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November 14, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10314

Firewall Insulating Putin From Criticism Breaks Down After Fall Of Kherson; Regime Loyalists Scramble To Reimpose It

November 14, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10314

On November 9, 2022, Russia's supreme commander in Ukraine Sergei Surovikin appeared in a joint broadcast with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to explain the rationale for withdrawing from Kherson City. Surovikin explained that Russia could not defend the city and it was advisable to extricate the Russian garrison because Russia unlike Ukraine placed a premium on its soldiers' lives:

"Comrade Secretary of Defense [Shoigu]! Allow me to report. We are successfully resisting all enemy offensive attempts. During hostilities occurred in the period from August to October the Armed Forces of Ukraine [hereafter - the ZSU] has more than 9.5 thousand servicemen killed and wounded; Ukraine's army losses in equipment are as follows: more than 200 tanks, 500 armored combat vehicles, about 600 vehicles of various purposes and more than 50 artillery guns and mortars.

As you know, the offensive side suffers more casualties than the defensive side. In this case our losses are 7-8 times less than that of the enemy. We care first and foremost about the lives of every Russian serviceman.

The enemy attacks local government bodies, schools, hospitals, other socially important facilities, as well as civilians, who are being evacuated to the other side of the Dnipro River, and points of humanitarian aid distribution...

We successfully repel these attacks. About 80-90% of the missiles are being shot down by Russian air defense. Meanwhile, up to 20% of them still reach their targets. The Russian engineering detachments are restoring the Dnipro crossings almost daily and are taking measures to maintain them in working order.

Under these conditions, the city of Kherson, as well as suburbs cannot be fully supplied and continue to function. People's lives are in constant danger due to the shelling. The enemy indiscriminately shells the city; prohibited methods of warfare may be used...

Comrade Secretary of Defense! Having comprehensively assessed the current situation, it's being proposed to entrench along the left bank of the Dnipro river. I realize that this is a very difficult decision. Meanwhile, we will be preserving the most important thing: the lives of our soldiers and the overall combat capability of the group of armies. It's imprudent to maintain them on the right bank in the restricted area. In addition, it will free up some forces and means that will be deployed for active operations, including that of offensive character, in other directions of the Special Military Operation."

Shoigu approved the redeployment and the abandonment of Kherson city.[1]

This decision provoked fury from some of the war's most ardent supporters including the ideologues such as Aleksander Dugin and Aleksander Prokhanov as well as persistent critics of Russia's performance in Ukraine like Roman Skomorokhov. They viewed the decision as a surrender and abandonment of allies whom Russia had pledged not to abandon.

The vehemence of this criticism aroused regime supporters and surrogates to defend the decision pledging that Russia was only temporarily conceding Kherson and would soon return and that this was the logic behind Putin's annexation of the Ukrainian regions to Russia. The annexation was intended to signal to both Russia and the world that come hell or high-water Russia would be back in Kherson.

Finally two leading commentators, Petr Akopov and Mikhail Rostovsky warned that all was lost if Russia began to distrust Putin and the top leadership, who remained focus on victory. Rostovsky also warned that just as the liberal opposition to the war had been routed, it might prove necessary to accord similar treatment to the super-hawks.

The logic and perhaps the threat seem to have worked at least temporarily. Two highly placed critics of the military's performance, Chechnya's head Ramzan Kadyrov and Sergei Prigozhin the owner of the Wagner Private Military Company fell in line with the decision to withdraw from Kherson and Dugin himself issued a clarification claiming that he had not been criticizing Putin.

MEMRI's report on the Kherson withdrawal debate follows below:


Russian troops leave Kherson (Source: Eadaily.com)

Dugin: Autocracy Means Both Total Power And Total Responsibility

The nationalist philosopher Aleksander Dugin issued a scathing response to the withdrawal in an opinion piece titled The Last Frontier of Retreat, in which he appeared to lay responsibility upon Putin for the debacle:

"A Russian city was surrendered, the capital of one of Russia's regions - the same status as Belgorod, Kursk, Donetsk or Simferopol. If you don't care, then you are not Russian. Russians are now clenching their teeth in pain, weeping and suffering as if their hearts were torn out, their children, brothers, mothers and wives were killed before their eyes. If you are not hurting now, you're nothing.

