As Russian forces hastily retreated in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday in one of their most embarrassing setbacks of the war, President Vladimir V. Putin was at a park in Moscow, presiding over the grand opening of a Ferris wheel.
“It’s very important for people to be able to relax with friends and family,” Mr. Putin intoned.
The split-screen contrast was stunning, even for some of Mr. Putin’s loudest backers. And it underscored a growing rift between the Kremlin and the invasion’s most fervent cheerleaders. For the cheerleaders, Russia’s retreat appeared to confirm their worst fears: that senior Russian officials were so concerned with maintaining a business-as-usual atmosphere back home that they had failed to commit the necessary equipment and personnel to fight a long war against a determined enemy.
“You’re throwing a billion-ruble party,” one pro-Russian blogger wrote in a widely circulated post on Saturday, referring to the Putin-led celebrations in Moscow commemorating the 875th anniversary of the city’s founding. “What is wrong with you? Not at the time of such a horrible failure.”
Even as Moscow celebrated, he wrote, the Russian Army was fighting without enough night vision goggles, flak jackets, first-aid kits or drones. A few hundred miles away, Ukrainian forces retook the Russian military stronghold of Izium, continuing their rapid advance across the northeast and igniting a dramatic new phase in the war.
The outrage from Russian hawks on Saturday showed that even as Mr. Putin had succeeded in eliminating just about all of the liberal and pro-democracy opposition in Russia’s domestic politics, he still faced the risk of discontent from the conservative end of the political spectrum. For the moment, there was little indication that these hawks would turn on Mr. Putin as a result of Ukraine’s seemingly successful counteroffensive; but analysts said that their increasing readiness to criticize the military leadership publicly pointed to simmering discontent within the Russian elite. [Continue reading…]
Senior Ukrainian officials stepped up intelligence sharing with their American counterparts over the summer as they began to plan the counteroffensive that allowed them to make dramatic gains in the northeast in recent days, a shift that allowed the United States to provide better and more relevant information about Russian weaknesses, according to American officials.
Throughout the war, the United States has provided Ukraine with information on command posts, ammunition depots and other key nodes in the Russian military lines. Such real-time intelligence has allowed the Ukrainians — who U.S. officials acknowledge have played the decisive role in planning and execution — to target Russian forces, kill senior generals and force ammunition supplies to be moved farther from the Russian front lines.
But earlier on, American intelligence officials said they often had a better understanding of Russia’s military plans than of Ukraine’s. Concerned that sharing their operational plans could highlight weaknesses and discourage continued American support, the Ukrainians were closely guarding their operational plans even as American intelligence was gathering precise details on what the Kremlin was ordering and Russian commanders were planning.
But as Ukraine laid its plans to strike back against the Russians, senior leaders in Kyiv decided that sharing more information with the United States would help secure more assistance, American officials said. [Continue reading…]
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, has criticised the Russian army’s leadership after it appeared to be caught off guard by Ukraine’s fightback against the Russian invasion in the north-east.
In a sign that the Kremlin may face serious fallout over the loss of territory that the Russian occupation administrations had repeatedly stated they planned to keep “for ever”, Kadyrov also suggested that Vladimir Putin might not be aware of the real state of affairs.
“They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said in an audio message posted to his Telegram channel on Sunday.
“If today or tomorrow no changes in strategy are made, I will be forced to speak with the leadership of the defence ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground to them. It’s a very interesting situation. It’s astounding, I would say,” said Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin ally who rules Chechnya – a Russian republic in the Caucasus – with an iron fist and has a paramilitary force at his command. [Continue reading…]