As Russia has been forced to disgorge its territorial gains in Ukraine as a result of the Ukrainian counter offensive in Kherson and Kharkiv. Russia's military bloggers have assailed the Russian Ministry of Defense and even the Kremlin for failing to level with the Russian people about the difficult situation and continuing with the charade that everything is going according to plan. The bloggers operate mainly on the Telegram channels, as criticism of the authorities and their policies has basically been quashed in the mainstream press and on television and radio stations. Many are extremely hawkish, and want to prosecute the war with Ukraine to the hilt, but feel that a culture of lying to the people creates panic and defeatism. The stifling of constructive criticism prevents tackling the problems with the war effort and needed changes of course. It is better to acknowledge difficulties and defeats rather than painting a sanitized and rosy picture or worse maintaining silence.
This has put the bloggers on a collision course with the defense ministry. The Rybar Telegram channel wrote:
"They are mocking us! Dear representatives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, employees of the Department of Information and Mass Communications, Sevicemen of the 5th Main Directorate of Operations, the duty shift of the Information Security Rapid Response Centre,
"We know that you read us.
"We know that the Rybar, Grey Zone, Voenny Osvedomitel, Starshe Eddi, Povernutie na Voine, Gramoty Yaroslava Telegram channels and many, many others who allow publishing critical posts about the course of the SVO [special military operation] are, in your opinion, traitors, provocateurs, creators of fake news, liberals, people, paid by the Ukrainian CYPSO [Centre for Information and Psychological Special Operations], collaborators of the Kiev regime.
"We are aware that our names are on your blacklists, because we cause you maximum inconvenience. After all it is contrary to the party line. We understand that and made our peace with it. It’s a common tactic to turn a blind eye to non-systemic critics pretending they don't exist [it's also true that this tactic has become commonplace in the current system’s configuration].
"But let’s be clear: this is not the moment to keep quiet and say nothing. It’s not the time to create an information vacuum and deploy some hybrid means, providing information to the population in small doses and feeble [information] streams.
"We ask you: please take the information situation at the front under you control. Don’t act according to the principle 'forbid and keep silent.'"
"This is very detrimental to the cause."
The "Starshe Eddi" Telegram channel claimed that Russia's withdrawal was a result of military necessity to prevent an even greater disaster. There was no need to look for scapegoats but to realize that there are two sorts of defeats: It could be a defeat like Peter the Great's loss to the Swedes at Narva, Estonia in 1700, when Russia was trounced by a numerically inferior foe, but then rallied and took Narva in 1704. Or it could be like the defeats to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 that led to revolution and ultimately the collapse of Imperial Russia. It was necessary for Russia to realize that it was in a difficult war with a serious opponent. He wrote:
"Today as well as the next few days we will not be receiving the happiest news, while the Khokhli [racial slur for Ukrainians] will publish gigabytes-worth of photos and videos of the settlements we have abandoned. Kupyansk has been abandoned and, practically speaking we cannot hold on to the right bank of the “Oskol” river now.
"Let me state the following: the decision to withdraw our troops came as a military necessity that prevailed over political expediency, and we should acknowledge that the person, who gave the order for withdrawal, demonstrated courage.
"'Whether or not the ZSU [the Armed Forces of Ukraine] counterattack at the Balakleya-Izyum front was missed,' 'what is the state of troops in the area?', 'what was the level of reliability of the reports presented to the authorities?' - these are the questions for those in charge. I repeat, in the current circumstances, an organized retreat is the only right decision. And thank God that in spite of serious territorial losses, our manpower losses were rather small, especially if we consider the magnitude of the operation.
"In our [Russian] history we’ve suffered the worst defeats, some of which made us stronger and allow us to inflict revenge on the enemy a hundredfold stronger than defeat, while others – facilitated the country’s catastrophe. The main thing now is to understand that the Izyum-Balakliya battle is the Narva battle, not the Tsushima or Mukden defeats. There is no need to put ashes on our heads, to look for traitors and to create conspiracy theories. Such searches lead to a false result, which will not only fail to correct mistakes, but will also exacerbate them. One must composedly analyze what has happened and realize that there is a difficult war going on with a strong enemy."
