Ukrainian intelligence officials said on Saturday that an “elite” Russian military division arrested other members of the military in Moscow amid growing discontent over the war in Ukraine.
The alleged arrests, which Newsweek could not independently confirm, more than seven months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the so-called “special military operation” against Ukraine. Although Kremlin officials aimed for a quick victory, Moscow’s forces struggled to achieve any substantial goals in the war. Meanwhile, Kyiv says its forces have retaken thousands of square kilometers of territory occupied by Russia in recent weeks.
Putin appears to be facing growing political pressure at home as his losses in Ukraine continue to mount. Russian media personalities are increasingly willing to criticize the war, which they support but argue it was poorly executed. Putin’s allies have demanded accountability and changes in how Russia pursues the invasion.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s defense intelligence service tweeted that arrests of some members of the military had begun in Moscow. They did not provide enough details about the alleged arrests. It is unclear who or how many people were allegedly arrested, as well as the reasons for the claimed arrests.
Ukrainian intelligence said a “set of ‘measures’ directed against the military began in the Russian capital” and traffic in the city center was blocked late Saturday local time.
Ukraine also claimed that members of the Dzerzhynsky Operational Division, an “elite” Russian guard founded in the 1920s, were entering Moscow.
Amid a lack of information and confirmation of the alleged arrests from Russian authorities or state media, some experts were skeptical of the Ukrainian intelligence claims.
Rosalba Castelletti, a reporter for Italian newspaper La Repubblica, tweeted a video from downtown Moscow that appeared to show a normal night in the Russian capital with no signs of an increased military presence. She wrote: “Traffic is pretty normal. There are no military movements. It’s just a normal Saturday night in Moscow.”
“Ukrainian intelligence is probably trying to stir things up a bit by saying there are unusual troops, police movements and traffic restrictions in Moscow,” added Euan MacDonald, editor of the New Voice of Ukraine.
Russia reshapes military leadership amid heightened casualties and criticism
Russia announced some changes in the military leadership in Ukraine on Saturday.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has appointed Army General Sergei Surovikin “to command the joint group of forces in the area of special military operation in Ukraine based on the decision of the Russian Defense Minister”, according to a report by the Russian news agency Tass.
Russia on Friday sacked the commander of its Eastern Military District, Colonel General Alexander Chaiko, replacing him with Lieutenant General Rustam Murado, according to a Reuters report.
Some Russian media figures and politicians have called for military changes and accountability as Russian failures mount in Ukraine.
Colonel General Andrey Valeryevich, who is part of the State Duma’s defense committee, told Russian state television that “the military prosecutor’s office should work”.
“At least some names should be announced that someone has been brought to justice for this,” he added during a discussion in which he admitted Russia’s precarious position in Ukraine.
The Institute for the Study of War released a report on Wednesday concluding that Putin is likely to blame Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for Russia’s failures, while strengthening ties with other “radical” elements of the army amid public criticism.
Newsweek contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.