Putin gives defence chief one month deadline to stop Ukrainian counteroffensive in its tracks

Putin gives defence chief one month deadline to stop Ukrainian counteroffensive in its tracks

Vladimir Putin wants the Ukrainian counteroffensive halted by early October and has instructed Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu to improve the situation, according to a Kremlin insider cited by a US-based think-tank monitoring the war.

“Putin reportedly gave Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu a deadline of one month until early October 2023 to improve the situation on the frontlines, stop Ukrainian counteroffensives, and have Russian forces regain the initiative to launch an offensive operation against a larger city,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in an intelligence update on Sunday.

It said the Russian military command is likely ordering relentless attacks with the hope of forcing the Ukrainian counteroffensive to culminate, even at a high cost to Russian military capabilities, if the claims are true.

The ISW said it has previously seen situations wherein the Russian defence ministry, “fearing the imminent loss of Putin’s favour”, has amped up its efforts to purge commanders offering honest but negative views.

Russia launched what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February last year, bringing its neighbour under a full-scale invasion and causing thousands of deaths and displacing millions.

Mr Putin had first acknowledged the Ukrainian counteroffensive in June this year and claimed that the war-hit nation’s troops will not make significant gains against the strong Russian defences.

He had also claimed Ukrainian troops would suffer heavy losses of personnel and western military equipment.

But the initiative in which Kyiv is looking to push back all Russian forces from Ukraine’s territory, including the occupied areas, is now well into its fourth month and has registered some important territorial gains this month.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged the counteroffensive was slow, but added that is was “important that we are moving forward every day and liberating territory”.

A study by the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think-tank, found Ukrainian forces average 700-1,200m of progress every five days. That gives Russian forces time to dig in and especially to mine territory as they pull back.

The 3rd Assault Brigade, composed entirely of volunteers and considered one of Ukraine’s best and most experienced corps, has been fighting almost nonstop in the east since January, while less-experienced units received new training and modern weapons to fight in the south.