For several days now Russian forces have launched cruise missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian cities, targeting the electrical grid as well as targets clearly meant to terrorize the civilian population and kill noncombatants. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the strikes in retaliation for a truck bomb—which he claims was directed by Ukrainian intelligence—that destroyed a portion of the twelve-mile, $4 billion bridge connecting the Kerch Peninsula with Russia. Upon the bridge’s opening in 2018 Putin declared it a “remarkable” achievement, meant to permanently link Russia with the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula. Its partial destruction dealt a blow not just to Russian logistics, but to Putin’s fragile ego. The strike on a target steeped in prestige has set off an aerial blitz that has a direct antecedent from the early months of World War II in Europe more than eighty years ago.
After the Wehrmacht triumphed over France in just six weeks in May and June 1940, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler believed Britain would sue for peace. When Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his cabinet held firm and pledged to continue fighting even if doing so meant a direct attack on the British isles, Hitler ordered preparations for a seaborne invasion, which would begin with a battle for air superiority over southern England. The Battle of Britain began in earnest on Adler Tag (Eagle Day) on August 13, 1940. For the remainder of the month the Luftwaffe targeted RAF airfields, the Chain Home radar system, and aircraft factories in an attempt to neutralize Fighter Command. Beginning on August 25 RAF Bomber Command struck back against industrial targets in Berlin, but poor weather and immature technology led to some bombs falling on residential areas in the city.
In retaliation for British strikes on the German capital, Hitler ordered the bombing of London. The strikes began on September 7, first in daylight and when that proved prohibitively costly, the bombing continued at night. The “blitz” continued until May 11, 1941, when the transfer of Luftwaffe squadrons to the east in preparation for Operation Barbarossa brought it to an end. Far from terrorizing the population into demanding their government surrender, the blitz solidified the support of the British people for continuing the war against Nazi Germany.
Putin clearly is not a student of history, for he is repeating the same mistake Hitler made so many decades ago. Unless Putin resorts to the use of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Russia lacks the missile inventory to inflict lasting damage on Ukrainian infrastructure and his attacks on civilian targets have bolstered Ukrainian determination. Attacks against noncombatants have backfired, with Ukrainians singing their national anthem in shelters while Russian missiles and drones explode overhead. Russia is running out of expensive cruise missiles, which will do no more to convince Ukraine to surrender than the German V-1 buzz bomb campaign against Britain in 1944 and 1945. Like Hitler, Putin is fighting a losing war and resorting to revenge attacks against civilians because his military is incapable of fighting and winning on the ground.