A ‘culture of cover-ups and scape-goating’ within Russia’s military has hobbled its invasion of Ukraine, British intelligence believes, as ‘distracted’ generals focus on saving their own skin rather than winning.
Putin’s top brass are ‘increasingly seeking to defer key decisions to their superiors’ to avoid being forced to carry the can for any mistakes instead of seizing the initiative and taking the fight to Ukraine, a briefing by the Ministry of Defence said today.
Lieutenant-General Sergei Kisel, commander of the 1st Guards Tank Army, and Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, have already been sacked for respectively failing to take Ukraine’s second-city of Kharkiv and for the sinking of the flagship Moskva, the UK has said.
It confirms intelligence released by Ukraine last week which suggested they were among a gaggle of generals purged over the blundering invasion – including General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, who was said to have been suspended.
Britain believes that General Gerasimov ‘likely remains in post’ but says it is ‘unclear whether he retains the confidence of President Putin’. It comes after Gerasimov failed to appear during a Victory Day parade in Moscow 10 days ago, with Admiral Osipov also missing from the centrepiece event.
The firings amount to a tactic admission by Putin that his invasion is not going to plan, despite the repeated assurances he has given to the Russian people that the ‘special military operation’ – as he calls it – is proceeding on schedule and that all objectives will be completed.
Admiral Igor Osipov (left) and Lieutenant-General Sergei Kisel (right) have been sacked by Putin over the sinking of the Moskva and failure to take Kharkiv, the UK has said, confirming intelligence released by Ukraine last week
Britain believes that a culture of ‘scape-goating’ among Russian high command is leading to battlefield blunders as commanders try to save their own skins rather than focusing on victory (pictured, a failed Russian river crossing last week)
Russia is now advancing on Ukrainian defensive positions across the Donbas but is suffering heavy losses in the process, including an entire battalion destroyed trying to cross the Donets River (pictured)
Almost three months into what was supposed to be a days-long war, Putin does at last appear to be on the verge of completing at least one of his main objectives as the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol – under siege since the early days of the conflict – surrendered this week.
Evacuation missions to bring all of the soldiers out of the Azovstal steel plant, where they have been holed up since early April in a last-ditch defence of the city, are still ongoing but are expected to finish this week.
Once the last troops have been removed, it will put Russia in full control of the city – the largest to fall to Putin’s forces so-far and which allows the formation of a so-called ‘land bridge’ from occupied areas of the Donbas region to Russia’s bases in Crimea.
The victory will provide Putin with a huge propaganda boost, and is likely to be trumpeted by Russian state media as evidence of their military might. Ukraine says Moscow is planning to hold victory parades in the ‘liberated’ city after cleaning up some of its destroyed streets.
But the win has come at a huge cost. Russia has been forced to near-totally destroy Mariupol in order to capture it, and will now be faced with a monumental and costly challenge in rebuilding it.
Fighting for control of the city also tied up at least a dozen Russian battalions for weeks – mauling troops and equipment that could otherwise have been used to push forward the frontline in Donbas.
Now the city has fallen, those troops can be redeployed amid a renewed push by Russian commanders to surround and destroy Ukrainian units dug into fortifications in Donbas – with the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk likely to be hard-hit.
The capture of Mariupol is a rare bright-spot for Russia in a war that has been defined in its early stages by missteps, mistakes and misery that has seen Ukraine score a number of important strategic and propaganda wins.
Sinking the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, has been perhaps the biggest morale boost for Kyiv’s men – after the missile cruiser was sunk into the very sea it was supposed to be defending by two cruise missiles.
Though the battleship was hardly key to Putin’s overall war effort, it held huge symbolic value and its loss was all the more embarrassing because Ukraine lacks a navy.
More important from a strategic point of view has been Ukraine’s success in defending its large cities, most notably Kyiv. Had the capital fallen in the early days of the war, it would have severely hampered Ukraine’s will and ability to fight and may have handed Putin an easy win.
