Putin's Problems Stacking Up as Kyiv Counteroffensive Exposes Weaknesses

Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing a wave of issues as a counteroffensive by Ukraine in the southern Kherson region exposes weaknesses within his military.

More than a week after the declaration of a partial mobilization of the Russian population, Kyiv is pressing on with its counteroffensive to recapture territory claimed by Russian troops during the Ukraine war—including in areas that Russia illegally annexed on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday claimed full control of the transport hub of Lyman, a key railway junction, located in the eastern Donetsk region, that was seized by Russian forces in May.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries via a video link in Moscow on September 29, 2022. Putin said on September 29 that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

The Ukrainian leader also said two settlements in the occupied southern Kherson region—Arkhangelsk and Myrolyubivka—had been liberated.

At the same time, Putin has admitted to a number of "mistakes" made by military officials in the early days of his partial mobilization efforts.

Lyman and Kharkiv

Think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Monday that Ukraine's success in recapturing the key eastern supply hub of Lyman in northeast Ukraine, and areas of the Kharkiv region, combined with the Kremlin's failure to conduct a partial military mobilization effectively and fairly "are fundamentally changing the Russian information space."

The ISW noted that Kremlin-sponsored media and Russian military bloggers are grieving the loss of Lyman while simultaneously criticizing the bureaucratic failures of the partial mobilization.

"Kremlin sources and milbloggers are attributing the defeat around Lyman and Kharkiv Oblast to Russian military failures to properly supply and reinforce Russian forces in northern Donbas and complaining about the lack of transparency regarding the progress of the war," the think tank said.

Mobilization Failures

Since Putin declared a partial mobilization in September, multiple reports have emerged of ineligible men being called up for military service.

In a rare admission on Thursday, Putin said "all mistakes" made in efforts to mobilize should be corrected. He also said that anyone who was drafted despite not meeting the criteria set by defense officials "must be sent home."

Putin's conscription order supposedly targets reservists and ex-military personnel with "certain military specialties and relevant experience."

But those ineligible to be called up, including students, have also been mistakenly handed summons to serve in Ukraine.

Mobilized Troops Sent Home

In the Russian city of Khabarovsk, half of mobilized residents were called up by mistake, and subsequently returned home, according to regional governor Mikhail Degtyarev.

Degtyarev also said that the city's military commissar, Yuri Laiko, had been fired for the error.

"In ten days, several thousand of our countrymen received summons and arrived at military registration and enlistment offices. About half of them we returned home as they did not meet the selection criteria for entering military service," Degtyarev said in a video on his Telegram channel.

Last week, a patient with schizophrenia and a man who raised his disabled daughter alone were called up by the city's military registration and enlistment office, Russia's state-run news outlet Kommersant reported.

Russian State TV

Comments made on Russian state TV also suggest citizens are questioning Ukraine's success in Lyman.

Host Sergey Mardan confronted a former military commander on why Russia was unable to prevent Ukraine from taking back Lyman.

Guest, Andrey Gurulyov, the former deputy commander of Russia's southern military district, said he was unable to give a valid reason for the failings.

Mardan also appeared to give a more pessimistic overview of Russia's current efforts in Ukraine.

"Unfortunately, we're having a day of not-so-good news but thank God we don't have to be quiet about them like it was with the Kharkiv regrouping," the host said.

Speaking via video link, Gurulyov went on to criticize the Russian leadership and suggested there was a problem of lying from "top to bottom."

"The problem we have is the constant delivery of good reports, or you can call it constant lying. This system does not go from bottom to the top, but top to bottom."

He was then cut off with the host saying there were problems with connectivity.

Low Morale

Joel Hickman, the deputy director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told Newsweek that the mobilization and general level of panic that is now setting in within Russia, with hundreds of thousands of men taken out of the workforce—either by fleeing or fighting in Ukraine—is only going to exacerbate the problems Putin is now facing.

"The Russian military is exhausted and low on morale; they've suffered enormous costs in terms of battlefield casualties and desertions with some estimates suggesting these could be as high as 80,000," said Hickman.

"This is an extraordinarily high figure for an eight-month, modern-day conflict and these numbers are impossible to sustain, even with mass mobilization."

"And the attrition rate in terms of equipment and munitions is having a major impact on Russia's military industrial complex, so too with the sanctions which have impacted their more sophisticated and precision strike capabilities."

Putin's "last ditch mobilization call" is "unlikely to succeed in halting Ukraine's momentum on the battlefield," Hickman added.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Update 10/03/22, 13:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from Joel Hickman, deputy director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis.