President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the Russian army must learn from and fix the problems it had suffered in Ukraine, promising to give the military whatever it needed to prosecute a war nearing the end of its 10th month.
In a speech to defence chiefs in Moscow, Putin said there were no financial limits on what the government would provide in terms of equipment and hardware.
“We have no funding restrictions. The country and the government are providing everything that the army asks for,” he said.
Putin acknowledged, not for the first time, that the call-up of 300,000 reservists that he ordered in September had not gone smoothly.
“The partial mobilisation that was carried out revealed certain problems, as everyone well knows, which should be promptly addressed,” he said.
The call-up drew strong criticism even from Kremlin allies, as it emerged that military commissariats were enlisting many men who were physically unfit or too old, and new recruits were lacking basic equipment such as sleeping bags and winter clothing.
Putin also referred to other unspecified problems in the military and said that constructive criticism should be heeded.
“I ask the Ministry of Defence to be attentive to all civilian initiatives, including taking into account criticism and responding correctly, in a timely manner,” he said.
“It is clear that the reaction of people who see problems – and there are always problems in such major, complex work – can be emotional, but we need to hear those who do not hush up the existing problems, but strive to contribute to their solution.”
It was the latest in a series of recent comments in which Putin has acknowledged, albeit obliquely, the challenges his army is facing.
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On Tuesday, he told security officers that the situation in four regions of Ukraine that Russia has claimed as its own territory – something Kyiv rejects – was “highly complicated”.
And on Dec. 7, he said Russia could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time.
Nearly 10 months on from its Feb. 24 invasion, Russia occupies a huge swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine along a front stretching some 1,100 km (685 miles) but has suffered a series of defeats that have swung the war’s momentum in favour of its smaller adversary.
Even pro-Kremlin war bloggers have expressed anger and dismay at the performance of Russia’s generals, the chaotic conduct of the mobilisation and the ceding of territory Russia had captured – most notably last month when it pulled out of Kherson, the only provincial capital Russia had seized since beginning the invasion.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu read out a report to Putin in which he said Russia’s forces were actively destroying Ukraine’s military potential and accused the West of trying to “drag out” the conflict.
Shoigu proposed raising the age for mandatory Russian military service to a new range of 21-30, compared to 18-27 at the moment. He said Russia was accelerating the deployment of modern weapons.
Russia last publicly disclosed its losses on Sept. 21, saying 5,937 soldiers had been killed. That number is far below most international estimates. The United States’ top general estimated on Nov. 9 that more than 100,000 soldiers had been killed or wounded on each side.
Putin has said he has no regrets about launching what he calls his “special military operation”, arguing Russia had no choice but to stand up to arrogant Western powers.
On Wednesday he said he still considered Ukrainians – who have been killed in their tens of thousands, forced to flee in their millions, and seen whole towns and cities destroyed – to be a “brotherly” people.
“What is happening is of course a tragedy, our common tragedy, but it is not a result of our policy,” Putin said.
“On the contrary it’s the result of the policy of other countries, third countries, who have always striven for this, the disintegration of the Russian world. To a certain extent they succeeded, and pushed us to the line where we are now.”