Russia's threats to strike at "decision-making centres": History, chronology, conclusions, and forecasts
The Monitoring Group of BlackSeaNews
and the Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studie
The possibility of Russia’s missile strikes on "decision-making centres" in Ukraine was discussed for the first time since 24 February 2022 in the Russian Ministry of Defence almost two months ago.
On 13 April 2022, the Russian Defence Ministry called “the strikes on Russian territories along the state border with Ukraine and sabotage operations in Russian border areas” the reason for striking at decision-making centres. Russian media immediately clarified: “It is not difficult to guess what decision-making centres we are talking about. This is the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence, and the General Staff of the country.”
On 26 April 2022, the Russian Ministry of Defence made an expanded interpretation, which also included foreign military advisers: that is decision-making centres = the highest bodies of state power of Ukraine + military headquarters + foreign military advisers.
On 30 May 2022, the topic of striking at decision-making centres was raised again after the information appeared that the United States was planning to supply HIMARS long-range rocket systems to Ukraine. On 1 June 2022, Putin's interpretation of 2019 that decision-making centres include not only Kyiv but also the United States and NATO's military command infrastructure in Europe was actually revived by Medvedev. In experts’ fantasies, the idea about the possibility of strikes on ships during the transportation of weapons from the United States to Europe was voiced for the first time.
On 5 June 2022, Putin raised this issue in an interview with Russia TV channel. He further clarified the topic of missile range and expanded considerably the terminology regarding the targets of future missile strikes.
On 6 June 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov linked, and Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Nebenzya specified Lavrov's formula on the connection between the supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine, capable of reaching targets in Russia, and further seizure of Ukrainian territory.
In two months, the Russian Federation has significantly "updated" the pretexts for striking at decision-making centres. Note that strikes on decision-making centres in response to "strikes on Russian border areas by Ukraine" in April-May 2022 were not carried out - Russia has failed to create at least minimally convincing evidence of "strikes" even for its own population.
Given that the majority of Russian society is looking forward to strikes on Kyiv, it is highly probable that a plan to launch a massive missile strike on Ukraine's public facilities in the capital has long been developed and is just awaiting Putin's order. As well as the plan of strikes on the city’s infrastructure of civilian life. At present, it is difficult to predict what factor or event may trigger the issuing of this order.
History and chronology
The possibility of Russia’s missile strikes on "decision-making centres" in Ukraine was discussed for the first time since 24 February 2022 in the Russian Ministry of Defence almost two months ago.
However, Russia first warned of the possibility of "striking at decision-making centres" as part of its new strategy two years before the start of the large-scale aggression, and back then, it meant strikes not on Ukraine but on decision-making centres in the United States.
20 February 2019. In an address to the Russian Federal Assembly, President Putin warned the United States of a possible strike on "decision-making centres" in connection with the hypothetical possibility of the US deploying medium-range missiles in Europe.
20 February 2019. Putin. Russia does not intend - this is very important, I repeat this on purpose - Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe. If they are really produced and delivered to the European continent, and the United States has such plans, in any case, we have not heard statements to the contrary, then this will severely aggravate the situation in the field of international security, create serious threats for Russia, because some classes of these missiles can have a flight time to Moscow of up to 10-12 minutes. This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced, I want to emphasise this, we will be forced to consider tit-for-tat measures and asymmetric actions. What does this mean?
I will tell you directly and openly today, so that no one could reproach us for anything later, so that it is clear to everyone in advance what we are talking about here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons that can be used not only against those territories that will pose a corresponding direct threat to us but also against those territories where decision-making centres are located on the use of missile systems that threaten us.1
Thus, for the Russian president, decision-making centres are the United States and NATO's military command infrastructure in Europe.
On 13 April 2022, this strategy of verbal threats got a new life. The head of the Russian Defence Ministry's information and mass communications department and official spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, General Igor Konashenkov, said that if Ukraine continued to carry out sabotage operations and fire on Russia's border areas,* Russia would strike at decision-making centres.
13 April 2022. Konashenkov. “We see the attempts of sabotage and strikes by Ukrainian troops on facilities on the territory of the Russian Federation. If such incidents continue, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will strike at decision-making centres, including in Kyiv, which the Russian army has so far refrained from doing.”2
So for the Russian Ministry of Defence, the decision-making centre is Kyiv. Russian media immediately clarified the words of the general: “It is not difficult to guess what decision-making centres we are talking about. This is the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence, and the General Staff of the country.”
