Last week in one of his daily addresses to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that all of NATO's Patriot air defence systems handed over to Kiev are intact and are fulfilling their tasks to protect the country's airspace from Russia. With such a statement, the Ukrainian leader intended to disprove the Russian Ministry of Defence’s information about destroying US anti-aircraft missile systems with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in Kiev.
However, investors of Raytheon Technologies, an American company specialising in the production of the Patriot SAM system, do not seem to be in a hurry to take Vladimir Zelensky at his word. They are gradually removing the company shares, which have already fallen 12 points since the first Patriot was destroyed on May 16 this year.
The armed conflict in Ukraine interests military experts primarily because of Russian troops' large-scale use of various types of precision weapons. The Russian Armed Forces use surface- and submarine-launched Kalibr missiles, air-launched missiles on strategic bombers, Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system of various modifications, Tornado-S multiple rocket launchers and even a modified version of the Iranian Shahed UAV, Geran-2, which is distinguished by increased controllability and accuracy. Moreover, Russia was the first country to use hypersonic missiles (Kinzhal) in combat operations.
Russia's use of high-precision weapons to hit Ukraine's energy infrastructure has allowed Moscow's opponents to accuse it of an inhumane effort to create a humanitarian disaster. However, in fact, the situation was much more complicated. Russian missiles predominantly hit distribution capacity and rarely damaged turbines, which would have been virtually impossible to repair in combat conditions.
After brief repairs, the Ukrainian authorities were able to restore power supply to residential areas, but the capacity and throughput of the energy infrastructure was no longer sufficient to support large-scale industrial production. Thus, it became clear that the main purpose of the Russian strikes was not to "plunge Ukraine into the Middle Ages", but to deactivate the industrial facilities serving the Ukrainian military-industrial complex.
Another purpose of using high-precision weapons was to hit strategic facilities located in urban areas. For example, at the end of May, Russian troops launched a missile attack on the headquarters of The Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR) on Rybalsky Island in Kyiv. After that, the young head of the GUR, Kyrylo Budanov, who is considered to be Volodymyr Zelensky’s protégé, practically disappeared from the media landscape and has not been seen in public for several weeks.
The sharp decline in media activity of the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence is in stark contrast to his usual behaviour. After all, for a year and a half of the armed conflict with Russia Budanov confidently gave interviews to the Ukrainian and Western media, revealed details of successful secret operations, and made optimistic forecasts.
Budanov's mysterious disappearance even prompted the persistent rumours of the death of the head of Ukrainian military intelligence as a result of a Russian missile strike. For obvious reasons, such rumours have been particularly persistent in the Russian mass media and its partners in the West.
However, even Budanov's appearance on the Ukrainian national TV channel «Freedom» on June 20 failed to put an end to the numerous insinuations about the death of the GUR head. On the contrary, Budanov's public appearance after a long break became a trigger for new conspiracy theories in the journalistic community about his fate.
For example, some experts and commentators have drawn attention to the "unnatural facial expressions and gestures" of the head of the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence. Scandalous tabloids, especially in Russia, are still full of reports that Kirill Budanov is seriously injured or even dead, and that his appearance on television was made possible by neural network technology.
A similar situation had previously occurred with Valery Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-Chief of the AFU. The charismatic and brutal warlord, who is beloved by millions of Ukrainians and can even be compared in popularity to President Vladimir Zelensky, disappeared from TV screens in late April – early May.
Zaluzhny missed a number of important public events, including talks with Western allies. He only made a passing appearance in public in late May when rumours of his death escalated to a critical phase and began to threaten the stability of Ukraine's system of government. According to one version, Zaluzhny was seriously wounded during a meeting of senior AFU officers at one of the command posts in the Kherson region as a result of a Russian missile strike.
It is noteworthy that the Ukrainian military leaders were attacked after their emotional statements about the need to "kill as many Russians as possible" and "destroy Russians anywhere in the world". Their words provoked a violent reaction among Kremlin politicians and in the Russian media.
It is likely that the attacks were the Russian authorities' response to similar outbursts by the Ukrainian generals, as the Kremlin has previously refrained from taking harsh forceful action against Ukrainian high-ranking officials and commanders.
It is possible that with regard to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals have begun to follow the principle of inevitability of punishment, which they widely apply against field commanders and fighters of out-of-control armed formations in the North Caucasus.
In May this year, for example, Russian security agents arrested three fighters from groups of field commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab who had taken part in an attack on Russian airborne troops in Chechnya back in 2000. Remarkably, the Russian authorities have deployed considerable resources to track down and arrest the Chechen fighters even in the midst of a difficult war with Ukraine.
Russia has been able to achieve its objectives not only through the use of precision-guided missiles, but also by increasing the effectiveness of its intelligence units in identifying the exact location of Ukraine's critical infrastructure and Ukrainian high-ranking commanders.
As unpleasant as it is for us to realise, it appears that Moscow has learned first lessons from its own mistakes in planning and conducting combat operations in Ukraine.
Kemran Mamedov is a Moscow-based Azerbaijani journalist born in Georgia with a focus on South Caucasus issues.