When Gen. Rustam Minnekayev made a sweeping statement on Friday that Russia’s next military aim would be to seize Ukraine’s entire southern coast, many analysts were skeptical, based not only on the claim, but on its source.
Why would a relatively obscure military figure announce such a major shift in policy, rather than President Vladimir V. Putin, who usually makes such pronouncements, or Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, or Gen. Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, the chief Russian commander for the war in Ukraine?
General Minnekayev’s official job is the organization of political propaganda work in the army’s central district, which comprises a vast territory from the Volga basin to eastern Siberia. His duties normally would not involve formulating military strategy.
Yet he told a gathering of arms industry representatives in Yekaterinburg — more than 1,000 miles away from the fighting — that Russia was seeking to capture a swath of Ukrainian territory from the Donbas region to Moldova. That would cut off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, General Minnekayev said, according to Russian news agencies, allowing Russia to “influence critical elements of the Ukrainian economy” and gain “yet another point of access” to the pro-Russian enclave of Moldova known as Transnistria.
According to the defense ministry’s website, General Minnekayev, who is stationed in Yekaterinburg, has been mostly involved in projects unrelated to the invasion, such as discussing the construction of an Orthodox cathedral with the clergy or indoctrinating the country’s youth.
“One of our main goals is the work with the veterans and patriotic upbringing of the new generation,” General Minnekayev told Red Star, the defense ministry’s official newspaper, last April. “We need to tell the youth the truth about the war that our ancestors have not been fighting in vain.”
Yuri Fyodorov, a Russian military analyst, said that, on paper, General Minnekayev’s main line of work is “brainwashing” Russian servicemen. But in reality, he said, the general’s main job is to “collect information about the officers: their views and moods.”
General Minnekayev manages “a system of political control of officers which exists in parallel to military counterintelligence,” Mr. Fyodorov said in an interview.
In Mr. Fyodorov’s view, the commander was probably sanctioned by his superiors to make such a statement, which was then reported by TASS, a state-run news agency.
“Looks like fighting is ongoing among various groups in the higher echelons of power,” he said.
Tatyana Stanovaya, a founder of the political consultancy R. Politik, said that General Minnekayev “is not the person who is supposed to make such statements,” and that it is possible he made it “for propaganda reasons.”
Moscow could not deny the statement, she said in a social media post, because it would make the Russian conservative faction “enraged.” In a regular briefing, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, declined to comment on whether General Minnekayev’s comments reflected Mr. Putin’s thinking.