“The entire West has closed ranks against us in order to destroy us,” Yekaterina Kolotovkina, the head of a soldiers’ humanitarian fund and the wife of a Russian general fighting in Ukraine, told the Samara rally, echoing a main theme of state propaganda.
On social media, initial calls by pro-war Russian commentators to charge officials responsible for the Makiivka losses with treason gave way to more guarded criticism of local military decisions and advice for avoiding future disasters. None appeared to direct criticism toward Mr. Putin, with veiled attacks more often aimed at his senior officials.
The instinct to spare Mr. Putin of blame was evident in a post by an influential Russian military blogger, Anastasia Kashevarova, a native of the Samara region, on Monday night. “Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love our country,” she wrote, referring to Mr. Putin. “I love Russia so much that I hate specific characters in your entourage.”
But some analysts believe that an outpouring of protest could still come. Mikhail Vinogradov, a Russian political scientist, noted that the public backlash to military casualties in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s “didn’t happen right away, not in the first year of the war.”
The fact that a public backlash against Mr. Putin inside Russia has yet to materialize could mean one of two things, Mr. Vinogradov said: either the political system is “maximally stable,” or feelings of frustration are gradually building up and “could one day lead to an energetic outburst.”
“Both hypotheses have a right to exist,” he said.
For the Kremlin, it is not only the war that could inject political volatility into this year. Russia’s next presidential election is scheduled for March 2024. While Mr. Putin would face no real electoral competition, the date has loomed large because analysts and members of the Russian elite have widely seen it as a moment by which Mr. Putin, 70, could make clear whom he wants to eventually succeed him.