Brutal realizations have been raining upon the Kremlin’s top propagandists—and when it rains, it pours. The same pundits who used to threaten NATO countries with nuclear strikes are begrudgingly acknowledging that Russia’s Armed Forces have suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in Ukraine.
Appearing on Russia’s NTV show The Meeting Place on Monday, policy analyst Viktor Olevich surmised: “Unfortunately, the situation is difficult. Can we say that the Russian forces moved closer to meeting the goals and carrying out the tasks set by the president at the beginning of the special operation—or did they get further away? Obviously, we’re now further away.”
Bogdan Bezpalko, member of the Council for Interethnic Relations under the President of the Russian Federation, was even more outspoken. “For two months, Ukrainian Armed Forces and military equipment have been massing in that area, all Telegram channels have been writing about it. Where was our damn reconnaissance? All of their heads should be laying on Putin’s desk, hacked off at the base… Of course, this is a tactical defeat. I hope it will be very sobering.”
On Monday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, filmmaker Karen Shakhnazarov likewise dispensed a large dose of brutal honesty. “I urge everyone not to panic in the face of a defeat we’ve suffered in the Kharkiv region, and we have to acknowledge it,” he said. “A defeat has some meaning when you acknowledge it and draw new conclusions. And if you don’t acknowledge it, all you get is another defeat, perhaps even more devastating. This is a very difficult situation and we have to recognize that we’re battling a very powerful adversary.”
Shakhnazarov, whose public calls to cease the hostilities made waves shortly after Russia initially invaded Ukraine, regressed to a diametrically opposite position. With the conviction of a fatalist, he asserted: “No one can stop this war, because it was historically necessary… Neither Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], nor Zelensky and not the West can end this war. This war can end only with the defeat of one of the sides. For us, this defeat may prove fatal. We should understand that it might lead to the disintegration of the country.”
Political scientist Sergey Mikheyev described recent developments in Kharkhiv as “a serious failure,” on the part of Russia. “Call it ‘regrouping’ or whatever else… This is our most serious defeat during the last six months, and the most significant success of our adversary… Perhaps this failure is beneficial, because being so obvious, now it’s impossible to pull the wool over our eyes, pretending that everything is wonderful,” he said.
Mikheyev argued that failures would likely prompt “serious people” to make some “radical decisions,” like striking Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure—a move that is often praised on Russian state TV, with propagandists promoting the idea of causing a total blackout that would deprive all of Ukraine of roads, bridges, electricity and running water.
State TV pundits concur that such measures are necessary because Russia’s Armed Forces can’t keep up with the goals set by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shakhnazarov noted: “All of us are aware of the problems experienced by our Armed Forces. In my opinion, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were obviously unprepared for the magnitude of this war. Ukraine’s Armed Forces were prepared, they’ve been training and getting ready for eight years.”
Solovyov was unwilling to concede Russia’s defeat to the Ukrainian troops and claimed that American and British soldiers were covertly fighting in their ranks. “In the process of preparing the battle-ready Ukrainian troops, it turns out they’ve been rapidly turning darker in color and becoming fluent English speakers. They’re becoming indistinguishable from the mercenaries… Some of them have a Southern drawl, others speak with a British accent. Stop pretending already,” he said. The idea of being defeated by NATO, as opposed to this smaller neighboring country, seems to sweeten the pot for many of the Kremlin’s cheerleaders.
Shakhnazarov complained that the patriotic mood in the country is being negatively undermined from within by a continued obsession with the Western lifestyle and entertainment: “It starts with small things. Why are they showing American movies on our television? Eff me! I just want to say, eff me, why are you doing that? It’s humiliating!”
The filmmaker urged for clarity in the “political solution of the Ukrainian question.” While no one argued with Shakhnazarov about Russia’s defeat, the existence of the Ukrainian ethnicity was too much to bear for some of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces. Political analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky asserted: “The recognition of the existence of the Ukrainian people is the biggest mistake in our Soviet history.” Shakhnazarov followed up: “So there are no Ukrainian people?” Drobnitsky replied: “The Ukrainian people do not exist. Any historian will tell you that they don’t exist… You’re offering me to recognize their existence. Thanks, but no thanks.”
After objecting to arguments about the supposed non-existence of the Ukrainian ethnicity and the Ukrainian language, the Germany-based pundit Alexander Sosnovsky became visibly unsettled by what he was hearing. In a scene that resembled a Mitchell and Webb sketch, in which two Nazi officers come to the realization that they are the ‘baddies’ in WWII, he bitterly concluded: “I don’t want to go any further, because this smells of nationalism.”