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Putin is making low-level tactical decisions and 'micromanaging' Russia's war efforts, according to reports

Business Insider logo Business Insider 5/18/2022 esnodgrass@insider.com (Erin Snodgrass)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, escorted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and General Staff Valery Gerasimov walk at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP © Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, escorted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and General Staff Valery Gerasimov walk at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
  • Western military officials allege Vladimir Putin is making low-level military decisions in Ukraine.
  • The Guardian and The Sunday Times reported that the president is dictating troop movements in the Donbas.
  • "That is not a good way to fight wars," Simon Miles, a Russia expert told Insider.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has become increasingly involved in low-level military strategy amid ongoing Russian failures in Ukraine, according to media reports. 

Western military sources this week told The Guardian and The Sunday Times that the Russian president is making operational and tactical decisions. 

One official used an Amazon analogy to describe the situation to The Times: "Jeff Bezos doesn't deliver your parcels, he makes strategy decisions."

In particular, Putin is playing a significant role in determining troop movements in the Donbas, where the Russians have suffered several setbacks in the last week following multiple failed attempts to cross a strategic river, sources told the outlets.

The officials also said that Putin is still closely collaborating with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the top commander of the Russian armed forces, despite Ukrainian claims earlier this month that the senior general had been suspended following mounting defeats.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the reports, and the UK Ministry of Defence did not respond to Insider's request for comment.


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Western officials suggesting that Putin is "micromanaging" Russia's war efforts would be supported by precedent, according to Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations.

"Having top-level people get involved at the tactical level is not out of the ordinary in how the Russian military fights," Miles told Insider. "Whereas it is (and is pejoratively referred to as 'micromanaging') in the US context."

It is common for general officers in Russia's armed forces to "shape events personally" by accompanying their troops directly onto the battlefield, Miles said. Gerasimov, himself, even did so earlier this month in Izyum. But sending top-level officials to the front line is a major reason Russia has lost so many generals since the war began. 

Major Russian military decisions have to be run up the chain of command, often to a high-ranking officer, before they can be implemented, Miles said. By the time approval is granted, the situation on the ground may well look very different.

"That is not a good way to fight wars," Miles said. "It's not the most combat-effective military culture by a long shot; but it helps us understand the Russians' poor battlefield performance." 

Professional soldiers in Western armies are trained to spot opportunities to carry out their orders based on shifts in an enemy's position or readiness, or the contours of a battlefield — critical knowledge that is lost on a political leader far from the front.

Two days before Putin launched his invasion at the end of February, the president delivered a foreboding diatribe in which he denied Ukraine's statehood and sovereignty, falsely claiming that the country is part of Russia's historic territory.

In the months since Russian troops rolled into Ukraine, it has become increasingly clear that Putin's personal vendetta against Ukraine and its people played an outsized role in the onset of war. 

"I think it is inevitable that [Putin] is getting into micromanagement because this is so very much his war," Miles said. "We know more and more that this whole thing was planned by a very small group, with Putin at its center."

The Times reported that military sources believe Putin's heavy hand in military operations could be contributing to Russia's failures. But Miles said Russia's struggles can be traced back even further. 

"Yes, the president's low-level decision-making is probably contributing to tactical failures now, but more importantly, it is the cause of the massive strategic failure in week one." 

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