Putin visits Ukrainian war headquarters

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin made a surprise visit to a command post coordinating the Russian war effort in Ukraine, the Kremlin said Saturday, in a rare show of hands-on involvement in the execution and planning of the military campaign

Mr. Putin spent the day Friday at army headquarters in an undisclosed location, chairing a general meeting with Russia’s top leaders and holding separate meetings with several commanders, the Kremlin said in a statement. In his opening speech, broadcast on Russian state television, Mr. Putin said he had come to hear his commanders’ proposals on the “short- and medium-term movements” of the Russian military.

As Russia’s military campaign has suffered a series of painful and embarrassing setbacks, Mr. Putin has distanced himself from the mistakes, clearly unwilling to associate himself with defeat. All the while he has maintained a studied calm, insisting against all reason that the war is “going according to plan.”

For example, Mr. Putin never publicly commented on his army’s withdrawal from the city of Kherson, the only regional capital in Ukraine that Russia had captured since the February invasion. He also never made public visits to the front lines or even to territories captured by Russia. Instead, Mr. Putin focused on economic matters, including the opening of a turkey breeding factory in Siberia in November, trying to show that everything in Russia was business as usual.

Friday’s meeting demonstrated a change in that approach, Russian war analysts said. While few people doubt that any major military decision can be made in Russia without Mr. Putin’s approval, the fact that Friday’s meeting was made public means that the Kremlin wants to send a clear signal that the Russian leader is in charge and interested in the progress of the war, said Yuri Fyodorov, a military analyst Russian

“Mr. Putin showed that he is responsible for the situation on the front,” Fyodorov said in a telephone interview. “This is not a coincidence in light of reports that Russia may be preparing to launch an offensive in Ukraine.”

In addition to the scene designed to demonstrate that he is in control, the meeting served other purposes for Mr. Putin, analysts said. It was a rare occasion for him to appear alongside his top commanders, Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valeri V. Gerasimov, who have faced strong criticism from Russian military bloggers and are frequent targets of rumors of their dismissal. And by mentioning “medium-term” planning, analysts said, he was able to emphasize his determination, if necessary, to see the war through to its conclusion.

In the early stages of the war, Mr. Putin delegated decision-making to various branches of the military. This has blurred the lines of responsibility, but also undermined coordination between troop formations. In October, when it was clear even to supporters of the war that Russia’s initial entry into Ukraine had failed, Mr. Putin appointed the general. Sergei Surovikin as commander of the country’s forces.

Some analysts have speculated that General Surovikin was made a scapegoat to shift the blame to Mr. To put. For example, shortly after his appointment, the general announced that “difficult decisions” could come. In early November, he called for the withdrawal from Kherson.

Dmitri Kuznets, a military analyst for the independent Russian-language news channel Meduza, said Mr. Putin’s visit to the war headquarters was a way to show that the Russian president “keeps his finger on the pulse and wants the next decisions to be associated with him.”

However, he said: “There is no indication that Russia is preparing a large-scale ground offensive operation.”

“Russia is trying to build a new army now because the old one is exhausted,” he added, noting that Russian troops are trying to master modern warfare methods on the fly, something many military analysts say is better done with years of training away. … of the pressures of the battlefield.

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