Russian military is divided as Putin struggles to tackle Ukraine’s counter-offensive, US sources say

Russia army is divided on how best to counter Ukraine’s unexpected progress on the battlefield this month, according to multiple sources familiar with US intelligence, as Moscow has pushed itself on the defensive in both the east and south.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself directs generals in the field, said two sources familiar with US and Western intelligence — a highly unusual management tactic in a modern military, which these sources said points to Russia’s dysfunctional chain of command. has ravaged. war from the beginning.

Intelligence interceptions have captured Russian officers arguing among themselves and complaining to friends and relatives at home about decision-making from Moscow, one of these sources told CNN.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Vitaly Mutko, the chief executive officer of Dom.RF, a state-owned company involved in the mortgage and real estate market, during their meeting at the Moscow Kremlin. (AP)

And there are significant strategic differences with military leaders struggling to agree on where to focus their efforts to strengthen defensive lines, multiple sources familiar with US intelligence said.

The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed it is redeploying troops to Kharkov in the northeast — where Ukraine has made the most dramatic gains — but US and Western sources say the bulk of Russian forces are still in the south, where Ukraine is also is offensive. operations around Kherson.

Putin announced a partial mobilization on Wednesday it is expected that up to 300,000 reservists will be called up. He has resisted taking that step for months, and officials in the Biden government said on Wednesday that the fact that he did so highlights the seriousness of Russia’s staff shortage and points to growing desperation.

According to Russian military analysts, it is not clear whether the mobilization will make any operational difference on the battlefield, or only extend the duration of the war without changing the outcome.

And as Russia rages on the battlefield, officials in Moscow have been scrambling to blame for the abrupt turn of Russia’s fortunes, a senior NATO official said.

A man walks through the gym at a school used as a Russian military hospital in the recently recaptured area of ​​Izium, Ukraine. (AP)

“Kremlin officials and state media experts have been feverishly discussing the reasons for the failure in Kharkov and typically the Kremlin appears to be trying to shift the blame from Putin to the Russian military,” this person said.

There has already been a reshuffle of military leadership in response to battlefield failures — leaving Russia’s chain of command even more scrambled than before, sources say. The commander who oversaw the majority of units around the Kharkiv region was in post for only 15 days and has now been relieved of his duties, the NATO official said.

Russia has sent “a small number” of troops to eastern Ukraine — some of whom had fled last week amid Ukraine’s advance on the battlefield, according to two US defense officials — in an effort to bolster weakened defense lines.

But even if Russia is able to coalesce around a plan, US and Western officials believe Russia is limited in its ability to deliver a strategically significant response to Ukraine’s counter-offensive operations in recent days, sources say. have turned the momentum in Kiev’s favour. Even after the partial mobilization announcement, officials are skeptical that Russia will be able to quickly send large numbers of troops to Ukraine given ongoing problems with supply lines, communications and morale.

Ukrainian soldiers released during a prisoner exchange with Russia hold their national flag close to Chernihiv, Ukraine. (AP)

The “small scale” of the Russian reshuffle is a signal of its inability to mount serious operations, the senior defense official told CNN.

So far, Russia has responded to Ukraine’s claims by launching attacks on critical infrastructure such as dams and power plants — attacks that the US sees as largely “revenge” attacks rather than operationally significant salvos, this person said.

Lacking more manpower it simply doesn’t have now, sources said Russia has few other options to punish or push back Ukrainian forces. Putin is “struggling,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said in an appearance on CNN on Wednesday. The Russian army has “poor unity cohesion, desertion in the ranks, soldiers who do not want to fight,” Kirby said.

“He has terrible morale, unity cohesion on the battlefield, command and control are still unresolved. He has desertion problems and is forcing the wounded back into battle. So obviously manpower is an issue for him,” Kirby said. “He feels like he’s on his back foot, especially in that northeastern part of the Donbass.”

Mobilization Order a Sign Putin’s Plan Isn’t Working

Putin’s mobilization order is important because it is a direct acknowledgment that Moscow’s “special military operation” did not work and had to be modified, military analysts said.

But for now, there are more questions than answers about the exact operational impact. It is the first such order given in Russia since World War II, and provides military analysts with limited modern data on which to base their predictions.

A volunteer distributes humanitarian aid in the recently recaptured area of ​​Izium, Ukraine. (AP)

Even if Moscow can grow its number of soldiers — both by preventing existing contract members from leaving service and by mobilizing reservists — it will struggle to train, equip and integrate these troops into existing units, Michael Kofman said. , the director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses. And even if that solves some short-term staffing issues, these probably won’t be high-quality recruits, Kofman and others noted.

Even in the best case scenario, it will also take Moscow some time to mobilize new troops.

“I think it’s fair to say that partial mobilization won’t reflect on the battlefield for a few months at the earliest, and could increase Russia’s ability to support this war, but wouldn’t change the outcome,” he said. kofman.

Russia’s long-standing failures in planning, communications and logistics have been compounded by sanctioning losses in its withdrawal from Kharkov, sources said. Russia left behind “a lot” of equipment during its retreat, according to the NATO official. And at least one legendary unit, from the First Guards Tank Army, has been “decimated,” said this person.

“Now that the northern axis has nearly collapsed, it will make it more difficult for Russian troops to slow down the Ukrainian advance and provide cover for the retreating Russian forces,” the official said. “We think it will also seriously harm Russia’s plans to occupy the entire Donbas.”

The joker remains, as always, the Russian president. Putin on Wednesday again threatened the use of nuclear weapons, a threat US officials take “seriously” but have seen no immediate indication of his intention to proceed.

A photo from the Ukrainian security service’s news agency shows how Ukrainian soldiers were released in a prisoner exchange with Russia. (AP)

Pro-Russian authorities in some occupied eastern regions of Ukraine have also announced they plan to hold political referenda on joining Russia, a maneuver some analysts say Russia could use as a pretext for military action.

But, the senior NATO official said: “In general, Russia is now on the defensive. Ukraine is taking the initiative and is forcing Russia to take emergency measures to avoid further losses.”

“If Ukraine manages to conduct sustained defensive operations, it could further undermine the sustainability of the Russian defense,” said this person.

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