As winter approaches and the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine approaches next month, Putin has abandoned previous efforts to insulate the people from the agony of war and is instead attempting to prepare Russians, as well as his own troops, for a long struggle ahead. (Russia Ukraine war)
As per nytimes Written by Anton Troianovski and Anatoly Kurmanaev
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Kremlin on New Year’s Eve, President Vladimir Putin is seen conversing with soldiers, exhorting them “We can’t give up anything.We must only fight and persevere.”
As winter approaches and the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine approaches next month, Putin has abandoned previous efforts to insulate the people from the agony of war and is instead attempting to prepare Russians, as well as his own troops, for a long struggle ahead.
“He’s become a lot less relaxed, a lot less optimistic,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian analyst with the political consulting firm R.Politik. “You can detect a certain anxiousness, a desire to organise all available energies to achieve his objectives.
Putin, who has been keeping a low profile over Russia’s prolonged New Year’s vacations, has made no remark regarding Ukraine’s rocket strike in Makiivka last weekend. The ensuing stream of condemnation from pro-war bloggers on social media was directed at Russian commanders while sparing Putin personally, a pattern that has emerged over months of Russian military mistakes.
According to a statement made by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday, the casualty toll from the strike has risen to 89 personnel, including the regiment’s deputy commander. According to Ukrainian officials, the death toll is far higher. Neither assertion could be verified independently. The statement also stated that the major reason the site was able to be targeted was due to troops’ usage of cellphones, which Russian military bloggers had identified as a weakness.
According to recordings and local media accounts, a memorial ceremony held on Tuesday in the city of Samara, where many of the Makiivka victims were from, called for vengeance against Ukraine. The reports made no mention of any criticism of the individuals in charge of the conflict.
Nonetheless, the Russian Defense Ministry’s unusually quick response, which acknowledged mass casualties in Makiivka a day after the attack and promised to provide “all necessary help and support” to the families of the dead, demonstrated that the Kremlin is attempting to become more transparent at home than it was in the early months of the war.
It was in stark contrast to the drowning of Russia’s Black Sea fleet’s flagship, the Moskva, last April. The Kremlin has never acknowledged being hit by Ukrainian missiles or updated the toll of one sailor killed and 27 missing, aggravating crew members’ families.
For much of last year, Putin exuded confidence while allowing life in Russia to carry on as usual. His deal with the people was simple: Leave the politics and fighting to us, and you won’t suffer much from our authorised “special military operation” in Ukraine.
That came to an end in September, when Ukraine’s counteroffensive startled the Kremlin and Putin authorised a military draught, which hardline advocates of the conflict said was long needed. Putin is now redoubling his attempts to enlist Russian society in the war effort.
The new strategy was on full show on Saturday, when Putin broke with convention and delivered his highly viewed New Year’s Eve address at a military installation, with people in uniform in the background, rather than the Kremlin.
The annual address is often heavy on apolitical platitudes traditional New Year’s Eve dinner fare for millions of Russian families. This time, Putin presented his story of a West bent on destroying Russia. “The West lied about peace while planning an invasion,” he claimed. “They are exploiting Ukraine and its people cynically to undermine and split Russia.”
It was the latest, and possibly most egregious, example of Putin attempting to prepare Russians for a protracted conflict.
According to US officials, the Kremlin is finally learning from its blunders on the battlefield. Russia is strengthening its fortifications and sending additional troops to the front lines, and it has placed a single general in command of the fight, who was able to manage a retreat from the Ukrainian city of Kherson with little fatalities in November.
Russian officers are publicly restraining their objectives as well. The Russian general staff chief, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, stated on December 22 that Russia’s present priority is on capturing the rest of the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine.
“There’s less triumphalism,” Ruslan Leviev, a Russian military analyst for the open-source analytical organisation Conflict Intelligence Team, said in an interview. He was startled by how fast the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the Makiivka losses, adding that the ministry generally takes days, if not weeks, to confess significant numbers of deaths.
Putin himself looks to be refocusing on the homefront, attempting to quell any potential dissent about the war’s grave repercussions while also mobilising Russians to more actively support it. There are widespread suspicions in Russia that Putin may soon authorise a fresh military conscription in order to bring more people to the front lines.
According to Western sources, more than 100,000 Russian service men have been killed or injured in the war, and the Russian Central Bank predicts that the country’s GDP would fall by 3% in 2022.
For the time being, though, the war’s toll on Russia has not resulted in widespread anger. The economy has proven to be more robust to Western sanctions than many predicted, and Kremlin television propaganda has been effective in convincing many Russians that the invasion of Ukraine is, as Putin maintains, a defensive war imposed on Russia by the West.
While there was enormous indignation on social media over the deaths of Russian soldiers in Makiivka, there was little criticism of Putin personally in Russia, and the episode went mostly unnoticed on official television. According to military bloggers, the high death toll might have been reduced if commanding authorities had taken simple procedures such as spreading out newly arrived soldiers in safer positions rather than grouping them near bombs.
According to recordings and local media accounts, over 100 people attended the mourning ceremony in Samara, where they waved Russian flags and coordinated help collection for survivors. Their wrath was directed against Ukraine and the West, not at their own leaders.
“The entire West has closed ranks against us in order to destroy us,” Yekaterina Kolotovkina, the wife of a Russian commander serving in Ukraine, told the Samara crowd, repeating a central theme of official propaganda.
On social media, pro-war Russian commenters’ early calls to prosecute those responsible for the Makiivka losses with treason gave way to more circumspect condemnation of local military actions and recommendations on how to avoid similar tragedies. None appeared to be directed at Putin, with veiled insults aimed more frequently at his senior staff.
Anastasia Kashevarova, a resident of the Samara region and a renowned Russian military blogger, expressed her desire to absolve Putin of culpability in a post on Monday night. “Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, we adore our nation,” she said of Putin. “I like Russia so much that I despise certain members of your entourage.”
However, some observers feel that an outpouring of protest is still possible. A Russian political scientist, Mikhail Vinogradov, observed that popular outrage over military losses during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s “didn’t materialise straight away, not in the first year of the war.”
The lack of a public reaction against Putin within Russia may indicate one of two things, according to Vinogradov: either the political system is “maximally solid,” or emotions of anger are steadily building up and “could one day rise to an explosive eruption.”
“Both hypotheses have the right to exist,” he asserted.
For the Kremlin, it is not just the conflict that might cause political upheaval this year. The next presidential election in Russia is slated for March 2024. While Putin would face no serious electoral opposition, the date has loomed big because experts and members of Russia’s elite commonly perceive it as an opportunity for Putin, 70, to make clear who he wants to follow him in the future.
The expert, Stanovaya, believes Putin will run again since constitutional changes adopted in 2020 allow him to remain in power until 2036. And she expects that tensions between two sections of the Russian elite hardliners who want to escalate the conflict and “pragmatists” who want to avoid it will worsen in the next year.
“I believe 2023 will be critical in determining which way the balance will shift,” Stanovaya added. “We’ve crossed a perilous line.”