Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost faith in his top general and sacked other senior commanders for their resounding and embarrassing battlefield failures in Ukraine, according to British intelligence.
British military intelligence reported on Tuesday morning that the Kremlin sacked Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, commander of the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, for failing to capture Kharkiv. International attention has focused on the strategically critical city in northeastern Ukraine in recent days after Ukrainian forces took advantage of Russia’s retreat and pushed invading troops back towards their border. The commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, was also suspended for allowing the flagship cruiser Moskva to sink in April following an apparent missile attack – for which the Ukrainian military claim merit.
Perhaps most notably, Valeriy Gerasimov, the Russian Chief of the General Staff – a position roughly analogous to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – remains in his post but, according to British intelligence, “it is not clear whether he retains the confidence of President Putin.”
The damning assessment follows reports that at least a dozen Russian generals have died on the battlefield – a seemingly astonishing fact that the Pentagon has downplayed as indicative of how the Kremlin goes to war combined with the dysfunctional state of a soviet era army.
“A culture of cover-up and scapegoating is likely widespread within the Russian military and security system,” according to the assessment. “Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely become increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal guilt for Russia’s operational setbacks.
The assessment suggested the developments are likely to put additional pressure on Russia’s centralized command-and-control model as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors.
“It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions,” he said.
Ukrainian officials have for weeks touted reports and images on social media that purport to show Russian general officers among battlefield casualties, including a widely shared case in March in which a general’s corpse appeared being left in the mud as his own troops moved.
Mykhailo Podoliak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, then tweeted the names of the generals he said had been killed, adding that the deaths show that the Russian military “is completely unprepared and only fighting. ‘with numbers and cruise missiles’.
A Pentagon official told reporters at the time that the composition of the Russian military was very different from that of its Western counterparts, particularly the US armed forces which delegate decision-making power to junior officers and rely heavily on on the seasoned operational experience of senior enlisted NCOs. .
“They don’t organize their army the way we do,” the official said, suggesting that Russian doctrine puts its generals in dangerous situations more easily than their American counterparts.
Only one American general died in action during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Major General Harold Greene was killed in 2014 by a member of the Afghan National Army who opened fire on dignitaries visiting a headquarters in Afghanistan while on an inspection tour. His killing by foreign fighters marked the first among general officers since the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, and it was the first on foreign soil since the Vietnam War.