- Chechen leader Kadyrov scolds top generals
- Prigozhin: top brass must fight at the front
- Russian state TV muted
LONDON, Oct 3 (Reuters) – The withdrawal of Russian forces from a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine has prompted two powerful allies of President Vladimir Putin to do something rare in modern Russia: publicly ridicule the top of the war machine.
Russia’s loss of the bastion of Lyman, which threatens the western parts of the Luhansk region, touched a nerve too Ramzan Kadyrovthe leader of the South Russian Republic of Chechnya.
Kadyrov, who has been close to Putin since his father and former president of Chechnya, Akhmad, was killed in a bombing in Grozny in 2004 that also killed a Reuters photographer, suggested that Russia should consider using a small tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine in response. to the loss.
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The nuclear alert grabbed the headlines, but his public derision of Russia’s top generals may have been just as significant in a Russia where public criticism of the war effort by the upper echelons of the elite has been taboo.
“Nepotism in the army will not lead to anything good,” Kadyrov said, adding that the commander of Russian forces in the area should be stripped of his medals and sent to the front line with a gun to wash away his shame in blood.
Such public disdain for the generals leading Russia’s war is significant because it indicates the degree of frustration within Putin’s elite over the conduct of the war, while also piercing the Kremlin’s carefully controlled narrative.
Kadyrov, who supports the war and has sent many of his own Chechen units to fight, said his criticism was the bitter truth about a Russian fighting force that he said allowed talentless midgets to fail the country.
The Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment. Russian officials say the history of Russian warfare shows that battles often start badly until the military can be properly organized. Writing off Russia, they say, is a bad bet.
Asked about Kadyrov’s remarks on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “This is a very emotional moment.”
“The heads of regions have the right to express their views,” Peskov told reporters. “Even in difficult moments, emotions should still be excluded from any assessment.”
More than seven months into a war that has killed tens of thousands and sparked the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, even Russia’s most basic war aims are far from being achieved.
The vast army of a former superpower has been humiliated on the battlefield by a much smaller Ukrainian force backed up with weapons, intelligence and advice by Western powers led by the United States.
In a new setback for Moscow on Monday, a Russian-installed official confirmed Ukrainian progress along the western bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, one of four regions that Putin last week claimed to have annexed.
The defeats in Ukraine could undermine Putin, said Tatiana Stanovaya, non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Until September, the Russian elite had made the pragmatic choice to support Putin as a guarantor against defeat,” Stanovaya said.
“But things have progressed so far that they may now have to choose between different loss scenarios. This makes Putin far more vulnerable, because he may just find out that he and the elite are content with different scenarios.”
Putin accuses the West of trying to use Ukraine to destroy Russia itself, but says Moscow will prevail in its “special military operation” there.
In an emotional interview with a pro-Kremlin radio host on Saturday, Andrey Gurulyov, a retired general and member of the State Duma from Putin’s United Russia party, said he could not explain Lyman’s fall. He then said that troops defending the city had been doomed by “a system … of constant lying” that saw problems in Russia’s military covered up by superiors.
On Russian state television, humility seemed to seep into the usual jingoistic rhetoric.
“I really want us to attack Kiev and take it tomorrow, but I am aware that the partial mobilization will take time,” host Vladimir Solovyov said on state television Rossiya 1.
“For a certain period, things will not be easy for us. We should not expect good news right now.”
Chechnya’s Kadyrov said he had raised the possibility of a defeat at Lyman two weeks ago to Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, but that Gerasimov had dismissed the idea.
Gerasimov, 67, is the third most powerful man in the Russian military after Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Shoigu tapped Gerasimov for the top military job days after he was named defense minister in 2012.
“I don’t know what the Defense Ministry reports to the commander-in-chief (Putin), but in my personal opinion more drastic measures should be taken,” said Kadyrov, who shed tears for the fallen at a ceremony in the Kremlin last week where Russia formally annexed the four Ukrainian regions.
Asked about Kadyrov’s remarks, the powerful founder of the Wagner group of mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, congratulated the Chechen leader.
“Ramzan – you rock man!” Prigozhin, known as Putin’s chef because of his company’s Kremlin catering contracts, said in a statement. “All these bastards should be sent barefoot to the front with automatic weapons.”
When asked if his words should be considered criticism of the Ministry of Defense, Prigozhin peppered his answer with irony: “God forbid”.
“These statements are not criticism, but simply a manifestation of love and support,” said Prigozhin, who the US says leads a mercenary army that has dabbled in conflicts in Africa and Syria.
“I, and Ramzan Akhmatovich even more, are the most cultured people,” Prigozhin said, using Kadyrov’s patronymic as a sign of respect.
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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Gareth Jones
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