acts that are unjustifiable for any purpose, military or economic, except as means of generating terror. More so than even the Taliban, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin is a destructive, terroristic force and is harmful to Ukraine and the world. What happened in Vinnytsia is only another step in a long trail that leads back through Ukraine, and Georgia, and Syria, and Chechnya. That trail is strewn with bodies—with baby carriages and babies—who Putin decided to slaughter to send a vile message of his disdain.
Halting Russia in Ukraine is a necessary focus for the United States and the world. So is seeking the downfall of Putin’s murderous, kleptocratic regime through every means possible.