Who is to fault for Russia’s shortcomings in Ukraine?
After several weeks of defeats on the battlefield, Moscow’s military leadership has come under fire, intensifying domestic unrest and offering a rare challenge to the Kremlin.
Nationalist elites have stepped up the pressure in the aftermath of victories by Kyiv’s forces in the south and east, and an increasing number of voices across state media have expressed dismay at the war’s lack of progress in recent days. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unilaterally began the invasion, appears to have been chosen as the scapegoat.
There have been increasing criticisms of Putin’s defense ministry and his longstanding ally who leads it, but no one has yet dared to blame the Russian president directly. This pressure is forcing Putin to take immediate action before it is too late to reverse the situation on the battlefield.
According to Mark Galeotti, the director of the Russia-focused consulting firm Mayak Intelligence, Shoigu’s current responsibility is to serve as Putin’s protective vest. His primary contribution at the moment is to deflect the criticism that would otherwise certainly come Putin’s way.
On Thursday, a deputy head of the Russian-installed regional administration addressed Russia’s withdrawal in the vital southern region of Kherson and launched an unprecedented public diatribe against Moscow’s incompetent military officers.
Many people claim that they would commit suicide if they were the defense minister who allowed things to get to this point. Without naming Shoigu by name, Kirill Stremousov said made the statement in a video posted to the Telegram messaging service.
Without specifically mentioning him, Vladimir Solovyev, one of Russia’s leading propagandists who has always been adamantly pro-war, lately admitted Russia’s military difficulties and cautioned his audience not to anticipate positive news for some time, also addressed the Shoigu on Thursday.
He stated that one approach to address the military ministry’s shortcomings would be through a transfer to another position.
When Shoigu, 67, was appointed defense minister in 2012,, he had previously served as the minister in charge of handling emergency circumstances. He had frequently been sent to deal with security and natural disasters, which had won the public’s favor.
He is one of Putin’s closest pals and is known as the Russian leader’s devoted adjutant despite not being a career soldier. He frequently travels to Siberia with the Russian president for hunting and fishing vacations, demonstrating how close they are.
However, he has maintained a low profile since since Putin invaded Ukraine, mostly avoiding the media and sparking suspicions of a rift between the two.
Shoigus leadership and ministry are coming under increasing fire for downplaying the situation on the front lines as Russian forces in Ukraine recede even further.
Andrey Kartapolov, the chair of the defense committee in the Russian parliament, declared last week that it was time to stop lying and accused the ministry of hiding negative developments in Ukraine.
With widespread accusations that those who are unfit for service are being called up and newly joined soldiers are confronting poor conditions, training, and equipment, the ministry has also come under fire for how it handled Putin’s partial mobilization.
However, such scathing public criticisms of the government are incredibly rare in Putin’s Russia, where it is strictly forbidden to express any opposition, particularly against Kremlin allies.
There are hints that at least some of the criticism may be the result of conflicts within the ruling class of Russia.