Russian Politicians Urge Kremlin to Change Military Strategy After Ukrainian Battlefield Gains

Dimitri Simes | September 12, 2022 | 6:41pm EDT
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Head of the Chechen region Ramzan Kadyrov meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin nera Moscow in 2019.  (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)
Head of the Chechen region Ramzan Kadyrov meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin nera Moscow in 2019. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow ( – Following a series of Ukrainian battlefield gains over the past week, Russian politicians have begun urging the Kremlin to change its military strategy in Ukraine.

The calls were prompted by the Russian military’s decision to withdraw nearly all of its troops from the northeastern Kharkiv province following a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area. Over the past several days, Ukrainian forces recaptured most of the settlements and towns in the region that they lost during the early stages of the conflict, including several key logistical hubs.

Russian forces have meanwhile pulled back to a new line of defense on the left bank of the Oskol river, located in the easternmost part of Kharkiv province.

The Russian Defense Ministry has presented the drawdown as a strategic “regrouping” of its troops to other fronts, but senior Moscow-appointed official in Kharkiv later told state media that the troops withdrew because the Ukrainians outnumbered them by a ratio of eight to one.

There are signs that the Ukrainians are already looking for opportunities to retake territory beyond Kharkiv. According to reports by Russian open source intelligence Telegram channels, Ukraine has begun amassing large amounts of troops and equipment near the southeastern front in recent days, indicating it may be planning to launch a counteroffensive there next.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechnya region and staunch Putin loyalist, called upon the Russian military to fix the “mistakes” it committed in Kharkiv.

“If today or tomorrow changes are not made in the conduct of the special military operation, then I will be forced to go to the country’s leadership to explain to them the situation on the ground,” he said in a voice message, posted on his Telegram account.

Kadyrov’s statement generated considerable media attention since Chechen troops have played a prominent role in the Kremlin’s military campaign. The Chechen strongman recently promised to send another 10,000 soldiers to the frontline.

Some Russian lawmakers have joined Kadyrov in calling for a change in strategy. Mikhail Sheremet, a member of the State Duma Security Committee, told a Siberian media outlet that Russia needed to declare a “full mobilization” of the country’s military and economy to achieve victory in Ukraine.

Konstantin Zatulin, another member of the State Duma, likewise said on state television the Kremlin should “multiply” its forces fighting in Ukraine, restructure command structures, and establish new state bodies with emergency powers.

“It seems to me that it is clear that the talk about how everything is going according to plan, does not fully correspond to reality,” he said. “There cannot be an offensive followed by a retreat according to the plan.”

Declaring a partial or general mobilization would allow the Kremlin to replenish its fighting force in Ukraine by drawing upon Russia’s two million reservists. It would also allow the government to order the nation’s industries to prioritize producing guns, tanks, ammunition, and other military needs.

So far, the Kremlin has held off from such steps. It has instead sought to bolster troop numbers by holding a nationwide recruitment drive, offering prospective volunteers high salaries and low mortgages among other benefits. Last month, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the Russian military to add another 137,000 soldiers to its total force.

There are other signs that Moscow might be preparing to ramp up its military effort, however. On Sunday evening, Russia launched a series of missile strikes against several of Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure. Ukrainian authorities reported mass blackouts in several eastern provinces, and videos on social media showed Ukrainian firefighters rushing to extinguish a massive fire at a power station near Kharkiv.

By Monday morning, Ukrainian officials said they had managed to restore electricity in most areas, although there were several subsequent reports of power outages in major population centers.

On Russian social media, many military bloggers and nationalist commentators applauded the strikes, but argued that the Kremlin should have conducted them months earlier.

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