* In March-May 2022, the Russian media repeatedly reported on "strikes on the border settlements of the Bryansk and Kursk oblasts by Ukraine." All these reports were published mainly without photo evidence or with photos of "Ukrainian shell fragments and destruction" without the possibility of geographical identification of the place. This has led to the perception of these messages solely as provocations by the Russian Federation itself in order to create the pretext for "strikes at decision-making centres.”
13 April 2022. Known for his harsh remarks, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov told TASS that Western military convoys were legitimate military targets for Russia.
13 April 2022. Ryabkov. “We are bringing the Americans and other Westerners to the understanding that attempts to slow down our special operation, inflict maximum damage on the Russian contingents and formations of the DNR and LNR will be severely suppressed. We warn that US-NATO weapons transports passing through Ukrainian territory are considered by us as legitimate military targets.”
26 April 2022. The Russian Defence Ministry issued an official statement in response to the words of the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, in an interview with Times Radio (at that time the supply of British weapons to Ukraine was being actively discussed), where he said: “I think it is certainly the case that things that the international community are now providing to Ukraine have the range to be used over the borders, but that's not necessarily a problem.”
26 April 2022. The statement of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. “The provocation by London of the regime in Kyiv to use Western weapons against the Russian Federation in the event of such an attempt will lead to a proportional response. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are on a 24-hour readiness to carry out retaliatory strikes with precision-guided weapons on decision-making centres in Kyiv. Western advisers stationed in Ukrainian decision-making centres will “not necessarily be a problem" for Russia's response.”3
On 26 April 2022, an extended interpretation appeared in the Russian Ministry of Defence, which also included foreign military advisers: that is decision-making centres = the highest bodies of state power of Ukraine + military headquarters + foreign military advisers.
On 30 May - 2 June 2022, the topic of striking at decision-making centres was raised again after the information appeared that the United States was planning to supply HIMARS long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.
However, this time it was voiced not by generals from the Russian Defence Ministry, but by representatives of Russia's top political leadership - the ex-president, ex-prime minister, and now Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and Chairman of the ruling United Russia party Medvedev, the spokesman for the Russian president Peskov, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, as well as a Russian military political scientist, associate professor of political science and sociology at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Alexander Perendzhiev.
30 May 2022. Medvedev. “Biden stated that the United States will not supply Ukraine with missile systems capable of striking Russia. Reasonable! Otherwise, if our cities had been attacked, the Russian Armed Forces would have fulfilled their threat and struck at the centres where these criminal decisions are made. Some of them are not located in Kyiv at all. What's next, no need to explain ." 4
01 June 2022. Peskov. "Let's not talk about the worst scenarios... Our competent departments and the Ministry of Defence, border guards see all the risks; they systematically assess them and take appropriate measures... There is nothing new here, we believe that the United States is purposefully and diligently pouring fuel on the fire. The United States, obviously, really adheres to the line of fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian.”5
01 June 2022. Ryabkov. “Any weapons supplies that continue and are on the rise increase the risks of such a development. The line continues, which we have repeatedly characterised as a desire to wage war to the last Ukrainian, as a reflection of the intention to inflict - as they (the Americans) themselves say - a strategic defeat on Russia. It is unprecedented, it is dangerous.”6
01 June 2022. Perendzhiev. “The problem is that the United States is going to supply weapons that can not only reach the border areas of Russia, such as the Bryansk or Belgorod oblasts, but also more distant regions. Including, by the way, if not Moscow itself, then definitely the Moscow oblast. That is why such supplies can force Russia to launch pre-emptive strikes. We have submarines near the United States, and appropriate monitoring is underway. That is why we warn that such shipments can indeed be struck when they are being loaded or delivered by sea. Both warships and the territory itself can be struck.”7
02 June 2022. Medvedev. In a comment to Al Jazeera: “In the event that the types of weapons [supplied by the United States] are used against Russian territories, the armed forces of our country will have no choice but to act to defeat the decision-making centres. Everyone understands what kind of centres these are - the Ministry of Defence, the General Staff, and anything else. But you need to understand that the final decision-making centres in this case, unfortunately, are not even located on the territory of Kyiv.”8
02 June 2022. Peskov. “I still don’t want to talk about absolutely undesirable and very unpleasant scenarios where hypothetically they try to use these weapons against targets on our territory: this will significantly change the situation for the worse.”9
Thus, on 1 June 2022, Medvedev actually revived Putin's interpretation of 2019 that decision-making centres include not only Kyiv but also the United States and NATO's military command infrastructure in Europe. In experts’ fantasies, the idea about the possibility of strikes on ships during the transportation of weapons from the United States to Europe was voiced for the first time.
It should be noted that both the Kremlin’s spokesman and the deputy foreign minister refrained from concretisation while the former president Medvedev in this case spoke more like an "independent blogger."
