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on the defensive, the Kremlin points to military leaders

The Kremlin and Russian nationalist circles have found their scapegoats: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, General Valeri Guerassimov, Chief of the Defense Staff, and senior army officers are designated as responsible for the bitter defeats suffered in recent weeks in Ukraine. Military leaders are easy targets for political elites anxious to exonerate themselves from any responsibility in a “special military operation” that turns into a fiasco. The war is proving toxic for the top brass, with at least eight generals sacked, reassigned or sidelined since February 24, the start of the invasion. Not to mention a dozen other deaths in combat.

Latest announcement, the Russian army has appointed a new commander-in-chief in Ukraine. Former head of the Russian aerospace forces, army general Sergei Surovikin, 55, was installed this summer at the head of the southern military group, replacing General Alexander Dvornikov. Russian nationalist circles credit him with taking control of Lysytchansk in July and are banking on his “tough guy” reputation to regain the initiative in Ukraine. “Surovikin is the most competent commander of the Russian army”, says Evgueni Prigojine, founder of the private military company Wagner and virulent critic of the military command.

Scorched earth enthusiast

A veteran of the civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s, the second war in Chechnya in the 2000s and the 2017 Russian military intervention in Syria, Sergei Surovikin is a follower of “scorched earth” tactics. His checkered career, marred by allegations of corruption and brutality, includes two stints in prison, one of which was for arms sales. With his appointment, the Kremlin seeks to address criticism from nationalists who accuse the military of mishandling the war in Ukraine and failing to use tougher tactics to force kyiv into submission.

After the explosion on Saturday October 8 which partially destroyed the Crimean bridge, a key infrastructure for the supply of this peninsula annexed by Moscow and for the Russian forces in Ukraine, the Kremlin will probably continue to cast the Defense Ministry as a scapegoat for all Russian military failures,” says the Institute For the Study of War.

In the wake of Ramzan Kadyrov, strongman of the Chechen Republic and ally of Vladimir Putin, criticism has been increasing for several weeks against military officials. In the crosshairs, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, ex-vacation companion of the Russian president in Siberia. A lot of people say that, as an officer, the Minister of Defense could just shoot himself for letting it come to this,” said Thursday, October 6, Kirill Stremousov, Russian deputy governor of the Kherson region (southern Ukraine).

Before him, Andrei Kartapolov, head of the defense committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, had lambasted the defense ministry for covering up bad news from the front. “They need to stop lyingsaid the former senior officer. People are not stupid, far from it, and they see that they are not taken seriously. »

The elites are divided

Critics focus on the lack of preparation of the armed forces, despite a colossal budget, inadequacies in planning, dysfunctions in the chain of command, supply problems and mistakes made in mobilization.

It remains to be seen how long Vladimir Putin, central figure of the “special military operation”, will be able to blame others for the failures. “This is the first time that we have witnessed personalized attacks within the regime, notes political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the analysis firm R.Politik. This is a rather dangerous situation for Putin, because no one is in control of it. The longer the conflict rages and the more resources the Russian regime throws into the furnace of war, the more divided Russian elites can become and the more severe those divisions will be. »


A series of setbacks for Moscow

The Ukrainian army took over almost 2,500 km2 of territorycontrolled by Russian forces, during its last counter-offensive launched at the end of September, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday, October 7.

In mid-September, the Ukrainian President had already indicatedthat his army had regained nearly 6,000 km2in a first counter-offensive launched a fortnight earlier.

The day after an explosion damaged the bridge linking annexed Crimea to Russia, on Sunday, October 9, at least 17 people were killed during bombardments on the city of Zaporijjia (southern Ukraine), three days after previous strikes which had already killed 17 people.

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