Putin said to be conducting internal purge of military generals, intel personnel

US-based think tank claims Russia launched false flag attack in Belarus to draw Moscow ally into war on its side; UK warns Russian forces are now 25 km from Kyiv

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, near the Kremlin Wall during the national celebrations of the 'Defender of the Fatherland Day' in Moscow, Russia, on February 23, 2022. (Alexei Nikolsky, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, near the Kremlin Wall during the national celebrations of the 'Defender of the Fatherland Day' in Moscow, Russia, on February 23, 2022. (Alexei Nikolsky, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is conducting purges of military generals and intelligence personnel, including arrests of FSB (Federal Security Service) officers, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, which cited Ukrainian officials and media reports.

The institute said that Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov estimated on Wednesday that Putin had replaced at least eight generals “due to their failures in Ukraine” and authorities have detained personnel from the FSB’s 5th Service, which the institute said is responsible for gathering information on the political situation in Ukraine.

“Russian forces also appear to be largely stalemated around Kharkiv,” the think tank said. “Russian advances from Crimea toward Mykolayiv and Zaporizhya and in the east around Donetsk and Luhansk made no progress in the last 24 hours.”

It said that the Kremlin was likely trying to “increase its combat power by drawing Belarus into the war and leveraging Syrian proxies, in addition to ongoing efforts to directly replace Russian combat losses through individual conscripts that are unlikely to be well-enough trained or motivated.”

The institute also said that Russian aircraft likely conducted an attempted false-flag attack on Belarusian territory on March 11 in an effort by the Kremlin to pressure Belarus to enter the war on Russia’s side.

“Belarusian President [Alexander] Lukashenko is likely attempting to delay or prevent his entry into the war to avoid costly Western sanctions and Belarusian combat losses,” the report said.

A destroyed armored personnel carrier stands in front of a damaged by shelling building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)

According to Ukrainian outlets and a report in an independent Russian outlet, the head of the 5th service, Sergey Beseda, and his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh were under house arrest on Friday.

The UK’s latest Defence Intelligence report Saturday said that the majority of Russia’s ground forces were now about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

“Elements of the large Russian column north of Kyiv have dispersed,” the report said. “This is likely to support a Russian attempt to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counter attacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.”

On Friday, new satellite photos showed that the long Russian convoy outside Kyiv appears to have dispersed to surrounding areas.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks, and artillery has broken up and been redeployed, with armored units seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city.

Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reported, including howitzers set up near Lub’yanka, north of Kyiv.

The satellite intel came as a US defense official said Russian forces have begun making progress toward the capital, after having appeared to stall for the last week.

The official said that the US expects the Russians to eventually overcome initial logistical challenges to mount a full-scale attack on the city, CNN reported.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, launching a military assault that has targeted civilian areas and laying siege to a number of Ukrainian cities by the 17th day of the onslaught. But the invasion has been slowed by an array of failings, including a lack of coordination between air and ground forces and an inability to fully dominate Ukraine’s skies.

Russia is also said to have sustained many casualties and destroyed equipment and vehicles, as the Ukrainian resistance is reported to have surprised Moscow.

Ukrainian soldiers on an armored personnel carrier pass by people carrying their belongings as they flee the conflict, in the Vyshgorod region close to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

Although a detailed picture of the unfolding war is difficult to acquire, American and European officials and analysts say the Russians started slowly and have since been hobbled by a combination of inadequate planning, flawed tactics, and possibly an erosion of spirit among troops not ready to fight.

In its latest estimation, the US military said Wednesday that between 2,000 and 4,000 Ukrainian armed forces, national guard, and volunteer forces, and between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since February 24.

Ukraine has put the number of Russian fatalities at over 12,000 since the start of the war, which has yet to be independently confirmed.

AP contributed to this report.

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