If "Starshe Eddi", was content with a call for frankness followed by renewed determination to turn defeat into victory, Roman Skomorokhov, a military analyst, who heads the weaponry department at Military Review magazine in an article for the magazine titled "One Question for the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense", was much more scathing. At one point, he recommended the dispatch of the higherups to the front to atone for their complicity in the debacle.
Skomorokhov's major complaint was the failure to level with the Russian people, whose husbands and sons were at the front. This would inevitably cause a credibility gap to the leadership's detriment. In a jibe at the numerous articles that the Russian press published about the death of Queen Elizabeth II, while remaining silent about events in Kharkiv, he claimed that if Russians learned of her demise a day later it wouldn't matter but they were entitled to honest information about their boys. Even in the darkest days of World War II, the people were told the truth – both good and bad. Unfortunately, in today's Russia a cheerful report to the top counts for more than truthful reporting of the situation.
Skomorokhov's article follows below:
Roman Skomorokhov (Source: Bigbookname.com)
"I would like to begin these reflections on the events unfolding, with a quote that best reflects the situation. And I cannot call it anything other than derisive. And so, in the end, I will ask a single question to those, who can (but won’t) answer it.
"THE KREMLIN HAS NO COMMENTS, [IGOR] KONASHENKOV IS SILENT
"Well then: The Kremlin doesn’t comment on the situation around Balakliya [that was encircled at the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive] and other events that occurred in the special military operation [hereafter – SVO] zone, these issues are the Russian Defense Ministry's domain, said [Putin's press secretary] Dmitry Peskov. All questions [should be directed] to his Ministry of Defense colleague, Konashenkov.
"The situation is simply 'magnificent.' The Kremlin doesn’t interfere in the affairs of the Ministry of Defense, though there are rumors (which I could not verify) that it is verily in the Kremlin that the supreme commander, aka the President, who, according to the Constitution, is in charge of ALL [caps original] that happens in our country, can be found.
"Such a devolution of powers looks more than peculiar, but it is no more peculiar than what is happening within the country (pardon me for using vulgarity) But what is to be done if Mr Konashenkov remains silent?
Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov (Source: Svpressa.ru)
"And he speaks only when we have a widespread and uncompromising peremoga [i.e., victory in Ukrainian]? But what if there is a zrada [i.e., betrayal in Ukrainian], when there is an offensive at Kharkiv direction that independent war correspondents have been reporting on for more than a month? (while the Defense Ministry's bigwigs 'were turning a blind eye to it')
"But the Ministry of Defense, represented by Konashenkov, simply remains silent.
Here’s an illustration:"
Russian Ministry of Defense front page ignoring events in the Kharkiv region
"September 9, it is almost 2 PM, Telegram channels are being flooded with information, while the Ministry of Defense is silent for 24 hours. They have nothing to say, after all, there are no victory reports, thus there is no point in bothering the electorate.
"The official and semi-official media were also silent for 24 hours. Apparently, there was no authorization from on high.
"And since there were no permits from the higher-ups, no one threw himself into the information struggle. What is happening?
"Well a strange thing is happening: instead of trying to reassure Russian citizens, whose sons, husbands and other relatives are fighting (not gathering corn, by the way), our state simply keeps silent. It has simply nothing to say to Russians. Thus, it turns out that we (Russian laymen) are simply impelled to gather information wherever there is any to be found. And this includes Ukrainian news channels. But, what can we do if there are no other sources?
"Listen, what if Russia would be, say, cut off from, British sources and we couldn't have promptly learned about the Queen’s death, would that be scary? Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter. “[To learn this fact] twenty-four hours earlier, or twenty-four hours later (wouldn’t matter) ... After all, it’s the British queen, not ours.
"But we cannot practice the same indifference with regards to our guys, who are in a very difficult situation in Balakliya. Because these are our guys. And the health of privates and sergeants of the Russian and Donbas armies are much more important today than how things worked out for Elizabeth there.
"The fact that the Ministry of Defense is completely and irrevocably unwilling to understand its responsibilities to the people is clear as day.
"We cannot criticize, that comes under discreditation, we cannot express disapproval and disagreement (that again would be discreditation), which they take great pleasure translating; we cannot do anything at all, save for joyous shrieks of support and approval.
"We Have No Right To Know What Is Happening In Ukraine
"This is a fact, because the Ministry of Defense believes that we can suffice with peremoga [i.e., victory in Ukrainian], which will be provided as it comes. And if there is no peremoga, there is nothing to talk about on the topic. It is a harmful position.
