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Putin’s propagandists have begun openly criticising the state of Russia’s military as even the Kremlin’s most-hardened of supporters struggle to ignore the scope of its failings in Ukraine.
Vladimir Solovyov, one of Putin’s most-prominent puppets, moaned last week about the ‘shameful’ length of time it takes for weapons to reach the front while guests on Russian state TV talk shows complained that men are being sent into battle ‘with weapons of yesteryear’ and the Russian economy cannot sustain the war.
Mikhail Khodaryonok, a retired Russia colonel, told viewers that even a much-feared general mobilisation of Russian forces would do little to turn the war in Moscow’s favour because it lacks equipment and men to build new units. ‘We don’t have the reserves,’ he told viewers.
Meanwhile Solovyov himself fumed that Russian troops are unable to get drones because so few are being produced, and even those that are made take too long to get into battle. ‘Just try to bring something to the Donbas,’ he said, ‘it’s easier to bring it in via Ukrainian customs in Lviv. They let any weapons through.
‘But to bring something to our guys is near-impossible. We complained about it hundreds of times!’
Aleksandr Sladkov, a so-called ‘war correspondent’ who pumps out pro-Kremlin content on social media, spoke out against Russia’s tactics – saying commanders have been ‘shamefully indecisive’ and their attacks ‘can’t push out Ukrainian forces’ because they are fighting ‘one-to-one’ with no numerical advantage.
The shift in tone is dramatic for state media networks that are usually keen to trumpet the might of Russia’s armed forces, praise Putin’s leadership as strong and decisive, slam Ukraine as weak and dismiss any defeats they suffer as being part of a masterplan – the true goal of which will only become apparent later.
But, more than two months into what was supposed to be a days-long ‘special military operation’ to overthrow the Ukrainian government, even Putin’s stooges appear to be running out of excuses for the lack of progress.
It came as Joe Biden admitted he is worried that Putin ‘doesn’t have a way out’ of the war and that his administration is ‘trying to figure out what we do about that’.
Ukrainian troops survey the remains of a warehouse struck by Soviet-era Russian missiles in the port city of Odesa overnight, as western analysts say Moscow’s stockpiles of munitions are running low
The sun rises over a destroyed warehouse in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa after an overnight strike by Russia, which hit eight targets in the city killing one person
Vladimir Solovyov, one of Putin’s chief propagandists, used his show last week to complain about the ‘shameful’ length of time it takes for weapons to reach troops on the frontline compared to Ukraine
Konstantin Sivkov, an analyst appearing on Solovyov’s show, complained that the Russian economy will not be able to sustain the war effort unless the government takes control of key industries
Heavy fighting is underway between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Donbas with few gains made by either side, while Kyiv’s men continue to hold out inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. But Ukrainian counter-attacks are underway north of Kharkiv towards the Russian border, threatening to cut supply lines
A Russian tank column moving west out of the rebel-held area of Donetsk is slammed by Ukrainian artillery as Putin’s forces continue to suffer punishing losses in the battle for Donbas
Russian armoured vehicles burn after being shredded by Ukrainian artillery near Donbas, after western shipments of heavy weapons began arriving at the front
There are fears about how far a cornered Putin could escalate if it becomes obvious that there is no path to victory in Ukraine, including using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Many of the same propagandists now bemoaning Russia’s shortcomings have spent recent weeks threatening nuclear strikes on the West – singling out the UK, France, Germany and America as targets.
Russia’s attack on Kyiv had to be abandoned after Russia’s forces stalled, Mariupol remains unconquered despite a siege lasting weeks, there have been no major gains in the Donbas and no move out of Kherson towards Mykolaiv or Odesa despite Putin’s generals saying that the capture of the Black Sea coast was one of their main objectives.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of Ukrainian forces holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, said on Monday night that his men continue to hold it despite repeated attempts by Russian forces to storm inside the sprawling industrial complex.
‘We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,’ he said in a video message.
‘Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Russian forces continue to try and advance in the east of the country, describing the situation as ‘difficult’ even as the frontline largely holds intact.
In fact, the majority of territorial gains have been made by Ukrainian forces counter-attacking out of Kharkiv towards the Russian border – threatening supply lines into the Donbas. Strikes on Russian soil, believed to be from Ukraine, also hamper reinforcement efforts as do dozens of mysterious fires around the country.
On Monday, it was reported that Ukrainian forces had seized the towns of Rubizhne and Lyptsi to the north of Kharkiv, which would put them around 10 miles from the Russian border. Putin’s troops were said to be counter-attacking out of Belgorod, but it remained unclear how soon the reinforcements would arrive.
If Kyiv’s troops can reach the border, it will open up the prospect of cutting Russia’s main supply route from Belgorod to its forces around Izyum – where some of the heaviest fighting is taking place – which could mean units stationed there running out of fuel and ammunition.
Advances out of Izyum have been progressing, but in a slow and peicemeal fashion. Putin’s men captured the town of Velyka Komyshuvakha on Monday, some 14 miles from where they started, but were still struggling to take control of the city of Lyman, which sits close to a strategically important river.
Elsewhere, Ukraine repelled an attempted Russian crossing of the river at Bilohorivka by destroying a pontoon bridge and taking out several armoured vehicles in the process.
That is perhaps what prompted Sladkov to take to social media, where he decried the ‘scumbags from the Ukrainian armed forces,’ who he claimed were responsible for shelling the Leninskiy district in Donetsk – where he was recording the video.
The shelling killed a woman and a 16-year-old boy, he claimed. ‘You know why [these attacks] are happening?’ he asked rhetorically.
