Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his commanders Monday in two regions of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed.
The Kremlin said Putin had visited southern Kherson, where he attended a military command meeting, and also dropped in on national guard headquarters in eastern Luhansk.
In September, Putin had proclaimed Kherson and Luhansk annexed by Russia along with Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.
Yet in November, Russian troops had been forced to withdraw from Kherson against Ukrainian advances. It had been a significant blow to Russia as Kherson was the first major city and only regional capital that Russia had captured since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Currently, Russian forces only partly control the four purportedly annexed regions.
“It is important for me to hear your opinion on how the situation is developing, to listen to you, to exchange information. I would ask you to start your report with the situation in the Kherson direction, then in the Zaporozhzhia direction,” Putin reportedly told his commanders on Monday.
Putin also said that he had asked Mikhail Yuryevich Teplinsky, the head of Russia’s Airborne Forces called the VDV, to “express his thoughts,” adding that Teplinsky has been at the front line “for quite a long time and made a very detailed report.”
Teplinsky was in charge of the Russian withdrawal from west of the Dnipro River, which flows through Kherson, in November 2022, but he had been “dismissed from the theatre in January,” according to the British Ministry of Defense.
The DC-based think-tank Institute for the Study of War said that Teplinksy’s reemergence “suggests that the Russian military command is likely seeking to place an increased emphasis on the role of VDV elements in Russian offensive operations.”
As a security precaution, the Kremlin said that neither Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov joined Putin on his trip.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also visited his country’s troops in Donetsk, where he bestowed state awards upon Ukrainian soldiers and got a briefing from his commanders of the situation on the ground.
Last month, Putin visited Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and the southeastern city of Mariupol in Donetsk region.