Russian invasion in disarray as Putin’s top brass ‘afraid to tell him the truth’

Last week could go down in history as when Russia began losing its war against Ukraine.

Ladimir Putin’s forces suffered a series of shocking setbacks on the battlefield. For the first time, Ukraine regained more territory than it lost every day for an entire week, pushing Russian forces back 20 miles from Kyiv.

Russia’s famous 4th Guards Armored Division, known for its victories at Stalingrad and Berlin, was routed in a small, little-known Ukrainian town called Trostyanets.

By the end of the week, Ukraine appeared to have brought the war to Russia, as Kyiv refused to confirm whether it had ordered a cross-border helicopter attack that left a runaway oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod.

In Moscow, Putin seemed increasingly isolated, as Western intelligence officials claimed he was being told lies by ministers and generals too scared to tell him the truth.

But there were warnings that the most dangerous days could lie ahead, as Ukrainian forces waited in WWI-style trenches for another Russian attack in the Donbass and Western capitals weighed the risks that Putin would resort to weapons of mass destruction.

The most impressive news of the week came from Trostyanets, a small town of about 20,000 near Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine.

Pictures taken in the city last weekend showed the tanks of Russia’s 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Division reduced to twisted wrecks.

The 4th Guards are so synonymous with Russian military strength that a Moscow metro station is named after them. It played a key role in two of the most momentous battles in modern history: the great Soviet defense of Stalingrad, which repelled the Nazi advance and cost more than a million lives; and the Battle of Berlin, in which the Nazis were finally defeated.

But last weekend Ukraine humiliated the legendary division in a shocking example of how badly the war is going for Russia.

The bad news kept coming for Moscow as Ukraine pushed back its forces 20 miles from Kyiv.

On Wednesday, Ukraine recaptured the devastated remains of the key suburb of Irpin and on Thursday recaptured Hostomel Airport, which Russia seized at the start of the war when Moscow believed it could take Kyiv within days.

It’s Ukrainian tanks that are now making history as the country’s 1st Armored Brigade broke the Russian siege of Chernihiv in the north on Thursday.

Kyiv seems to be beyond Putin’s reach. Even the much-discussed 40-mile convoy of Russian armor that had been waiting outside the city for weeks has vanished in the fog of war.

And Russia’s humiliation continued when Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader dubbed “Putin’s attack dog,” lies after claiming he is in Ukraine.

Kadyrov claimed a picture of himself praying to Mecca with a heavy machine gun at his side, which he posted on social media, was taken outside the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. But the tell-tale logo of a non-Ukrainian pulsar fuel station in the background gave him away: the picture was clearly taken in Russia.

The Kremlin looks increasingly confused, senior commanders are under house arrest and officials appear to be at odds.

Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, finally showed up on Tuesday, ending up speculating about his whereabouts after missing for two weeks.

General Shoigu, looking significantly grayer than the last time he was seen in public, confirmed that Russian forces are withdrawing from Kyiv and the north to concentrate on Donbass.

The move was announced by General Staff General Sergei Rudskoy last week, but was contradicted by the Kremlin at the time.

The return of Shoigu seemed to indicate some sort of internal struggle over strategy. He was the only member of Putin’s inner circle who seemed to have a personal connection with the president: the two were photographed together on hunting and fishing holidays in Siberia. But US intelligence claimed this week that Putin is furious because he believes his defense secretary has lied to him about the war.

That view was shared by British intelligence, who said senior Russian officials were afraid to tell Putin the truth. “We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military.

“There are now ongoing tensions between Putin and the Department of Defense stemming from Putin’s distrust of the Department of Defense leadership,” a US intelligence source said this week. The declassified intelligence agency claimed that Putin “didn’t even know his military was deploying and losing conscripts…demonstrating a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information.”

“You’re afraid to tell him the truth,” Jeremy Fleming, the UK government’s head of communications, said last week. But he added: “What is going on and the extent of these miscalculations must be perfectly clear to the regime.”

Fleming claimed that Russian troops were so demoralized that they refused to follow orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down their own planes.

Unusual aircraft activity ahead of his appearance at a rally in Moscow last week fueled speculation that Putin may be spending most of his time in a nuclear bunker somewhere near the Urals, adding to his isolation.

Senior officials, including General Roman Gavrilov, deputy head of the National Guard, and General Sergei Beseda, head of foreign intelligence at the Federal Security Service, have reportedly been released and are under house arrest.

In Ukraine, reports of Russian forces withdrawing from Kyiv and the north seem accurate. They continue to fire at civilian targets, including a cancer hospital in Chernihiv, and Ukrainian officials said the situation remains dangerous, but it’s not uncommon for armies to fire to cover a retreat.

Attention shifts to the Donbass, where Russia says it will focus its attack. Tens of thousands of battle-hardened Ukrainian troops are preparing to face them and military experts fear that fighting on a single front could be brutal and drag on for three years or more.

Russia has suffered heavy casualties and is clearly losing the war, but Ukraine cannot afford to be complacent.

The USSR suffered similarly heavy losses and failed to bring Finland under its control in the Winter War of 1939-40. But Finland had to cede territories in Karelia before Joseph Stalin would recall his troops.

And history has an even clearer warning: Stalingrad was the turning point on the Eastern Front of World War II, when the Red Army repulsed the German advance. But the victory came at a staggering cost.

More than 1.1 million Soviet soldiers died – considerably more than the Germans. The Soviets won on the Eastern Front in part because Stalin was willing to take those huge losses.

With the threat of a nuclear escalation still looming, it remains to be seen whether much smaller casualties will repel Putin.

@ Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Russian invasion in disarray as Putin’s top brass ‘afraid to tell him the truth’

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