As Russia’s war against Ukraine enters its second month, the grim picture of destruction and suffering is breaking through on state-controlled television. Before the invasion, military experts predicted a rapid takeover of Russia’s peaceful neighbor in a matter of minutes. Now that the reality is starting to set in, they’re grimly surmising that it will take several decades to subdue freedom-loving Ukraine.
State TV’s talking heads have tried in vain to paint a rosy picture of the Kremlin’s invasion, but the cracks are starting to show. On Thursday, with screens depicting dramatic images of demolished Mariupol flashing behind them, hosts of the state television show 60 Minutes, Olga Skabeeva and Evgeny Popov, tried to point out the “positives.” They noted that Russia promised to pay compensation to some Ukrainians from the “affected” territories—10,000 rubles each, amounting to a mere $100 dollars.
To make matters worse, Ukrainians forcefully deported to Russia might end up in places like the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, with freezing cold temperatures and stark landscapes. After discussing news reports about ongoing relocations, Evgeny Popov helpfully pointed out: “But in Sakhalin, the salaries are the highest in the country!”
The chorus of concerned voices in Russian state media blamed their country’s information war failures on the fact that the Kremlin’s propaganda channels have been banished in Ukraine. State TV pundit Nikolai Starikov proposed: “When we talk about the organizers of the info-war, I’m convinced that their place is on the same bench where Nazi criminals will be tried.” The hosts, who for years agitated for war against Ukraine under false pretenses, nervously looked on without commenting.
State Duma Deputy Gen. Vladimir Shamanov—who is the former commander of the Russian Airborne Troops—accused the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky of being a “war criminal” for not surrendering to Russia. Shamanov argued: “He has the right to say, “Stop this war,” lay down the arms and save all the people.” This bizarre upside-down narrative is meant to hide the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen by the civilized world as a war criminal, is solely responsible for starting and continuing his unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country.
Political analyst Vitaly Tretyakov concluded: “The situation is serious... We have to admit that there was no psychological breakthrough in our operation, where the opposing side would lose their will to resist... The resistance from the Ukrainian side is neither stopping nor weakening.” Tretyakov pointed out that despite the Russian media’s attempted depictions of Zelensky as a drug addict, he is being perceived by the West as a leader of a country that has been attacked. He also questioned the wisdom of “liberating” Ukrainians who don’t seem to want to be “liberated” and vehemently hate seeing the Russian troops on their territory. Tretyakov noted the unwavering determination of Western leaders to “squeeze” the Russian economy by imposing punishing sanctions.
Host Olga Skabeeva was visibly rattled by the depressing realities brought to the forefront by Tretyakov’s comments. She sniped, “So you sprinkled the ashes all over your head, but what do we do now? What’s our plan? Everything is bad, nothing is working out?” Skabeeva angrily questioned whether Tretyakov had anything to offer aside from criticism. After he pointed out that societies tend to get tired of any military campaigns rather quickly, Skabeeva argued, “If you’re tired, that doesn't mean that everyone else is tired.” Visibly angered, she repeatedly shouted at Tretyakov, questioning his support for the Russian military and telling the pundit that his commentary “has a smell of something untoward.”
If Skabeeva was counting on other pundits to lighten the mood in the studio, she was sorely mistaken. Military experts proceeded to hammer additional nails into the coffin of popular delusions about the anticipated outcome of Putin’s war against Ukraine. On Thursday, military expert Igor Korotchenko called for any protests to be stopped by military force and any vocal opponents of the Russian armed forces to be “interned.” Korotchenko called for all Ukrainian flags and symbols to be destroyed, replaced by Russian and Soviet flags. He also demanded that Ukrainians who fled to NATO countries be denied the possibility of returning to their country.
In January, experts on the same show estimated that Russia could overtake the entire neighboring country in a matter of 11 minutes. Their current predictions have shifted from minutes to decades for the Russian armed forces to achieve Putin’s goals in his senseless war against Ukraine.
Korotchenko surmised, “It’s obvious that the process of denazification of Ukraine will take the minimum of 15-20 years.” He predicted that the Russian troops would have to remain on Ukrainian territory, with the Russian military in charge of the entire country for the foreseeable future: “Whether this will take 15, 20 years or more, time will tell.”
General Shamanov was even more pessimistic, as he grimly anticipated that it would take the “re-education” of at least two generations of Ukrainians before they would welcome or tolerate Russia’s dominance. He also noted that Russia’s one-million-man armed forces aren’t enough to meet such a challenge, calling for massive increases to the country’s military might. Shamalov concluded: “Today, it can be clearly predicted that we will have to remain in Ukraine for 30-40 years.”