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Could the Russian People Turn on Putin Over the Ukraine War?

Image of Russian TOS Unit. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

On Monday, Bloomberg opinion columnist and editorial board member for foreign affairs Clara Ferreira Marques warned that Vladimir Putin could soon face an enemy he will be unable to defeat in Ukraine. It isn’t a new Ukrainian Special Forces unit or even a foreign power.

Rather Marques noted that Putin could face the wrath of Russian mothers whose sons have been senselessly killed in Russia’s so-called “special military operation.” She wrote that the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers has unleashed its fury at the Kremlin before – during the Chechen War of the 1990s, and notably following the loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk with all hands on board.

Putin had reportedly expected the war to last three days, and instead, it has gone past the 100-day mark without an end in sight. Casualties have mounted, and Russia has failed to achieve any notable objective.

Putin’s Challenge: Another General (or Two) Killed

It is increasingly difficult for Russia to conceal that it has faced setbacks in Ukraine from its people. While propaganda is still being employed, and the Kremlin paints a wildly different story from what is the reality on the ground in Ukraine, state media often can’t hide some of the most notable losses.

Just this weekend, Moscow confirmed that one of its top military leaders, Maj. Gen. Roman Kutuzov was killed leading an assault on a Ukrainian settlement in the Donbas region. The death of Kutuzov has been confirmed by the Ukrainian military, which hasn’t offered additional details.

The killing of Gen. Kutuzov comes as there are rumors circulating on social media that another senior officer, Lt. Gen. Roman Berdnikov, commander of the 29th Army, had also been killed in the fighting this past weekend. While unverified, if true that could bring the losses of general officers to a dozen to date according to Ukrainian officials – though western officials put the number at seven.

Russia’s military commanders have had to lead their forces from the front lines, and the Ukrainians have taken advantage while monitoring radio and even mobile phone communications.

“They look for high profile generals, pilots, artillery commanders,” an official in the Ukrainian government told the Wall Street Journal in March, adding that high-ranking officers are often targeted with either sniper fire or artillery.

Massive Casualties a Problem for Putin

According to reports based on Ukrainian figures, Russia had lost more than 110 men in just the past day, while a total of 31,360 soldiers have been killed since the fighting began on February 24. Those losses exceed the total casualties inflicted on the Soviet Union during its decade-long war in Afghanistan – a conflict that contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.

In addition, 1,390 tanks, 3,416 armored fighting vehicles, and 212 aircraft have been destroyed, which is the greatest loss of military hardware in a conflict since the Second World War. The Russian Navy has also lost 13 warships and boats, including the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship Moskva, which was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles in April.


Russian President Putin. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The combat losses remain unconfirmed by Moscow, in part as Russia lists military deaths as “state secrets” even in peacetime. However, the Kremlin has not updated its official casualty figures since March 25. Moscow has also tried to paint its losses as heroes of the Motherland, men killed in a noble fight to denazify Ukraine – but that “truth” is doing little to comfort the actual mothers back in Russia. Putin should worry.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.