Vladimir Putin has sacked his top generals and is ‘raging’ at the FSB after failed intelligence and poor strategy saw his troops handed a series of embarrassing defeats in the opening days of the war in Ukraine.
Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s security council, said ‘around eight’ Russian commanders have been fired since the start of the conflict as Moscow scrambles to change strategy after its attempted ‘shock and awe’ blitz fell flat.
Putin is also said to be infuriated with commanders of the FSB security service – which he used to run – for handing him intelligence suggesting that Ukraine was weak, riddled with neo-Nazi groups, and would give up easily if attacked.
Philip Ingram, a security expert and former senior British intelligence officer, told The Times that Putin is obviously ‘very angry’ and is blaming his intelligence agencies.
‘He blames them for seeding him the advice that led to the poor decision-making in Ukraine,’ he said.
That poor decision making has led to Russia suffering much higher casualties than it expected in its attack, which has now been going on for two weeks.
It seems Moscow had anticipated little resistance when it sent in light forces backed by airstrikes to seize key targets during the opening days, but was met with punishing counter-attacks.
Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but Ukraine believes Russia has lost up to 12,000 men in a fortnight. European intelligence puts it lower – between 6,000 and 9,000 – and US lower still, at up to 3,000.
Whichever proves accurate, it is almost certainly more than Putin anticipated when he launched the attack in the hope that fighting would be over in just a few days.
‘We have a clear understanding of what plans the enemy has now,’ Danilov said on Ukrainian state TV today.
‘They have changed them a little since the beginning of the war, which they wanted to win in 2-3 days and march [into Kyiv]. It hasn’t happened and never will.
‘They changed their leadership. They had about 8 generals removed from their posts because they did not complete the task. Now new ones have been appointed.
‘We clearly understand what is happening in the Russian Federation. Moreover, I can say that they are desperate.’
It is not clear exactly why Russian intelligence received ahead of the operation in Ukraine was so poor.
Andrei Soldatov, who has monitored the Russian secret service for two decades, told The Times that one possibility is that the organisation is simply not fit for purpose.
Most FSB agents are brought into the service as legacy hires based on their parents or grandparents being agents, he said, and are removed from mainstream schools to be educated in-house.
This is unlike western security services, which tend to recruit from elite universities or colleges to ensure they get ‘the cream of the crop’.
Alternatively, he said, the organisation did gather good intelligence – but was simply too afraid to tell Putin the truth, instead doctoring their reports to appease him.
‘The problem is that it is too risky for superiors to tell Putin what he doesn’t want to hear, so they tailor their information,’ he said.
‘The tailoring probably takes place somewhere between the rank of colonel and general in the FSB.’
The fresh analysis came after observers said the Russian military – which attempted a rapid advance on key targets in the opening days of the conflict – is changing tactics to ‘medieval’ siege warfare that it has used in other conflicts, such as Syria.
Ukraine’s commanders say Russian advances have ‘slowed significantly’ in recent days as its forces take losses, combined with a tactical switch to surrounding and bombing cities into submission.
Mariupol, in the south, has been encircled for days and under heavy shelling, with a maternity hospital in the city bombed Wednesday – leaving three people including a six-year-old girl dead, and 17 injured.
Kharkiv and Sumy, in the east, were also shelled overnight killing seven people – including three children – as Russian forces try to surround them.
Putin’s troops are also attempting to push into the outskirts of the capital Kyiv with two attacks on the city Wednesday, both of which failed.
One, via Brovary in the east, was ambushed by artillery and UAV strikes after being spotted moving down a main highway – with intercepted radio chatter suggesting a regiment commander was killed.
Another, via Irpin in the west, saw fighting break out overnight – but Kyiv said a counter-attack was underway on Thursday with battles ongoing in the early hours.