US and NATO officials monitoring the war in Ukraine noticed a pronounced shift earlier this week in Russia’s strategy—namely, that Russia now appears poised to “bombard cities into submission,” which could inflict significant civilian casualties, a senior western intelligence official told CNN.
“The heavier weapons are not just heavier in their in the weight, they’re also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict,” the official said. “And they’re far less discriminant. So, more casualties.”
“It is a very crude approach,” the official added. He said his experience with Russian leadership and Putin “leads me to judge that they have a completely different standard when it comes to respect for human life.”
More background: US officials have warned in recent days that Russia’s strategy appeared to be shifting from focusing primarily on military targets to targeting civilians, amid the realization that an initial plan to quickly capture Kyiv and topple the government had failed.
“The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a news conference in Brussels Friday where he is meeting with European allies.
“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.
The Washington Post first reported that significant civilian casualties, “massive loss of human life,” are likely in the days ahead, according to a senior Western intelligence official.
Blinken and Stoltenberg on Friday also pushed back against calls for a no-fly zone to be set up in Ukraine, warning that it could lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe” and saying they’re doing what they can to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
In separate news conferences in Brussels Friday, both argued that a NATO no-fly zone simply wasn’t realistic because of the risk that it would lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned NATO’s decision to rule out the implementation of a no-fly zone over the country in a Facebook address late on Friday.
Zelensky said NATO’s leadership on Friday: “Gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian towns and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone. You could have closed the sky!”
CNN’s Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.