"Thus, a Russian himself should speculate how everything is going following the General Staff's 'genius' plans. And they do. I read the social networks and am horrified, because the average Russian is capable of making such mess in his head, especially after reading the Ukrainian peremoga Telegram channels that Hitchcock and Spielberg will shake their heads in disbelief and hide in the dark corners of the universe.
"Today, the Ministry of Defense in fact spreads panic and defeatist attitudes precisely because it’s unable to tell the Russian people the TRUTH [upper case original]. Whatever that said truth may be. Naturally, viewing the Communists’ experience, even in that terrible 1941 after the defeats [by the German army] they found the courage to say in [radio announcer Yuri] Levitan's voice that 'after long and bloody battles the city was abandoned…'
"We’ve abandoned and returned to [cities]. And more than once there were defeats, and they not only befell us, but the allies as well. But no one kept silent. Why today does our defense ministry cowardly hide its head in the sand as soon as problems begin? Why does a cheerful report to the top count more than the real report? Will the stories about dozens of destroyed armored vehicles and hundreds of ZSU [Armed Forces of Ukraine] fighters make the situation on the front really better? Will genuine successes come from victory in words?
"Already today, many people in Russia ask the same question, 'if the ZSU is left without equipment, if their soldiers have no will for battle and flee, then who, excuse me, is taking over the cities? 'Are fairytale necromancers raising the dead?
"Meanwhile, in these cities, which were seized due to the full collusion of the Russian Ministry of Defense, there are people who believed in the Russian [narrative] and in Russia. And there are those, who wouldn’t want to live with us, even though they are being evacuated, but many stay.
Here is an another example, a document issued to a resident of Kupyansk.
"This is merely a car registration certificate. The car has Russian plates. The text in the orange box reads, “Region of the Russian Federation – Ukraine.” Is that OK? I’m sure there will be someone in the neighborhood who will inform 'their guys' about such a wording in the document. I wonder what will happen to this person. We already know what happened in Bucha [the Kyiv suburb where mass graves were discovered which Russia blamed on Ukraine].
"I feel sorry for them, but our gentlemen officers and generals in the Russian Ministry of Defense need to find the courage somewhere and start admitting out loud their mistakes, miscalculations and defeats. And this will come as such a powerful blow to panic, defeatism and rumors, that no battle tank can fire.
"It will be a true barrier. Alas, but so far, all that the gentlemen officers (I don't dare call them comrades) are demonstrating is the ability to keep silent. It’s no better than lying, because it’s even worse, as it facilitates rumors. In general, the emerging impression is that the gentlemen from the Ministry of Defense are simply afraid. No, they aren’t afraid to tell the truth, but to be deployed there, where there is shooting going on.
"However, it would be not bad idea to deploy them there in order to expiate their guilt, the guilt of those, who actually allowed the shame of Balakliya and Kupyansk. Oh, that would be nice...
"Unfortunately, our authorities in the Kremlin, on whom responsibility nevertheless rests, no matter how much Peskov looks away, don’t realize that sooner or later their credibility will come down to zero. And this is not a threat; it is simply an analysis.
"Today the majority of people, who want to know how things are at the fronts don't read the defense ministry’s briefing, or turn to the state media. They turn to war correspondents on Telegram. One can at least find something there.
"The developing situation is ominous. It’s obvious that the approval ratings for the government in general and for the president in particular will be depicted 'properly.' Will it change people's attitudes? No.
"The Ministry of Defense can keep silent all it wants, or create pretty reports, in which it destroys the Ukrainian army's equipment for the fourth time. Will it change the situation at the front? Likewise, no.
"It’s high time for the gentlemen [in power] to reflect on what they are doing. And how long will the Russian people allow themselves to be ridiculed like this? Trust is lost very quickly, as practice demonstrates. Experiments of this kind can end rather painfully, and it’s a pity that the Ministry of Defense plays with fire, pretending not to understand the problem.
"The usurpation of the right to information in its purest form is no longer possible today. Therefore, gentlemen officers and generals should think twice about what they are doing. Before it is too late.
"Finally, the following is the very question mentioned at the beginning, 'Do you actually believe that we have no right to the truth?'[emphasis, original]"