As Ukraine’s Independence Day Approaches, Fears of Russian Attacks Mount – While Russian forces remain bogged down across the long front lines of Moscow’s ongoing invasion, some fear that Russia will launch massive strikes at civilian and military targets alike throughout Ukraine in the days around its Independence Day of August 24.
What is on the Horizon?
According to an August 22 statement by the U.S. State Department, Russia is laying the groundwork for an uptick in strikes targeting civilian targets and governments in the days surrounding Ukraine’s Independence Day, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised will be met with an unspecified strong response from the Ukrainian side. August 24, which will also mark the sixth month of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine which began in February, commemorates the day which the modern Ukrainian state declared independence from Russia in 1991. The State Department alert posted to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine also urged American citizens located in Ukraine to depart the country immediately through civilian ground transportation options.
A slew of rocket attacks against targets in Ukraine have already taken place this week, a possible preview of what is to come in upcoming days. Strikes or shellings of cities adjacent to southern frontlines such as Nikopol, Voznesensk, and in Ukraine’s southern Odesa could be a harbinger of Russian strikes in the short-term future. President Zelesnky cautioned Ukrainians to be wary of Russian attacks on August 24, imploring that Ukrainians be aware that “disgusting Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible tomorrow.” According to the Telegram channel of the Belarusian military monitoring group “Belarusian Hajun,” Russia may also be amassing missiles and other weapons in southern Belarus for a renewed strike on Ukrainian targets around Kyiv, which has only occasionally been subject to Russian attacks in recent months. Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian targets from Belarus have been similarly limited, with the last strike originating from Belarus occurring in late July, when Russia launched roughly 25 missiles at targets across northern Ukraine.
What is Russia Saying?
While Ukrainian and U.S. officials have unmistakably raised concern of an uptick in Russian strikes to come, Russian sources and officials have thus far have not echoed such threats directly, but instead have made threatening remarks surrounding the car-bombing attack near Moscow which killed Darya Dugina, daughter of the Russian hypernationalist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin. Russia’s Federal Security Service was uncharacteristically quick in “uncovering” the culprit behind the attack, who was identified by the Russian international security agency as being perpetrated by a woman who was supposedly affiliated with Ukraine’s special services. Ukraine was quick to deny any participation or role in Dugina’s assassination.
While the actual perpetrator behind the Dugina killing will likely remain unknown for some time (some have speculated that the attack was conducted by Russia’s special services themselves, while others have claimed that a shadowy oppositional “National Republican Army” was responsible), the Russia seems primed to use the incident for its own purposes regardless. An extraordinary session of the State Duma is scheduled to take place on Thursday around the issuing of a “special statement” on Ukraine, which some have speculated to be a demonstration of state strength following Dugina’s assassination. Russian President Vladimir Putin honored Dugina posthumously with an “Order of Courage” medal, while a variety of Russian conservative political figures used her funeral to rail for Russia to step up its efforts to secure victory in its invasion of Ukraine, placing pressure on the Kremlin to act.
Whether or not Russia uses the Dugina assassination to justify a renewed string of strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets, it is appearing increasingly likely that Russia is gearing up to conduct a string of attacks on civilian targets as Ukraine marks two important anniversaries on August 24.
Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.