Thousands of Russians have been detained or harassed because they oppose President Vladimir Putin’s decision to go to war. The pro-war critics are different — they support the war but are frustrated with the pace of progress and in many instances want Putin to get tougher.
“Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, please decide, are we fighting a war or are we jacking off?” Alexander Arutyunov, a military veteran who blogs under the name Razvedos, asked on his Telegram account. “If we are fighting we need to fight! And we need to hit everything. There is no other way to win in a war.”
Others bluntly question whether Russia can win the war without radical adjustments to its tactics or the mass mobilization of Russian reservists. A British intelligence report earlier this week estimated that Russia has lost up to a third of the 190,000-strong force originally deployed. Russia has also steadily been sending reinforcements, including regular contract forces alongside reservists, conscripts and mercenaries, for a current total of around 167,000, according to a Ukrainian estimate on Wednesday.
“There must be mobilization or we will lose the war. It needs 600,000-800,000 men to defeat Ukraine,” wrote Vladlen Tatarsky, a former fighter with the separatist Donbas militia who comments on his Telegram account to over 270,000 followers.
The criticisms mirror those of U.S. officials and Western military experts who have expressed astonishment at the dismal performance of the Russian military, assumed on the eve of the war to be the second-most powerful in the world. Poor planning, tactical mistakes, substandard equipment and weaponry, as well as tough resistance by Ukrainian armed forces, thwarted Russia’s original plan to seize Kyiv and are now blunting its efforts to capture Donbas.
Russian troops are making gains, but at a slower pace than envisaged by Russian military planners, U.S. officials say. Meanwhile, Russia continues to suffer heavy losses of men and equipment, prompting Western military experts to question how much longer the Russians will be able to sustain offensive operations.
The Russian critics are asking the same question. A retired colonel and prominent military analyst stunned television audiences on Monday with a candid assessment of the challenges facing Russia. With the United States and its allies rushing large quantities of sophisticated weaponry to Ukrainian forces, the situation for Russian troops “will frankly get worse,” Mikhail Khodaryonok told the “60 Minutes” talk show on the state-run Rossiya-1 channel. “We are in total geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it.”
In an appearance earlier this month, he suggested that even mass mobilization wouldn’t help Russia given the superiority of the NATO weapons being supplied to Ukraine. Calling up more untrained men isn’t a solution, he said, “because we don’t have modern weapons and equipment in our reserves.”
“Sending people armed with weapons of yesteryear into a 21st-century war to fight against world-class NATO weapons would not be the right thing to do,” he added, proposing a radical restructuring of Russia’s military industrial complex as a solution.
Harsh condemnations are also being circulated on Telegram, the social media channel that has emerged as the dominant forum for news and discussion of the war, among Russians and Ukrainians alike.
Russia’s battle for Donbas will only be won with “courage and political will … not with chatter and half-measures, but decisive, lightning-fast actions,” wrote Yury Kotyonok, a journalist and military analyst with over 290,000 followers on his Telegram account. He added that both appear to be lacking.
Meanwhile, he noted, “the West speaks and acts, pumping up Ukraine for war [with weapons]. Russia is waiting for this fetid pile to be blown by the wind in our direction.”
A failed attempt by Russian forces last week to cross the Siversky Donets river that stands in the way of their westward advance drew ridicule. Commentators expressed contempt for the tactical and leadership failings that contributed to what may have been the single biggest Russian setback in the ground war so far.
As many as 485 soldiers died and 80 armored vehicles were lost when Russian troops with the 74th…