Who’s In Charge?

In the war between Russia and Ukraine, who’s actually in charge of the Russian offensive? Ostensibly, Vladimir Putin is. But last week Putin declared that attacks against the steel plant in Mariupol would stop and that Russian troops would “blockade” the plant. Since then, there have been a reported 35 air strikes and at least one more ground assault, apparently repulsed.

Over the course of the war, Putin has declared several safe passage areas for civilian evacuations, corridors where Russian armed forces then repeatedly attacked and killed unarmed fleeing civilians.

Last Friday, Brigadier General Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, stated that the Russian Armed Forces planned essentially to invade/occupy Moldova’s eastern territory bordering Ukraine less than 30 miles from the port city of Odessa in order create a land corridor to Crimea. What makes this interesting is that, if the translation is correct, Minnekayev is a very low-ranking general.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov charged NATO with waging “in essence” a proxy war with Russia by supporting Ukraine and warned the West not to underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict over Ukraine.

While all these statements and actions demonstrate is that the Russian military intends to destroy as much of Ukraine as possible and will rattle the nuclear sabre in an effort to pressure the U.S. and other allies of Ukraine into restricting military aid to the Ukrainians. But it is rather unusual that, in an authoritarian state such as Russia, there are so many different, and sometimes conflicting statements.

Such acts and statements also suggest two possibilities. Either Putin doesn’t have the control he projects and the conflict is being driven by the Russian military complex or that Russia at all levels that matter at present is hell-bent on grinding Ukraine into dust.

Neither is particularly reassuring.

5 thoughts on “Who’s In Charge?”

  1. Jeff says:

    Have you read Anne Applebaum’s “Red Famine”? Although writing about the 1930s, her background provides good insight into today’s situation.

    1. I haven’t read Red Famine, although I have read several articles on the impact of Stalin’s “agricultural” policies of the 1930s and the devastating impact on Ukraine.

  2. Postagoras says:

    During the Cold War the old Soviet Union loved to keep the western Kremlinologists guessing. They used their mastery of propaganda to their advantage. And if things went badly they could always hint that it was part of a grand strategy, a maskirovka.
    That was the time when Putin came of age, so it’s no surprise that he’s relying on the old tactics of the Soviets, to use the lack of transparency as a weapon and a shield.

  3. Grey says:

    Although I’m sad that this post is not clearing up the mystery of the pastry sandwiches, I’ll provide some thoughts.

    My opinion, now that I have retired from epidemiology and have become an expert in modern land warfare, is that Russia is flailing around to create some sort of victory condition. The lies (e.g., agreeing to humanitarian corridors) and casual attacks on civilians and infrastructure are just background noise because it’s how Russia does war, as shown not just here but in Chechnya and Syria.

  4. H. Nieuwenhuijzen says:

    I’m not knowledgeable about military matters or Russia, but from what I’ve read it looks as if there are several different parts of the army (brigades?) participating in the invasion, each with their own command structure.
    They come from different parts of Russia and have very different levels of experience, from barely-trained recruits who weren’t even told they were being sent to war/invade and expecting to be hailed as saviours, to very experienced troops who participated in the destruction in Chechnya and Syria and are used to committing was crimes, bombing whole towns to rubble, committing torture and killing lots of civilians, and maybe also Wagner group mercenary companies.

    These different divisions (or brigades or whatever they are called) seem not to listen to each other’s commanders, only their own – the coördination has to happen at a high level, which was given as the reason the Ukrainians could kill several higher-up (mayor-)generals in the first month of the war; the higher-up commanders needed to be with their troops at the front (and thus within reach of the Ukrainians) or the attacks couldn’t be coördinated.

    It looks as if several of these division leaders, notably the Chechens, the Georgians, and the Wagner group, who are used to committing war crimes to break the civilian population’s resistance, tend to follow their own established ways of fighting a war, and make their own operational decisions on the ground while not always adhering to what the Russian high command says they will do. Like shooting fleeing civilians along the safe escape corridors that were agreed upon with the Russian high command.

    At least part of the invading army is clearly bent upon causing as much destruction as possible, notably of any civilian public buildings and infrastructure as well as residential areas. It’s what they did in Chechnya etc., and allowed them to call it a victory after everything was bombed to rubble and so many civilians were killed there was barely any resistance left – and those who did so there are fighting here as well.

    It’s not what the part of the army would do that invaded in the expectation of being hailed as saviours of their Kievan Rus brothers from the nazi oppressors, and in the expectation this would soon be a productive part of their own country – there’s little to no profit in taking over a pile of rubble, compared to a thriving town and industry. Those parts of the army appear to have had lots of problems with supplies and with soldiers getting drunk, so they did occasionally go marauding as well, but not on the massive and systematic scale of the hardened veterans, and appear to be more under the direct control of the Russian high command.

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