Nearly three weeks after the Wagner mutiny was quelled in a mere 24 hours, there’s a “significant amount of friction and confusion” at the highest levels of the Russian military, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters traveling with him in Asia that it’s not clear how that turmoil will impact fighting conditions, but he expects it to continue for a while.
“There’s a lot of drama going on at the very senior levels,” Milley said. “How that’s all going to play out at the end of the day? I’m not so sure yet. I don’t think we’re done with it. I think there’s many more chapters to be heard on that.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Russia’s shakeup following a revolt that faced little opposition is larger than previously known, and it includes the interrogation of at least 13 senior officers as well as the dismissal or suspension of about 15.
Among those detained and questioned has been Gen. Sergey Surovikin, the newspaper said, adding that he remains in custody but has not been charged with a crime. Formerly Russia’s top commander in Ukraine and still the leader of the aerospace force, Surovikin is believed to have known about the insurrection ahead of time. He hasn’t been seen publicly since the rebellion was suppressed June 24.
The removal of officers suspected of disloyalty is only part of the upheaval in the upper ranks. An Ukrainian strike Tuesday killed Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, deputy commander of the Russian Southern Military District, in the occupied city of Berdyansk in the critical Zaporizhzhia province.
Now another top commander is accusing Russian leaders of turning their back on the soldiers. In a voice recording released late Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov said he was fired as head of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army in Zaporizhzhia for voicing his concerns about battlefield problems to the military brass.
“The Ukrainian army could not break through our ranks at the front but our senior chief hit us from the rear, viciously beheading the army at the most difficult and intense moment,” Popov said.
Zelenskyy’s angerZelenskyy’s anger over ‘absurd’ lack of timeline jars NATO summit: Live Ukraine updates
∎President Joe Biden said he is “serious about doing all we can,” including a prisoner exchange, to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, held in Russia for more than three months on espionage charges the media outlet and the U.S. government have rejected as bogus.
∎Russian President Vladimir Putin again threatened to pull out of the Black Sea grain deal, which expires Monday, if his country’s demands are not met, the state-run TASS news agency reported. The agreement allows Ukraine to export agricultural goods, and Russia claims the sale of its own such products has been hampered by sanctions.
∎Russian attack drones and missiles swept over Kyiv hours after Wednesday’s conclusion of NATO’s summit in Lithuania. Most were shot down, but debris killed at least one person and injured several others, Ukraine authorities said.
∎Turkey’s release of five decorated Ukraine commanders may doom talks aimed at extending a deal expiring Monday that allows grain to be shipped out of Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned.
Biden: ‘No possibility’ of Russia winning war in Ukraine
There is “no possibility” of Russia winning the war in Ukraine, and the war won’t drag on for years because Moscow can’t maintain it, Biden said Thursday. Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately will decide it’s not in Russia’s best interest politically or economically to keep fighting, which should allow for a negotiated peace.
But no country, including Ukraine, can join NATO while fighting a war because that “guarantees that we’re in a war, and we’re in a third world war,” Biden said during his visit to Finland, the alliance’s newest member. He said Ukraine continues to make progress on democratic and security reforms required of all NATO members.
Peace and security in Ukraine and all of Europe is crucial for the U.S., Biden said.
“The decisions we make now are going to determine the course of history for the next four, five, six decades,” he said. “We showed the world our alliance is more united than ever.”
Russia calls F-16s in Ukraine’s hands a nuclear threat
Moscow considers the proposed transfer of U.S.-built F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine a nuclear threat “fraught with catastrophic consequences” that creates the risk of a direct armed clash with NATO, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Thursday.
F-16s are capable of firing tactical nuclear weapons, and Lavrov said that “in the course of hostilities” the Russian military would be unable to determine whether F-16s it encounters are so equipped.
“The very fact of the appearance (of F-16s) in the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be considered by us as a threat from the West in the nuclear sphere,” Lavrov told the Russian news website Lent.ru.
Almost a dozen NATO nations have agreed to provide F-16 training for Ukraine pilots, expected to begin next month in Denmark and Romania. No formal plan for providing the planes to Ukraine have been announced, but the White House has said it would support transfer of the planes to Ukraine by European allies that already have them.
“The United States and its NATO satellites create risks of a direct armed clash with Russia, and this is fraught with catastrophic consequences,” Lavrov said.
Cluster bombs will only be used to liberate territory, Ukraine says
The controversial cluster munitions the U.S. is supplying have arrived in Ukraine, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The weapons, bombs that open in the air and release lots of smaller bomblets, are banned by more than 120 nations because up to 40% of the smaller ones fail to explode − according to the Red Cross − leading to civilian injuries and deaths long after the conflict is over. The U.S. says the type sent to Ukraine have a lower failure rate.
The cluster bombs will only be used to break through defenses in areas of heavy Russian concentration, not in densely populated areas or inside Russia, Ukraine military spokesman Valery Shershen told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He also said they would be used exclusively “for the de-occupation of our territories.”
Speaking on Russian TV, Putin contended Western weapons won’t alter the war’s direction, saying they “do inflict some damage but nothing critical is happening” to the Russian forces.
Moscow downplays NATO summit, war struggles
Moscow’s “muted response” to the NATO summit in Lithuania continues the recurring theme of downplaying setbacks on the battlefield and the diplomatic arena, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War says in its most recent assessment of the conflict. The invasion ostensibly aims at “liberating” Ukraine’s Donbas region and halting the spread of NATO. The Russian military, however, has struggled to hold territory it seized in the early days of the war. And NATO has added Finland, which shares a border of more than 800 miles with Russia, with neighbor Sweden also poised to join the alliance.
“The lack of general outcry within the Russian information space regarding developments at the NATO summit, as well as Finland’s NATO accession and Turkey’s agreement to forward Sweden’s (NATO) accession protocol, likely indicates that the Kremlin has internalized these defeats and desires to avoid dwelling on them,” the assessment says.
Biden says support for Ukraine will not waver. Will Congress keep providing funds?
After promising more U.S. military support for Ukraine at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Biden now must convince Congress to help pay for it. NATO allies and G7 nations agreed on new long-term security guarantees to Ukraine and assured Kyiv of a path into the military alliance, though they fell short of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request for a clear timeline for NATO ascension. Biden said in a speech from Vilnius that the United Sates’ commitment to Ukraine “will not weaken.”
But skepticism is also growing in Congress, where some Republicans are threatening to strip money for Ukraine from a defense spending bill expected to provide Kyiv with crucial billions in additional military assistance.
“There’s been zero accountability, zero strategy and zero plan to end the conflict from the Biden Administration,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C. Read more here.
− Miles J. Herszenhorn
Biden: Support for Ukraine won’t waverCongress and voters are having second thoughts.