Some Russian soldiers in Ukraine unhappy with top brass, Girkin says

Investigators present latest findings in MH17 downing, in Nieuwegein
A picture of Russian national Igor Girkin is shown on screen as international investigators present their latest findings in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, nearly five years after the crash that killed 298 passengers and crew, in Nieuwegein, Netherlands, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
  • This content was produced in Russia where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

MOSCOW, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are unhappy with the military top brass and President Vladimir Putin because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger said after visiting the conflict zone.

Nearly 10 months since Putin ordered troops into Ukraine, there is no end in sight to the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two.

In modern Russia, direct public criticism of Putin is rare though nationalist bloggers have been outspoken about the conduct of the war, especially the costly Russian defeats in Ukraine's Kharkiv region in September.

Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said there was some discontent with the top brass.

In a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia's execution of the war, Girkin said the "fish's head is completely rotten" and that the Russian military needed reform and an intake of competent people who could lead a successful military campaign.

Some at the mid-levels of the military, Girkin said, were open about their dissatisfaction with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and even Putin.

"It is not just me... people are not blind and deaf at all: people at the mid-level there do not even hide their views which, how do I put it, are not fully complimentary about the president or the defence minister," Girkin said.

Russia's defence ministry did not comment on the remarks from Girkin who has repeatedly criticised Shoigu, a close Putin ally, for the battlefield defeats Russia has suffered in the war.

Both Ukraine and Russia say the other side has sustained devastatingly high casualties, though neither give clear data on their own losses.

The United States' top general estimated on Nov. 9 that Russia and Ukraine had each seen more than 100,000 of their soldiers killed or wounded. The civilian death toll is unknown.

Russia passed laws shortly after the invasion which allow prison terms of up to five years for actions interpreted as discrediting the armed forces, or up to 15 years for disseminating deliberately false information.


Putin last week used the word "war" to describe the conflict, the start of which he dates to 2014 when a pro-Russian president was toppled in Ukraine's Maidan Revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, with Russian-backed separatist forces fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Putin casts what he calls Russia's "special military operation" as a watershed moment when Russia finally stood up to the arrogant West, led by the United States, after decades of humiliation since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia, Putin says, is defending Russians in Ukraine against a decadent West that ultimately wants to carve up Russia's vast resources and eradicate Russian civilisation. The West denies such a plot.

Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they cast as an imperial-style war of occupation. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is ejected from its territory.

The West, Girkin said, wanted to foment a revolutionary situation in Russia akin to the February Revolution in 1917 when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated amid popular and elite anger over Russian failures in World War One.

Russia, he said, had a lack of effective tactical missiles and it was unclear if it could produce enough while Russia had failed to establish air superiority due to Ukrainian air defences.

"Our Ministry of Defence has simply slept through the fact that the whole world has moved to new tactical aviation," he said.

Girkin was convicted in absentia by Dutch judges for murder over his role in the shooting down of Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 with the loss of 298 passengers and crew. Russia, which has repeatedly denied downing the jet, rejected the verdict.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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As Moscow bureau chief, Guy runs coverage of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Before Moscow, Guy ran Brexit coverage as London bureau chief (2012-2022). On the night of Brexit, his team delivered one of Reuters historic wins - reporting news of Brexit first to the world and the financial markets. Guy graduated from the London School of Economics and started his career as an intern at Bloomberg. He has spent over 14 years covering the former Soviet Union. He speaks fluent Russian. Contact: +447825218698