How Vladimir Putin is pushing Russian army chiefs through a “meat grinder” of death in Ukraine

According to some statistics, Russia has lost at least 100 senior officers since invading Ukraine earlier this year. It’s a devastating milestone for Moscow — and just the latest indication that Vladimir Putin’s war efforts in Ukraine are faltering.

In the past two days alone, three senior Russian officers have been reported dead: Lt. Col. Nikolay Gorban, a commander of the Foreign Security Service (FSB) special forces; Army Aviation Commander Colonel Vasily Kleshchenko; and Colonel Vitaly Tsikul of Russia’s 90th Armored Division – reportedly the 100th senior Russian officer to die in the war.

While it can be difficult to get exact figures on Russian casualties, a British intelligence analysis released this week found that at least 10 Russian generals have died on the battlefield since February.

But it’s not just deaths that roil Russia’s armed forces. Russia has shrunk its leadership ranks by also firing them outright. General-Colonel Aleksandr Chayko, the former commander of the Eastern Military District, was fired in May, according to British intelligence. Russia likely replaced Colonel-General Aleksandr Zhuravlev with Lieutenant-General Vladimir Kochetkov to head the Western Military District. General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who led the operation in Ukraine, was also reportedly fired.

The series of killings and shootings could be an indication that the Russian armed forces are still poorly managed from the inside out after nearly six months of the war, according to Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation.

“I see that a lot of it was just a form of their own negligence and sloppy leadership,” said Howard, who previously worked at the US embassy in Moscow.

The string of layoffs likely represents Moscow trying to figure out an approach that works for the war in Ukraine — but the ongoing bleeding means President Putin likely hasn’t figured it out yet.

“Putin is definitely employing a strategy that is trying to find a fighting general who will be successful,” Howard said. “And luckily for us, he hasn’t found one yet.”

From the beginning of the war, Russia’s military fought to achieve important goals. Russian troops failed to capture Kyiv, the capital, in the early days of the war, instead stalling outside the capital due to a series of logistical failures. Putin had plans to install a Moscow-backed regime in Ukraine and take over the entire country, but nothing came of it. According to Ukrainian intelligence reports, troops abandoned equipment and sabotaged it.

Putin’s trial-and-error approach has been paramount throughout the war, in part because Ukrainian forces have so resisted the invasion and put pressure on Russian forces to adjust their plans to withstand Ukraine’s struggle , according to the Pentagon .

“They have made some gains in the East, although not very much in the last few weeks, but this has come at an exceptional cost to the Russian military given the good performance of the Ukrainian military and all the support that the Ukrainian military has received,” said Colin Kahl, Biden’s secretary of state for defense policy, in a briefing Monday. “And I think now conditions in the east have basically stabilized and the focus is really shifting south and that’s partly because the Ukrainians are starting to put some pressure south and the Russians have been forced to move their forces down to route down there.”

All that second-rate work seeps into leadership circles as well; The failure of Russia’s military in the war likely led to a series of sackings by Russian leaders, according to British intelligence.

“The meat grinder continues.”

“The poor performance of Russian forces during their invasion of Ukraine was costly to the Russian military leadership and has most likely led to the dismissal of at least six Russian commanders since hostilities began in February 2022,” the intelligence report said.

All of these losses are making Russia’s combat capability less and less impressive, which could mean Russia is in for a grueling battle.

“The war takes a toll on them,” Howard said. “We faced their ‘A-Team’ and now they have no reserves. The best of their best? We faced them and defeated them. Now we face the “B-Team”. And while they’re fighting the “B-Team,” they’re now transitioning to the “C-Team.” The level of quality just deteriorates.”

The reduced status of Russia’s armed forces will be welcome news for Ukrainians and Western nations, including the United States, as they continue to provide vital military assistance to Ukraine. In a war of attrition, with both sides intent on outlasting the other, both militaries focus on wearing the other military down until they throw in the towel.

The significant losses Russia is suffering could put increasing pressure on Putin to either stop in Ukraine or launch a larger mobilization. So far, domestically, Putin has only admitted that Russia is waging a “special military operation” in Ukraine, not an all-out war, and has been unwilling to launch a major mobilization.

And while the Russian armed forces have attempted to recover from their early war failures with a series of regroupings and changes in tactics, troops and leadership still bear part of the cost.

According to a Defense Ministry estimate released on Monday, Russia has suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties since February.

It was “pretty remarkable considering the Russians failed to achieve any of Vladimir Putin’s goals early in the war,” Kahl said of the dwindling numbers.

This is a significant jump from other assessments by the US government in recent weeks. Just last month, CIA director Bill Burns said the Russians had suffered about 60,000 casualties.

“The meat grinder keeps going,” Howard said. “A lot of people are still being killed.”

And while layoffs and deaths ruin Putin’s forces, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the war or a Russian loss. According to the Ministry of Defense, it is not possible to say “with a high degree of certainty” at this point in time how long Russia can sustain these losses.

“A lot, I think, would depend on the political decisions that Vladimir Putin will ultimately make, whether he can continue to recruit and send additional forces to the front lines, whether at some point he was … willing to engage in a national mobilization, or another Effort,” said Kahl.

And already this week, Putin has received some embarrassing news. Explosions ripped through a Russian air base in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, on Tuesday. A Ukrainian military official claimed responsibility for the damage and suggested a Ukrainian long-range weapon system was used to launch the attack The New York Times. How Vladimir Putin is pushing Russian army chiefs through a “meat grinder” of death in Ukraine


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