On 8 October 2022, the Ukrainian special services blew up the bridge connecting the Kerch Peninsula (which is in Russia) with the Crimean Peninsula (which may or may not be in Russia, depending on how things play out). On 10 October 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered missile and drone strikes on Ukrainian cities. Not all of the attacks succeeded, but the ones that did hit both economic infrastructure and purely civilian targets in the heart of cities.
Why did he do this? Well, it is taken for granted that he was angry. However, that may not be the sole explanation. Ukraine’s intelligence officials have stated that on 2-3 October 2022, Russian forces had been ordered to prepare for the missile strikes. So the bridge attack may have provided a convenient opportunity to do what he was going to do anyway. Is there a larger purpose or plan or set of beliefs framing-in this expression of anger? Well, there’s a history of attacking not-purely-military targets that might offer a useful perspective.
Aircraft began to be used for military purposes during the First World War. First for observation, then as fighter planes, and then—in an experimental way—with heavier aircraft dropping bombs. Between the two world Wars, a revolution in aircraft took place on many technical fronts. At the same time, air-power theorists debated whether limited resources should be allocated to fighter planes and light bombers (both to be used on the conventional battlefield) or to heavy bombers (to be employed against enemy industrial and transport infrastructure). During the Second World War the advocates of fighter planes and light bombers clearly proved their case, while advocates of bombing had a murkier case. The case for bombing to destroy both the means and the psychological will to fight has only grown weaker over time.
However, there’s a simpler explanation. First, Putin has begun talking around the subject of using nuclear weapons. Second, the recent airstrikes show where he can hit inside Ukraine. The cities targeted included Kyiv (pop. 2,962,180), Lviv (pop. 717,486), Kharkiv (pop. 1,433,886), Odessa (pop. 1,015,826), Dnipro (pop. 993,220), Khmelnitskyi (pop. 274,582), Zhitomir (pop. 263,507), Ivano-Frankivsk (pop. 237,855), Ternopil (pop. 225,238), Sumy (pop. 259,660), and Poltava (pop. 283,402). These pre-war population figures have been much transformed by wartime evacuations and refugee movements. However, a rough total of the pre-war population would be above 8,660,000.
People have assumed that Putin meant using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukrainian forces on the battlefield. Why would that be the case, or the only case? The casualties from a dozen Hiroshimas would be … Well ,“appalling” doesn’t really cover it.
What kind of response might the United States be pressed to make?
 Ukraine’s special services seem to have been busy. They also attacked a bunch of Russian resources behind the lines of the war and took a swing at a Russian nationalist adviser to Putin, although they killed his daughter instead. That leaves us with the problem of who damaged the undersea “Nordstream” gas pipeline in the Baltic and who damaged the electrical grid in northern Germany. Not likely to have been the Russians themselves. If they wanted to interrupt the flow of Russian gas to Germany, they could just turn off the tap at the source. Also, the Germans have been weak sisters in supporting Ukraine, so why annoy them? So those attacks could have been the work of the Ukrainians. My money is on the Poles. Messing with Germany and Russia at the same time isn’t the last thing that would occur to them.
 Max Fischer, “Putin’s Plan to Bomb Kyiv Into Submission? History Says It Won’t Work,” NYT, 12 October 2022.