RIGA, Latvia – Ukraine’s battlefield crisis has sparked criticism of the Russian military among Russians who support the war but are increasingly frustrated with the way it is being fought.
Thousands of Russians have been detained or harassed for opposing President Vladimir Putin’s decision to go to war. Pro-war critics are different – they support the war but are frustrated with the pace of progress and in many cases want Putin to be tougher.
“Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, please decide, are we fighting or are we going to stop?” Alexander Arutinov, a military veteran who blogs under the name Rajvedos, asked on his telegram account. “If we fight, we must fight! And we need to hit everything. There is no way to win the war. “
Others vaguely question whether Russia can win the war without radical coordination of its tactics or mass mobilization of Russian defenders. A British intelligence report earlier this week estimated that Russia had lost one-third of its 190,000-strong force. According to an estimate by Ukraine on Tuesday, Russia is continuously sending reinforcements for 167,000 people, including reserves, contracts and tenants, as well as regular contract forces.
“We must be organized or we will lose the war. It needs 600,000-800,000 people to defeat Ukraine, “wrote Vladlen Tatarsky, a former separatist Donbass militia fighter who commented to 270,000 followers on his telegram account.
The criticism reflects US officials and Western military experts who have expressed surprise at the poor performance of the Russian military in the run-up to the war, which was considered the world’s second-strongest. Weak planning, strategic mistakes, substandard equipment and weapons, as well as stiff resistance from the Ukrainian armed forces, thwarted Russia’s original plan to occupy Kyiv and is now blunting efforts to capture Donbass.
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U.S. officials say Russian troops are gaining ground, but at a slower pace than Russian military planners anticipate. Russia, meanwhile, continues to inflict heavy casualties on men and equipment, prompting Western military experts to question how long the Russians will be able to carry out offensive operations.
Russian critics are asking the same question. A retired colonel and prominent military analyst stunned television viewers on Monday with an candid assessment of the challenges facing Russia. With the United States and its allies dropping large quantities of sophisticated weapons on Ukrainian forces, the situation for Russian troops will “obviously get worse,” Mikhail Khodaryanok told a 60-minute talk show on the state-run Russia-1 channel. “We are in complete geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, although we do not want to admit it.”
In an appearance earlier this month, he suggested that even mass solidarity would not help Russia because of the superiority of NATO arms supplies to Ukraine. Calling for more untrained men is not a solution, he said, “because we do not have modern weapons and equipment in stock.”
“Sending people armed with weapons of the past to the 21st century to fight world-class NATO weapons would not be the right thing to do,” he added, proposing a radical restructuring of Russia’s military-industrial complex as a solution.
Strong condemnation is also being spread on the social media channel Telegram, which has emerged as an influential forum for news and discussion of war between Russians and Ukrainians alike.
For Donbass, Russia’s war will be won only with “courage and political will … not rhetoric and half-measure, but decisive, lightning-fast action,” wrote Yuri Kotionk, a journalist and military analyst with more than 290,000 followers on his Telegram account. . He adds that both are lacking.
Meanwhile, he noted, “The West speaks and acts, inciting Ukraine to war [with weapons]. Russia is waiting for this heinous pile to blow us away. “
A failed attempt by Russian forces last week to cross the Sivarsky Donets River has ridiculed what stands in their way westward. Commentators have denounced the strategic and leadership failure that could be the single largest Russian push in the ground war so far.
A total of 485 soldiers were killed and 80 armored vehicles were lost when Russian troops with the 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 41st Combined Armed Forces erected a pontoon bridge over the river, citing Ukrainian artillery alone, according to Ukrainian sources. Institute for the Study of War and Forensic Study of the Atlantic Council.
The ISW said the Russians had tried at least one more common tactic at exactly the same point, only to destroy that force. According to the head of the Luhansk administration, Serhi HaidaiThe Russians made a total of five failed attempts at the same point on the river.
“How stupid can you be?” German Kulikovsky, a Russian journalist, asked in his telegram account. “Maybe it’s not stupidity, sabotage?”
“Honestly, it’s much easier to explain this situation through sabotage,” he added sarcastically.
Tatarsky, a former Donbass fighter, called for “military genius” who ordered the operation to be publicly named and held accountable. He said the Donbass attack had slowed down somewhat because of the actions of such commanders.
Russian journalists and analysts say criticism of the way Russia’s military and security services are fighting reflects widespread dissatisfaction. And given a greater chance to speak out are pro-war Russians who have unquestionably shown credentials of patriotism, says a Russian journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity because he opposes the war and fears the consequences of being publicly quoted.
Many in the military believe that limiting the initial goals of the war, after Russia’s failure to occupy Kyiv, was a mistake, writes Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, prominent Russian investigative journalists and non-resident fellows at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“They are now arguing that Russia is fighting NATO, not Ukraine. Senior officials therefore conclude that the Western alliance is engaged in an all-out war (with increasingly sophisticated weapons supplies) while its own forces are operating within peacetime limits, such as blocking air strikes against key areas of Ukraine’s infrastructure, “Soldatov and Borogan wrote. “In short, the military now demands an all-out war, including mobilization.”
There are questions about whether the criticism is reaching Putin and his inner circle. Putin has boasted in the past that he has no time for social media, and the Kremlin has said he does not have a cellphone.