The withdrawal of Russian forces from a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine has prompted two powerful allies of President Vladimir Putin to do something unusual in modern Russia: publicly ridicule the top brass of the war machine.
Russia‘s loss of the bastion of Lymanwhich endangers the western parts of the region of Luganskhas struck a chord with Ramzan Kadyrovthe leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya.
Kadyrov, close to Putin since his father and former president of Chechnya, Akhmad, was killed in a 2004 bomb attack in Grozny in which a photographer from Reuterssuggested that Russia should consider using a small tactical nuke in Ukraine in response to that loss.
The nuclear warning made headlines, but its public contempt for top Russian generals may have been just as significant in a Russia in which public criticism of the war effort from the upper echelons of the elite has been taboo.
“Nepotism in the military will not lead to anything good”, Kadyrov said, adding that the commander of the Russian forces in the area should be stripped of his medals and sent to the front with a pistol to wash his shame with blood.
East public contempt for generals directing Russia’s war is significant because it indicates the level of frustration within Putin’s elite over the direction of the war, while also piercing the Kremlin’s carefully controlled narrative.
Kadyrovwho supports the war and has sent many of his own Chechen units to fight, including his own sons, said his criticism was the bitter truth about a Russian fighting force which, according to him, allowed untalented mediocre people to defraud the country.
The Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Lao Russian officials say Russian war history shows that fighting often starts badly until the military organizes itself properly. Disparaging Russia, they say, is a bad bet.
After more than seven months of a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered the biggest standoff with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile CrisisEven Russia’s most basic war goals are far from being achieved.
The vast army of a former superpower has been humiliated on the battlefield by a much smaller Ukrainian force backed with weapons, intelligence and advice from Western powers led by the United States.
On Monday, a representative of Russia confirmed the Ukrainian advances along the western bank of the Dnieper River in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, one of four regions Putin claimed last week to have annexed.
Putin claims that Russia is now locked in an existential battle with the West, whom he accuses of wanting to destroy his country. Russia, he says, will prevail in Ukraine, and he has warned that it is only beginning to get serious.
On Russian state television, humility seemed to seep into the usual jingoistic rhetoric.
“I would very much like us to attack kyiv and take it tomorrow, but I am aware that partial mobilization will take time,” the presenter said. Vladimir Solovyov on state television Rossiya 1.
“For a certain time, things will not be easy for us. We should not expect good news right now.”
The Chechen leader said that he had raised the possibility of a defeat in Limán two weeks ago with Valery Gerasimovchief of the Russian General Staff, but that Gerasimov had dismissed the idea.
Gerasimov67, is the third most powerful man in the Russian army after Putin and the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu. Shoigu gave Gerasimov the top military job just days after he was appointed defense minister in 2012.
“I don’t know what the Defense Ministry reports to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (Putin), but in my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken.”said Kadyrov, who shed tears for the fallen at a Kremlin ceremony last week in which Russia formally annexed the four Ukrainian regions.
As a sign of his influence, other images show Kardyrov meeting with two of the most powerful men in the Kremlin: Putin’s chief of staff, Anton VainY Sergei Kiriyenkothe powerful cabinet second-in-command.
Asked about the statements of Kadyrov, the powerful founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhincongratulated the Chechen leader.
“Ramzan, you are the best!” Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because of his company’s catering contracts in the Kremlin, said in a statement. “Send all these barefoot bastards to the front line with automatic weapons.”
When asked if his words should be considered a criticism of the Defense Ministry, Prigozhin qualified his answer with irony: “God save me.”
“These statements are not a criticism, but simply a manifestation of love and support”said Prigozhin, who the US says runs a mercenary army that has been involved in conflicts in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.
“I, and Ramzan Akhmatovich even more so, are the most cultured people”said Prigozhin, using Kadyrov’s patronymic as a sign of respect.
(With information from Reuters)
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