The Kremlin has all but admitted defeat in Kharkiv Oblast, and is now focused on shifting the blame away from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its Sept. 13 report.
This is the first time Moscow has openly recognized military defeat since the start of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, ISW said. Kremlin officials and state media propagandists are now widely discussing the reasons for the Russian defeat in Kharkiv Oblast – a marked change from their previous pattern of reporting on exaggerated or fabricated Russian successes in limited detail.
Kremlin sources are now working to clear Putin of any responsibility for the defeat, instead blaming the loss of almost all of occupied Kharkiv Oblast on underinformed military advisors within Putin’s circle.
The Kremlin is also becoming more bellicose.
Leader of the Russian Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov stated that Russia needs to announce a full mobilization because the Russian “special military operation” is a war.
However, the leader of the “Fair Russia—For Truth” Party Sergey Mironov called for social “mobilization,” in which regular Russians would pay attention more to the war in Ukraine, rather than for full military mobilization.
The Kremlin is likely seeking to use the defeat in Kharkiv to facilitate crypto mobilization efforts, ISW reckons. Zyuganov’s and Mironov’s statements could be aimed at raising concern and patriotism among Russians to encourage them to get more involved in the war.
ISW assessed that this activity in the Russian parliament doesn’t suggest that Putin is preparing to order a general mobilization, and it is far from clear that he could do so quickly.
Large-scale conscription would very likely overwhelm the Russian Defense Ministry’s ability to induct, train, and equip new soldiers, particularly since the Russian training base already appears to be strained just in preparing the limited numbers of volunteer battalions currently being fielded.
The Kremlin has adopted narratives that echo longstanding demands and complaints by Russian military bloggers, suggesting that Putin seeks to appease and win back this critical community rather than censor it. Russian bloggers have long complained about the Russian Defense Ministry and the military high command, and now the Kremlin state media is openly expressing dissatisfaction with the progress of the war and the lack of situational awareness of events on the ground.
Other key takeaways from the report:
- The successful Ukrainian counter-offensive around Kharkiv Oblast is prompting Russian servicemen, occupation authorities, and military bloggers to panic;
- Russia’s military failures in Ukraine are likely continuing to weaken Russia’s leverage in the former Soviet Union as Russia appears unwilling to enforce a violated ceasefire it brokered between Armenia and Azerbaijan or to allow Armenia to invoke provisions of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization in its defense;
- Ukrainian troops likely continued ground attacks along the Lyman-Yampil-Bilohorivka line in northern Donetsk Oblast and may be conducting limited ground attacks across the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast;
- Russian and Ukrainian sources indicated that Ukrainian forces are continuing ground maneuvers in three areas of Kherson Oblast as part of the ongoing southern counter-offensive;
- Russian troops made incremental gains south of Bakhmut and continued ground attacks throughout Donetsk Oblast;
- Ukrainian forces provided the first visual evidence of Russian forces using an Iranian-made drone in Ukraine on Sept. 13.
Russia's war against Ukraine: map of hostilities
Battles and offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the south of Ukraine: map of combat operations (Kherson Oblast)
Battles and offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kharkiv Oblast: map of combat operations
Battles in Donbas: map