Is Russia LOSING Donbas? Pro-Putin war reporter bemoans struggles

Is Russia now LOSING in Eastern Ukraine? Putin’s Propagandist ‘war reporter’ dares to criticise generals and says their troops ‘can’t push out Ukrainian forces’ – as US says officers are DISOBEYING orders

  • Aleksandr Sladkov made a rare admission of Russia’s military struggles
  • He spoke in a video that was shared on social media from Donetsk, in Donbas
  • Sladkov said Russian forces were fighting one-on-one with Ukrainian troops
  • This, he said, meant they were making no progress in Ukraine’s eastern region
  • It came as Putin marked Russia’s Victory Day celebrations, but made no declarations of victory that many expected during his speech

Russia is struggling to make significant military gains in Ukraine’s Donbas region because it is fighting Kyiv’s forces one-on-one, a pro-Moscow reporter has said.

War correspondent and Putin propagandist Aleksandr Sladkov made a rare admission of Russia’s military struggles in Ukraine, speaking in a video posted to social media late on Monday.

He said that Vladimir Putin’s so-called special military operation was ‘shamefully indecisive’, that Russian troops ‘can’t push out Ukrainian forces’, and that Moscow’s armies are ‘making a feat out of something that should be routine’.

Sladkov, a journalist for Russia’s state-run Russia-1 TV channel, has in the past been deployed with Putin’s forces to make pro-Kremlin military propaganda.

The video showing Sladkov speaking negatively about Russia’s approach to its invasion – to a camera in a dark room – marks a change in tone from the reporter.

The footage also appears to confirm the assessment of a US official on Monday, who said the Russian effort in the Donbas hasn’t achieved any significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.

A senior US official also said on Monday that some Russian officers are even disobeying military orders, according to report.

Russia is struggling to make significant military gains in Ukraine’s Donbas region because it is fighting Kyiv’s forces one-on-one, Russian propagandist Alexander Sladkov said on Monday

Sladkov’s video began with him decrying ‘scumbags from the Ukrainian armed forces,’ who he claimed were responsible for shelling the Leninskiy district in Donetsk – where he was recording the video.

The shelling killed a woman and a 16-year-old boy, he claimed.

‘You know why [these attacks] are happening?’ he asked rhetorically.

‘We can’t push out Ukrainian forces from the city. We can’t push them out. Because… I don’t know. We shouldn’t criticise but… we are assaulting with one to one ratio, their villages and their strongpoints… one to one.’

He continued: We are making a feat out of something that should be routine. You see? Their forces keep coming, we can’t close the sailient (a military term that can also be called a bulge into military territory).

‘I understand it’s difficult to talk about this, but at least some fool needs to announce it! Even if today. Even if it’s me.’

It was unclear whether Sladkov was saying Ukrainian or Russian forces had made a salient into the other’s territory, but by saying ‘we can’t close the the sailient’, it suggested Russian forces had been unable to encircle Kyiv’s troops.

He said that despite Russia’s lack of progress, morale was ‘not decreasing’, before accidentally calling Moscow’s attack on Ukraine a war – quickly correcting himself to the Kremlin’s official ‘special operation’ line.

‘The morale is not decreasing, it’s positive, no, we’re ready to fight! We’re going forward, assaulting, even those who to say it softly we’re quite undecisive at this war… em… special operation. Shamefully undecisive.

Sladkov, a journalist for Russia’s state-run Russia-1 TV channel, has in the past been deployed with Putin’s forces to make pro-Kremlin military propaganda.

‘Even they are moving forward, they start feeling that [they] can win, but… I don’t know what sort of sportlike approach this is when this proportion is being held – god forbid more troops would fall onto the enemy! They killed a woman, and a 16-year old boy. That’s how it is,’ he said, finishing the video.

Due to Putin’s authoritarianism, it is rare to see pro-Kremlin figures speaking negatively about Russia’s shortcomings, particularly since the Russian president launched his invasion on February 24.

It has been widely reported that Putin was expecting his forces to rapidly advance across Ukraine and overthrow the country’s elected government within days.

Instead, his forces have been drawn into a protracted conflict – which is showing no signs of abating. Ukraine is being supplied by its Western allies, and intelligence updates have suggested Moscow’s armies are running low on equipment.

After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its effort to storm Kyiv over a month ago, Moscow’s forces have concentrated on capturing the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.

But the fighting there has been a back-and-forth, village-by-village slog.

Ukrainian servicemen are seen in the trenches as fighting against Russian troops continues near to the Cherkaske City, on eastern Ukraine, May 3, 2022

A man walks past a residential apartment block damaged one day before by a Russian missile strike on May 06, 2022 in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine

Russia has about 97 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, largely in the east and the south, a slight increase over last week, according to a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. 

Each unit has roughly 1,000 troops, according to the Pentagon.

The official said that overall, the Russian effort in the Donbas hasn’t achieved any significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.

Meanwhile, Putin marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday Monday without a major new battlefield success in Ukraine to boast of.

The Russian leader oversaw a Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square, watching as troops marched in formation and military hardware rolled past in a celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.