‘We can’t push out Ukrainian forces from the city. We can’t push them out. Because… I don’t know. We shouldn’t criticise but… we are assaulting with one to one ratio, their villages and their strongpoints… one to one.’
He continued: We are making a feat out of something that should be routine. You see? Their forces keep coming, we can’t close the sailient (a military term that can also be called a bulge into military territory).
‘I understand it’s difficult to talk about this, but at least some fool needs to announce it! Even if today. Even if it’s me.’
Alexander Sladkov, a ‘war correspondent’ who produces social media propaganda, admitted last night that Russia’s commandeers have bene ‘shamefully indecisive’ and their troops cannot push out Ukrainian defenders
Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles are stacked in a military graveyard outside of Kyiv, after Ukraine’s army managed to thwart and attempt to take the capital and force a retreat
Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel works, in the city of Mariupol, where a last band of Ukrainian defenders continue to hold out against Russian attempts to storm the industrial complex
A man walks past a residential apartment block damaged one day before by a Russian missile strike on May 06, 2022 in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine
It was unclear whether Sladkov was saying Ukrainian or Russian forces had made a salient into the other’s territory, but by saying ‘we can’t close the the sailient’, it suggested Russian forces had been unable to encircle Kyiv’s troops.
He said that despite Russia’s lack of progress, morale was ‘not decreasing’, before accidentally calling Moscow’s attack on Ukraine a war – quickly correcting himself to the Kremlin’s official ‘special operation’ line.
‘The morale is not decreasing, it’s positive, no, we’re ready to fight! We’re going forward, assaulting, even those who to say it softly we’re quite undecisive at this war… em… special operation. Shamefully undecisive.
‘Even they are moving forward, they start feeling that [they] can win, but… I don’t know what sort of sportlike approach this is when this proportion is being held – god forbid more troops would fall onto the enemy! They killed a woman, and a 16-year old boy. That’s how it is,’ he said, finishing the video.
In Izyum itself, Ukraine said the bodies of 44 people had been found in the rubble of a building that collapsed after Russia attacked it – with officials describing it as ‘another war crime’.
US officials said last night that the Russian effort in the Donbas hasn’t achieved any significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.
A senior US official also said on Monday that some Russian officers are even disobeying military orders.
Frustrated on the battlefield, Russian commanders are increasingly resorting to long-range missile strikes to cripple Ukraine’s logistics and fix troops in place to stop them joining the fighting elsewhere.
Odesa was hit by eight strikes overnight using a mixture of Soviet-era missile and state-of-the-art hypersonics, which could suggests that stockpiles of rockets typically used in the strikes are running low.
As part of the barrage, a Russian supersonic bomber fired three Kinzal hypersonic missiles, according to the Centre for Defence Strategies, a Ukrainian think tank tracking the war.
Ukrainian, British and American officials warn Russia is rapidly expending its stock of precision weapons and may not be able to quickly build more, raising the risk of more imprecise rockets being used as the conflict grinds on.
That could result in more civilian deaths and other collateral damage.
Ukraine alleged at least some of the munitions used dated back to the Soviet era, making them unreliable in targeting.
The Ukrainian military also warned on Tuesday that Russia could target the country’s chemical industries.
The claim was not immediately explained in the report, but Russian shelling has previously targeted oil depots and other industrial sites during the war.
Also, satellite pictures analysed by The Associated Press showed two ships off Ukraine’s Snake Island on Monday afternoon. One of the ships seen in the images from Planet Labs PBC appeared to be a landing craft.
Ukraine has repeatedly struck Russian positions there recently, suggesting Russian forces may be trying to re-staff or remove personnel from the Black Sea island.
After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its effort to storm the capital Kyiv over a month ago, Moscow’s forces have concentrated on capturing the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.
But the fighting there has been a back-and-forth, village-by-village slog.
Some analysts suggested President Putin might have used Monday’s Victory Day parade in Moscow to declare the fighting a war, not just a ‘special military operation’, and order a nationwide mobilisation with a call-up of reserves to fight an extended conflict.
In the end, he gave no signal as to where the war is heading or how he might intend to salvage it. Specifically, he left unanswered the question of whether or how Russia will marshal more forces for a continuing war.
Ukrainian troops wounded in heavy fighting around Popansa, in the east of the country, are transported to hospital after the city fell into Russian hands – one of only a few locations captured after weeks of fighting
A Ukrainian military medic prepares to receive patients at a makeshift ward near the city of Popansa, where heavy fighting has been ongoing with Russian forces that have now taken control of it
Military medics talk to a wounded soldier receiving treatment after withdrawing from the city of Popansa, in the Donbas, which has now fallen into the hands of Russian troops
‘Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine,’ tweeted Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Nigel Gould Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus, said: ‘Russia has not won this war. It’s starting to lose it.’
He said that unless Russia has a major breakthrough, ‘the balance of advantages will shift steadily in favour of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine gets access to growing volumes of increasingly sophisticated western military equipment’.
As Mr Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raid sirens echoed again in the Kyiv.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in his own Victory Day address that his country will eventually defeat the Russians.
‘Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,’ he said in a video.
He added: ‘We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and therefore we will win.’
An adviser to Mr Zelensky interpreted Mr Putin’s speech as indicating that Russia has no interest in escalating the war through the use of nuclear weapons or direct engagement with Nato.
In Washington, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reboot the Second World War-era ‘lend-lease’ programme, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to bolster Kyiv and eastern European allies.
Russia has about 97 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, largely in the east and the south, a slight increase over last week, according to a senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. Each unit has roughly 1,000 troops, according to the Pentagon.
The official said that overall, the Russian effort in the Donbas has not achieved any significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.