The United States has been unable to determine whether Russia has appointed a military commander to lead the country’s war in Ukraine, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter – which current and former defense officials say , is likely a key factor in the apparent clumsiness and disorganization of the Russian assault.
Without a senior theater-wide commander on the ground in or near Ukraine, units from different Russian military districts operating in different parts of Ukraine appear to be competing for resources rather than coordinating their efforts, according to two US officials of the defense.
According to these sources, units participating in different Russian offensives across Ukraine have failed to connect and, in fact, appear to be acting independently without an overall operational design.
The Russian forces also seem to have significant communication problems. Soldiers and commanders sometimes used commercial cell phones and other unsecured channels to talk to each other, which made it easier to intercept their communications and helped Ukraine develop targets for its own counterattacks.
It all led to what these sources say was a disjointed — and at times chaotic — operation that caught US and Western officials by surprise.
“One of the tenets of warfare is ‘unity of command,'” said retired CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of US Army Europe. that someone has to be in charge of it all – to coordinate fires, direct logistics, commit reserve forces, measure the success (and failure) of the different “wings” of the operation, and adjust actions depending on that.”
Historically, there have been instances when Russia has made this type of information public, but the Ministry of Defense has made no reference to a senior commander for operations in Ukraine and has not responded to the request. comments from CNN on the subject.
And while it is possible that Russia quietly assigned a senior commander to oversee the invasion – even though the United States was unable to identify this individual – the combat operations report would suggest “that ‘He’s incompetent,’ according to Hertling.
The Russian invasion was also marked by an inordinate number of casualties among high-ranking Russian officers.
The Ukrainians say they killed five Russian generals in the first three weeks of the war, a claim CNN has not independently confirmed. Still, any military general killed in action is a rare occurrence, retired US Army General David Petraeus told CNN’s Jake Tapper during Sunday’s State of the Union.
Colonel Sergei Sukharev, the commander of an elite Russian airborne unit, was also killed in action in Ukraine, Russian regional state broadcaster GTRK Kostroma reported on Thursday.
“The bottom line is that their command and control broke down,” Petraeus said.
The scale of the invasion only made matters worse. Coordinating operations along a front that measures more than 1,000 miles requires “extensive communications capability and command, control and intelligence assets that the Russians simply don’t have,” Hertling added.
“I don’t see if everything the navy does is coordinated with everything the air force does or everything the army does,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said. another former commander of the United States Army in Europe. who warned he had no inside knowledge of the US understanding of Russia’s command structure.
“The Russians had enormous command and control difficulties during this operation at all levels,” echoed an American source close to the situation on the ground. “Part of this may be due to the actions of the Ukrainians themselves.”
On the ground, Russian troops on the ground have often been cut off from their senior commanders, sources said.
“The guys on the pitch come out and they have their aim, but they have no way to come back over the radio [if something goes wrong]”Said another source close to intelligence, who added that Western officials believed this was partly why some Russian troops had been observed abandoning their own tanks and armored personnel carriers. on the ground and just walk away.