In the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s top propagandists predicted a swift victory and derided the Ukrainian military as an unwilling bunch of incompetents. As the war dragged on, they continued to claim that Volodymyr Zelensky’s government was about to fall. Faced with Ukraine’s mounting counteroffensive, which is rapidly achieving impressive gains, Russian propagandists are now describing an enormous horde, armed with the best Western weaponry and swimming in foreign specialists.
With state TV studios full of doom and gloom, prominent pundits and experts seem to be preparing Russian audiences for future losses of occupied Ukrainian lands, which are being painstakingly reclaimed by the Ukrainian military. During Wednesday’s broadcast of the state TV show 60 Minutes, host Evgeny Popov said: “We wish courage to our warriors, who are indeed doing very important work, they are resisting an enormous horde that has been trained in the West.”
Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired Lieutenant-General of the Russian Armed Forces, claimed that the Ukrainian military is overflowing with American participants: “There are not only advisers, but specialists. I think that there are thousands of American advisers and specialists on the ground in Ukraine, they’re probably present in every unit.”
During his Wednesday’s radio show, Full Contact, top Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov—with a noticeably bruised face—surmised: “I’m worried. Naturally, we want for our guys to crush [the other side] and only to advance, but life doesn’t work that way.” Solovyov refused to address the source of his injuries, but in light of Ukrainian military gains, his bruised ego was likewise on full display.
By the time his nightly program The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov started, the host’s facial abrasions had been covered with makeup. Speaking to State Duma deputy Andrey Gurulyov, who is a former deputy commander of Russia's southern military district, Solovyov attempted to downplay his initial reaction to Russia’s recent losses. “Comrade Lieutenant General, you always speak so beautifully and convincingly. Calm people down, because there are all sorts of rumors. I can only imagine what would happen if Telegram existed in 1942-1943,” he said. Gurulyov grimly replied: “Today, I believe there is a difficult situation on one of our fronts. Yes, Ukrainians concentrated their assault troops there and started to advance.”
Hemming and hawing, Gurulyov added: “We’ll need some time to bring things back to order. Yes, the situation isn’t easy. Were mistakes made? Yes, probably so. You can’t avoid mistakes in life or in war.”
Solovyov warned that no matter what, there would be no peace deal with Ukraine: “There won’t be a Minsk-3… The frontline can breathe, there can be local failures, there could be excited screams coming from Kharkiv and Kyiv. That won’t change our general hard line… we’ll suffocate this serpent. There are no other options… We’ll bury as many of them as we need to.”
Appearing on Solovyov’s show, military expert Mikhail Onufrienko threw aside the term “special military operation” and complained: “This is a difficult war, it’s a big war, the world hasn’t seen wars of this magnitude since WWII, at least after Vietnam… The panic is being stoked not by the Ukrainian side, not by the Kyiv regime or Western sources, but by our own patriotic [social media] channels… Nonetheless, objectively speaking, this is the most successful advance of the junta since February 24… We clearly don’t have enough troops to contain them… but they couldn’t take Balakliya.”
Pro-Kremlin propagandists have lost that bit of joy as well, given that as of Thursday, Ukraine has retaken Balakliya—a strategically important city. During a briefing in Kyiv, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov said that Ukraine had retaken about 700 square kilometers of territory in both the east and south of the country.
During Thursday’s airing of 60 Minutes, Apti Alaudinov, the commander of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen detachment “Akhmat,"”revisited his routine portrayal of Russia’s war as a battle against the Antichrist. “Let me assure everyone who thinks that we lost something or were defeated somewhere, let me remind you of an old proverb: being defeated in a battle doesn’t mean losing the war,” he said. “Don’t you worry about a thing, everything is fine.”
Host Olga Skabeeva tried to comfort the audiences by claiming that everything is going according to the plan: “If social media and ‘couch-experts’ existed during WWII, Stalin would have surely lost his mind. We won’t succumb to panic,” Skabeeva’s pep talk notwithstanding, the long faces in the studio spoke louder than words.