In his speech preceding the Victory Day celebrations across Russia on Sunday, President Vladimir Putin continued to promote the idea that his troops in Ukraine are fighting “to liberate their native land from the Nazi filth with confidence that, as in 1945, victory will be ours.” His portrayal of Ukrainians as Nazis rings so hollow that propagandists on state television have been struggling to justify the so-called “special military operation.” The description itself was meant to portray a nearly painless blitzkrieg, akin to the annexation of Crimea. Instead, it has turned into an ongoing bloody massacre and a slew of crippling sanctions.
Russia was so unprepared for this turn of events, both militarily and economically, that even the most pro-Kremlin propagandists have been forced to acknowledge the grim reality of a pariah state fighting a war of aggression.
During Friday’s broadcast of state TV show The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, military analyst Konstantin Sivkov argued that Russia’s “current economic market system is unfit to meet the needs of our Armed Forces and of the entire country under these conditions.” Instead, he pushed for what he described as “military socialism,” a set of wartime rules and regulations that would move all strategic resources–including land and factories–under the direct control of the government to better fund the war.
During the same show, host Vladimir Solovyov griped that Russia couldn’t compete with Ukraine’s seemingly endless supply of Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, which have been wreaking havoc on Russia’s troops and equipment. “They tell us from the frontlines: ‘Give us drones!’ People are crowdfunding crazy amounts of money. They bought up everything that was available in stores. Why can’t that junk be mass-produced in Russia?,” Solovyov fumed.
State Duma member Semyon Bagdasarov chimed in: “Everyone is ashamed to talk about this topic. Volunteers, like our mutual acquaintances... are buying it all and transporting it over there. It’s a crying shame!” Solovyov proceeded to angrily complain about the restrictions that complicate the delivery of such items to Russian troops in Ukraine, adding: “It’s easier to bring it in through the Ukrainian Customs in Lviv. They let in any weapons.”
Bagdasarov then resorted to blaming the West for the Kremlin’s humiliations, claiming that recent sanctions were designed to provoke a popular uprising, akin to the October revolution of 1917 or the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, also known as the August Coup. To prevent the potential riots, Bagdasarov suggested the need for “purges” of current “management officials.” He claimed that Russia is in sore need for a figure like Lavrentiy Beria—chief of the Soviet secret police who was notorious for his serial rapes and bloody mass executions.
This attempts to whitewash odious figures of the past on Russian airwaves if nothing new., Shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, host of Vesti Nedeli Dmitry Kiselyov praised the likes of Joseph Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, among others for Russia’s nuclear capabilities.
During Friday’s live broadcast of 60 Minutes, retired Colonel Mikhail Khodaryonok made the stunning confession that even mass mobilization in Russia wouldn’t help alter the course of Putin’s stalled invasion of Ukraine. He admitted that Russia would be hard-pressed to replenish its mounting losses in Ukraine, and that sending masses to fight with outdated weapons would be counterproductive because Russia’s arsenal does not measure up to NATO’s top-notch weaponry.
“Let's imagine the drumroll, the sound of fanfare, and the mobilization is declared. How soon under this mobilization will we get the first fighter aviation regiment? We would get it by New Year's. We don't have the reserves, the pilots, or the planes so the mobilization would be of little help,” Khodaryonok said. “If tonight, we order new ships to be built, how soon will we get the first one? In two years! That's the deal with mobilization. If we set a goal of forming a new tank division, when would it be ready? I would say in at least 90 days. And it wouldn't be equipped with modern weaponry because we don't have modern weapons and equipment in our reserves.”
The retired colonel continued: “Sending people armed with weapons of yesteryear into a war of the 21st century to fight against global standard NATO weapons would not be the right thing to do. We need to replenish our losses, of course, but this should be done through industrial enterprises. Mobilization would not solve these issues."
In December of 2021, appearing on 60 Minutes, Khodaryonok flippantly said that Russia could destroy Ukraine in 11 minutes, but in the beginning of February—when Putin’s invasion seemed all but imminent—the colonel was much more clear-eyed. His sobering predictions, published in the newspaper Independent Military Observer, were remarkably accurate.
Khodaryonok contradicted many popular analysts, stating in part that “To assert that no one in Ukraine will defend the regime means, in practice, complete ignorance of the military-political situation and the mood of the broad masses of people in the neighboring state. Moreover, the degree of hatred (which, as you know, is the most effective fuel for armed struggle) in the neighboring republic in relation to Moscow is frankly underestimated. No one will meet the Russian army with bread, salt and flowers in Ukraine.”
Khodaryonok correctly predicted long and difficult battles, in addition to the extensive assistance the West would provide to Ukraine, writing in part: “There is no doubt that the United States and the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance will begin a kind of reincarnation of Lend-Lease, modeled after the Second World War.”
While open opposition to Putin’s war against Ukraine is outlawed, it’s clear that the Russian people are resisting in various unconventional ways. A series of fires have erupted at several military enlistment offices in recent days, as rumors of the impending mobilization unsettle potential conscripts.
Putin’s propagandists have apparently been enlisted to convince the public that the outcome of Russia’s invasion is a matter of life and death for all of its citizens. State TV pundit Karen Shakhnazarov, who previously pleaded with Putin to end the war as soon as possible, returned to national broadcasts after a temporary absence with a drastically different narrative last week.
During three separate broadcasts of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, Shakhnazarov claimed that Russians would find “no mercy” from their adversaries should the country lose the war. He threatened opponents of Putin’s invasion, predicting they would face a future of “concentration camps, re-education and mandatory sterilization” imposed as a “final solution” for the Russian people sought by Moscow’s enemies. While some Kremlin propagandists begrudgingly admit that Russia can’t afford to fight this war, the prevailing narrative force-fed by the state media is that Russia can’t afford to lose.