Sergei Shoigu: Russia’s defense minister makes rare visit to frontline troops
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has paid a rare visit to Russian troops serving in occupied Ukraine — a visit that may be as much about the optics as the course of Russia’s invasion.
A short video released by the Russian Defense Ministry showed Shoigu in a helicopter and then briefly with commanders among some heavily damaged buildings. It was not immediately possible to geolocate the video.
The Ministry of Defense said that Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of a formation in Vostok [Eastern] force in the south Donetsk direction.”
The video did not suggest that Shoigu was near the most active front lines.
Shoigu’s Russian critics have often described him as distant and out of touch with the realities of the conflict. Yevgeny Prigozhin – the boss of the Wagner private military company – regularly appears on the frontlines around the city of Bakhmut, often accusing the Ministry of Defense of starving his fighters of resources and bureaucratic incompetence.
Prigogine said on Friday that his fighters had almost surrounded Bakhmut, the only place of any consequence that Russian forces might be able to claim anytime soon.
Shoigu’s visit may have been intended as a response to Prigozhin’s forward presence, and also to escalate Russian actions. Although there have been increasing Russian gains around Bakhmut (at great cost), and Russian artillery, tank and air strikes have increased significantly in many areas, much of the long frontline is as it was three months ago.
This is despite Russia’s mobilization of 300,000 men last fall and efforts to concentrate resources in the Donbass theater following the Russian withdrawal from nearly half of the Kherson region in the south in November.
A video released by the Defense Ministry showed Shoigu in a meeting with three senior officials involved in the conflict: Colonel Generals Mikhail Mizintsev, Sergei Rudskoy and Rustam Muradov. This is probably intended to show that the Ministry of Defense is firmly in control of the operation, despite Prigogine’s comments.
But it is somewhat surprising that the man directly in charge of the entire operation – Valery Gerasimov – was not part of this well-choreographed visit.
Muradov’s presence is notable. The commander of the Eastern Military District, he is often criticized by Russian military bloggers and even units under his command for tactics that have caused heavy casualties, particularly around the city of Wahledar, where Russian forces in January was fatally damaged.
The pro-Wagner Telegram channel Gray Zone wrote of Muradov last month: “This coward is lying at the control point and sending column after column until the commander of one of the brigades involved in the Wahledar offensive dies on the contact line. does not go ”
Despite the deployment of a large Russian invasion force, Vhledar remains in Ukrainian hands.
In a Defense Ministry video released on Saturday, Shoigu is seen presenting awards to several soldiers: “There is still a lot of work to do. I truly hope that you will continue to serve our country faithfully. Good luck, success, and, of course, come home alive! ”
Yet another sign that the Russian hierarchy expects a long slog to achieve the strike’s goals, a far cry from the lightning campaign — and soon resolution — a year ago.