On 5 June 2022, Putin raised this issue in an interview with the Russia TV channel. He further clarified the topic of missile ranges and expanded considerably the terminology regarding the targets of future missile strikes.
05 June 2022. Putin. “There is nothing new here. Firstly, these multiple launch rocket systems - after all, they are in service in the Ukrainian army - similar systems of Soviet, Russian production such as Grad, Smerch, Uragan ... The range does not depend on the system itself, but on the rockets that are used ... We proceed from the fact that this supply from the United States and some other countries is connected with making up for the losses of this military equipment, there is nothing new here, and this does not change anything in essence ... It depends on what kind of rockets the Americans will supply. But what we hear today and what we understand are rockets that fly exactly 45-70 km, depending on their type. Well, the same thing happened with those Grads, Uragans, Smerches that I mentioned - they also have a range of 40-70 km. There is nothing new... If there are these (HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems with long-range rockets - ed.) and they are delivered, we will draw appropriate conclusions from this and use our weapons, which we have enough, to strike at those facilities that we haven’t struck yet.”10
Reference: HIMARS rocket systems can use rockets with an effective range of: M26 - 32 km; M26A1/A2 - 45 km; M30/31 - 70 km; MGM-140 ATACMS - 300 km, Precision Strike Missile - 500 km. Soviet multiple launch rocket systems have a range of: Smerch - 20-120 km; Uragan - 8-35 km; Grad - 2.5-42 km.
It is worth noting that the interview aired after a powerful missile strike on Kyiv on the morning of 5 June 2022 (which, incidentally, became the first strike on the capital since 28 April 2022). The interview itself was recorded the day before, on 4 June 2022. However, the strike was launched not on a decision-making centre, but on the Darnytsia Carriage Repair Plant, which was about to start production of railway grain wagons for the transportation of Ukrainian grain. "Russia saw a threat in the civilian plant and invented a fake that military equipment was being repaired there. More than half a hundred foreign and Ukrainian media have witnessed for themselves that there was no military equipment at the plant,” Ukrzaliznytsia's press service stated.
The day before, on 4 June 2022, as a result of a missile strike, there was a huge fire at the grain terminal in Mykolaiv, in the Specialised Port Nika-Tera. This terminal is one of the largest in Ukraine.
On 6 June 2022, General Kartapolov (the Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee) clarified the message delivered by Putin the day before. At the same time, he expanded the range of possible targets for attacks to include railway stations, airports, bridges, etc .:
06 June 2022. Kartapolov. “Russia will react, as our president said, by launching strikes on those facilities that we have refrained from striking so far. The Kyiv airport is operational, railway stations are operational, main railway lines, road bridges and many more, not to mention the authorities. After all, there hasn’t been a single strike on the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, or on the General Staff, or on the Rada, or on other ministries where decisions are made, tasks are set.11
On 6 June 2022, for the first time, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov linked, and Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Nebenzya specified Lavrov's formula on the connection between the supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine, capable of reaching targets in Russia, and further seizure of Ukrainian territory.
06 June 2022. Lavrov. “The longer range weapons supplied by the West to Ukraine will have, the further Moscow will move the line of threat from neo-Nazis to the Russian Federation.” 12
06 June 2022. Nebenzya. “...we reserve the right not only to move the line of threat from neo-Nazis to Russia and the republics of Donbas to the distance of a possible range of new long-range ammunition, but also to strike at the centres for making criminal decisions on the use of such types of weapons.”13
Conclusions and forecasts
In recent weeks, the Russian Federation has "updated" the pretexts for striking at decision-making centres.
On 13 April 2022, the Russian Defence Ministry called "the strikes on Russian territories along the state border with Ukraine and sabotage operations in Russian border areas" the reason for striking at decision-making centres.
Within two weeks of that date, the Russian media and law-enforcement authorities reported at least four new cases of "strikes and sabotage":
"On 14 April 2022, at about noon, two helicopters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which invaded from the territory of Ukraine at low altitude, struck at the regional centre of Klimovo, the Bryansk oblast. “Moving at low altitude, acting deliberately, they carried out at least 6 air strikes on residential buildings... As a result of direct hits and explosions of shells, at least six residential buildings on Zarechnaya Street and Lenina Street of the village were damaged; seven people received injuries of varying severity, including one young child born in 2020,” the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said in the message about opening a criminal case in relation to the strike. Later, the number of victims increased to eight people; the number of buildings damaged increased to 100 houses.”
