Russia’s withdrawal from a major Ukrainian city over the weekend has drawn anger from an unexpected audience – the state-run media that usually describes Moscow’s war in glowing terms.
A series of embarrassing military losses in recent weeks It has posed a challenge to prominent Russian news and political talk show hosts who are struggling to find ways to chart Ukraine’s gains in a way that is still favorable to the Kremlin.
Frustration with battlefield setbacks has long been expressed in social media blogs run by nationalist critics and pro-Kremlin analysts, and the volume has increased after Ukraine’s counter-offensive last month around Kharkiv in the country’s northeast. But it is now leaking on state TV channels and on the pages of government-backed newspapers.
The less conciliatory tone from the state-run media comes as President Vladimir Putin faces widespread Russian discontent over the partial mobilization of reservists. And while government officials struggle to explain plans to annex Ukrainian regions at the same time as retaking Kyiv’s forces.
“The Russian defeat in Kharkiv (area) and Lehman, along with the Kremlin’s failure to effectively and justly conduct partial mobilization, fundamentally alter the Russian information sphere,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a report.
On Sunday, after Ukraine recaptured Lyman, a city in the east used by Russian forces as a major logistics and transportation hub, Putin’s media allies gave up on details and directly criticized Putin’s military, saying tougher measures were necessary for victory.
“What happened on Saturday, Lyman – it’s a serious challenge for us,” Vladimir Solovyov, a prime-time talk show host on Russia 1 channel and one of the Kremlin’s biggest fans, said on air Sunday. “We need to put it together, make decisions that are unpopular, but necessary, and act.”
Ukrainian forces retook Lyman a day after Moscow celebrated its illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Donetsk, of which 40% – including Lyman – are now under Kyiv’s control.
The move paves the way for Ukrainian forces to push deeper into territory that Moscow illegally claims to be. Ukrainian forces made further gains in their counterattack Across at least two fronts on Monday, it advanced in the same areas that Russia moved to accommodate.
The leader of Chechnya, a Russian region in the North Caucasus, blamed the withdrawal at Lyman on a single general. In an Internet post, Ramzan Kadyrov, an outspoken supporter of the Kremlin, said that the general’s incompetence is “covered up by senior officials of the General Staff” and called for “more stringent measures”.
A story about Lyman’s retreat in the popular pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, painted a grim picture of the Russian military. The story, which was published on Sunday, said that Russian forces in Lyman are suffering from lack of supplies and manpower, poor coordination and tactical errors orchestrated by military officials.
“It is as it has always been,” according to an unnamed soldier quoted in the story who was part of the group that withdrew from Lyman to Kremena, another strategically important city in the eyes of the Ukrainian army. “There is no physical connection between the different units.”
Russian war correspondents working for state media on the social media app Telegram, also posted their hype with reports of the withdrawal, and some expressed concern about Ukraine’s further dash towards Kremena.
“It turns out that the Ukrainian armed forces have penetrated into our defense 30 kilometers in the direction of Luhansk in a couple of days … So they do not allow (Russian forces) to settle near Kremena. Wow, war correspondent for Russia 1 Alexander Sladkov wrote on his Telegram channel that currently has Nearly 940,000 followers.
The hosts of popular news and political talk shows on state TV channel Rossiya 1 on Sunday described the loss of Lyman as a “difficult situation.”
On Sunday, the soldiers’ state media quoted analyzes of the situation that at least partly align with Putin: they blamed the difficulties the Russian army is facing on NATO, saying that members of the alliance provided Ukraine with weapons and even fighters.
“It’s not a game, it wasn’t a game for a long time,” one of the soldiers told a Russia 1 reporter in the Donetsk region. “It is a strenuous and obvious attack of the NATO military.”
To support his claim, the soldier claimed that communications intercepted by the Russian military showed people speaking Romanian and Polish; He did not explain how he or the other soldiers could recognize either language.
Media figures also echoed Putin’s argument.
Solovyov, the host of Prime Time, stressed in his Sunday show that Moscow “is not dealing with Ukraine – we are over that. We are dealing with the entire NATO bloc, with the power of its military-industrial complex.”
He warned “not to wait for good news” from the battlefield anytime soon. “One must have a long will and strategic patience,” Solovyov said.