Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu “is being sidelined” in favour of military commanders as the war fails to go according President Vladimir Putin's plan, the British Army said, citing reports from Moscow.
As the invasion of Ukraine enters its seventh month, and while Russia has captured about 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory, its army has lost tens of thousands of troops, the Ministry of Defence said.
Mr Putin is now turning to his field commanders for updates on battlefield progress, shunning Gen Shoigu, who is reportedly seen as “out of touch”.
“Recent independent Russian media reports have claimed that due to the problems Russia is facing in its war against Ukraine … [Gen Shoigu] is now being sidelined within the Russian leadership, with operational commanders briefing President Putin directly on the course of the war," the MoD said.
“Russian officers and soldiers with first-hand experience of the war probably routinely ridicule Shoigu for his ineffectual and out-of-touch leadership as Russian progress has stalled.
“Shoigu has likely long struggled to overcome his reputation as lacking substantive military experience, as he spent most of his career in the construction sector and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.”
Gen Shoigu has served as Defence Minister of Russia since 2012, making him the longest serving member of the government.
His absence from TV screens in Russia has been noticed over the past few months. The Kremlin has denied he is suffering from ill health.
Last week, Gen Shoigu claimed the slowing pace of Russia’s war in Ukraine was deliberate, and driven by the desire to reduce civilian casualties.
Speaking at a meeting of defence ministers of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in Uzbekistan, he said: “Everything is being done to avoid casualties among civilians. Of course, this slows down the pace of the offensive, but we are doing this deliberately.”
He said the invasion “is proceeding as planned” and “all tasks will be completed”.
The minister said that Ukraine had been selected as “an instrument of hybrid warfare against Russia” and that Kyiv posed a “real threat” to Moscow as it did not agree with the Minsk accords.
Western nations continue to respond to pleas from Kyiv by sending weapons.
In the early days of the conflict, Russia pulled troops back from towns and villages around Kyiv after failing to take the capital. It has instead concentrated its efforts on the eastern Donbas region, where it has made gains.
Mr Putin last week signed a decree to increase the size of the army from 1.9 million to 2.04 million.