A growing list of failings and military defeats in Ukraine have spawned angry outbursts from members of the Russian elite – including lawmakers, media figures and at least one former general – who generally still support Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” but are now actively blaming army chiefs for a slew of military reversals.
Public criticism of the army was very rare before September saw a series of high-profile battlefield reversals for Russian troops.
The Russian invasion that began on February 24 had been presented to Russians as a sacred, patriotic mission to unite Ukraine under the umbrella of a mythic Greater Russia. Even speaking ill of the armed forces could lead to a long stay in prison after a new law passed in March restricted criticism and media coverage.
Russian elites are still stopping short of questioning the merits of the Kremlin’s official viewpoint or the operation. But a series of spectacular military setbacks and problems with the realities of plans to mobilise hundreds of thousands of reservists to the front have led some usually circumspect public figures to levy criticisms at Russia’s military hierarchy.
The head of the lower house of parliament’s defence committee, former general Andrei Kartapolov, said on Wednesday that the army should “stop lying”, as Russia’s official daily briefings speak of enormous losses supposedly suffered by Ukrainian forces without mentioning the high-profile failures of Russian troops on the battlefield.
Kartapolov went on to suggest that the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts were also falling short.
“The people know. Our people are not stupid,” the former general said.
“They see that we do not want to tell them even part of the truth. That can lead to a loss of credibility,” Kartapolov told online celebrity presenter Vladimir Solovyov, an ultra-patriot.
Interestingly, earlier today in Moscow police detained an employee of Prigozhin’s media group Patriot Aleksey Slobodenyuk who runs a network of telegram channels known for attacking Shoigu, Volodin and others. So a hot war among Russia’s elite is very much a reality at this point pic.twitter.com/rmAqDrPWE3
— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) October 5, 2022 Celebration amid discontentSolovyov, who is under EU sanctions, said certain members of the army’s top ranks should consider suicide for their mishandling of the offensive.
“The guilty should be punished. We don’t have capital punishment, unfortunately, but for some of them it would be the only solution,” he said, adding: “They don’t even have an officer’s sense of honour because they are not shooting themselves.”
War reporter Alexander Kots, writing on his Telegram channel, offered a bleak assessment of the future for Russia. “There won’t be any good news [from the front] in the near future.”
The air of defeatism was all the more striking given that Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the illegal annexation of four eastern Ukrainian regions, formalised in Moscow after staged referendums, with a concert on Moscow’s Red Square last week.
“Victory will be ours,” blared the president from a giant video screen amid a sea of Russian flags.
The pro-annexation concert on Red Square is in full swing. Ivan Okhlobystin, the star of the Russian version of Scrubs, is saying that Kharkiv, Odesa, Mykolayiv, and other cities in “Russian Ukraine” are next to be annexed pic.twitter.com/QNYqarAHqP
— max seddon (@maxseddon) September 30, 2022 A rare admission of ‘errors’Despite the growing misgivings, public criticism still rarely targets the all-powerful Putin or even his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.