Moscow is in a downward spiral of mounting defeats – both military and diplomatic ones – as international relations expert Ivan Yakovyna explains in his Sept. 16 NV Radio program.
The following is an edited transcript of Yakovyna’s show.
Russian independent media outlet Meduza reported recently that Russian Security Council members have begun suggesting that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin should perhaps probe on what conditions Kyiv would agree to resume peace talks.
Ukrainian Deputy PM Olha Stefanishyna openly said that Moscow is using every available channel to make overtures for renewed negotiations – something Ukraine remains reluctant to do, sensing that it has seized the initiative in the war. The Kremlin is clearly gauging how ready the Ukrainians are for talks.
A string of defeats and the absence of normal political debate within Russia breeds panic in the country. The Kremlin, Russian Defense Ministry, and Rosgvardia (the Russian National Guard, typically used as riot police) are starting to realize their choice is between retreating and using nuclear weapons – something that would have genuinely unpredictable consequences. Russia no longer has the capacity to turn the tide of war in its favor with conventional military means.
Ukraine’s position has largely crystallized: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said any peace talks with Russia are contingent on a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territories – including Donbas and Crimea.
According to Meduza, Putin doesn’t think that retreating from Donbas is on the table and outright refuses to even hear about Crimea. This rigid position means he’s up for a major setback in the future.
Putin’s recent trip to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit could soon change his calculus. It looks like Russia was unable to secure wider Chinese support for the war in Ukraine. Xi Jinping likely told Putin the war should end as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy’s trip to recently-liberated Izyum in Kharkiv Oblast has become a major narrative victory for Ukraine — being seen as a rare national leader would travel to a city that remains well within the range of enemy artillery, right next to an active warzone.
The personal courage displayed by the president’s trip is obvious to all – even Russians. It’s not an event even the Kremlin’s propaganda can handwave away. His Russia-cultivated image as a weak comedian and a clown has been shattered.
The contrast with how Putin behaves as a leader has escaped no one. The Russian president is escorted by a detachment of bodyguards even during his bathroom visits, and every visitor has to endure a strict 10-day quarantine before meeting “the Tsar.” No fewer than 12 doctors accompany Putin on every trip.
He is gradually morphing into a modern equivalent of (1964–1982 Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev, who embodied geriatric stagnation.
Russian pundits are livid that the entire arsenal of the Russian army was not used to obliterate Izyum when Zelenskyy was there. Nevertheless, it’s apparent they are envious to some degree – they’d like to have a young, energetic leader, who would inspect the troops at the front lines and receive their victory reports.
The actual Russian leader, meanwhile, is an old, cowardly, and sick man, who is losing battle after battle out of sheer incompetence. He’s holed up in his bunker, clutching the “nuclear briefcase,” using gigantic tables to distance himself from his generals and ministers.
Hence, Russian pundits and the patriotic society in general are in a bit of confidence slump. They clearly don’t like what’s going on. They envy their enemy, barely keeping themselves from publicly saying what they really think of Putin.
Here are some quotes from several prominent zealous Russian commentators:
“Zelenskyy’s visit to Izyum has once again underscored the ‘excellent’ planning of the ‘special military operation’ and stellar competence of the Russian General Staff,” said Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, notorious Russian war criminal and international terrorist.
Girkin is fuming, dropping sarcastic remarks about Russian military commanders, and is clearly unhappy that Russia retreated from Izyum. He is especially angry Zelenskyy was not obliterated during the visit.
“Rybar (another Russian military expert) is right to ask why there was no strike at Izyum,” wrote Andrey Medvedev, Russian political scientist.
“It’s not like the United States doesn’t have anyone to replace him (Zelenskyy) with. Why didn’t we force them to make a couple substitutions? Could have made others think twice. We definitely have the capability to have done so.”
Medvedev is suggesting that eliminating Zelenskyy and his aides was possible – something Russian commentators are saying should have been done.
“I’d like to add to what Rybar and Andrey Medvedev said: Zelenskyy’s Izyum visit has bolstered the already high morale of Ukrainian troops; credit where credit is due – these guys don’t lack courage and know how to do publicity,” Russian telegram channel Elder Edda wrote.
“Supreme Commander-in-Chief Zelya (Zelenskyy) is crawling around Izyum, posing with his valorous troops,” said Russian propagandist Alexander Zhuchkovskyi, seething.
“He came to see the Ukrainian flag rising over a city abandoned by Russians. ‘Where the Russian flag rises, it never comes down’ – perhaps we shouldn’t keep repeating this mantra, to avoid further shame? The photos are positively brimming with the spirit of Ukrainian national liberation – after all, they kicked the Russians out. They are very skilled in propaganda operations: even the fall of Mariupol didn’t knock them out of the war…This latest success is the largest one of this ‘special military operation.’ Compare their propaganda with ours – it is a major problem. That’s what our leadership needs to think about. Urgent action and drastic reform are our only remedies.”
Zhuchkovskyi is going a tad too far – “drastic reform” is quite impossible without deposing Putin. Borderline revolutionary rhetoric.
He did hit on an interesting point: morale and propaganda victories are more important than what’s going on the battlefield. The ability to present defeats as triumphs seems to be paramount.
Essentially, the idea is to break Ukraine’s morale with propaganda and narrative warfare, while infusing Russian troops with confidence and resolve. The modern Russian regime as a whole largely rests on broadcast propaganda, recently branching off to social media like all these Telegram channels.
Perception trumps reality in Russia. That’s why all these pundits are fuming over how much more successful Ukraine is on that front. Global public opinion overwhelmingly favors Ukraine in this war. Meanwhile, Moscow’s attempts to dress up its setbacks as resounding victories often backfire as clumsy and hollow.
I think we can expect the Russian attitude to shift dramatically in near future. Perhaps, Putin will actively seek peace negotiations. He could even become open to making certain concessions. It remains to be seen how Ukraine would respond.