Putin’s Russia is struggling to respond to the Ukrainian attack


As Russian troops retreated in northeastern Ukraine amid a fierce counteroffensive by Kiev, Muscovites celebrated the 875th anniversary of the city’s founding. Fireworks were booming and President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a giant Ferris wheel, a new transportation link and a sports arena.

The Russian capital’s festive holiday weekend stood in stark contrast to the military debacle in Ukraine, which seemed to take the Kremlin by surprise in the nearly seven-month war.

The rapid and reportedly chaotic troop withdrawal in the Kharkiv region, leaving behind some weapons and ammunition, was a severe blow to Russia’s reputation. It was Ukraine’s biggest military defeat since Moscow withdrew its forces from areas near Kyiv after a botched attempt to capture the capital earlier in the invasion.

As he attended the holiday celebrations, which included the inauguration of the Ferris wheel – larger than the legendary London Eye and now Europe’s largest amusement ride of its kind – Putin said nothing about the pivotal moment in Ukraine.

In fact, the Ukrainian counter-offensive seems to have left the Kremlin struggling for an answer.

The Defense Ministry said the troop withdrawal was intended to bolster Russian forces in Donbass, a somewhat flimsy excuse given that the Russian-held areas of the Kharkiv region were a key vantage point for Moscow’s operations in the Donetsk region to the south.

The ministry has not offered details of the withdrawal, but it did release a map on Sunday showing Russian troops being pushed back along a narrow stretch of land bordering Russia – a tacit admission of large Ukrainian gains.

Russian state television and other government-controlled media followed suit, avoiding direct mention of the withdrawal while praising the performance of Russian forces in individual combat episodes.

Defense Ministry video showed a Russian attack helicopter attacking Ukrainian troops attempting to cross the Oskil River in a previously quiet part of the Kharkiv region, an acknowledgment of the broad scale of the ongoing Ukrainian attack.

Many in Russia blamed Western weapons and fighters for the setbacks. “Not Ukraine, but the whole of NATO is fighting us,” wrote Alexander Kots, war correspondent for the pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The fresh Ukrainian thunderbolt that has boosted the country’s morale as the war dragged on for 200 days on Sunday could set the stage for further successes in the east and elsewhere.

But it could also potentially trigger an even more violent response from Moscow, leading to a new and dangerous escalation of hostilities. On the night of Sunday, Russian missiles hit important Ukrainian infrastructure targets and disrupted the power supply in several regions.

“The Kremlin seems stunned and hasn’t come up with a plan yet to try to twist this, so the media largely ignores the bad news until directed,” said Mark Galeotti, a professor at University College, London. specializing in Russian security matters.

He described the situation as “a sign that the state’s control over the narrative is waning”.

In a stark reflection of the internal tensions stoked by Kiev’s gains, Kremlin-backed Chechnya regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov openly criticized Russia’s Defense Ministry for “mistakes” that enabled Ukrainian gains.

Kadyrov’s criticism of sending Chechen units to fight in Ukraine and repeatedly urging tougher action in belligerent language has revealed new rifts in the actions in Ukraine.

On the other hand, liberal politician Boris Nadezhdin warned on NTV that Russia cannot defeat Ukraine and called for negotiations.

Nadezhdin’s statement, delivered during a carefully orchestrated talk show, seemed to reflect growing doubts in some quarters of Russian officials about the future of the operation in Ukraine and could be part of an effort to ignite possible political changes.

The Ukrainian attack and the Kremlin’s failure to react quickly have infuriated Russian nationalist commentators and military bloggers, who chided Defense Ministry leaders for failing to anticipate and repel the counteroffensive.

Igor Strelkov, a Russian officer who led Moscow-backed forces in the first months of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine after it erupted in 2014, denounced senior Russian military officials as “idiots” for underestimating Kyiv.

Strelkov pointed out that a sizeable Russian force blunted Ukrainian attacks in the south of the country in late August and early September. But he said the number of troops in the Kharkiv region was woefully insufficient to handle a counteroffensive.

“It turned out that the enemy is capable of launching large-scale offensives on several fronts at once, including the one where we had only a thin chain of outposts lined up in a row, with even a lack of tactical reserves ‘ Strelkov said.

He warned that Ukraine could launch a new offensive in the Donetsk region south of Mariupol. The Azov Sea city fell in May after nearly three months of bitter fighting, giving Russia a long-coveted land corridor from its border to the Crimea peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

“With the initiative, high fighting spirit and powerful groups of task forces, the enemy is unlikely to give our troops time to regroup,” Strelkov said, noting that Ukraine will try to use the few remaining weeks of good weather before the Using autumn rains makes maneuvering difficult.

Many military bloggers have criticized the Kremlin for failing to take stronger action and doggedly trying to win what Moscow is calling a “military special operation,” with a limited force smaller than Ukraine’s.

Ukraine has conducted a broad mobilization aimed at reaching an active military of 1 million fighters, but Russia continues to rely on a limited contingent of volunteers amid fears that a mass mobilization could stoke widespread discontent and cause political instability.

Russia has not said how many of its troops are involved in the war, but Western estimates initially put the invasion force at up to 200,000. Western observers said the recruitment of new volunteers and the use of private military companies failed to offset the heavy casualties.

While Moscow has not reported any casualties of its own since March, when it said 1,351 soldiers were killed in the first month of the war, Western estimates put the number dead at up to 25,000, with the wounded, prisoners and deserters putting Russia’s total losses above 80,000.

Many pro-Moscow military bloggers also wondered why Russia failed to destroy Ukrainian power plants, communications facilities and bridges on the Dnieper River that link Western weapons, fuel and other supplies to the front lines. They say Russian missile attacks on railways and power plants have been sporadic and insufficient to cause lasting damage.

Rocket fire on Ukrainian power plants on Sunday night seemed to answer those questions, apparently signaling that Moscow might step up strikes against vital infrastructure. Ukrainian authorities said on Monday that power was quickly restored in most areas.

Strelkov and other nationalist commentators call for even harder blows.

“It was necessary to hit Ukraine’s critical infrastructure from day one of the operation,” Strelkov said on his messaging app channel. “Strikes against power plants will be very useful to win the war.”


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