Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, has criticised the Russian army’s leadership after it appeared to be caught off guard by Ukraine’s fightback against the Russian invasion in the north-east.
In a sign that the Kremlin may face serious fallout over the loss of territory that the Russian occupation administrations had repeatedly stated they planned to keep “for ever”, Kadyrov also suggested that Vladimir Putin might not be aware of the real state of affairs.
“They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said in an audio message posted to his Telegram channel on Sunday.
“If today or tomorrow no changes in strategy are made, I will be forced to speak with the leadership of the defence ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground to them. It’s a very interesting situation. It’s astounding, I would say,” said Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin ally who rules Chechnya – a Russian republic in the Caucasus – with an iron fist and has a paramilitary force at his command.
Since the invasion in February, the Kremlin has focused on silencing liberal voices critical of the war, but as things go sour on the battlefield, Putin faces a headache with what to do with former cheerleaders who want Russia to commit more forces to the war to turn the tide.
Many units from Chechnya have taken part in Russia’s war effort, and while Kadyrov is ostensibly hyper-loyal to Moscow, he is one of the few Russian political figures whose messaging the Kremlin does not fully control.
All eyes will be on how Putin responds to the retreat. He has previously glossed over claims that he made a terrible miscalculation in February when he thought the Russian army could overrun Ukraine in a matter of days. In a recent appearance he said Russia had “lost nothing” during the war, but the major losses of recent days could be a harder sell to the Russian population.
On Saturday, as the disastrous news from the front trickled through, Putin was busy opening a huge observation wheel in a Moscow park as part of celebrations for Moscow Day. Military bloggers sharply criticised him for going ahead with the celebrations.