A retired Russian colonel has given a bleak assessment of his country’s invasion of Ukraine on state TV, in a sign that the Kremlin is allowing dissenting voices to be heard as the reality that Russia will not win a swift and comprehensive victory becomes unavoidable.
Mikhail Khodarenok, a former air defence commander and graduate of some of the Soviet Union’s top military schools, warned against taking “information sedatives”, saying that propaganda reports claiming Ukrainian morale is on the verge of collapse are “to put it mildly, not true”.
He said that Ukraine can mobilise a million soldiers and will be able to arm them with the help of its Western allies, meaning that “the situation will clearly get worse for us.”
When Olga Skabeyeva, the host of the panel show, said that the army will be made of conscripts, Khodarenok denied that this would mean they would make poor soldiers. “The professionalism of an army is determined not by the recruitment of contract soldiers, but by the level of training of the troops and its morale and readiness to spill blood for the motherland,” he said.
Ukraine “intends to fight until the last man”, he said.
Khodarenok also highlighted Russia’s isolation and gave a damning assessment of its geopolitical position.
Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to the border with Finland after Moscow said it would not tolerate its neighbour joining Nato. Khodarenok dismissed this as ridiculous.
“The most important thing here, again, looking at the big picture, from a general strategic standpoint, is not, for goodness sake, to brandish missiles in the direction of Finland. This looks comical.”
“The biggest problem with our political and military situation is that we’re in total geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it.”
Khodarenok’s statement was part of a trickle of reality on Russian state TV, which has been an ocean of propaganda since the start of the war. Propagandistic reports of the progress of the war, bizarre claims about Ukrainian troops using “black magic” and regular threats to nuke enemies of Russia have been staples of Russian TV. The appearance of dissenting voices suggests that the Kremlin could be seeking to manage expectations about the war as its belief in a rapid Ukrainian capitulation have proved to be misguided.
Russians are also learning about the failures of their forces on the battlefield. Pro-Russian bloggers, some of whom are embedded with Russian forces, have written about the destruction of a battalion in northeastern Ukraine in what could be the deadliest engagement of the war so far.
On the 11th of May, 550 Russian troops attempted to cross the Donets River at Bilohorivka, in the eastern Luhansk region in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces. Satellite images show how Ukrainian artillery destroyed their pontoon bridge and a number of Russian tanks and equipment. Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War believe up to 485 soldiers could have been killed and 80 pieces of equipment destroyed.
Yuri Podolyaka, a war blogger with 2.1 million followers on Telegram, said that he had avoided criticising the military until now but the incident was “the last straw”. “Due to stupidity — I emphasise, because of the stupidity of the Russian command — at least one battalion tactical group was burned, possibly two,” he said in a video to his followers.
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