The sinking of the Moskva represented a huge propaganda win for Ukraine, which managed to destroy the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet despite not having a navy of its own
Russian troops patrol through the ruins of the Ilyich Steel Works in Mariupol, after assuming full control over the city as the last Ukrainian garrison surrendered
Russia met with a series of embarrassing defeats in the early days of the war, forcing Putin’s men to concentrate on making limited gains in the east of the country – such as capturing Mariupol (pictured)
Russian troops inspect damage on the streets of Mariupol, a key city on the Sea of Azov which has fallen into their hands following almost three months of bitter fighting
A view of the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by Russian attempts to capture it
In the event, Moscow’s forces utterly failed to penetrate the city’s outer defences and saw repeated attempts by special forces to slaughter Ukraine’s leader thwarted, sparking a retreat from the north of Ukraine.
Ongoing counter-attacks to the north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, are also a huge strategic win because it allows Kyiv’s generals to put Russian supply lines into the Donbas under threat.
In recent days, rumours have begun to emerge that Ukraine has crossed the Donets River to the east and is attacking towards the city of Vovchansk – close to the Russian border – which contains the main highway and rail line running from the supply hub of Belgorod to its frontline in Donbas.
Taking the city could massively hamper Russia’s ability to supply its troops, a move that could cause its offensive in the region – which is currently inching forwards thanks to supply-heavy artillery bombardments – to stall, and perhaps go into reverse.
And the obliteration of an entire Russian battalion as it tried to cross the Donets River heading west is also significant – preventing an easy attempt to surround the cities of Severdonetsk and Lysychansk and providing its defenders with more time to prepare for the inevitable assault.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hit out at Moscow in his nightly address to the nation, calling the invasion an ‘absolute failure’. ‘They are afraid to acknowledge that catastrophic mistakes were made at the highest military and state level,’ he said.
But despite their last-ditch resistance in places such as Mariupol and the successful defence of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces are retreating across swathes of the eastern front.
The losses often come after weeks of battles over towns and small cities that get pulverised by the time the Russians surround them in a slow-moving wave.
‘I tell everyone that there is no reason to worry when the banging is from outgoing fire,’ Volodymyr Netymenko said as he packed up his sister’s belongings before evacuating her from the burning village of Sydorove in eastern Ukraine.
‘But when it is incoming, it is time to run. And things have been flying at us pretty hard for the past two or three days.’
In the Russian region of Kursk, one person died and others were injured in an attack on a village on the border with Ukraine, the local governor said Thursday.
‘Another enemy attack on Tyotkino, which took place at dawn unfortunately ended in tragedy,’ Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram.
Ukraine believes that General Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, has been suspended. The UK said today that he ‘likely remains in post’ but it is ‘unclear’ whether he still has Putin’s confidence
Major General Arkady Marzoev (left), commander of the 22nd army, has reportedly been sacked, while Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk (right), deputy commander of the Black Sea fleet, is allegedly under investigation
Authorities in Russian border regions have repeatedly accused Ukrainian forces of launching attacks.
The conflict has sparked a massive exodus of more than six million Ukrainians, many bearing accounts of torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate destruction.
Ukraine’s first trial for war crimes – expected to be the first of many linked to the Russian invasion – began in a cramped Kyiv courtroom on Wednesday.
Vadim Shishimarin, a shaven-headed Russian sergeant from Irkutsk in Siberia, pleaded guilty to a war crime and faces a life sentence.
Shishimarin admitted to shooting dead an unarmed 62-year-old man in Ukraine’s Sumy region four days into the invasion.
‘By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility,’ prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said.
Russia’s government has no information on the soldier, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said, adding that many such cases reported by Ukraine are ‘simply fake or staged’.
The International Criminal Court is deploying its largest-ever field team to Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to gather evidence of alleged war crimes.
In another step affirming US support for Ukraine, the American embassy in Kyiv reopened on Wednesday after three months.
The Kremlin meanwhile intensified a tit-for-tat round of diplomatic expulsions against European countries, ordering dozens of personnel from France, Italy and Spain to leave.
The Russian invasion has blown a hole in Ukraine’s finances, as tax revenue has dropped sharply, leaving it with a shortfall of around $5 billion a month.
Finance ministers from G7 nations will meet in Germany on Thursday to try and find a solution for Kyiv’s budget troubles.
The conflict’s economic impact has cascaded across the world, fuelling a global food crisis that has pushed up prices, especially in developing nations.
Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that the conflict ‘threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity’.
‘Malnutrition, mass hunger and famine’ could follow ‘in a crisis that could last for years,’ Guterres warned as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports.
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