Putin facing rare dissent from Russias news media

Russia appears to send 'broken-down trucks' to soldiers

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Ukrainian forces are making progress near the city of Kherson which was annexed by Moscow in October. Reports in recent weeks suggest this will be the next key battleground and could indicate who will ultimately win the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be hoping that his military can avoid another setback in what has already been an embarassing offensive campaign. While estimates vary, the Kremlin’s forces have lost tens of thousands of soldiers since the start of the invasion in February. 

State media in Russia was, at first, determined to conceal this reality from the country’s citizens. But in recent months broadcasters and the print media have started to vent their frustration at the lack of progress made by Russian troops.

This was highlighted by the BBC’s Moscow Correspondent, Steve Rosenberg, in September. He translated a number of newspaper articles and state TV broadcasts that covered Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv where Ukrainian forces were able to take back a large area of territory previously occupied by the Russians.

In one example, a Putin loyalist said: “On the frontlines of the special operation [in Ukraine], this has been the toughest week so far” — the words of Dmitry Kiselyov, who is one of the Kremlin’s most prominent propagandists.

He added: “It was particularly tough along the Kharkiv front, where following an onslaught by enemy forces that outnumbered ours, [Russian] troops were forced to leave towns they had previously liberated.”

Russian tabloid newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, quoted a military analyst who gave a surprisingly honest view of what was going on in Ukraine: “It’s already clear that we underestimated the enemy. [Russian forces] took too long to react and the collapse came… As a result, we suffered a defeat and tried to minimise the loss by withdrawing our troops so they weren’t surrounded.”

Not every media outlet gave the same version of events, though. Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a newspaper published by the Russian government, denied that Russian forces had retreated from nearby towns and cities. A passage read: “The Russian defence ministry dismissed rumours that Russian troops fled in disgrace from Balakliya, Kupiansk and Izyum. They didn’t flee. This was a pre-planned regrouping.”

Other reports show the lengths the Russian government is going to in order to conceal its losses in Ukraine. Last week, CNN reported how Belarus is helping to treat and hide injured Russian soldiers.

In the early stages of the war, Belarus allowed Russian troops to use the country as an entry point into Ukraine and stage an attack on Kyiv. However, they failed to take the Ukrainian capital and later retreated.

As the operation fell apart, Russia sent some of its wounded soldiers to be treated in Belarus, and Belarussian doctors treated these soldiers and were even forced to sign non-disclosure agreements so that no one would hear about what was going on, it has been claimed.

Russia doesn’t release figures on how many soldiers it has lost in the war, but in August, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that British estimates put the figure at around 80,000 if injuries and desertions were included.

He told BBC’s Radio 4: “I spoke to my intelligence chiefs this morning before coming on, you know, Russia’s advance can be measured in metres per week, not miles.

“It is grinding in small parts of the country in an attempt to advance – completely opposite of the three-days special operation that it touted at the beginning of this, six months ago.

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“We pretty much accept, well, we do accept, the sort of observations of Russian losses to be – if you combine deaths, injuries, desertions – over 80,000 of their armed forces. That’s 80,000 in six months compared to 15,000 they lost in a decade in Afghanistan. I think we are in a position where Russia is in a very fragile position.”

Influential figures in Russia have also raised questions about the losses endured. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said last week that his forces have suffered serious losses fighting alongside the Russian military in Ukraine.

He said: “At the beginning of this week, one of the Chechen units was shelled in the Kherson region. Twenty-three fighters have died and 58 have been injured.”

In September, Kadyrov criticised the Russian military after the Kharkiv counteroffensive, and said that if the situation didn’t improve, he would be forced to confront Moscow’s defence ministry.

Kadyrov warned: “If today or tomorrow no changes in strategy are made, I will be forced to speak with the leadership of the defence ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground to them. It’s a very interesting situation. It’s astounding, I would say.”

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