Loyalty to Kremlin cracks among Russian leadership after latest defeats in Ukraine

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“We have to stop lying,” a deputy with military experience acknowledged this week

Oct. 8 () –

The Kremlin’s official discourse surrounding the Ukrainian war, a “special military operation” in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has begun to show some cracks as Russia’s forces have ceded ground to Ukrainian forces on the front lines.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky ordered a counteroffensive in the east and south of the country in late August that has resulted in advances at key points. Moscow argued the first withdrawals as tactical retreats, but Western analyses agree that this is a turning point in the conflict.

The Russian government counter-programmed the defeats with the announcement on September 21 of a partial military mobilization aimed at recruiting 300,000 reservists. On the same day, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu acknowledged that they had already lost almost 6,000 troops, although the Ukrainian side put the number of casualties at over 60,000.

The Kremlin made efforts from the outset to control the narrative, harshly persecuting media and dissidents who even dare to speak of “war” or “invasion.” Any criticism of the work of the Armed Forces can constitute a crime, to the astonishment of human rights organizations.

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“We have to stop lying,” proclaimed Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Katapolov this week in a popular program broadcast on the Internet. “Our population is not stupid,” sentenced this former general, in a message unheard since the beginning of the invasion on February 24.

The U.S. intelligence services are also criticized by the closest circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sources quoted by the newspaper ‘The Washington Post’ have confirmed a direct confrontation with Putin by one of his main advisors -without naming names- and have revealed a growing discomfort for the lack of command and logistics evidenced during these months.

“There are many people convinced that this is not going well,” a Western source has told the American newspaper summarizing a rumbling allegedly increasingly recurrent among a certain Russian elite.

UK Intelligence already warned recently that part of the reservists called up in recent days by Russia have been ordered to join the Armed Forces with their own first aid package, in the face of an apparent lack of resources on the part of the Russian authorities.

Moreover, the Ukrainian recaptures have evidenced front-line mistakes on the part of the Russian troops, as for example in the strategic town of Liman, where they came to be practically surrounded. The pro-Russian leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, publicly acknowledged that the information coming from that area was “worrying”, before his loyalists completely lost Liman.

The decline would be such that the Kremlin would have already begun to authorize the related media to echo some failures, fearing that the absolute praise for Putin would contribute to feed the social discontent that was already visible in the demonstrations against the call-up of reservists, according to the Bloomberg news agency. The OVD organization estimates that more than 2,400 people were detained between September 21 and 26.

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However, certain red lines remain, so that direct reproaches against Putin or against the arguments that led him to order the invasion over Ukraine continue to be unheard. Nor is it expected that the strict informative criteria that led media such as the emblematic ‘Novaya Gazeta’ to close until further notice will be lifted.

The war in Ukraine is now in its seventh month and, with no sign of a military victory in sight, the diplomatic terrain is also looking difficult. Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky this week issued a decree explicitly forbidding negotiations with Putin, and Moscow has made it clear that it has no plans to make any political or military concessions in exchange for a hypothetical dialogue.

Russia’s consummated annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporiyia, illegitimate in the eyes of Kiev and the entire Western community, has added a new factor to the equation, insofar as Zelensky has always said that he will not sign any peace that involves ceding to the neighboring country territories that are, according to international law, Ukraine’s.

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