US officials who have observed and studied the war in Ukraine have said that Russia has no central, theater-wide commander on the ground or even relatively near Ukraine. This may be the reason behind Russia’s uncoordinated attacks, along with unprofessional and undisciplined conscripts fighting Russia’s war.
In a story broken by The New York Times, it was reported that a certain senior American official said that they had been waiting for a central figure, a commander, to rise from Russia. However, nobody has emerged. This would lead to their conclusion that their main top government officials are making the decisions on what happens in Ukraine, namely Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Military General Valery Gerasimov, and possibly Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, SOFREP has earlier reported that Gerasimov was MIA and could not be seen anywhere. On the other hand, Shoigu had been recently incapacitated due to a suspected heart attack as the minister had disappeared from public view for two weeks. He suddenly reappeared through a video conference with Putin on March 24 in footage published by the Russian RIA news agency, where he appears in the top left corner.
After long rumors that Putin decided to remove Shoigu forever, they decided to show him on TV as participant of the government meeting. However, viewers noticed oddities during the broadcast. Pay attention to the top left corner. pic.twitter.com/xZD1wFCbJU
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 24, 2022
He reportedly did not speak. Even more so, the clip does not feature any audio. Many doubt that he was in attendance, more so many observers think that Shoigu did not have a heart attack and was just at odds with the Russian President due to the current state of the war. Thus, observers think that the video was faked. This fueled speculation that there was a growing rift between Shoigu and Putin.
In fact, it was said that Putin confronted Shoigu about the invasion of Ukraine, which likely caused the heart attack. Anton Gerashchenko, Adviser in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said that the “heart attack” happened after Putin’s “tough accusation” as the Russians were failing to secure their goals in Ukraine.
In response to the whereabouts of Shoigu, the Kremlin had just stated that he was busy with their so-called special military operation and that there was less time for media activities and interviews. Russia Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had said that Shoigu “had a lot on his mind” currently and that “Now is not really the time for media activity.”
Министр обороны Сергей Шойгу сейчас не имеет времени для медийной активности, так как у него много забот, связанных со специальной военной операцией России на Украине, заявил Песков: https://t.co/zqYqtbaEzH pic.twitter.com/BWOols4pOx
— ТАСС (@tass_agency) March 24, 2022
These reports come on the backdrop of recent Western intelligence that Putin’s top advisers had been gravely misinformed him regarding the situation in Ukraine before the invasion and its current status. However, many doubt that the Russian leader does not know what is currently happening in Ukraine as he had been purging his military and FSB ranks after signs that the invasion of Ukraine had not been going well.
SOFREP was one of the first media outlets to report that Putin was misinformed by his top officials through sourcing intelligence from Ukrainian sources online. We reported on March 17 that Putin had the head of the FSB’s Fifth Service, Sergey Beseda, and his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh were sacked by Putin and put under house arrest. The Fifth Service is responsible for collecting intel on Ukraine. Thus, they were blamed for the misleading information. Journalist Andrei Soldatov confirmed the reports from his FSB sources. Soldatov went on to say that “Putin has finally understood that he was misled.”
Additionally, we also reported on a 2000-word letter from an alleged FSB whistleblower that was sent to Vladimir Osechkin and revealed that the FSB was being blamed for their failures in Ukraine. The whistleblower also said that Russian intelligence agents are forced to write their analysis in a way that makes Russia look like “the victor.”
The combination of bad intel, no commander on the ground directing the whole invasion, and managing the invasion from a distance spells trouble for any military operation. No theater-wide commander on the ground with extensive military experience would lead to uncoordinated air, naval, and ground attacks which have been widely seen in Ukraine. Existing videos reveal that the Russian soldiers were largely unprepared and seemed to be fumbling with their plans. This revealed several weaknesses of the Russian forces as they were left unable to adjust to the hit-and-run ambush tactics of Ukraine. Even Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who spoke to CNN earlier two weeks ago, said that he could not see any coordination between the Russian navy, air force, and ground troops.
The lack of a leader on the battlefield and leaving the heads in Russia to make decisions on their behalf also contributes to morale issues within the armed forces as they could be seen as out of touch by their own men. The New York Times also reported that Russian soldiers were taught “not to make a single move” without instructions from superiors, which left them frustrated on the battlefield. It is no secret that the Russian military is extremely reliant on its hierarchy of command. This leaves those on the ground unable to make decisions based on what is currently happening on the battlefield. They would have to follow what was instructed to them based on those who “led” the army from Russia. This then led to the Russian forces’ ultimate demise as they could not cope and think on their feet while the enemies were actively taking them down.
Despite this stringent top-down approach, there is no coherent organizational structure to their forces as their communications have severely broken down. One has to ask, who is really in charge of their troops in Ukraine, and who calls the military shots in Ukraine?
In a statement by retired General David H. Petraeus to the New York Times, he said that he does not observe this coherent organizational architecture in Ukraine. However, he did say that he would have expected the Russian army would’ve developed this as they had months of military exercises before the invasion.
In an earlier interview with CNN, he also said, “The bottom line is that their [the Russians’] command and control has broken down.”
While a hierarchy of command is surely needed in any military, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former Commander of the US Army in Europe, says that militaries also have to have “unity of command.” According to him, “That means someone has to be in overall charge— to coordinate fires, direct logistics, commit reserve forces, measure the success (and failure) of different’ wings’ of the operation and adjust actions based on that.” Hertling also stated that any invasion or military operation of that size requires advanced and extensive communications capability, proper intelligence, and command which he said, “the Russians just don’t have.”
#Ukraine: Further Russian losses in Trostianets: 3x 2B11/2S12 Sani 120mm mortars, 3x more cargo trucks, and a BMP-2. Multiple UAZ vehicles were also lost.
All of this is from the 4th Guards Tank Division, who appeared to have suffered a serious defeat this case. pic.twitter.com/oUfVmRo96i
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 27, 2022
It was also reported that they were having trouble securing the skies, thus leaving their ground and tank units exposed to drone attacks. The Bayraktar TB2 attack drone, Stingers, Javelins, and NLAWs, have been hailed as holy weaponry in Ukraine due to their extreme effectiveness. It is this effectiveness that has led to various units being obliterated by the Ukrainians, one being the 4th Guards Tank Division and the 200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, which also killed Russian Colonel Denys Kurilo.
Altogether, the lack of a theater-wide commander within the Russian ranks has led to the deaths of some 17,500 troops (Ukrainian estimates). An earlier report from NATO estimated that around 40,000 Russian troops have either been killed, wounded, missing or taken as POWs. More so, the apparent lack of discipline among Russian troops has directly led to the death of Russia’s top-ranking generals as they were forced to go to the frontlines to whip them back into fighting form. Unfortunately, the Ukrainians had whipped them permanently back to their makers. The unofficial tally includes eight generals killed in action, with nine more generals arrested, 15 colonels dead, 15 lieutenant colonels dead, and 1 Navy senior captain dead.
Currently, the Russian forces’ invasion of Ukraine has seemingly stalled. They have promised to ease their military activities in northern Ukraine after suffering significant losses in the north and south of the country. However, immediately after this promise from the peace talks held in Istanbul, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv was extensively bombed.