in the footage Free On New Year’s Eve by the Kremlin, President Vladimir V. Putin talks with soldiers, encouraging them: “We can’t give up anything. We just have to fight, just keep going.
He then adds: “Of course, much more needs to be done.”
With winter set to begin and the one-year anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine coming next month, Mr Putin has abandoned his earlier attempts to spare the public the pain of war and is now demanding Russians and their military prepare are doing. A long battle ahead.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian analyst, said, “They’ve got very few comforts, very few optimistic.” “You can feel a certain anxiety, a desire to mobilize all possible forces to achieve your goals.”
Keeping a low profile during Russia’s extended New Year holidays this week, Mr Putin made no statement about Ukraine’s rocket attack on the city of Makiivka last weekend. The resulting torrent of criticism from pro-war bloggers on social media was aimed at Russian commanders and spared Mr Putin himself, a pattern made clear by months of blunders by Russia’s military.
Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday saying the death toll in the attack had reached 89 soldiers, including the regiment’s deputy commander. Ukrainian officials have said the toll is very high. None of the claims could be independently verified. The statement also said that the main reason the site was able to be targeted was the use of cellphones by soldiers – a factor pointed out by Russian military bloggers as a vulnerability.
According to video and local media reports, a memorial service on Tuesday in the city of Samara, where many of the Makiyev victims were, called for revenge against Ukraine. The report did not mention any criticism of the officers responsible for the war.
Nevertheless, an unusually quick response by the Russian Defense Ministry, which acknowledged mass casualties at Makiivka a day after the attack and promised to provide “all necessary help and assistance” to the families of the dead, showed That the Kremlin is trying to be more. The situation at home was more transparent than in the early months of the war.
It stood in stark contrast to the sinking of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, last April. The Kremlin has never acknowledged that it was hit by Ukrainian missiles, or that it cited the death of one sailor and 27 missing, including family members of the crew.
For much of last year, Mr. Putin projected an air of confidence while letting life go on as normal inside Russia. His deal with the public was straightforward: Leave the politics and fighting to us, and you won’t feel significant pain from our seemingly “special military operation” in Ukraine.
That ended in September, when Ukraine’s retaliatory offensive stunned the Kremlin and Mr. Putin ordered a military draft that the war’s hardline supporters said was long overdue. Now, Mr. Putin is doubling down on his efforts to bring Russian society further afield in the war effort.
The new approach was clearly on display on Saturday, when Mr. Putin broke with tradition and delivered his widely-watched New Year’s Eve speech not at the Kremlin but at a military base, with people in uniform in the background.
The annual speech is typically heavy on apolitical platitudes – New Year’s dinner table fare for millions of Russian families. This time Mr. Putin served his own narrative of a West bent on destroying Russia. “The West lies about peace while preparing for aggression,” he said. “They are cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and divide Russia.”
It was the latest and perhaps most notable example of Mr. Putin preparing Russians for a protracted war.
US officials have said they see the Kremlin finally learning from its mistakes on the battlefield. Russia is improving its defenses and pushing more troops into the front lines, and has put a single general in charge of the war who was able to organize a withdrawal from the Ukrainian city of Kherson in November with minimal casualties .
Russian commanders are also publicly reining in their ambitions. General Valery V. Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, Said on 22 December that Russia’s current focus was limited to trying to capture the rest of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
“There is less triumph,” Ruslan Leviev, a Russian military analyst with the Conflict Intelligence team open-source Analysis Group, said in an interview. He said he was surprised by how quickly the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the loss of Makievka, given that the ministry usually took days to acknowledge large numbers of casualties – if it did. Is.
Mr. Putin himself appears to have a renewed focus on the home front: trying to quell any potential discontent over the once dire consequences of the war, and to mobilize Russians to more actively support it. are trying. In Russia, there are widespread rumors that Mr Putin will soon order a new military draft to bring more bodies to the front.
Western officials estimate that more than 100,000 Russian service members have been killed or wounded in the fighting, and the Russian Central Bank says the country’s economy is set to contract 3 percent in 2022.
For now, however, the suffering brought to Russia by the war has not turned into widespread discontent. The economy has been more resilient to Western sanctions than many expected, while the Kremlin’s television propaganda has been effective in convincing many Russians that the invasion of Ukraine, as Mr. Putin claims, was a defensive war on Russia by the West. has been forced to.
While there was widespread social media outrage over the death of Russian soldiers in Makiivka, there was little criticism of Mr Putin himself inside Russia over the incident – and it went largely unreported on state television. Military bloggers said the high death toll could have been reduced if commanding officers had followed basic precautions, such as dispersing recently arrived troops to safer locations, rather than pooling them near ammunition dumps. .
At the memorial service in Samara, about 100 participants waved Russian flags and coordinated aid collections for the survivors, according to video and local media reports. Ukraine and the West were the target of their anger, not their own leaders.
“The whole West has closed ranks against us to destroy us,” Yekaterina Kolotovkina, head of a military humanitarian fund and wife of a Russian general fighting in Ukraine, told a Samara rally, a staple of state propaganda. echo.
On social media, initial calls by pro-war Russian commentators to charge the officers responsible for the Makiivka loss with treason followed more guarded criticism of local military decisions and advice on how to avoid future disasters. None criticized Mr. Putin directly, with attacks often being indirect aimed at his superiors.
The tendency to blame Mr. Putin was evident Monday night in a post by Anastasia Kasheverova, an influential Russian military blogger from the Samara region. “Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love our country,” she wrote, referring to Mr Putin. “I love Russia so much that I hate the typical characters in your entourage.”
But some analysts believe a wave of protests could still come. Mikhail Vinogradov, a Russian political scientist, said that the public reaction to military casualties in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s “didn’t happen immediately, not in the first year of the war.”
Mr. Vinogradov said the fact that a public protest against Mr. Putin inside Russia has yet to materialize could mean one of two things: either the political system is “at most stable” or a sign of despair. Emotions are slowly building up and “do some day lead to an energetic explosion.
“Both hypotheses have a right to exist,” he said.
For the Kremlin, it is not just the war that could inject political instability this year. Russia’s next presidential election is scheduled for March 2024. While Mr. Putin will not face any real electoral competition, the date looms large as analysts and members of the Russian elite widely see it as a moment by which Mr. Putin, 70, can make clear that Whom does he ultimately want to make as his successor?
Ms Stanovaya, the analyst, said it was very likely Mr Putin would run again – constitutional changes made in 2020 allow him to remain in power until 2036. And he believes that tensions between the two factions of the Russian elite – hard-liners seeking escalation of the war and “pragmatists” seeking to avoid it – will only increase in the coming year.
“I think 2023 will be decisive to a certain degree, determining which way the balance will move,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “We’re kind of on a dangerous line.”
Alina Lobzina Contributed reporting.
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