(Reuters) – A former commander of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine on Friday accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of “criminal negligence” over Moscow’s stuttering military campaign in Ukraine.
“I directly accuse Sergei Shoigu of at least criminal negligence,” Igor Girkin said in a video interview published on his Telegram channel. “I have no reason to accuse him of treason, but I would suspect so.”
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Girkin’s outburst — one of the strongest public attacks yet on Russia’s military leadership from a prominent hawk pushing for a more intense campaign in Ukraine.
Despite repeated Russian setbacks and heavy losses in men and equipment over the course of the 79-day-old invasion, Putin has shown no sign of distancing himself from Shoigu. The minister took part in commemorations of the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on Red Square on Monday.
Girkin, also known by the Russian pseudonym “Strelkov” for “gunman,” has been charged with murder by Dutch prosecutors for his alleged role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
He has become an outspoken critic of the way Russia is conducting its war in Ukraine in recent weeks, saying that without a new strategy and more manpower, Russia could lose out.
Ukraine says it repelled Russian forces from around the eastern city of Kharkiv this week and is launching a counteroffensive that could signal a shift in the dynamics of the war.
After failing to capture the capital, Kyiv, in the first phase of what Russia calls its “military special operation,” Russian forces have refocused on the eastern Donbass region and the southern city of Mariupol.
A former Kremlin mercenary, Marat Gabidullin, told Reuters this week that Russian troops were ill-prepared for the war in Ukraine.
(Reported by Reuters; Edited by Mark Trevelyan and Mark Heinrich)