Vladimir Putin has fired his most senior logistics general for the war in Ukraine as he takes an increasingly hands-on role in army strategy, reportedly phoning front-line commanders himself and overriding their advice.
Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy defence minister, was removed yesterday after failings meant Russia was pushed back by Ukrainian troops in the east.
The Russian defence ministry announced the dismissal of four-star General Bulgakov “for transfer to another role”. It didn’t give the reason, but the move was seen as a punishment for the flaws in logistical support for Russia’s “special operation”.
General Bulgakov has been replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, a 60-year-old who is under British sanctions over his role in the siege of Mariupol, seized by Russian troops in May.
One of the first challenges he faces is equipping, training and deploying hundreds of thousands of reservists who were called up on Wednesday as part of Russia’s partial mobilisation.
Soldiers fear they will soon be cut off from their supply lines
Russia is also under pressure in the south — but Putin has ignored pleas from his commanders to take action to minimise losses, according to US officials briefed on intelligence.
Russian troops may soon be surrounded in Kherson — but the president has rejected calls from generals there to stage an orderly withdrawal, the New York Times reported officials as saying.
That has reportedly shattered the morale of soldiers, who fear they will soon be cut off from their supply lines.
But the divisions over Kherson are not the first example of disagreements between the Russian leader and his top commanders. Senior Russian officers repeatedly questioned the plan of attack at the start of the war, including the hoped-for quick strike on Kyiv, US officials said.
The officers reportedly believed they had insufficient troops and weaponry — and they were correct.
As fighting continues in the south, the Russian army is looking to avoid a repeat of the rout in the north-eastern Kharkiv region, which saw troops abandon weapons and vehicles as they fled.
According to the White House, Putin is increasingly ‘struggling’
Russian commanders insist that pulling back from southerly Kherson would allow them to hold their line with fewer troops, and they could deploy elsewhere — even opening up new fronts.
But Putin has rejected these calls. Another Ukrainian victory would further erode public confidence in the war effort. It would also make redundant the referendum being held in Kherson on joining the Russian Federation.
According to the White House, Putin is increasingly “struggling”.
“He has terrible morale, unit cohesion on the battlefield, command and control has still not been solved. He’s got desertion problems and he’s forcing the wounded back into the fight. So clearly, manpower is a problem for him,” said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, last week.
‘Putin has procrastinated, refusing to recognise the reality, until the options turned from bad to worse’
Yesterday, Putin signed a bill that toughens the punishment for soldiers who disobey orders, desert or surrender to the enemy. The struggles can be linked to a wider reckoning on what Putin wants and what can be achieved.
“In this war there has been a consistent mismatch between Putin’s political objectives and the military means to attain them,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at defence research institute CNA.
“At important decision points Putin has procrastinated, refusing to recognise the reality, until the options turned from bad to worse,” he said.
General Bulgakov is just one of a number of senior military leaders to be dismissed by Putin in recent months, laying bare the chaotic structure of the Russian army and the president’s lack of trust in his own commanders.
Lt Gen Roman Berdnikov lasted just 16 days as commander of the Western Military District after they suffered crushing defeats in Kharkiv this month.
At least seven more top generals have been fired, while 10 have been killed in action. Earlier in the campaign, reports suggested that Putin was not being given the full picture of troop losses and slow advances in Ukraine because generals were fearful of his reaction.
Now, he has positioned himself as the public face of the war — with his TV address last week threatening the use of nuclear weapons just the latest example of his efforts to take control.
He has also launched referendums across the newly occupied parts. The process is underway in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south as well as the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The vote is also part of a PR effort within Russia — with officials trying to show that the war is just, and that they are liberating these regions as the locals want.
But Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said the voting “looked more like an opinion survey under the gun barrels,” adding that Moscow-backed local authorities sent armed escorts to accompany election officials and take the names of individuals who voted against joining Russia.