While Western analysts in recent weeks had widely expected Putin to use the holiday to trumpet some kind of victory in Ukraine or announce an escalation, he did neither. Instead, he sought to justify the war again as a necessary response to what he portrayed as a hostile Ukraine.

‘The danger was rising by the day,’ Putin said. ‘Russia has given a preemptive response to aggression. It was forced, timely and the only correct decision.’

He steered clear of battlefield specifics, failing to mention the potentially pivotal battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol and not even uttering the word ‘Ukraine.’

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022

In his speech, Putin steered clear of battlefield specifics, failing to mention the potentially pivotal battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol and not even uttering the word ‘Ukraine’

On the ground, meanwhile, intense fighting raged in Ukraine’s east, the vital Black Sea port of Odesa in the south came under repeated missile attack, and Russian forces sought to finish off the Ukrainian defenders making their last stand at a steel plant in Mariupol.

Putin has long bristled at NATO’s creep eastward into former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied the country posed any threat.

As he has done all along, Putin falsely portrayed the fighting as a battle against Nazism, thereby linking the war to what many Russians consider their finest hour: the triumph over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia refers to as the Great Patriotic War.

Many analysts had suggested Putin might use his holiday speech to present the Russian people with a victory amid discontent over the country’s heavy casualties and the punishing effects of Western sanctions.

Others suggested he might declare the fighting a war, not just a ‘special military operation,’ and order a nationwide mobilization, with a call-up of reserves, to replenish the depleted ranks for an extended conflict.

In the end, he gave no signal as to where the war is headed or how he might intend to salvage it. Specifically, he left unanswered the question of whether or how Russia will marshal more forces for a continuing war.

‘Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine,’ tweeted Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Nigel Gould Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus, said: ‘Russia has not won this war. It’s starting to lose it.’

He said that unless Russia has a major breakthrough, ‘the balance of advantages will shift steadily in favor of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine gets access to growing volumes of increasingly sophisticated Western military equipment.’

Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, antiwar sentiment has seeped through. Dozens of protesters were detained around the country on Victory Day, and editors at a pro-Kremlin media outlet revolted by briefly publishing a few dozen stories criticizing Putin and the invasion.

In Warsaw, antiwar protesters splattered Russia’s ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint as he arrived at a cemetery to pay respects to Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.

As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raid sirens echoed again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in his own Victory Day address that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.

‘Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,’ he said in a video. He added: ‘We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and therefore we will win.’

The Ukrainian military warned of a high probability of missile strikes around the holiday, and some cities imposed curfews or warned people not to gather in public places.

More than 60 people were feared dead over the weekend after Russian bombardment flattened a Ukrainian school being used as a shelter in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia is perhaps closest to a victory in Mariupol. The U.S. official said roughly 2,000 Russian forces were around Mariupol, and the city was being pounded by airstrikes. As many as 2,000 Ukrainian defenders were believed to be holding out at the steel plant, the city’s last stronghold of resistance.

A view shows an explosion at a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 8, 2022

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to complete a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas. It would also give the Kremlin a badly needed success.

Odesa, too, has increasingly been bombarded in recent days. Ukrainian officials said it came under repeated fire from missiles Monday. There were no immediate reports of any casualties, and authorities did not say what was struck.

The war in the country long known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ has disrupted global food supplies.

‘I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,’ Charles Michel, president of the European Council, lamented in a tweet after a visit to Odesa. 

‘This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.’

Last week, Sladkov advocated dropping an atomic bomb to cause ‘a crater the size of several regions’ in a ‘demonstrative way’ to intimidate NATO.

Russia has claimed the goal of its military campaign in Ukraine is to ‘liberate’ it from the control of supposed ‘neoNazis’ – despite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish and far-right politicians receiving little support in the country.

But Sladkov – described as a war reporter and ‘propagandist’ – told his 730,000 followers the time may be approaching for the ‘last resort’ due to some 40 countries arming Ukraine with weapons which are being used against the Russians.

The Russian president placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began February 24.

And amid increasing Western support to Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.

‘There is more and more talk about nuclear weapons, and Russia has much to say about it,’ Sladkov posted. ‘We have a solution for Ukraine. 

‘There are several, yet we are getting reminded about the last resort – nuclear weapons. If no-one is going to hear us, and 40 countries keep helping the Ukrainian neoNazis, we will have no way back.’

He continued: ‘The Americans used nuclear weapons in Japan, in a demonstrative way. So us, Russians, will have to demonstratively do it in Ukraine to remove the issue with further confrontation with those known 40 countries.

‘A crater the size of several regions will be a clear example of how serious is Russia’s appeal to NATO to get back to peace and harmony. But where will Ukraine go?

‘Exactly where it’s heading right now, with the only difference that it’ll be fast, and cheaper for Russia. The Europeans and Americans can’t quite get it that one must not harass a neighbouring country with such a giant nuclear potential.

‘Thinking about it, I remember just how easily the US used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how easily they nearly deployed them at Dien Bien Phu in 1954,’ he said – referring to a US plan in the Vietnam War to launch a nuclear strike in order to help rescue French forces trapped in the city.

Sladkov warned: ‘Everything is possible, and this is what the Americans teach us. And we are learning. Not that any of this will make it easier for Ukraine.’  

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