The Kremlin is Torn by Its Own Propaganda and the Increasingly Loud Criticism of the Lost Initiative in Ukraine
The consequences of the latest development in Ukraine for the Kremlin are still unclear, but experts say that if the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues at a similar pace, it will be increasingly difficult for Putin to present himself as a strong strategist. For more than two decades, he has built an image of himself as a strong military-political and driving force on the international political stage, a strategist who can outwit Western leaders and restore Russia to its former glory, although this was only his personal fixation, he faces the biggest challenge in his career
Author: Zoran Bojarovski
In early September, the Ukrainian army launched an offensive against the country’s Kharkiv region, followed by the withdrawal of Russian troops since the start of the war.
Although the Russian Ministry of Defense technically confirmed the withdrawal, it still maintained the stance that the purpose of this new “operation” was to consolidate its troops in the Donbas, and not to withdraw due to the offensive of the Ukrainian army, and they used and repeated the term – “peregrupirovka”, i.e. regrouping.
This term, as well as other propagandist terms and assessments of what happened on the ground from 9 to 11 September, was a common denominator of the influential Russian media and journalists.
Television expert Dmitry Kiselyov in “News of the Week” on the TV channel Russia-1 said that in attempts to prevent the regrouping of Russian forces, the Ukrainian army suffered heavy losses and that Russian soldiers managed to stabilize the situation and avoid being encircled.
In a piece on Ukraine’s Kupyansk offensive, a reporter who tuned in to Kiselyov’s broadcast claimed that Ukrainian forces fired on civilian residential areas and that their units were under the command of Western mercenaries.
Viewers were also told that Ukrainian troops in the Kherson region “were unable to secure the territory that seemed possible at the beginning of the offensive,” and that this was why Ukrainian troops began “terrorizing civilians”.
Kiselyov also claimed that Ukrainians were carrying out “purification” operations in the conquered territories and that “neo-Nazis” were threatening to kill civilians who managed to obtain Russian passports.
It is all very sad, concluded Kiselyov in the show “News of the Week” on TV channel Russia-1 on September 11.
The host of “Weekly Review” on NTV television, Irada Zeinalova, without going into details about the military operations on the ground, included in the show the briefing of the spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Igor Konashenkov, who said that “an operation to transfer the soldiers from the Izum-Balaklia direction to strengthen the positions in the Donetsk region”.
A segment of Zeinailova’s show, filmed on the ground in Ukraine, claims that fighting in the Kharkiv region is ongoing, but that “the worst-case scenario – the encirclement of Russia’s forces that Ukraine so desires – has not happened.”
In addition, the reporter from the field said that the “Ukrainian-US-European” forces were in a weak position because they did not have as much combat power as the width of the front and that Ukraine continues to “spread false reports of victory.”
In addition, in the second most watched political show on Russia-1, “Weekly Time” in the edition of September 11, which is broadcasted at 21:00, there was almost no mention of the withdrawal of the Russian army in the northeast of Ukraine.
Fierce fighting in the last days: Elimination of the remaining militants, who suffered heavy losses while trying to break through to Kherson; Liberation of strategically important parts of Donetsk and regrouping of troops, the presenter said in the announcement of the show.
Konashenkov was also a guest on this show and spoke about Ukraine’s losses.
The Ukrainian television correspondent reported on the “feats of soldiers and commanders during the regrouping in Ukraine” and reiterated the position of the Ministry of Defense that “the operation to organize the transfer of soldiers from the Izium-Balaklia area to Donetsk” is underway.
On the other hand, the world media reported the withdrawal of the Russian units and showed how they left behind a large number of destroyed armored vehicles and other machinery and even ammunition.
Outraged reactions from influential figures and war bloggers in Russia followed. Zakhar Prilepin, whose channel on the social network Telegram has more than 250,000 subscribers, described the events in Kharkiv as a “disaster” and a major failure of Russian intelligence, which is an especially strong point given that Putin himself came from the KGB.
Moreover, Igor Strelkov, former head of the pro-Russian paramilitary formations in Donetsk, pointed to the poor preparation and training of the Russian soldiers deployed in that territory and added that Russian aviation also failed with the minimal and insignificant support of the Russian ground forces.
Surprising criticism also came from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who deployed several thousand of his fighters in the offensive. In his Telegram comments, which were picked up by all the world’s media, on Sunday, September 11, when Ukraine’s offensive reached its peak, he said he would go to Moscow to explain to Russia’s leaders his message that “mistakes have been made and several conclusions will be drawn,” and added that “if the Russian General Staff did not want them to leave, the troops would not have withdrawn.”
After these statements about the turn of the military field in Ukraine, a multitude of reactions from influential political figures and officials in Russia followed.
On Monday, September 12, deputies from 18 municipal districts in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kolpino demanded Putin’s resignation, according to a petition with a list of signatures posted on Twitter. This was followed by the reaction of the Russian authorities with a fine of 47,000 rubles, or around 800 euros for “discrediting” high-ranking officials, a measure that was introduced into Russia’s criminal code shortly after the “special military operation” against Ukraine began.
The consequences of the latest development in Ukraine for the Kremlin are still unclear, but experts say that if the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues at a similar pace, it will be increasingly difficult for Putin to present himself as a strong strategist.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who for more than two decades has built an image of himself as a strong military-political leader and a driving force on the international political scene, a strategist who can outwit Western leaders and restore Russia to its former glory, although it was only his own fixation, now faces the biggest challenge of his career because after the initiative of Ukraine he was left with very few options.
In addition, as the Ukrainian flag is raised in each subsequent city returned to Kyiv’s control, one question continues to come into focus: How is the Kremlin responding?
The Red Square building said on Monday that Putin is aware of the situation on the front and insists that Russia’s only goal is to establish full control in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions for denazification and the protection of the Russian population.
It is interesting that the appeals to continue the negotiations with Kyiv, which were interrupted after they were last held in Istanbul, are getting louder.
It is surprising that the call for negotiations came from the Kremlin, that is, from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who in a statement to TAS indicated that Moscow might be ready to negotiate with Ukraine.
The President (that is Putin in the Russian Duma) told the participants of the meeting that we do not deny negotiations, but those who deny it should understand that the longer they delay this process, the more difficult it will be for them to negotiate with us, Lavrov said in a quote that was broadcast by TAS and thus revealed that Putin is also talking about continuing the negotiations as an option.
To this, Kyiv made it clear that it would reject negotiations that would involve Ukraine giving up any of its territories.
What experts say is inevitable is that the Kremlin will try to deflect blame for the botched operation.
For now, as we described at the beginning of this analysis, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is largely sticking to the existing narrative.
This article has been produced within the project Promoting Access to Reliable News to Counter Disinformation, implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation. The article, originally published by Truthmeter,, is made possible by the support of the American non-profit foundation NED (National Endowment for Democracy). The content of this article is the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, NED or their partners.