Michael C. DiCianna is a consultant in the national security field, and a staff member of the Center for International Maritime Security. He can be found on Twitter @navy_tobacco. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Ukraine requires additional capabilities to defend its civilian centers from Russian strikes.
Date Originally Written: October 25, 2022.
Date Originally Published: October 31, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that with Ukrainian civilian centers defended from Russian strikes, the Ukrainian armed forces will be better able to focus on locating, closing with, and destroying Russian forces occupying Ukraine.
Background: After the bombing of the Kerch Strait Bridge that links Russia to Ukraine’s Crimea —unclaimed but likely attributed to Ukrainian sabotage, Russia responded with missile strikes on civilian targets in Kyiv. As of the time of this writing, 19 people have been killed, and hundreds wounded. Some of these strikes used Kalibr cruise missiles, launched from ships in the Black and Caspian Seas. Russia’s long-range missiles and artillery continue to threaten Ukrainian lives and allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit what amounts to war crimes. Putin ordering his forces to shoot upwards of 100 missiles at civilian centers instead of the military targets reaffirms his commitment to use terror tactics to cover up for Russian military losses.
Significance: Ukraine’s autumn counteroffensive has continued to degrade the Russian military on the front line. Western allies supplying arms and training continue to assist the Ukrainian military in its liberation efforts, but the Ukrainian capital and other major civilian centers are still being struck by Russian attacks. Protecting civilian lives and enabling the Ukrainian Armed Forces to focus on the front line will be vital to repelling the invasion.
Option #1: Western allies increase Ukraine’s anti-ship capabilities.
Risk: Putin has made it clear that the Kremlin will view all Western support to Ukraine as an escalation. Russian officials have made nearly weekly overt or implied nuclear threats. Previously, Russia implied that it would strike Western arms shipments in Ukraine, regardless of the point of delivery or casualties to North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries. All increases to Ukrainian offensive and defensive capabilities risk Russian escalation, though this risk must be balanced against the importance of defending Ukrainian sovereignty. The addition of increased anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities might see reciprocal Russian assaults on Ukraine’s maritime infrastructure, or further attacks on major civilian centers. If Ukraine uses these hypothetical armaments to destroy Black Sea Fleet ships or infrastructure, Russa may feel even more cornered. Attacks against Crimea especially could increase the Kremlin’s perception of being “cornered.” Control of the Crimean Peninsula, including Sevastopol and thus a year-long naval base in the Black Sea, has been a core strategic objective of Russia since 2014.
Gain: Destroying Russian long-range missile capabilities will be more effective at defending Ukraine’s population than relying on air defense systems. Even the best air defense systems can be penetrated or overwhelmed. Ukrainians using Western-provided anti-ship capabilities to destroy Russian ships in the Black Sea not only removes Russian offensive capabilities, but it also damages the Russian strategic mission. Much like the loss of the illegally annexed territory of Lyman is a deep wound to the Russian agenda, a sunken Black Sea Fleet makes the Russian occupation of Crimea more and more irrelevant.
Increasing Ukrainian capability to strike Russian targets continues to degrade the Russian threat to the rest of Europe. Ukraine is fighting this war against Russia, and hopefully winning it, so that a similar war with Russia does not happen in Finland, Poland, or the Baltic States. This situation does not devalue the heroism of the Ukrainian cause, but it is a reminder to other European capitals that there is also a hard calculus behind supporting Ukraine. The Russian Army is being annihilated, and the Russian Air Force has taken serious losses. Losses to the Black Sea Fleet—already in a subpar state of upkeep—would be another drastic hit to Putin’s regime.
Option #2: Western allies provide Ukraine limited air defense capabilities.
Risk: Air defense systems will never be a complete shield over a city or other broad target. Even extensive air defense grids will leave gaps, and saturation strikes will overwhelm them. Providing Ukraine limited air defense capabilities will force Ukrainian military and civilian leaders to prioritize protection. Russian attacks could be targeting based on outdated maps, making it harder for Ukraine to predict which areas will be targeted. Air defenses are vital to protecting civilian lives and military infrastructure, but limited Western support might not be enough in the face of further Russian bombardment.
Gain: An arms package containing limited air defense systems and provides Ukraine with no advanced long-range strike or antiship capabilities is likely viewed from a Western lens as a less escalatory option. Russia views all U.S. and Western arms deals for Ukraine as escalation and interference with a war it views as within its own periphery, but the Kremlin will still need to somehow maintain its own redlines. Air defense systems designed to destroy Russian cruise missiles and drones are not as much of a threat to the Russian military as missiles designed to destroy Russian warships.
Other Comments: None.
 The Economist Newspaper. (2022, October 10). Russia launches a wave of missiles across Ukraine. The Economist. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.economist.com/europe/2022/10/10/russia-launches-a-wave-of-missiles-across-ukraine
 Specia, M., Kramer, A. E., & Maria Varenikova, M. (2022, October 17). Buzzing Drones Herald Fresh Attacks on Kyiv, Killing Four. The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/10/17/world/russia-ukraine-war-news.
 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Article 8, paragraph 2.
 Knowles, D (Host). (2022, October 12). Private mercenaries, GCHQ’s nuclear response and on the ground in the Donbas. In Ukraine: The Lastest. The Telegraph. https://open.spotify.com/episode/14CJ4WAtCtuGP14e60S0q6?si=d86626ee3e334514
 Ellyatt, H. (2022, March 12). Western arms convoys to Ukraine are ‘legitimate targets,’ Russia warns. CNBC. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/11/ukraine-needs-more-weapons-the-west-fears-provoking-war-with-russia.html