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As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marches on, there is a dark undercurrent of waning public support—and it’s coming through even on tightly-controlled state television. In the first days of the bloody war, the public was promised a quick victory due to the superiority of Russia’s military. Instead, the Kremlin’s offensive has been plagued by heavy losses and equipment deficiencies, to the point that state TV pundits publicly contemplate seeking aid and assistance from other pariah states—including Iran and North Korea.
Russia has reportedly been involved in discussions with Iran to purchase their military drones, due to the severe shortage of its own unmanned aerial vehicles. During Thursday’s broadcast of the state TV show 60 Minutes, military expert Igor Korotchenko suggested that North Koreans could help rebuild destroyed Ukrainian regions and join Russia’s military ranks. Conversations about legalizing the participation of foreign fighters alongside Russian forces have been a recurring topic in state media, and for a good reason: everyday citizens are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of going to war or dying for Putin. That doesn’t sit well with top pro-Kremlin propagandists, such as state TV host Vladimir Solovyov—twice formally recognized by Russian President Vladimir Putin for his services in the benefit of the Fatherland.
During Thursday’s broadcast of his show, The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, the host complained: “It irritates me that our society doesn’t understand that a watershed moment is currently taking place. We either stand up, build up and end up on another level, or simply cease to exist.” His guest, political scientist Alexander Kamkin, concurred and suggested that a “cultural special operation” be conducted in Russia.
The Kremlin’s tight control over the information disseminated to the public has failed to curtail access to outside sources, with tensions rising to such a boiling point that on Monday during Solovyov’s show, convicted Russian agent Maria Butina suggested jailing parents whose children use VPN to access foreign media. The host was likewise disappointed with the younger generation’s lackluster involvement in Putin’s war, complaining: “People who are planning to join [the military] are mainly of the same age as me, some are a bit younger… That is the generation that was raised on Soviet movies, Soviet literature and values. But the very young people I talk to, they faint if they cut their finger—and they see that as their democratic values… The special military operation is our Rubicon. I get the feeling that many here still can’t grasp it.”
Writer Zakhar Prilepin, who is wanted by Ukraine’s SBU security service on charges of “taking part in the activity of a terrorist organization” for his involvement in Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, added: “We really need volunteers, we aren’t hiding that. We need to replenish dislodged personnel. Meanwhile, the topic of death is silenced. The topic of perishing is curtailed. In a society motivated by comfort, you can’t talk about death. Everyone is expected to go to war, win and come back alive. Better yet, not to go in the first place. Let me remind you that the Charter of the Imperial Army included in plain language: if you have three adversaries, go to war and advance, kill all three. If you have ten, then defend yourself. If your death has come, then die. It’s written very plainly: ‘Soldier, death is part of your job. It is part of your duty and your contract with the government.’ The same principles were adopted by [Joseph] Stalin, who had an Orthodox Christian education.”
Prilepin recited the lyrics of an old Soviet song, entitled “In the woods at the frontline”: “If you have to lie in the ground, at least you have to do it only once.” He asserted: “The soldier was openly told: go and fight. If you have to die, you only have to do it once… This is a part of your duty as a citizen, as a soldier, as a warrior, as a Russian man. Today, we’re protecting everybody: the government, mothers, conscripts, everyone. We barely forced our governors to put up murals [of the fallen soldiers]… Everyone is afraid to upset society.”
Prilepin openly worried that in the event of total mobilization, the younger generation would opt to escape to neighboring countries instead of joining the fight: “The government assumes that in Russia, there is always 1 million men ready to fight. As for the rest of the country, we try not to worry them… We’ve been discussing difficult topics, which might lead to WWIII and the same mobilization we’re trying to avoid right now… It’s difficult to talk about total mobilization, because I suspect that an excessive flood of people will suddenly pour into Armenia and Georgia. Borders will have to be closed. I’m talking about our younger generation.”
Solovyov suggested the rules protecting conscripts from taking part in combat should be changed: “You know what amazes me most of all? That the conscripts in our Army are not supposed to fight… So what are they supposed to do in the Army?” He complained that not many enough volunteers have joined the battle: “We have 150 million people. How many are fighting in Donbas?” The state TV host proposed a massive government-funded propaganda campaign, glorifying the participants of Russia’s so-called “special operation” in film and on television, with songs and poetry.
Gone are the days when state TV propagandists were predicting that other countries would flock to Russia’s side to join the battle against Ukraine and the West. During Thursday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, political scientist Sergey Mikheyev summarized the current mood in Russia: “About these constant discussions as to what we can offer the world, the world can go screw itself… We don’t need to offer anything to anybody. We’re special, we need to build ourselves up.” Solovyov agreed: “We are the Noah’s Ark. First and foremost, we need to save ourselves. Ourselves!”