A former commander of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine accused Russia’s Defense Minister of “criminal negligence” over the nation’s failed war campaign.
Igor Girkin, who previously served as the defense minister for separatist forces backed by Russia in Ukraine’s Donbas region, made the comments on his Telegram channel Friday.
“I directly accuse Sergei Shoigu of, at minimum, criminal negligence,” Girkin said, according to Reuters. “I have no grounds to accuse him of treason, but I would suspect it.”
His comment is one of the strongest public attacks on Russia’s military leadership from a pro-Kremlin figure to date. Girkin has long been critical of Russia’s invasion, and has even advocated for a more brutal affront as Russia continues to face significant losses and fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters. He was previously charged for murder by Dutch prosecutors over his alleged role in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, according to Reuters.
Nonetheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no public indication that he is unhappy with Shoigu. Earlier this week, the defense minister served a prominent role in commemorating Russia’s 77th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
While the war in Ukraine has had a catastrophic effect, Russia has so far failed to make significant military gains across the country. The nation failed to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the first phase of the war, and has since refocused efforts on the eastern Donbas region. This week, Ukraine said that it stalled Russian forces near the eastern city of Kharkiv and is now preparing a counter-offensive that could determine the pacing of the next phase of the war.
However, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, still warned that the war has entered a “new, long phase” with “extremely tough weeks” ahead.
The invasion has also devastated much of Ukraine’s territories and population. Homes, schools, and hospitals have frequently been under attack by Russian shelling, and Moscow has been accused of committing war crimes by massacring innocent civilian populations.
A spokesperson for the United Nations said Tuesday that nearly 7,000 Ukrainian citizens have so far been killed in the war, though officials estimate the actual death toll to be much higher. Graphic images have emerged showing mass graves and the remnants of hundreds of civilian corpses, while Russian troops have also been accused of killing children, and raping and torturing women.
Russia has also suffered significant deaths. Ukraine has said its fighters have killed at least 12 of the country’s top generals, and upwards of 20,000 soldiers have reportedly been slain.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said earlier this week that the country will seize all Russian assets and put them toward a fund to help rebuild what has been lost or damaged in the invasion.
“We will take away everything that Russia owns in Ukraine and channel these assets into strengthening the army, supporting the people, and rebuilding our country,” he said Tuesday. “Both the president and the government have repeatedly stated that Russia must pay for what it has destroyed in Ukraine.”
Newsweek contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.