Russia rang in the new year with gaudy excess, patriotic fervor and echoes of a Soviet past. In studios filled with visiting servicemen, brought in from the front lines to film the New Year’s extravaganza, hosts and performers toasted victory and mocked the West for the side effects of Russian sanctions. Comedian Yevgeny Petrosyan cheered for the troops, assuring them that the entire country was behind them. He taunted Ukraine and its Western allies: "Like it or not, Russia is enlarging!"
Noisy bravado couldn’t hide the fact that no one was drinking from the champagne glasses seemingly filled with sparkling water, or the blank stares on the faces of the visiting troops. One of the hosts, sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev, compared life to a biathlon—a grueling cross-country ski race with rifle shooting—and surmised: “If you’re having a hard time, then the finish line is near and victory is close!”
Holiday cheer notwithstanding, even Russian propagandists realize that hard times are only starting and attempts to summon a ghost of the Soviet past are directly related to a starkly different way of life that awaits the average Russian. On Wednesday, host of Solovyov Live Sergey Mardan struggled to contain his feelings about “the grinning and glee on the federal channels,” which continued even after the news of a HIMARS strike that killed dozens of Russian troops in Makiivka. Mardan raged: “What happened in Makiivka is a tragedy! A real tragedy! There didn’t have to be a phone call from the top for them to figure out that TV programming should be changed to something that is more fitting. Instead of vulgar anecdotes, put on any old Soviet movie.”
The Soviet grooming that is being implemented by many Russian propagandists is meant to condition the people to the rapid decline in the standards of living to which many of them have become accustomed. The expectations are so dire, Mardan posed a startling question to his economic expert, Denis Raksha: “What are our chances? Do we even have them or not? Will we have to live like South Korea in the 1950s-1960s? Will we end up having to eat fire ants?”
Raksha explained that if Russia intends to drastically rebuild its economy in order to be self-sustaining everyday life will become quite difficult, even if Russians won’t have to resort to eating ants. He added: “Currently, the industrialization reminiscent of that of the 19th century or the 1920s-1930s is practically impossible. In that case, we’d have to live not like South Koreans, but like North Koreans.”
Another kind of hunger is also concerning Russian experts: a looming lack of ammunition. On Jan. 2, Victor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, raised an alarm on his Telegram channel, where he wrote: “In 1914, miscalculations of the General Staff as to the rate of accumulation of shells (900 shots) led to an acute shortage of shells for the army in the field. Urgent measures were required to save the army from a complete shell starvation. The military industry was not ready to solve this problem... the “ammo hunger” was fully eliminated only in 1916.”
Murakhovsky went on to explain his calculations for the same problem that is raising its head now: “In the early 1990s, the Russian army inherited from the Soviet army about 15 million tons of missiles and ammunition... As of January 1, 2013, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation had 3.7 million tons of ammunition, of which 1.1 million tons are unusable. This means that 2.6 million tons of ammunition are usable. In 2020, almost 300 thousand pieces of ammunition were repaired and more than 20 thousand shells for multiple launch rocket systems were collected. The realistic need for ammunition is MILLIONS of pieces per year.”
During his program, Mardan described the predictions of the upcoming ammunition shortages as “apocalyptic writings” and pondered out loud whether Russian industry would be able to solve this problem. His guest, military expert Vladislav Shurygin, cautiously replied: “I read that post. It should be acknowledged that it was written by one of our best military professionals... but his calculations didn’t include the rate at which the ammo is currently being produced.” He argued that imposing strict usage norms on the battlefield was the way to keep the issue under control. Meanwhile, Russia is reportedly continuing to court other pariah states to source weapons and ammo to replenish its dwindling stocks.
The simple solution of abandoning Russia’s failing invasion of Ukraine never seems to occur to the pro-Kremlin propagandists. Mardan raged: “The enemy has to be destroyed down to the root! It has to be exterminated! Russian history of the last 1,000 years shows that the deed has to be brought to its final conclusion... If Stalin had deported [the people of] Western Ukraine—to me, it’s still a mystery why he didn’t do it—perhaps none of this would be happening.”
To sweeten the pot, the host rejoiced over millions of Ukrainian refugees who ended up in Russia, while Moscow struggles to alleviate a severe demographic crisis: “Look at how much the Motherland is spending to solve the demographic problem... We got these people [Ukrainians] for free, for nothing—approximately five million of them! Five million souls!”
Concluding the program, Mardan grimly noted: “To everyone who says that Russia should get up off its knees—myself included—my friends, I’m afraid that our former way of life is a thing of the past... It’s practically unavoidable... perhaps we’ll be reflecting upon the past year as our last fat year. On the other hand, a great victory is ahead of us!”