"Authority. It bears responsibility for this. What is the meaning of autocracy, and this is what we have got? We give the Ruler absolute totality of power, and he saves us all - the people, the state, the people - at a critical moment. If for this he surrounds himself with scum or spits on social justice, this is unpleasant, but if only he saved. But if he doesn't save? Then - the fate of the "King of the Rains" awaits him (see Frazer [The Golden Bough]). Autocracy also has a reverse side. Total power in case of success, but also total responsibility for failure. What did you expect?

"How do we get out of the situation? Immediately move from a sovereign dictatorship to a commissar, that is, introduce an ideology. The ruler almost did. But again [just] almost. And Kherson was surrendered not almost, it was surrendered completely. No complaints against [General] Surovikin. He is not a politician, he is responsible for the technical side of the front. No complaints against him. The blow did not fall on him you understand on whom the blow fell. And no PR will provide salvation here anymore. In a critical situation, political technologies do not work at all. History is speaking today. And it pronounces terrible words for us....

"The war must become a people's war in full measure. But– the state should become just as popular - Russian!. Not the way it is now."[2]

The octogenarian author Aleksander Prokhanov, whom Dugin has viewed as a source of inspiration was also critical of Putin's performance: "There is nothing to admire in Putin's state, which last February proved itself completely incapable of conducting military operations. There are no strategic thinkers in the General Staff, which failed the initial and subsequent operations. There is no intelligence, as it failed to correctly orient the president on the state of affairs in Ukraine in terms of Russian lobbyists' work.

"The army, which all this time magnificently played tank biathlons and paraded, turned out to be incapable of fighting. It turned out to be microscopic, small, without UAVs, and etc. So the state has to rebuild itself ad hoc, on the move, in combat.

"There is a need to replace parts during a flight. Plane flies, and there is a need to replace the engine, change valves in the engine, the shape of a wing, put another additional stabilizer here or there…

So why admire the president or the state? The task now is not to admire, but to help and to save. We need to take a long, hard look at into the eyes of this Russian history without any sentimentality. It demands this of us. It's not loyalty that is needed now, but service."[3]

Still prior to the withdrawal from Kherson an article by Izvestiya's senior correspondent Roman Soldatov in honor of Russia's November 4 Unity Day also appeared to hint that to emerge from the crisis Russia had to reprise the 1612 liberation of Moscow from the Poles by relying on the people and less on the rulers. The article was titled the "Burden of Troubles" an allusion to the interregnum following the death of Ivan the Terrible, when the throne was vacant. Soldatov wrote:

"... the school history course concerning the Time of Troubles, focuses not on the exploits of the people who united to defend their country in the face of a severe economic and social crisis, but on the dramatic palace coups, worthy of a Game of Thrones. In my opinion, this is wrong.

"In order to understand what it took for the people's militia to take their land back, it suffices to recall the state the country was in following the death of Ivan IV the Terrible. The tsar's ambitious plans in foreign policy were detrimental to domestic policy. The Livonian War, despite some successes, led to a decline in the population, and the plague epidemic exacerbated the situation.

"Ivan the Terrible's desire to strengthen his power facilitated to the beginning of the strengthening of the serf system, which led to discontent among the peasants. It was internal strife that paved the way for Polish interventionists to enter the country. And even the militia managed to liberate Moscow only at the second attempt, as conflicts continued among its members.

"Only the people could find a way out of such a plight. A feeling of responsibility for the country, the desire to rule one's own destiny, duty, and faith were the values that helped drive out the invaders.

"The Battle of Moscow of 1612 came as a unique event that united ordinary peasants, priests, officials and the military. Emerging under the banner of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, the people's militia recaptured and liberated Russia.

"It's now the time that all of our multinational people must rally around a single goal: to defend their home. All history clearly demonstrates that Russia's main enemy is internal strife.

"The state should play a leading role in unifying the people, not hiding heroism behind legal terms and explanatory notes. An official should not be afraid of simple formulations. His task is to remind the people of Russia that more than 400 years ago the country was on the brink of disaster, and now it's in our power to survive troubled times and become stronger."[4]

The article admits conflicting interpretations. It could be a call to rally around Putin, but it can equally be seen as criticism. The Russian people remain the Russian people, but who precisely is the analogue to Ivan and his extreme centralizing efforts or his foreign misadventures?

Skomorokhov: The World's Second Most Powerful Army Is In Retreat From The Twenty-Second Most Powerful Army

Roman Skomorokhov's article appears under an ironic picture of a billboard in Kherson proclaiming that Kherson is with Russia forever. Instead Kherson marks yet another Russian retreat:

So the story with Kherson is over. The city was surrendered without a single shot being fired, and it was surrendered not even today, but somewhat earlier, when the organized retreat of all desired began. They repeated Gostomel, Bucha and Krasny Lyman cases, only on a slightly larger scale.

