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Russian media criticism after Lyman defeat may pose danger for Putin: analysis

03.10.2022 18:00
A wave of domestic criticism of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine following the loss of the key city of Lyman has undermined the Kremlin’s narrative about the war and indirectly affected President Vladimir Putin, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has reported.
A wave of domestic criticism of Russias military command following the loss of the key Ukrainian city of Lyman has undermined the Kremlins narrative about the war and indirectly affected President Vladimir Putin, the US-based Institute for the Study of War has said.
A wave of domestic criticism of Russia’s military command following the loss of the key Ukrainian city of Lyman has undermined the Kremlin’s narrative about the war and indirectly affected President Vladimir Putin, the US-based Institute for the Study of War has said.Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In its latest assessment of the war in Ukraine, the US think tank said that "the Russian defeat in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman," combined with the Kremlin’s failure to conduct partial mobilisation effectively and fairly, "are fundamentally changing the Russian information space."

Russian media 'grieving Lyman loss, criticising failures of mobilisation’

According to the ISW, Kremlin-sponsored media and Russian military bloggers (“a prominent Telegram community composed of Russian war correspondents, former proxy officials, and nationalists”) are “grieving the loss of Lyman while simultaneously criticising the bureaucratic failures of the partial mobilisation.”

The Washington-based think tank reported that Kremlin sources and military bloggers “are attributing the defeat around Lyman and Kharkiv Oblast to Russian military failures to properly supply and reinforce Russian forces in northern Donbas and complaining about the lack of transparency regarding the progress of the war.”

Moreover, “some guests on heavily-edited Kremlin television programs that aired on October 1 even criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex four Ukrainian oblasts before securing their administrative borders or even the frontline, expressing doubts about Russia’s ability ever to occupy the entirety of these territories,” the US experts wrote.

According to the ISW, “Kremlin propagandists no longer conceal their disappointment in the conduct of the partial mobilisation, frequently discussing the illegal mobilisation of some men and noting issues such as alcoholism among newly mobilised forces.

Moreover, some propagandists, speaking on live television “have expressed the concern that mobilisation will not generate the force necessary to regain the initiative on the battlefield, given the poor quality of Russian reserves,” the US analysts said.

‘Russians fear being mobilised to fix battlefield problems’

In the ISW’s assessment, “the Kremlin’s declaration of partial mobilisation exposed the general Russian public to the consequences of the defeat around Kharkiv and then at Lyman, shattering the Kremlin’s efforts to portray the war as limited and generally successful.”

Notably, “the Russian defeat around Lyman has generated even more confusion and negative reporting in the mainstream Russian information space than had the Russian withdrawals from Kyiv, Snake Island, or even Kharkiv,” the US think tank said on Sunday night, adding that this is likely because “Russians now fear being mobilised to fix problems on the battlefield.”

‘Putin relies on controlling information space’

Against this backdrop, the ISW noted that “Putin relies on controlling the information space in Russia to safeguard his regime much more than on the kind of massive oppression apparatus the Soviet Union used, making disorder in the information space potentially even more dangerous to Putin than it was to the Soviets.”

Putin's authority 'publicly questioned'

Meanwhile, those voicing critical perspectives on the conduct of the war now include Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Private Military Company financier Evgeniy Prigozhin, according to the US analysts.  

As Lyman was falling to Ukrainian forces, “Kadyrov published a hyperbolic rant on October 1 in which he accused the Russian military command of failing to promptly respond to the deteriorating situation around Lyman and stated that Russia needs to liberate the annexed four oblasts with all available means including low-yield nuclear weapons,” the ISW reported.

Prigozhin, meanwhile, “reiterated Kadyrov’s critiques of the Russian military leadership,” the think tank added, observing that “the West‘s focus on Kadyrov’s nuclear threat obscured the true importance of these statements.”

For instance, “Kadyrov specifically targeted the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, and accused Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov of covering up Lapin’s failures in Lyman,” according to the ISW.

Thus, Kadyrov's and Prigozhin's statements “likely publicly undermined Putin’s leadership, possibly inadvertently,” the US analysts assessed.

This is because “Putin had publicly expressed his trust in Lapin when the Russian MoD announced Lapin’s victory around Lysychansk on June 24.”

Moreover, according to Western military officials, “Putin has been making operational military decisions in Ukraine and micromanaging his military command.”  

How much will Putin tolerate?

According to the ISW, “Putin likely recognises the dangerous path Kadyrov and Prigozhin had begun to walk, prompting push-back by Kremlin-controlled voices and milbloggers against the direct critiques of military commanders.”

However, “it remains to be seen how much Putin will tolerate and what will happen if and when he attempts to shut down the milbloggers and their critiques, increasingly of his own decisions, that he has allowed for the moment to circulate in Russia,” the US experts said. 

Monday is day 222 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Source: PAP, understandingwar.orgbbc.com