A Russian senator attempted to justify what he described as the Russian military’s “difficulty” in Ukraine by saying that his country is fighting against one of the “strongest and best-trained armies.”
Frants Klintsevich, who made the remarks recently during an appearance on Russian state TV, said Ukraine has an elite military made up of “Russian soldiers and officers with exactly the same mentality as ours,” according to a translation provided by a journalist with the BBC.
Recent reports from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and remarks from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have indicated that Russia is losing ground in Ukraine and has been forced to go on the defensive in some instances because of the Ukrainian forces’ counteroffensive. But President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials have continued to assert that the invasion is achieving its goals and that Russia will ultimately defeat Ukraine.
“The special military operation continues in Ukraine. As Russian leaders have said more than once, it is going according to plan, and new territories are being freed from the Nazis every day,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Wednesday, according to a translated transcript posted on the ministry’s website.
“As the Russian leaders said more than once, Russia will achieve the goals of its military operation on denazifying and demilitarizing Ukraine, defending the [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the [Luhansk People’s Republic] and removing the threats to its own security,” Zakharova added later in the briefing. Donetsk and Luhansk are two self-declared, Russian-backed separatist republics in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
While Klintsevich did not indicate during his state TV appearance that Russia’s reported struggles in the war could be due to its own errors or failures, he did concede that the offensive was proceeding “with quite some difficulty.”
Klintsevich initially referred to the offensive in Ukraine as a “special military operation,” the term used by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials instead of “war” or “invasion.” But Klintsevich notably broke with Putin later in the clip by calling the conflict a “war,” according to the translation.
He said the conflict differs from other wars Russia has fought, such as those in Afghanistan and the Caucasus, because of the strength of Ukraine’s military.
In its Russian offensive campaign assessment for May 19, which cited Ukrainian military officials, the ISW said that some Russian troops withdrew from the “Kharkiv city axis” and redeployed to the Donetsk region to “replace the significant combat losses that the 107th Motorized Rifle Battalion has taken approximately 20 km southwest of Donetsk City.
The ISW also said that Russian forces continue to contend with manpower shortages.
Newsweek reached out to the defense ministries of Russia and Ukraine for comment.