115,000 of Kherson residents (data provided by the Ministry of Defense) became refugees, they've lost everything: housing, jobs, property, prospects (after all, being a refugee in Russia is not a good prospect)."


Billboard proclaiming Kherson is forever with Russia (Source: Topwar.ru)

Skomorokhov warned of the upcoming spin campaign intended to whitewash the retreat as an heroic effort against the overwhelming NATO force:

"For the next several days, we'll hear a stream of utterly shameless propaganda designed to justify what had happened.

"They would lament, that we are at war with an entire NATO, that it was impossible to do anything, that the ZSU were losing 1000 people a day, "they piled us with corpses" and etc.

"However, the said 'entire NATO' consists of about 20 planes, of a hundred and fifty old Soviet tanks, of two hundred armored personnel carriers, and fifty MLRS vehicles (as well as some artillery and mortars). You have to agree that it doesn't look impressive for an 'entire NATO.' Especially in comparison with the 'great and mighty Russian army, which has won innumerable medals at the 'Army Games' contest (designed especially for it), and holds the best military parades in the world (China would, probably, with this statement).

"But our unscrupulous propagandists will justify anything. After all, it's already paid for. And this work is already at a full swing: they are explaining that Kherson was not needed in the first place, and everything else in that same spirit.

"In general, the second army of the world continues its heroic retreat from the twenty-second army. Although, I am sure that these ratings will soon be revised, as UEFA does after another 'success' of the Russian national soccer team. I also suspect that the Russian army will be ranked somewhat lower than before.

"But this is not what's important. The important thing is that an entity of the Russian Federation was abandoned.

'True, we will hear that there were retreats too, in 1941, and then later there were victories, and etc. Well, speaking of historical continuity, expecting victories by 2025 is not a very good prospect either."

Skomorokhov also disputed the official version surrounding the death of Kiril Stremousov, the deputy head of occupation administration of Kherson and found it suspicious that only Stremousov was killed and everybody else survived. Therefore he suspected that he was killed for opposing the city's surrender:

"Two days ago, when no one was believing that Kherson would be abandoned, Stremousov spoke of the fact that there were still many Russian citizens in the city, who couldn't leave. He was against abandoning of the city. Eternal memory to the honest man, who followed his path to the end."

The joint television appearance by Suvorikin and Shoigu was an attempt to deflect the blame from the politicians " However, the public 'flogging' of the generals in front of the cameras, where they, along with Defense Minister Shoigu, tried to present the realities as results of the planning, that is, to pretend that this was their decision, (despite the fact that Kherson was abandoned much earlier, and not by the military, but by the political forces of Russia)."

Skomorokhov's most incendiary charge was that Russia was fighting half-heartedly. The Russian Foreign Ministry was still proposing peace talks and gas and grain continued to flow.

"It's time to go to war, and not pay for it merely with the lives of the citizens; Russian citizens will lay their lives on the 'Altar of Victory,' as has happened more than once.

"It's time to start fighting with our own interests. Let's remember that gentlemen-rulers and co-rulers are also citizens of Russia. And they, too, are at war.

Shame of the grain deal – let's sink it with rockets and torpedoes! Let's sink the grain deal. There should be no extension for a year. Six months. A month. Stop this...

"I could go on and on about what Russia should be doing besides stupidly eliminating its citizens. First of all, the Russian government MUST curb its interests in the world [politics] and its business projects interests.  It must engage in normal waging of war, rather than embarrassing itself in front of the entire world.

"But to this end, sacrifices must be made: just as the common Russian people sacrifice. [Emphasis original]

Otherwise, there's no reason to continue the SVO at all. Just declare your readiness to capitulate, return everything, and go back to supplying gas and grain [to Europe]."[5]

Regime Surrogates: The Retreat Is Temporary, Russia Will Return To Kherson

Regime defenders hastened to defend the decision. Drawing an historical analogy Margarita Simonyan editor-in-chief of Russia today compared the abandonment of Kherson to the decision by General Mikhail Kutuzov to abandon Moscow to Napoleon, a sacrifice that was justified in retrospect and cited the general's logic "As long as the army is intact, there is hope to end the war with honor. With the loss of the army, not only Moscow but all of Russia will be lost." A heroic but futile defense of Kherson would have lost the army and opened the road to the Crimea.[6]

