Russian elites are increasingly critical of the war in Ukraine and looking for scapegoats

Cracks are emerging in the solid base of support within Russia’s political elite for President Vladimir Putin. war in ukraine. As Russia’s forces suffer setback after setback and a failed and highly unpopular military mobilization effort draws thousands of ill-trained men to serve on the front lines, senior political and military figures have been looking for scapegoats, and the game of the blame is increasingly closer to Putin himself.

Criticism of Moscow’s military strategy and the way decisions are made and implemented on the ground have been brewing for weeks on social media channels popular with pro-war Russian military correspondents.

This week, however, it reached a new level.

“You have to stop lying”

Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, who held a variety of top positions in Russia’s Defense Ministry until he became a member of parliament and head of its defense committee a few years ago, lashed out at the country’s current military commanders for losses in war.

“First of all, you have to stop lying,” Kartapolov, who previously commanded the Western Military District, which is critical to the invasion of Ukraine, said in a popular online video show run by a top Kremlin propagandist.

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From left, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, then Russian Western Military District Commander Andrei Kartapolov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a military parade in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 30, 2017. .

AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool


“All the border villages in the Belgorod region are practically destroyed,” Kartapolov lamented, referring to settlements right on the border with Ukraine that have been caught in the crossfire as Russia uses the area as a staging ground for its attacks.

“We hear this from anyone, from governors and military correspondents. But the reports from the Ministry of Defense do not change,” said the politician. “People know it. Our people are not stupid, they see that they are not being told the truth and that can lead to a loss of credibility”.

Blaming Russia’s top brass, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who, in the past at least, has been considered a close friend and confidant of Putin, has become a central theme on Russian television and in public forums.

Direct criticism of Putin himself still seems off limits on Russia’s closely monitored and controlled airwaves, and pro-Kremlin voices have been working hard to shield the autocrat from public discontent. But infighting between various political clans appears to be upsetting the stone-carved hierarchy that Putin has created. confident to stay in power – and quickly nullify any hint of dissent — for more than two decades.


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A week ago, Russian troops were expelled from the Ukrainian city of Lyman. Retaking the rail hub in the Donetsk region deprived Russia of a crucial logistics hub and gave Ukrainian forces a route to attack the Russian-occupied Luhansk region. Shortly after Lyman fell to Ukrainian forces, the powerful head of Russia’s Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrovunleashed a mocking attack on the General Staff of the Russian army, which is leading the military campaign, and on Alexander Lapin, whom Kadyrov said was responsible for that sector of the front line.

“The shame is not that Lapin has no talent,” Kadyrov wrote on his blog on the Telegram messaging app. “It is that he is being protected from above by the leaders of the General Staff.”

“If it were up to me, I would demote him to a private, take away his medals and send him to the front with a rifle to cleanse his shame with blood,” Kadyrov added.

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Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed leader in Ukraine’s largely occupied Kherson region, appears in a video criticizing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for Moscow’s recent military losses in southern Ukraine on 6 October 2022.

Social media/Reuters


The Russian-installed deputy leader of Ukraine’s largely occupied Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, went even further, issuing rare scathing criticism of Defense Minister Shoigu over Moscow’s recent military losses, including in Kherson.

“Many say that the Defense Minister, who allowed things to come to this, should just shoot himself like a [real] official,” Stremousov said in a four-minute video posted Thursday on his Telegram channel.

A deeply unpopular mobilization

Russia’s failed military mobilization campaign, which has seen the blind, elderly and others unable to fight among those called up to fight, has been another major point of public criticism.


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Tens of thousands of people, mostly young men, have fled the country to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine, and hundreds have been arrested in protests against the mobilization Around the country. Those who have reported for duty have faced shortages of protective gear and other basics, including food and uniforms.

“I am perplexed how a current Ministry of Defense training site can be in such a state. A dilapidated canteen, broken and rusty showers, no beds and those that exist are broken,” Roman Starovoit, governor of Kursk. region bordering Ukraine, he said Wednesday after a tour of military training camps there, some of which he described as “terrible.”

Bloomberg has reported, citing sources, that the sudden outpouring of public acclaim for the Russian military’s failures in Ukraine is actually the result of a Kremlin directive. The report suggests that the Kremlin told some trusted state media outlets to start acknowledging flaws, fearing that too positive a message on Russian airwaves would cast public doubt on their credibility.


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Putin has also reportedly met with pro-war military correspondents and bloggers who have spent months on the ground and have been offering more realistic updates on the battlefield. Some of these journalists have reportedly questioned whether the Russian president had relied solely on optimistic public reports provided by the Defense Ministry of him.

“The idea that Russia will inevitably prevail has begun to be overshadowed by doubts about the price Russia is willing to pay to bring Ukraine to heel,” said non-resident Carnegie Endowment scholar and political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya. said in a recent analysis. “Things have progressed so far that they may now have to choose between several losing scenarios. That makes Putin much more vulnerable as he may find that he and the elites settle for different scenarios.”

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