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 military retreats, as Russian state television presenters openly attacked the military command for Ukraine’s success in regaining territory in areas that President Vladimir claims to have annexed.

In Ukraine, the Russian army launched several rocket attacks on the city of Zaporizhzhia, the capital of one of the four 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 supposedly annexed regions that 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Putin declared the seizure of Ukrainian territories, in flagrant violation of international law, Russian troops have withdrawn on two fronts – to Donetsk and Lugansk in the east, and to Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south.

Growing and vocal criticism of the Russian military command is driven by hardline Russian 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 who have their own loyal military forces fighting on the ground in Ukraine.

Calls for Shoigu’s dismissal telegraph his growing vulnerability after a series of humiliating military failures in recent weeks, including Russia’s loss over the weekend of Lyman, a strategic transit hub in Donetsk, and its surrender last month from almost the entire territory of northeastern Kharkiv. area that Russian forces had occupied for many months.

The criticism also points to the growing domestic political problem that military setbacks and a botched plan to mobilize thousands of new troops now pose for Putin. Shoigu, 67, served as defense minister for nearly a decade but has been part of Putin’s leadership team since Putin was elevated to the presidency on December 31, 1999. Until the war, Shoigu was often referred to as a potential successor to Putin.

Shoigu has no military background, but he is one of Russia’s longest-serving ministers, dating back to 1991 when President Boris Yeltsin appointed him Minister for Emergency Situations, allowing him to take pride of place. One of Russia’s most popular politicians, according to pre-war opinion polls, Shoigu was a close ally of Putin, sometimes accompanying the president on trips to the Siberian taiga.

More strategic Russian retreat signals long fight ahead in Kherson

The raucous public attacks broke the ban on criticizing Russian military leaders observed earlier in the war, and underscores the rivalry and poor coordination between Russia’s disparate forces on the battlefield, where mercenary force operations of Prigozhin sometimes seemed to disagree. with the strategy and objectives of the traditional Russian military, according to analysts.

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

“Indeed, many people say that if they were the defense minister, who brought things to this state of affairs, they would shoot each other, if they were real officers,” Stremousov said, s’ expressing on a video he took of himself and posted on Telegram. . “But the word officer is incomprehensible to many.”

Fueling criticism, a series of videos circulating Thursday on pro-Kremlin telegram channels showed a group of several hundred Russian soldiers whose leaders complained that they had been, after being recently mobilized, kept in “cattle-like conditions”. “, forced to buy their own food and delivered rusty old weapons.

A soldier in the group had previously posted a video saying his unit had been told they would soon be sent to fight in Ukraine without training. Another waved a thermometer at the camera, shouting that many recruits had fevers.

Russian state media RIA Novosti reported on Thursday that the 299-soldier unit would be sent for training in Mulino, Russia, citing a Western Military District official, comments that appeared to confirm that the men in the videos were indeed mobilized soldiers. But other reports suggest the videos may be a staged effort by Shoigu’s rivals to discredit the defense minister.

Artem Kovrignykh, 20, a former McDonald’s employee and mobilized soldier 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 said they would be sent to Ukraine the next day. daytime. He and others spent 90 minutes trying to convince the officer not to send the men, eventually declaring that they all refused to go to Ukraine untrained.

Kovrignykh said he recorded the video on Wednesday immediately after that and posted it online. It caused a major public outcry. After the controversy, military officials put the men on a train and sent them to a training center, he added.

“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.

During the argument with the colonel, he said: “We explained that our soldiers were not ready. We had no uniforms. 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?

Kovrignykh said most of the men were given a summer uniform, a bag, a cup, a spoon and a small thermos. “That’s it. No dry rations, body armor, helmets or canteens. The uniforms were mostly the wrong size. So were the boots. The guns jam after every 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.

Winter is approaching in Ukraine – and a battle of endurance awaits you

A die-hard military blogger, former FSB officer Igor Girkin, who runs a Telegram channel that has repeatedly called for tougher military action against Ukraine, criticized the Russian Chief of Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and predicted that Shoigu would be fired.

Open attacks on the military in state media mean that the leadership of the Department of Defense “will finally have to answer for much of what it did (or rather did not do) before and during war,” Girkin said.

“And that means someone will be torn down. And somebody great,” Girkin added, referring directly to Shoigu.

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, said on Thursday the party had opened branches in the illegally annexed regions, as authorities pursued other absorption measures, including issuing license plate codes. for the four regions.

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

As the war fails, Russia’s authoritarian grandmaster backs into a corner

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, speaking at the start of a meeting of senior Russian government officials on economic issues, acknowledged on Thursday that certain sectors of the Russian economy, particularly those dependent on exports to Europe, were under severe pressure because of the penalties.

“In turn, our exporters are looking to other markets,” he said. “But this process, of course, is not fast. It takes time to build new cooperative and supply chains. Putin said European countries that shunned Russian products were forced to pay higher prices elsewhere as a result.

Putin claimed that Russian industrial production was “gradually recovering” in some of the industries hardest hit by the sanctions, such as car production. But the data shows consumer demand was weak and September retail sales were weak.

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.

Moreover, the commander of the struggling Western Military Command, Alexander Zhuravlev, was replaced last week by Roman Berdnikov. Rumors about Zhuravlev’s dismissal had been circulating since June.

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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