Russian elites are increasingly critical of the war in Ukraine and are looking for scapegoats

Cracks are appearing in the strong base of support among Russia’s political elite for President Vladimir Putin’s policies war in ukraine. As Russian forces suffer setback after setback and a botched and wildly unpopular military mobilization effort draws thousands of ill-trained men to serve on the front lines, high-ranking military and political figures have sought scapegoats. , and the blame game is getting closer than ever to Putin himself.

Critics of Moscow’s military strategy and the way decisions are made and implemented on the ground have been simmering for weeks on popular social media among pro-war Russian military correspondents.

This week, however, he reached a new level.

“We have to stop lying”

General Andrey Kartapolov, who held various senior positions in Russia’s Defense Ministry until he became a member of parliament and head of its defense committee a few years ago, lambasted the country’s current military commanders for war losses.

“First of all, you have to stop lying,” Kartapolov, who previously commanded the Western Military District, which is at the heart of Ukraine’s invasion, said during a popular online video broadcast led by a prominent Kremlin propagandist.

From left, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, then commander of the Western Russian Military District Andrei Kartapolov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a military parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 30, 2017.

AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool

“All the border villages in the Belgorod region are practically destroyed,” Kartapolov lamented, referring to settlements right on the Ukrainian border that have been caught in the crossfire as Russia uses the region as a base for its attacks. .

“We hear about this from anyone, from governors and military correspondents. But the Department of Defense reports don’t change,” the politician said. “People know. Our people aren’t stupid, they see they’re not telling them the truth and that can lead to loss of credibility.”

Blaming Russia’s top brass, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who, at least in the past, was considered a close friend and confidant of Putin, has become a central theme on Russian television and in the media. public forums.

Direct criticism of Putin himself still seems banned on the closely watched and tightly controlled Russian airwaves, and pro-Kremlin voices have worked hard to shield the autocrat from public discontent. But infighting between various political clans appears to be upsetting the stone-built hierarchy that Putin has account to stay in power — and quickly quash any hint of dissent — for more than two decades.

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A week ago, Russian troops were driven out of the Ukrainian town of Lyman. The recapture of the rail hub in the Donetsk region deprived Russia of a crucial logistical hub and gave Ukrainian forces a route to attack the Russian-occupied Luhansk region. Shortly after Lyman’s fall to Ukrainian forces, the powerful leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrovlaunched a mocking attack on the General Staff of the Russian army, which is leading the military campaign, and on Alexander Lapin, who Kadyrov said was responsible for this sector of the front line.

“The shame is not that Lapin is without talent,” Kadyrov wrote on his blog on the Telegram messaging app. “It is that he is protected from above by the leadership of the General Staff.”

“If it were up to me, I would demote him to the rank of soldier, strip him of his medals and send him to the front with a rifle in order to wash away his shame in blood,” Kadyrov added.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s largely occupied Kherson region, appears in a video criticizing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over Moscow’s recent military losses in southern Ukraine on October 6 2022.

Social media/Reuters

The Russian-installed proxy leader of Ukraine’s largely occupied Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, went even further, delivering rare scathing criticism of Defense Minister Shoigu over Moscow’s recent military losses, including in Kherson.

“Many say the Minister of Defense – who let it come to this – should just shoot himself like a [real] officer,” Stremousov said in a four-minute video posted on his Telegram channel on Thursday.

A deeply unpopular mobilization

Russia’s botched military mobilization campaign – which saw the blind, the elderly and others unable to fight among those who received summonses to fight – was another major point of public criticism.

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Tens of thousands of people, mostly young men, have fled the country to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine, and hundreds have been arrested during anti-mobilization protests around the country. Those who showed up for work faced shortages of protective gear and other basics, including food and uniforms.

“I am puzzled how a current MoD training site can be in such a state. A crumbling canteen, broken and rusty showers, a lack of beds, and the existing ones are broken,” said Roman Starovoit, governor of the Kursk. region that borders Ukraine, said Wednesday after a tour of military training grounds there, some of which he described as “terrible”.

Bloomberg reported, citing sources, that the sudden flurry of public acknowledgment of Russian military failures in Ukraine was actually the result of a directive from the Kremlin. The report suggests the Kremlin has asked some trusted state media to start acknowledging failures, fearing that too positive a message on Russian airwaves could fuel public doubts about its credibility.

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Putin also reportedly met with pro-war military correspondents and bloggers who spent months in the field and offered more realistic battlefield updates. Some of those reporters reportedly wondered if the Russian president had relied solely on the pink-colored public briefings provided by his defense ministry.

“The idea that Russia will inevitably win has begun to be eclipsed by doubt about the price Russia is willing to pay to bring Ukraine to heel,” said the political analyst and nonresident Carnegie scholar. Endowment Tatiana Stanovaya. said in a recent analysis. “Things have progressed so far that they may now have to choose from various losing scenarios. This makes Putin much more vulnerable as he might just find that he and the elites are settling on different scenarios.”

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