On the eve of President Putin’s self-proclaimed “annexation” of Ukraine’s regions, trouble was brewing in Russia—and everyone knew it. Social media was abuzz with the anticipation that Ukraine’s Armed Forces were about to reclaim Lyman from the Russian invaders. The mood in Moscow was a lot different than the 2014 celebration of the annexation of Crimea. Crowds that were bussed-in for the rally half-heartedly chanted “hooray,” and Putin himself seemed to be forcing the look of jubilation. Sergey Mardan, host of the radio show Saturday Mardan, openly questioned the propriety of organizing a celebratory concert during the same time when Russian troops were fighting, bleeding, and retreating from Ukraine’s Lyman.
Appearing on Sunday Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, head of RT Margarita Simonyan was so furious about Russia’s latest defeat in Ukraine, she admitted not wanting to even come to the show. Her recipe for boosting the morale was simple: total disgrace and brutal punishment for those who dare to disappoint fellow imperialists. Seething with anger, Simonyan recited: “Cowardice, willful abandonment of strategic positions without coordination with higher command, the collapse of command and control of the troops, inaction of power.” She qualified that these charges led to the execution of General Dmitry Pavlov, his deputies and other commanders of the Western Front during WWII.
Simonyan added: “We’re terribly concerned, terribly upset, I didn’t even want to come here, because to grieve and to panic would amount to helping the enemy, indirectly working towards the success of the collective CIA which for decades has worked—and continues its work—to destroy our country. What else is there to say?” To cheer up the viewers, Simonyan reminisced about the horrific scenes that unfolded during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, pointing out: “Our entire country was laughing out loud… Of course, it wasn’t right to laugh, because people were dying, but there was so much there for us to mock them [the West].”
Simonyan revealed her pull within Russia’s power structure, by noting that subsequent to her public complaints about serious issues plaguing the “partial” mobilization, a special meeting was arranged to alleviate her concerns: “We met up with some Generals, which was a closed meeting, of course. I will not—and have no right—to comment on that.” Assuring the audience that problems with mobilization are a thing of the past, Simonyan went on to explain the string of Russia’s failures in Ukraine: “Just imagine the size of the territory and the population in question… This territory is three times larger than Belgium, where NATO’s headquarters are located… Can we even imagine the magnitude of this task?”
She sternly added: “This territory, three times the size of Belgium, is saturated with every kind of weapon, all sorts of instructors, all of the will, force and might of the entire collective West. If anyone in the Army doesn’t understand that, perhaps we should revisit the first topic and replace these people.” Simonyan clarified that unlike the host, Vladimir Solovyov, she is against summary executions, but her repeated references to Stalin’s tactics suggested otherwise.
Simonyan, who in the beginning of the invasion predicted it would be over in a matter of hours or days, now said, “No one knows how it will end or when, but we have no way back.” She concluded her pep talk by emphasizing many Russian achievements that surpass the West, including Olympic games and “the coolest COVID vaccine.” Simonyan alleged that when three of her children fell ill with COVID, only one person out of the twenty that live in the same house was infected: an American language teacher—the only one who wasn’t vaccinated with Sputnik V.
The head of RT admitted that when she sings the state anthem of the Russian Federation, which is set to the same music as the anthem of the former USSR, she uses the Soviet lyrics. Simonyan stressed: “These words fit this moment. Comrades Generals, I ask you: don’t disgrace this anthem, our faith and our desperate desire to keep these people with us, to keep these territories with us, and return to normalcy as an even bigger Russia.”
Not all state TV pundits share Simonyan’s fervor, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s frontline defeats. Last Friday, when the impending fall of Lyman was already anticipated, appearing on Russia’s NTV show The Meeting Place, Russia’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov warned that at some point in the future, Ukraine may retaliate by striking not only Russia’s border regions, but large cities like Moscow.
During the same show, political editor Maxim Yusin bitterly noted that despite their statements on live TV, all pundits share different takes in private: “You say, ‘after the rest of the territories will be liberated.’ It’s very difficult to argue with dreamers, who live in their own world. I see the dynamics of the military actions on the front… Ask anyone here when they’re in the make-up room. I think anyone will honestly admit that they don’t know whether the mobilization will help us or not to change the course of military actions. So far, things aren’t going so well.”
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