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The US does not know who is the main Russian commander in Ukraine

(CNN) — The United States has been unable to determine whether Russia has designated a military commander responsible for directing the country’s war in Ukraine, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, something current and former defense officials say is likely a key contributing factor. to the apparent clumsiness and disorganization of the Russian assault.

Without a high-level, 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 defense officials.

Units participating in different Russian offensives across Ukraine have failed to link up, these sources say, and in fact appear to be acting independently without a global operational design.

The Russian forces also appear to have significant communication problems. Soldiers and commanders have sometimes used commercial mobile phones and other unsecured channels to talk to each other, making it easier to intercept their communications and helping Ukraine develop targets for its own counterattacks.

All this has given rise to what, according to these sources, has been a disjointed – and sometimes chaotic – operation that has surprised US and Western officials.

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Who is the Russian commander in Ukraine?

“One of the principles of warfare is ‘unity of command,'” said CNN’s military analyst, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a former US Army commander in Europe. “That means someone has to be in overall command, coordinating fires, directing logistics, committing reserve forces, measuring the success (and failure) of the different ‘wings’ of the operation, and adjusting actions accordingly.” of it”.

Historically, there have been cases where Russia has publicized this type of information, but the Defense Ministry has made no reference to a senior commander for operations in Ukraine and did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

And while Russia may have quietly appointed a senior commander to oversee the invasion — though the US has not been able to identify that person — the state of combat operations would suggest “he is inept,” according to Hertling.

The Russian invasion has also been marked by an inordinate number of casualties among high-ranking Russian officers.

The Ukrainians claim to have killed five Russian generals during the first three weeks of the war, a claim CNN has not independently confirmed. However, the death of a military general in combat is a rare event, retired US Army General David Petraeus told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Colonel Sergei Sukharev, commander of an elite Russian air unit, was also killed in combat in Ukraine, Russian state TV GTRK Kostroma reported on Thursday.

“The bottom line is that command and control has been broken,” Petraeus said.

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The scale of the invasion has only made things worse. Coordinating operations across a 1,000-plus-mile front requires “extensive communications capabilities and command, control and intelligence resources that the Russians simply don’t have,” Hertling added.

“I don’t see anything the Navy does being coordinated with what the Air Force does or what the Ground Force does,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, another former U.S. Army Europe commander who he warned that he had no inside knowledge of the US understanding of Russia’s command structure.

“The Russians have had tremendous difficulties with command and control during this operation at all levels,” echoed a US source familiar with the situation on the ground. “Part of this may be due to the actions of the Ukrainians themselves.”

On the ground, Russian troops in the field have often been isolated from their senior commanders, the sources said.

“The soldiers on the ground go out and have their objective, but they have no way of radioing [si algo va mal]said another source familiar with the intelligence, adding that Western officials believe this is part of the reason some Russian troops have been observed abandoning their own tanks and armored personnel carriers on the ground and simply moving away.

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A stalled campaign

Since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine on February 24, it has bombarded Ukrainian cities with missiles and artillery, destroying apartments, hospitals and schools and killing dozens of civilians. But their ground invasion has stalled largely due to fierce Ukrainian resistance and what top defense officials have described as tactical blunders.

Airspace over Ukraine remains contested and Russia has failed to take control of any major cities, including Kyiv.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday that the US has “seen a number of mistakes” by Russia. Moscow has “suffered with logistics,” he said, adding that it had seen no evidence of “good use of tactical intelligence” or “integration of air capability with ground maneuver.”

Both current officials and outside analysts point out that while Russia has deployed its military in other recent conflicts, including in Syria and Crimea in 2014, it has not attempted anything remotely as ambitious as a full-scale invasion of a large nation like Russia. Ukraine that would require air and ground integration and the coordinated effort of units from multiple different regional military districts.

Russia rotates its annual military exercises among its regional military districts, Hodges said, rather than carrying out the kind of so-called “joint” exercises the United States routinely employs to ensure smooth coordination between disparate pieces of its expanding military.

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“They don’t have any experience at this, not at this kind of scale,” he said. “It’s been decades since they would have done something on this scale. What they did in Syria and Crimea, in 2014, is nothing compared to this.”

He added: “It doesn’t seem to me that they really exercised this in a way that would have shown that they would have to have a joint operational commander.”

Putin’s trust in secrecy

Some officials have also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin kept planning for the global operation so closely inside the Kremlin that many of his own military commanders in the field did not fully understand the mission until the last minute, likely preventing different branches of the Russian Armed Forces coordinated effectively in the run-up to the invasion.

“It’s clear from the assessments that we see that some people on the defense side [rusa] they’re not really understanding what the game plan is,” a senior European official said in early February, just weeks before the invasion. The official added that assessments suggest defense personnel think “it’s a game plan.” very difficult game to sustain”.

The lack of central organization also has implications for Russia’s efforts to resupply its forces. Moscow has struggled to supply enough food, fuel and ammunition to troops on the ground, and as casualties mount, officials say there are signs Russia is trying to make up its losses with both foreign fighters and Russian troops. already stationed elsewhere.

Without a commanding general, strategic allocation of limited resources could be difficult, Hodges said.

“That’s the job of the joint force commander: to assign priorities,” he said. “Who gets priority for fuel, ammunition, or the particular capability.”

With information from CNN’s Tim Lister.

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