Painful losses at the front, leadership problems, demoralization of the troops, disputes over war tactics – an analysis by the “Institute for the Study of War” paints a bleak picture of the state of the Russian army. Ex-secret service agent Igor Girkin sharply attacks Kremlin leader Putin for his current course.
In a recent analysis of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, the renowned Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports growing dissatisfaction within Putin’s army and massive criticism of the Kremlin’s war tactics. The increasing loss of wounded or killed soldiers is likely to “further impair Russian capabilities and lead to further moral collapse”.
The ISW experts refer, among other things, to the British Ministry of Defence. As a result, the Russian armed forces suffered “devastating casualties” among younger and middle-aged officers. The reason is that officers at battalion and brigade level continue to be “deployed forward and into danger zones” – instead of commanding from the rear and delegating tasks to lower-ranking officers.
Due to the loss of personnel in key positions, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Russian army to lead and control its troops. Tactical groups would be “cobbled together from the survivors of several other units,” the analysis said. According to the ISW, the “continued demoralization” and leadership problems within the Russian armed forces could provide opportunities for the Ukrainian army to “carry out prudent counter-offensives.”
The analysts also report growing discord and disagreements (“internal dissent”) within Russian military circles. Accordingly, the critical voices that claim “the Kremlin is not doing enough to win the war” increased.
As an example, the institute cites the former officer of the Russian domestic secret service FSB, Igor Girkin, who is better known by his pseudonym Igor Strelkov (derived from the Russian word for “shooter”). He also publishes on social media under this name.
Girkin led the pro-Russian separatists in their fight against the Ukrainian army in the summer of 2014. At that time, as “defense minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, he led the battles for Donbass. In 2016, Girkin turned against Putin. In recent weeks, the former FSB officer has repeatedly sharply criticized the Kremlin leader’s conduct of the war, which he sees as too lax and inconsistent.
In a recent post on Telegram, Girkin condemned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent comments that the Russian army’s future actions in Ukraine intend to focus on “liberating” the Donbass region in the east of the country. Girkin stated that the Kremlin has dispensed with the “ideological underpinnings of the conflict” by focusing the conflict on Donbass and not all of Ukraine. Moscow is thus voluntarily giving up “seven eighths of the territory of the so-called ‘Ukraine’,” according to Girkin. He mockingly remarked that, despite enormous efforts, Putin’s troops had just taken “one and a half villages”.
He also complained that the Kremlin leadership no longer questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine’s existence and that there was no longer any talk of “denazification” and “demilitarization”. Girkin accused the Kremlin of “appeasement” and declared that the danger of a Russian defeat in this war was “growing”. The ex-FSB man wrote literally about the “idiots in the Kremlin”. At the same time, he confirmed the massive problems of the Russian army: “There is an acute lack of forces and means at the front to expand even the tactical successes that were achieved with a lot of blood.”
The experts from the “Institute for the Study of War” see Girkin’s sharp criticism as “symbolic” for the growing unrest in circles of Russian military enthusiasts and former soldiers. “The Kremlin is increasingly facing discontent, not from Russians who oppose the war as a whole, but from military and nationalist figures who are angry at Russian casualties and frustrated because the Kremlin has changed the framework of the war,” she said analysts.
In view of clear military setbacks, the Russian leaders are less and less able to justify the invasion ideologically, the ISW experts conclude. The lack of concrete military successes in Ukraine will “further fuel domestic dissatisfaction with the war