Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu criticized for his military failures

RIGA, Latvia — Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu faced mounting political pressure on Thursday following a series of disorderly retreats in Ukraine, as powerful nationalist figures openly attacked Moscow’s military command for setbacks in areas that President Vladimir Putin claims to have annexed.

The Russian military on Thursday launched multiple rocket attacks on Zaporizhzhia, the capital of one of four Ukrainian regions now illegally claimed by Russia. The rockets hit residential buildings, killing three people, city authorities said.

The city is not occupied by Russia and the Kremlin is committed to conquering parts of the regions it does not control. But since Putin declared the seizure of Ukrainian territories, in flagrant violation of international law, Russian troops have withdrawn on two fronts – to Donetsk and Lugansk in the east, and to Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south.

The growing and vocal criticism of the Russian military command is driven by hardline nationalists, some of whom have long resented Shoigu, including Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, each of them. who have their own loyal military forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russia’s defense minister looks increasingly vulnerable after humiliating military failures in recent weeks, including the weekend loss of Lyman, a strategic transit hub in Donetsk, and the surrender last month of the almost all of the territory in the northeastern region of Kharkiv that Russian forces had occupied. for many months.

Shoigu, 67, has no military experience but served as defense minister for nearly a decade and has been part of Putin’s leadership team since he was elevated to the presidency on December 31, 1999. Until the war, Shoigu was among the most popular politicians and was often touted as a potential successor to Putin.

He is one of Russia’s longest-serving ministers, dating back to 1991 when President Boris Yeltsin appointed him Minister for Emergency Situations. Over the years, Shoigu has remained close to Putin, sometimes accompanying the president on trips to the Siberian taiga.

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But on Thursday, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of Moscow’s proxy administration in Kherson, said Shoigu’s performance in Ukraine was so poor that any real officer would kill himself.

“Indeed, many people say that if they were the Minister of Defense, who brought things to this state of affairs, they would shoot each other, if they were real officers,” Stremousov said, in a video posted on Telegram. “But the word officer is incomprehensible to many.”

Videos circulating on pro-Kremlin telegram channels on Thursday showed a group of several hundred newly mobilized Russian soldiers who complained of being kept in “cattle-like conditions”, forced to buy their own food and hand over old rusty weapons. One of them held up a thermometer in front of the camera, shouting that many recruits had fevers.

Artem Kovrignykh, 20, a former McDonald’s employee who recorded one of the videos near Belgorod in southern Russia, told independent media ASTRA that a Russian colonel lined up the group on Wednesday and told them that they would be sent to Ukraine the next day. But the men refused to deploy untrained.

“We came to the Belgorod region, where the training was to take place. But instead of training, we were trying to survive,” he said. “We pitched our own tents and found our own food. At first we tried to discuss it with our officers. But no one listened to us. We haven’t had a response.

In their argument with the colonel, “We explained that our soldiers were not ready”, recounted Kovrignykh. “We didn’t have a uniform. I have a helmet and a bulletproof vest. My soldiers don’t. I couldn’t send them like that. So how would I explain to their mothers why they died?

Most of the men received a summer uniform, a bag, a cup, a spoon and a small thermos, Kovrignykh said: “That’s it. No dry rations, bulletproof vests, helmets or canteens. The uniforms were mostly the wrong size. So were the boots. The guns jam after each reload. These are guns from the 70s and 80s.

The video went viral on social media after being posted by pro-Kremlin military blogger Rybar, who has more than 900,000 followers. Russian state media RIA Novosti reported on Thursday that the 299-soldier unit would be sent for training in Mulino, Russia, citing an official from the Western Military District.

But the critics did not subside. The dismal reports of mobilized soldiers “make the hair stand on end”, state television presenter Vladimir Soloviev said on Thursday. “Lies, at all levels, must be punished. Now is the time to tell the truth.

The rare public attacks broke a ban on criticizing Russian military leaders and signaled growing political problems for Putin as he tries to deflect blame for battlefield setbacks and chaotic mobilization.

They also point to rivalry and poor coordination between Russia’s disparate forces on the front lines, where Prigozhin’s mercenary force operations have at times seemed at odds with the strategy and goals of the traditional Russian military, according to the analysts.

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Prigozhin dismissed those criticisms, saying on Wednesday that his forces were “strengthening the fighting and patriotic spirit of the fighters, who are now going through a difficult time, who are on the front line and protect you all.” Politicians, journalists and other “quasi-liberal fools” should “go to the front line”, he said, according to his press office.

A diehard military blogger, former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin, who runs a Telegram channel that has repeatedly called for tougher military action against Ukraine, has criticized the chief of Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and predicted that Shoigu would be fired.

The leadership of the Ministry of Defense “will finally answer for much of what it did (or rather did not do) before and during the war”, predicted Girkin. “And that means someone will be torn down. And someone great,” he added, referring directly to Shoigu.

Pressure on Shoigu comes after a series of Russian military commanders were quietly removed from their posts, including Dmitry Bulgakov, deputy defense minister, who was replaced last week by Mikhail Mizintsev, who led the assault brutal Russia against Mariupol.

The commander of the struggling Western Military Command, Alexander Zhuravlev, was also replaced last week.

As Russia loses ground in its supposedly annexed territories, the Kremlin is trying to consolidate its political grip by moving forward with administrative measures to absorb the regions.

Andrei Turchak, leader of Putin’s United Russia party, announced on Thursday that the party had opened branches in the illegally annexed territories, and authorities issued new license plates for the four regions.

These measures were taken despite new economic sanctions agreed by the European Union on Wednesday to punish Russia for territorial seizures.

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Sanctions include import bans on Russian steel, precious metals and gemstones, new bans on exporting technology products to Russia, including products used in aviation, and a price cap oil for Russian maritime crude deliveries to third countries.

Putin acknowledged on Thursday that some sectors of the Russian economy were under severe pressure due to sanctions, but said industrial production was slowly recovering.

Natalia Abbakumova from Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums held that have been widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was seeking an “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in apparent response to annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse the setbacks of his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of over 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and further protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a large Russian retreat into the northeast Kharkiv region in early September as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the Russia–Ukraine War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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