The withdrawal of Russian forces from a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine has prompted two powerful allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin to do something rare in modern Russia: publicly ridicule the upper echelons of the war machine.
The loss of Lyman Russia, which puts western parts of the Luhansk region under threat, touched a nerve for Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya.
Kadyrov, who has been close to Putin since his father and former Chechen president Akhmad was killed in a 2004 bomb attack in Grozny, has suggested Russia should consider using a small tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine in response. the lost.
The nuclear warning made headlines, but its public contempt for Russia’s top generals may have been just as significant in a Russia where public criticism of the war effort from within the upper echelons of the elite has been taboo.
“Nepotism in the army will not lead to any good,” Kadyrov said, adding that the commander of Russian forces in the area should be stripped of his medals and sent to the front lines at gunpoint to wash his shame with blood.
Such public contempt for the generals running Russia’s war is significant because it indicates the level of frustration within Putin’s elite over the conduct of the war, while also piercing the Kremlin’s carefully controlled narrative.
Kadyrov, who supports the war and has sent many of his own Chechen units to fight, said his criticism was the bitter truth about a Russian fighting force he said had allowed talentless mediocrities to let the country down.
The Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Russian officials say the history of Russian warfare shows that fighting often starts badly until the military can be properly organized. Eliminating Russia, they say, is a bad bet.
Asked about Kadyrov’s remarks about the use of a nuclear weapon, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday: “This is a very emotional moment.”
“The heads of the regions have the right to express their point of view,” Peskov told reporters. “Even in difficult times, emotions must still be excluded from any evaluation.”
A Russian military vehicle in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, passes a sign asking for votes for the annexation of the region. — Photo: AP
More than seven months after a war that killed tens of thousands and sparked the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, even Russia’s most basic war goals are far from being achieved.
The vast army of a former superpower was humiliated on the battlefield by a much smaller Ukrainian force backed with weapons, intelligence and advice from US-led Western powers.
In a further setback for Moscow on Monday, a Russian official confirmed Ukrainian advances along the west bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, one of four regions Putin said last week had attached.
Putin says Russia is now locked in an existential battle with the West, which he accuses of trying to destroy his country. Russia, he says, will prevail in Ukraine – and warned that he is just starting to get serious.
On Russian state television, humility seemed to be seeping into the usual rhetoric of heightened nationalism.
“I would really like us to attack Kiev and take it tomorrow, but I am aware that partial mobilization will take time,” presenter Vladimir Solovyov said on state television Rossiya 1.
“For a certain period of time, things won’t be easy for us. We shouldn’t expect good news now.”
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The Chechen leader said he raised the possibility of a defeat at Lyman two weeks ago with Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of staff, but that Gerasimov had rejected the idea.
Gerasimov, 67, is the third most powerful man in the Russian army after Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Gerasimov was given the military post by Shoigu just days after he was named 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 must be taken,” said Kadyrov, who mourned the dead at a Kremlin ceremony last week. last year, in which Russia formally annexed four Ukrainian regions.
In an indication of his influence, Kadyrov’s other posts showed him meeting two of the Kremlin’s most powerful men: Putin’s chief of staff Anton Vaino and Sergei Kiriyenko, the powerful first deputy chief of staff.
Asked about Kadyrov’s remarks, the powerful founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, congratulated the Chechen leader.
“Ramzan – you rock!” Prigozhin, known as Putin’s chef due to his company’s catering contracts with the Kremlin, said in a statement. “All these bastards must be sent barefoot to the front with automatic weapons.”
When asked whether his words should be considered critical of the Defense Ministry, Prigozhin dominated his response with irony: “God forbid.”
“These statements are not criticism, but just an expression of love and support,” said Prigozhin, who the United States says directs a mercenary army that has been involved in conflicts in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.
“I, and Ramzan Akhmatovich even more, are the most cultured people,” Prigozhin said, using Kadyrov’s family name as a sign of respect.
A large screen in Luhansk broadcasts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on the annexation of Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories.