Did President Vladimir Putin bless the withdrawal of Russian forces from Lyman? Recent reports claim he had become more involved in tactical decisions before it happened. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it withdrew troops from Lyman, Donetsk, Ukraine after the city was surrounded by Ukrainian Armed Forces, not the Kremlin. If not blessed by Putin, the Kremlin appears to be spinning the retreat for face-saving purposes as if to:
(1) avoid the spectacle of Russian prisoners of war denouncing the war and Putin while in Ukrainian custody;
(2) misinform Russian citizens that the Kremlin is engaged in ‘force protection’ to try to revive recruiting efforts;
(3) suggest to the Russian people and the world that the Kremlin was clearing the way for a tactical nuclear strike on the UAF as an ‘escalate to deescalate’ policy to salvage a claim to victory and shore up political support.
If Russian commanders or the MOD took the action of ordering a withdrawal from Lyman without Putin’s assent, that could signal that Putin is losing control over his military chain of command, possibly presaging a heightened risk of military coup in Russia. At this point, it is not clear if Putin approved the withdrawal, however, hawkish rhetoric attacking the Russian military by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and others, if blessed by Putin, could mean the Lyman withdrawal lacked Putin’s blessing.
Deception in Russian warfare is sometimes called “maskirovka” and tends to leave Moscow’s options open via conflicting claims or threats. Moscow wants to be able to spin anything it does before and after the fact. Yet with continuing lies, Putin risks spent tolerance among the Russian people losing family members and friends to warfare in Ukraine.
Look for evidence of the siloviki scouring information sources to forecast the mood of the Russian people toward Putin. If the siloviki are putting their fingers to the wind about Russians’ regard for Putin, they are seeking an opportunity to time their own efforts at regime change and or self-preservation.
To this point, consider what Tatiana Stanovaya wrote at her politika page at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on September 9th, 2022 before Russia’s retreat from Lyman:
Recent polls showed that Russians have gradually become tired of news about the war and even irritated by those who use the war for political dividends. The Kremlin has realized that it may be dangerous to push the military agenda too far, and is betting instead on making a bigger show of “peaceful life.” Meanwhile, the defeats and challenges on the front lines have been mounting, with fears that Russian troops might not just never make it to Kyiv, but may lose the war outright.
Much has happened in the past 22 days with UAF pushing into Eastern Ukraine, cutting off Russian supply lines, and retaking key cities. If reports of Russian retreat from Lyman are true, the siloviki may accelerate their plans of self-preservation, whether regime change or exile.