I think this is a case of a longtime enemy of the Kremlin making mischief at an opportune moment more so than a bankable report. It comes from Leonid Nevzlin, a prominent businessman who fled Russia for Israel nearly 20 years ago due to fear of persecution and has been a critic of Moscow ever since. In 2008 he was sentenced to life in prison there in absentia. How much stock do we want to put in a claim made by a well-known dissident with strong personal reasons to embarrass Putin’s regime?

Having said that, there are reasons to believe it could be true.

Citing sources in Moscow, Nevzlin today declared: ‘Shoigu is out of the game, and may be disabled if he survives.

‘Rumor has it that a heart attack could have occurred not due to natural causes.’

He went on to say that 20 Russian generals have been arrested in Russia and charged with embezzling up to 10 billion dollars allocated to the war effort in Ukraine.

Nevzlin alleged that ‘all the headquarters’ had been arrested and had been syphoning funds destined to prop up Ukraine’s ‘Russian liberators’ since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of conflict in the Donbas.

Is that propaganda or something more? Well…

1. Shoigu hasn’t been seen in public for about a month. And the rumors of a heart attack have been swirling for weeks.

2. Putin just appointed a general to serve as ground commander for the Ukraine war, another hint that the current defense leadership is either ineffective or possibly vacant.

3. Purges of officials who mishandled the war and/or misled Putin about Russia’s capabilities are reportedly under way in Moscow. As defense minister, Shoigu would be a top target.

4. Embezzlement was also the charge leveled at top FSB official Sergei Beseda, who’s now reportedly behind bars. An obvious explanation for the poor condition of Russia’s army is that military and intelligence figures have been looting the military budget for years. There’s no reason to think Shoigu would have exempted himself from that culture of corruption.

5. Putin might reasonably perceive Shoigu as a special threat who needs to be dealt with in harsher ways than throwing him in prison alongside Beseda. It’s not just that, as defense minister, he bears ultimate responsibility for the state of Russia’s war. It’s that he’s been touted as an eventual successor to Putin based on his years as a high-powered political operative in Russia. If Putin is paranoid about a plot to depose him as the war goes sideways, he may have concluded that it’s time for Shoigu to go.

Interesting palace intrigue! But probably not important to the course of the war, particularly when you remember that Shoigu has never been a professional soldier. If Nevzlin’s rumors are true, it’s not as if a strategic genius has been taken off the battlefield.

There is news today that’s potentially important to the course of the war, though. That’s the sinking of the Moskva in the Black Sea, which Ed wrote about earlier. My first thought when I heard that news was that it was a spectacular morale booster for Ukraine and another humiliation for Russia, a major propaganda victory for the home team but probably not much more. I was wrong. Taking down the Moskva may be a strategic gamechanger in southern Ukraine:

The S-300 is an anti-aircraft system. Without that system, the Russians won’t be able to harass Ukrainian planes, helicopters, and drones off the coast of Odessa and further east towards Kherson and Mykolaiv. And thanks to the U.S. and other generous NATO benefactors, Ukraine is about to have a lot more helicopters and drones. A U.S. Navy officer presciently warned two days ago, just 24 hours before the sinking of the Moskva, that it was important to deny Russia control of the Black Sea in order to limit its ability to supply and maneuver, giving the Ukrainian resistance along the coast some breathing room. And for multiple reasons, the Moskva can’t be easily replaced:

I recommend this fascinating thread for clues on how the Ukrainians managed to pull off the attack. Essentially, they capitalized on weather conditions and Russia’s technological limitations to create a clever diversion for the ship’s radar, leaving it vulnerable to missile strikes.

Putin is now on a timetable of his own making. If he’s going to score some sort of “win” he can tout on May 9, Victory Day in Russia, he needs the advance in the east to get rolling. But Russian losses, logistical limitations, and the softening of the ground in Ukraine in spring mean it’ll be tough going for Russia’s armor. Because the army doesn’t control major cities in the north it can’t access major highways, which will force heavy vehicles onto smaller roads where they’re more susceptible to ambush. Now, on top of all that, Putin is facing increased Ukrainian air attacks in the south due to the loss of the Moskva. What a fiasco.

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