At the same time that the Kremlin was maneuvering to draw parts of Ukraine into a sharp escalation of the conflict, the Russian military was suffering new defeats that exposed its problems on the battlefield and opened fractures at the top of the Russian government.
Those setbacks have greatly eroded the image of a powerful Russian military and heightened tensions over a poorly planned mobilization. They have also fueled disputes within the Kremlin’s inner circle and left Russia’s President Vladimir Putin increasingly isolated.
Below is a review of the latest Russian defeats, some of their causes and possible consequences.
A SERIES OF LOSSES IN THE NORTH-EAST AND THE SOUTH
Equipped with Western-supplied weapons, Ukraine has moved on from last month’s gains in the northeastern Kharkiv region. It has pushed deeper into occupied territory and forced Russian troops to withdraw from the town of Lyman, a major logistics hub.
The Ukrainian army has also waged a wide-ranging counteroffensive in the south, where it has captured a number of towns on the west bank of the Dnieper River and is advancing on the city of Kherson.
Ukrainian advances in the Kherson region followed constant shell fire on the two main passes over the Dnieper that put them out of action and forced Russian troops on the west bank to rely solely on floating platform crossings, which also have suffered repeated Ukrainian attacks.
Russian forces are likely to suffer further failures at Kherson, as it is “difficult to stabilize a front when logistics are under pressure, troops are exhausted, and the opponent is much, much smarter,” said Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews.
Cornered against the great river and weighed down by severe shortages, Russian troops face an imminent defeat that could set the stage for a possible Ukrainian campaign to regain control of the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
MILITARY SHORTAGES AND PROBLEMS IN THE CHAIN OF COMMAND
Military reporters and bloggers traveling with Russian troops in Ukraine have painted a bleak picture of a disorganized and ill-equipped contingent under incompetent command.
After more than seven months of war, the Russian military is suffering from severe understaffing, unit incoordination and unstable supply lines.
In addition, many Russian units have low morale, a depressed mood that contrasts with the motivated Russian forces.
Unlike the Ukrainian military, which has used intelligence provided by the United States and its NATO allies to select and attack targets, the Russian military has dealt with a barrage of misinformation.
When Russian intelligence identifies a Ukrainian target, the military initiates a lengthy process to get the green light to attack it, which often takes so long that the target disappears.
Russian war correspondents particularly lamented the lack of drones, noting that Iranian-supplied drones have not been used most effectively due to poor targeting.
KREMLIN CALLS FOR MORE TROOPS, TERRITORY IS ANNEXED
In response to the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military mobilization that aims to bring together at least 300,000 reservists to reinforce the units spread over the 1,000-kilometer front in Ukraine.
Ukraine declared a general mobilization at the beginning of the invasion with the aim of raising a million-strong army. Until then, Russia had tried to win the war with a dwindling contingent of volunteer soldiers. The United States estimated that the force at the beginning of the invasion was up to 200,000 soldiers, and some Western estimates speak of up to 80,000 Russian casualties between dead, wounded and captured.
Although warmongering circles in Moscow welcomed a long-sought mobilization, hundreds of thousands of Russian men fled abroad to avoid the draft and protests broke out across the country, posing new challenges for the Kremlin.
New recruits shared images showing how they were forced to sleep on the ground or even in the open. Some said they had been given rusty weapons and told to buy first-aid kits and other basic supplies with their money. In a tacit acknowledgment of supply problems, Putin sacked a deputy defense minister in charge of military logistics.
Mobilization does not offer a quick solution to Russia’s military problems. It will take months for the new recruits to complete their training and form combat-ready units.
Putin then upped the ante by hastily annexing the occupied regions of Ukraine and expressed his willingness to use “all available means” to protect them, a clear reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
DIVISION IN GOVERNMENT
In an unprecedented sign of infighting at the highest levels of government, the Kremlin-backed leader of the Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, has sharply criticized military commanders, accusing them of incompetence and nepotism.
Kadyrov blamed Colonel General Alexander Lapin for failing to secure supplies and reinforcements for his troops to prevent his withdrawal from Lyman. He declared that the general deserved to be demoted and sent to the front as a private to “cleanse his shame with his blood.”
Kadyrov also directly accused army chief General Valery Gerasimov of covering up Lapin’s blunders, a direct attack that fueled speculation that the Chechen leader may have formed an alliance with other, more belligerent members of the Russian elite against the leadership. country’s military.
In a no-holds-barred statement, Kadyrov also urged the Kremlin to consider using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine to turn the tide of the war, appearing to reflect the idea’s growing popularity among Kremlin hawks.
Putin showed he remains supportive of Kadyrov by promoting him to colonel general for his birthday, a move that will no doubt upset military commanders. And while the spokesman for the Kremlin; Dmitry Peskov, saying that Kadyrov had been carried away by his emotions in his comments, roundly praised the Chechen leader’s role in the fighting and the courage of his troops.
In another glimpse of growing differences at the top, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire businessman known as “Putin’s chef,” lashed out at the governor of St. Petersburg, claiming that his failure to assist Prigozhin’s private security firm Wagner amounted to support Ukraine.
Some other members of the Russian elite were quick to support Kadyrov and Prigozhin, who are increasingly emerging as faces of the more warmongering current in Moscow.
Retired Lt. Gen. Andrei Gurulev, a senior member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, strongly backed the Chechen leader, saying the Russian defeat at Lyman stemmed from the military commanders’ desire to report only good news to Putin.
“It is a problem of absolute lies and positive reports from top to bottom,” he said.