Yevgeny Umerinkin in a front-page article in Kp.ru, said the same:

"Therefore, it is not the SBU that provides fierce resistance to Russia, but 'the most powerful military bloc in the world,' as they say of themselves. It just helps to place the current maneuver of the Russian troops near Kherson into scale. The stake in the war is not the right bank, but the right to life. Therefore, to withdraw the 30,000th grouping from the threat of encirclement is to save it for future decisive battles.[7]

Russia's former president Dmitry Medvedev currently the deputy head of Russia's Security Council wrote on his Telegram channel:

"The concept of territorial sovereignty has not disappeared anywhere in our country. Everything will return home The alarm of all caring people is quite understandable, but the hand-wringing and hysterics are not. Do not give the enemy both near and far, a reason for joy." [8]

Moskovsky Komsomolets senior writer Mikhail Rostkovsky, who since the invasion has attempted to put Putin's policy in the most favorable light advised the critics to defer judgement and hand Putin the benefit of the doubt. He describes Putin's insistence on annexing the Ukrainian regions even before Russia had achieved full control, a decision seemingly mocked by events such as the surrender of Kherson city as prescient:

"Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Valdai Club, on October 27, 2022, 'We stand at a historical juncture, with probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and yet important decade since the end of World War II ahead of us.' 

"This week Russia saw a clear example of the unpredictability and dangers lying ahead: a withdrawal of Russian troops to the left bank of the Dnipro River in the vicinity of Kherson.

"On might ask, whether I'm changing the place of events by quoting the October words of the Russian president to explain what is the November state of affairs? Such an interpretation is certainly possible. I would like to note, however, that I was not the one, who first began to 'rearrange events on a timescale,' but Vladimir Putin himself.

"One of the most misunderstood episodes in modern Russian history was the accession of new regions into the Russia on September 29, 2022.

"Changing the borders of states as a result of a special military operation [hereafter – the SVO] is, despite the novelty of the term "SVO" per se, a fairly standard event in world history. But, usually, in such cases new territories are first taken under full control and only then ascend into the state.

"Why, in the situation that occurred this September, did Putin make a conscious decision to change the usual course of action? There can only be one explanation: VVP [Putin] drew another red line, but not for the West, which we got accustomed to, but for himself and an entire Russia.

"The new country's borders, which even before the last Kherson cases existed in theory rather than in practice, are, in Putin's mind, the minimum acceptable result, which the SVO could end with. Until this result is achieved, the SVO will continue, and while the SVO is underway, any tactical maneuvers are possible, including those, that don't look particularly presentable PR-wise...

"To summarize the aforementioned, in the Kremlin's opinion, it's too early to pass judgement on Kherson. Kherson should be 'evaluated' only after the end of the SVO. In the meantime, wait and believe. Putin is confident that he is on the right track."[9]

If Russia Loses Confidence In Putin All Is Lost

Petr Akopov and Rostovsky lashed Putin's critics. Akopov drew a lesson from the First World War and Imperial Russia's collapse.:

"The departure of our army from Kherson to the left bank of the Dnieper provoked the expected reaction from a part of society – how terrible, everything is lost. They also repeat one of the most famous phrases in Russian history: "What is this - stupidity or treason?"

"These words were uttered 106 years ago, on November 14, 1916: at a meeting of the State Duma, by the leader of the Cadet [Constitutional Democratic] Party, Pavel Milyukov, in his speech denouncing the authorities, posed the question point-blank: "What is this - stupidity or treason?" Among the accusations thrown in the face of the supreme power - the royal court and the government - the main one was that it was looking for a 'shameful peace' with Germany. The leader of the opposition named (prudently quoting the German press) those who allegedly comprised this traitorous party... Prime Minister Stürmer (from Russian Germans) and Grigory Rasputin. Milyukov's speech was banned by the censors, but it was privately circulated. A few days later, Stürmer was dismissed (not because of Milyukov's speech), the next month Rasputin was killed - and two months later it was February 1917 ...

"None of what Milyukov said was true—neither the royal court nor the government were conducting secret negotiations with Germany. But then a considerable part of educated society believed Milyukov, who, after the abdication of Nicholas II, became the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia and tried to wage the war to a victorious end. But the army without a tsar at the head (who was, after all, also the supreme commander in chief) began to decompose along with the whole country - and instead of victory, we got a revolution, the obscene Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (that is, the loss of western lands, including Ukraine) and the Civil War. Why remember it now?

