Putin's Micromanagement of Ukraine War To Blame for Russian Failures—Report

Russia might have obtained a first victory of the Ukraine war on Monday, as Kyiv called a halt to its weeks-long "combat mission" to defend the Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol. But it can't be ignored that this hard-earned success follows nearly three long months of battling by Russian troops without obtaining any significant result.

One cause of these unexpected Russian failures in Ukraine, Western military sources are saying, is President Vladimir Putin's overly close involvement in tactical decisions on the ground.

Putin has become so involved in the war in Ukraine that he's taking operational and tactical decisions that would normally be the responsibility of "a colonel or a brigadier," Western military sources cited by U.K. newspapers the Guardian and The Times said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. Western military sources said the Russian leader is micromanaging the movements of troops in Ukraine. MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

The sources said that Putin is dictating the movement of troops in the eastern region of Donbas, which suffered a major defeat last week when they failed to cross the Siverskyi Donets river and lost at least 70 vehicles and likely half a battalion's worth of equipment, according to Ukrainian claims and aerial shots of the attack. The president is likely managing troop forces of 700 to 1,000 men at a time, according to the source.

General Valery Gerasimov, the commander of the Russian army, is micromanaging troops in Ukraine in a very similar fashion, according to the source.

"We think Putin and Gerasimov are involved in tactical decision-making at a level we would normally expect to be taken by a colonel or a brigadier," the military source said, as quoted by the Guardian.

This type of leadership is clearly not proving effective. On Monday, Russian troops in the Kharkiv region who had been pushed back to the border by the Ukrainian counter-offensive launched "limited and largely unsuccessful" ground offensives across the front line, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The Russian offensive, which was trying to break through the Kharkiv region and eventually conquer Ukraine's second largest city, considered to be one of Russia's key targets in the country, is now focused on preventing Ukrainian troops from moving beyond the border and further north, says the ISW.

Rumors that the "special military operation" in Ukraine is going badly appear to be breaking through in Russia too, as Russian military blogger Igor Girkin—also known as Igor Strelkov—wrote on his Telegram channel that the Russian offensive to take Donbas has failed and that only "tactical successes" were achieved. "Not a single large settlement was liberated," Strelkov wrote. The blogger concluded by saying that the Donbas won't be liberated before the beginning of summer, as was "widely advertised."

"I cannot say that this result is unexpected for me. Quite the opposite. The art of war requires its adherents to strike where the enemy least expects them," Strelkov continues. "In our case, the intention of the Russian command was so obvious, the terrain was so beneficial for the defending side, and the balance of forces was almost equal on both sides."

Putin's alleged micromanaging could be behind these failures, according to the unnamed Western military source.

"Jeff Bezos doesn't deliver your parcels, he makes strategy decisions," the source said, comparing Putin to Amazon's founder, as quoted by The Times.

Russian authorities have not mentioned whether the Russian leader is really in charge of on-the-ground decisions in Ukraine. Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. According to Western military sources, Putin is taking decisions at the level of a colonel or brigadier. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images