The Director of Russia’s National Guard has begun a campaign to reassure Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukrainians are supportive of Russia seizing territory in Ukraine when the reality couldn’t be further off.
“I would like to emphasize that we can feel that the population of the liberated areas is supporting us. They realize that we are defending their right to a peaceful life and their children’s happiness,” the director, Viktor Zolotov, told Putin, according to the Kremlin.
In a video of the exchange, Putin looks visibly troubled and concerned, gripping the table, while Zolotov shares his thoughts.
Zolotov’s efforts to feed Putin a narrative that Ukrainians want Russia to be capturing territory in Ukraine come just as two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that the Biden administration has concerns that Russia may be preparing to run sham referenda in seized territories in Ukraine, in order to make it appear like Ukraine supports Russia’s invasion. Russia also ran a sham referendum, which the United States and other allies have repeatedly declared is invalid, in Crimea following Russia’s takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.
“National Guard troops are accomplishing a wide range of objectives to maintain law, order, and security, and to resume peaceful life in the liberated territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, as well as in the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions,” Zolotov continued.
The reality on the ground, however, is different: Ukrainian forces are conducting a counteroffensive in the south of Ukraine in an attempt to regain land that Russia took over early in the war.
Zolotov’s claims, for which he provides no evidence, also coincide with a series of embarrassing stumbles for Russia in the war in Ukraine, and just as Russia faces off with the new Ukrainian threat in the south. As of Monday, Ukrainian forces have been increasing their artillery fire across southern Ukraine, according to a British intelligence assessment shared Tuesday.
And Ukrainian forces have begun working to wage a counteroffensive against Kherson, one of the cities Russia seized early in the war. So far, Ukrainian authorities have said they have destroyed 159 Russians and 60 pieces of equipment.
It’s not clear how much progress Ukraine has made, the British intelligence assessment said. But the Ukrainians are having an impact.
“Ukrainian long-range precision strikes continue to disrupt Russian resupply,” the intelligence briefing said.