"The fact is that the indignation over the next statement of our Foreign Ministry that Russia is ready for negotiations with Ukraine is very reminiscent of that same Milyukov type anguish - how can it be, why did we fight, we must not allow a blow in the back to our army, we need to stop the traitors in the elite who are ready to surrender Russian interests in negotiations (secret or overt)! Bad news from the fronts is commented on in exactly the same way - they are leaving Kherson because they want to come to an agreement with the West, start negotiations, and refuse to defeat Ukraine! Here are the traitors - they only think about their skins and capital! It is necessary to expose everyone, remove them and put them on trial, and the one who does not understand this and does not do this is himself a traitor!"

Putin would never since a shameful peace with Ukraine or the West and his course is clear to secure not only Donetsk and Kherson, but also the rest of Ukraine. "Only one thing can hinder the implementation of this - a split and unrest in Russia itself, that is, doubt in our victory and in the fact that Putin wants it and can lead to it. If we again, as in 1917, drug ourselves with hysterical cries of "treason", only then will we lose. And not [only] Ukraine, but everything in general...

"Stupidity is to look for treason when there is none and cannot be, and treason is to try to kindle distrust of those who are only targeted at winning."[10]


Petr Akopov (Source: Discover24.ru)

Rostovsky in his aforecited article issued a blunt warning to Putin's critics: "No one is allowed to be a greater 'patriot of the SVO,' than Putin himself...

"One could observe, over the recent months, an unusually high level of, let me put it this way, 'political pluralism in the Russian system of vertical power.' For instance, to name just two: Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin. But such pluralism is acceptable and permissible, in the eyes of Putin, only when it comes to the actions of certain subordinate figures within the system. When it comes to the general line, the consolidated decision of the supreme power, there are completely different rules and regulations...

"Shortly after the launch of the SVO [Special Military Operation], a complete defeat of that part of the political spectrum that openly opposed the idea of the SVO has occurred in Russia. Now, provided it should prove necessary, there may be another similar 'defeat' within the country, of those, who believe that one can be a more ardent anti-Westerner, than the fighter against Western hegemony currently occupying the main cabinet in the Kremlin."[11]

Kadyrov and Prigozhin, who had assumed a high profile recently in criticizing Russia's military performance appear to have gotten the message. While both had condemned Russian retreats in Kharkhiv they supported the retreat from Kherson.[12]

Prigozhin, hailed Surovikin for conducting the troop withdrawal with minimal losses as an achievement of the SVO commander, which emphasized the personal qualities of the commander, who "acted as a man who is not afraid of responsibility."

Going forward, "It's important not to agonize, not to shake in paranoia, but to draw conclusions and work on mistakes. And after that to find out who was right, who is guilty and what is the nature of the problem," stressed Prigozhin.[13]

As for Kadyrov, he recalled that everyone was aware that Kherson was a difficult proposition from the first days of the special operation [the SVO].

"Soldiers from my units also reported that combat in this area is very difficult. True, it's possible to hold it, it's possible to organize at least some ammunition supply, but the cost of it will be numerous human lives. And such a prognosis does not suit us. This is why, I think Surovikin acted as a true combat general, one who is not afraid of criticism. He bears responsibility for [his] people. He knows best," said Kadyrov.[14]

Even Aleksander Dugin was back onboard claiming that his previously cited commented was a misrepresentation encouraged by the West and Ukrainian Special Ops, although they were printed in various anti-Western Russian outlets.

Dugin now stated: no one has turned their back on Putin, I and all Russian patriots support him unconditionally. Grief over the loss of Kherson is one thing; attitude towards the Commander-in-Chief is another. We are loyal to Putin and support the SMO and Russia to the end.[15]

 

[1] Fontanka.ru, November 9, 2022.

[2] Tsargrad.tv, November 11, 2022.

[3] Vnnews.ru, November 10, 2022.

[4] Iz.ru, November 4, 2022.

[5] Topwar.ru, November 10, 2022.

[6] Fontanka.ru, November 11, 2022.

[7] Kp.ru, November 11, 2022.

[8] Fontanka.ru, November 11, 2022.

[9] Mk.ru, November 11, 2022.

[10] Ria.ru, November 10, 2022.

[11] Mk.ru, November 11. 2022.

[13] Life.ru, November 9, 2022.

[14] Eadaily.com, November 9, 2022.

[15] Geopolitika.ru, November 13, 2022.

 

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