By Guy Faulconbridge and Felix Light
LONDON (Reuters) – An official in Ukraine installed by Russia suggested on Thursday that President Vladimir Putin’s defense minister should consider killing himself out of shame over defeats in the Ukraine war, a startling public insult to Russia’s top brass.
After more than seven months of war in Ukraine, Russia’s most basic war goals have still not been achieved. Russian forces have suffered a string of battlefield defeats in recent months, forcing Putin to announce a partial deployment.
In a four-minute video message, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the annexed Kherson region, publicly criticized “generals and ministers” in Moscow for not understanding the problems at the front.
“In fact, many say: if they were a defense minister who had allowed such a state of affairs, they could, as officers, have killed themselves,” said Stremousov, 45. “But you know the word ‘official’ is an incomprehensible word for many.”
Such public – and insulting – censure of Putin’s military chiefs within the system used to be extremely rare in Russia, but a series of battlefield defeats in Ukraine has prompted some of Putin’s allies to reprimand generals.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, derided the generals, saying the military was full of nepotism and that senior officers should be stripped of their ranks and sent to the front barefoot to atone for their sins.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, one of Putin’s closest allies, was appointed in 2012. Their relationship was so close that the two regularly vacationed together in the forests and mountains of Tuva, Shoigu’s land.
The Defense Ministry did not respond to a written request for comment.