Status: 03.10.2023, 08:53 a.m.
By: Karsten Hinzmann
Putin's commanders are under close scrutiny: ultra-nationalist bloggers apparently have enough power to pillory officers.
Moscow – The Russian invading army has its next casualty to mourn. Probably. An officer with the rank of colonel is said to have lost his post due to blatant failures – this is now reported by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), citing Russian military bloggers. The ISW does not name a name, but refers to the 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade – and its commander should currently be Colonel Roman Titov. It is noteworthy that, according to ISW, the dismissal of the commander was due to criticism from the ranks of Russian ultranationalists. If this is the case, Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue to be under intense pressure domestically. However, less as a person; rather from the point of view of his personnel decisions.
The rumbling within the Russian national movement would thus continue, because after the alleged death of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, it could have been assumed that the internal critics in Russia would have become quieter. With the protest and resignation of a high-ranking troop leader, however, their voices may have become loud again – especially on the Internet. So loud that Putin felt compelled to act, as Guido Felder writes in Blick: "More and more, the estimated 500 'milbloggers' are becoming a problem for President Vladimir Putin. While they were still euphoric about the advance and an imminent victory during the invasion of Ukraine, they became more and more critical after the Russian army failures. In this way, they are increasingly questioning official Kremlin statements and putting euphemistic figures into perspective."
Military bloggers criticize the military leadership – but never Putin's leadership style
The 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade is credited with blowing up the Kakhovka Dam in June. Their most recent area of operation is said to have been the left flank of Kherson. Troops could have been encircled there recently and not adequately supported by artillery, in return, information with coordinates for artillery targets had been sent to the intelligence service, and thus they had been at the mercy of Ukraine's counteroffensive. At least that's what the Russian military blogger Grey Zone, who is known to be close to Wagner, writes. In an interview with Deutsche Welle's foreign service, Russia analyst Abbas Gallyamov explains the supposedly "patriotic perspective" through which the military bloggers are looking.
Under fire: Any hit by the Ukrainian army could cost a Russian officer his post. Putin's personnel decisions are also under fire from Russia's ultranationalists. (Symbolic image) © Libkos/dpa
According to him, the military bloggers left Russian President Vladimir Putin out of their criticism. "They attack the people involved, don't question Putin's leadership style or even the invasion of Ukraine. Doubts about Putin's leadership style or the war in general are forbidden anyway. Critics are treated as enemies." Colonel Roman Titov could therefore be the next victim of the Russian army, once again exacerbating the precarious overall situation for Russia's troops in the Ukraine war. Titov is listed by Ukraine as an alleged war criminal.
Military experts: with each dismissed commander, the morale of Russia's troops decreases
However, the criticism is probably directed against the defeat of his brigade near Kherson. The Russians are running out of experienced commanders anyway – an operational disaster, as Ulrich Schlie, for example, told ZDF: "Such leaders are always identification figures for their own ranks. If the opponent succeeds in eliminating them, he makes his own success visible to everyone. All these factors can contribute to further weakening the combat effectiveness of the Russians," explains the director of the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS) at the University of Bonn.
The online opinion magazine Der Pragmaticus does indeed attribute the failure of the Russian offensive primarily to the failure of leadership - and with a long run-up to it: "The combination of inefficiency and murderous brutality that characterized the campaigns in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria also applies to the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian military leadership was unable to ensure air supremacy, showed deficiencies in command and command, and suffered a significant loss of high-ranking officers." In July 2023, around 17 months after the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin had already swept through his generals with an iron broom.
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Almost simultaneously with General Ivan Popov, then commander of the 58th Army, Paratrooper Major General Vladimir Seliverstov had been recalled from his command of the 106th Guards Airborne Division; in contrast to the successful Popov, he had been responsible for defeats in Bakhmut. General Sergei Surovikin, head of the Russian Aerospace Forces and former deputy to Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, had also long since been fired at the time.
The decomposition of the Russian chain of command is being accelerated
The institute suspects that both Popov and Seliverstov were in fact deposed because they had expressed criticism of the military leadership. "Popov and Seliverstov likely contributed to the relative effectiveness of the Russian attack because they were willing to challenge superiors and the system," the ISW said. Popov is also said to have had a reputation for standing up for his soldiers. "Her dismissal could be part of an ongoing purge of disobedient commanders by the Russian military leadership and indicate that the disintegration of the Russian chain of command in Ukraine is accelerating," the institute analyzes what is happening. The Russian army is bleeding to death at the commander level, so Titov would be the next victim in this process.