"On 25 April 2022, at about 02.00 a.m., as a result of an attack from Ukrainian UAVs in Bryansk, fuel storage facilities at the oil depot of AO Transneft-Druzhba caught fire (missiles hit a tank with diesel fuel with a capacity of 10 thousand tons and an empty tank with a capacity of 20 thousand tons) and military unit 55443 (two tanks with diesel fuel with a capacity of 5 thousand and 2 thousand tons)."
"On 29 April 2022, at about 9.00 a.m., as stated by the Russian Investigative Committee, "servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other Ukrainian military formations fired at least 35 aimed shots from 120 mm mortars at the border guards of the FSB of Russia in the Bryansk region of the Belaya Beryozka border outpost. At the same time, the village itself was shelled - the village cemetery was "ploughed" with mines. A criminal case has been opened in relation to the shelling."
"On 30 April 2022, at 06:50 a.m., a Ukrainian Air Force plane entered Russian airspace, was detected by air defence systems, after which it manoeuvred and went back, dropping bombs along the way, trying to attack the oil loading facility of OAO Russneft in the village of Zhecha in the Starodubsky district."
However, in April-May 2022, strikes on decision-making centres in response to "strikes on Russian border areas by Ukraine" were not carried out... This confirms the hypothesis of the impossibility of creating at least minimally convincing evidence of "strikes by Ukraine."
At the end of April 2022**, the Russian media even published a survey (!) on strikes on decision-making centres. Its main question was formulated as follows: “Why didn’t the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation strike at the decision-making centre in Kyiv?”. This indicates a significant prominence and support given to this topic in the Russian information space:
- 44% of the survey participants believe that it [the strike] will certainly be launched soon,
- 27% are sure that this is pointless, because “Kyiv has decided nothing for a long time,”
- 21% are sure that there has been no strike yet, because there has been no such order,
- 4% - "There will be no one to negotiate with,"
- 4% - "Not to waste Kalibr missiles."
** The survey was conducted on 27-29 April 2022. 10,866 people took part.14
At the end of April, the pretext provided by Russia for strikes on decision-making centres changed - it was the probable use by Ukraine of long-range Western weapons against Russian territory (initially the trigger was the supply of British weapons, and in late May - of American weapons).
Thus, strange as it may seem, Putin has, in fact, significantly narrowed the boundaries of the imagination of his associates. Most likely, they were very surprised when he clearly outlined the reasons for missile strikes on decision-making centres. Simply put, he stressed that the supply of HIMARS systems is in itself a replacement for similar Soviet MLRS, except for their use with missiles having a range of 300 km and above.
Reference: 300 km is the distance from the Black Sea coast in the Odesa region to occupied Sevastopol, where the main base of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation is located; from the Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv to Simferopol - the capital of occupied Crimea; from the city of Zaporizhzhia to the Kerch Bridge, which carries a huge Russian military traffic through the Crimean Peninsula to places of active hostilities in the Kherson region or to Rostov-on-Don, where the headquarters of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation are located.
Of course, the world is already accustomed to the fact that the words of Russian leaders cannot be trusted. Putin's words could have pursued the purpose of lulling the world and might have been a "cover-up operation" for his real intentions.
It should be emphasised that in the conditions when the majority of Russian society has a militarised imperial mentality and is looking forward to strikes on Kyiv, it is highly probable that a plan to launch a massive missile strike on Ukraine's public facilities in the capital has long been developed and is just awaiting Putin's order.
As well as the plan of strikes on the city’s infrastructure of civilian life. At present, it is difficult to predict what factor or event may trigger the issuing of this order.
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1) Address by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Federal Assembly, 20 February 2019.
2) Release on the results of the briefing of the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defence Igor Konashenkov on 13 April 2022.
3) Statement of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, published on 26 April 2022 on departmental social media platforms.
4) Dmitry Medvedev's post in a personal Telegram channel.
5) Briefing of the Kremlin’s speaker D. Peskov, published by Interfax on 1 June 2022.
6) S.Ryabkov’s interview with the RIA-Novosti agency on 1 June 2022.
7) O. Perendzhiev's comment to the online publication Lenta.ru, 1 June 2022.
8) Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with the Al Jazeera TV channel, 2 June 2022.
9) D. Peskov’s comment to journalists, TASS, 2 June 2022.
10) Vladimir Putin's interview with the Russia TV channel on 3 May 2022, the full version was published on 5 June 2022.
11) A. Kartapolov's comment to journalists, published by the RIA-Novosti agency on 6 June 2022.
12) S. Lavrov’s video address, published on social media platforms of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on 06 June 2022.
13) V. Nebenzya's speech in the UN Security Council meeting on 6 June 2022.
14) Survey of the EADaily online publication.
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This article has been prepared with the support of the European Union in Ukraine. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position of the EU