They feared it might come for weeks, but still, when a Russian commander announced on Wednesday that Russian troops would be pulled from the strategically important city of Kherson, Ukraine, Russian hawkish military bloggers and commentators responded with despair, anguish and denial.
“I will never forget that murder of Russian hopes,” Zastavny, a popular blogger, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app. “This betrayal is now carved up on my heart for centuries.”
Boris Rozhin, a pro-Russian military analyst, called the retreat Russia’s “most serious military defeat since 1991.” In a Telegram post, he said, “If there won’t be any upcoming successes with major towns captured and no advancement during the winter offensive, the series of military setbacks would accumulate a much greater internal discontent than sanctions.”
But Margarita Simonyan, the editor of RT, Russia’s global television network, said on Twitter that it was the right move to protect Russia’s Army from further losses. “As long as the army is intact, there is hope to end the war with honor,” she wrote, quoting a famed Russian military commander from the time of the Napoleonic wars. “With the loss of the army, not only Moscow — all of Russia will be lost.”
The war in Ukraine has propelled Russian military bloggers — a group of hawkish pro-invasion analysts, activists and fighters — into an increasingly vocal force in the Russian media and political landscape. Most opposition news websites and other news media have been banned by the Kremlin, leaving few alternatives for Russians to follow the war aside from the Russian Defense Ministry’s mundane daily briefings. The bloggers’ channels on Telegram, with their swift updates of the situation on the front, have gained thousands of followers during the war.
As Russia began to suffer clear battlefield setbacks, however, many of these bloggers started to criticize the military’s top brass, and even the country’s politicians, for not preparing the army.
For instance, Vladlen Tatarsky, a popular blogger and activist, reacted to the news about Kherson by saying that Russia’s overall plan for war was “idiotic” and “based on disinformation.”
Many bloggers blamed fundamental issues for the setbacks, such as the rampant corruption that has been endemic in the Russian Army. Rybar, a popular blogger, said false reports that were being sent to the military top brass were among the core reasons for the Russian retreat.
Yuri Kotyonok, another popular blogger, mixed rational analysis with the sense of despair, or even desperation. “It will leave a scar on my heart, you can’t get used to it,” he said in a post. “It’s been a hard day.”