Russia stays here for eternity: With these words the Kremlin propaganda announced the occupation of Ukrainian cities. This is now less than two months ago and already Russia has to give up Cherson. But how do you explain that to the home audience?
“Expedient manoeuvre” and “difficult decision” – these are the latest additions to the vocabulary of Kremlin propaganda to name the unspeakable: a defeat of the Russian armed forces. It was Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, who started the competition for the most beautiful neologism for Newspeak propaganda. On Wednesday evening, the two hijacked the prime time of state TV and performed a mimic scene.
“Describe the situation in the area of the special military operation,” Shoigu demanded of the general, mumbling. “Comrade Defense Minister, after the situation has been assessed from all sides, it is proposed to move into a defensive position on the left bank of the Dnieper River,” he said. “I understand that this is a difficult decision, but the most important thing is that we save the lives of our soldiers and the overall ability of the troop group to act,” said Surovikin without the slightest emotion in his face or voice.
“I share your conclusions,” Shoigu replied. “Yes. The army’s maneuvers will be completed in the shortest possible time,” Surovikin blurted out again, syllable for syllable – although Shoigu’s part hardly resembled an order. end of the theatre.
Propagandists take over the stage
After the curtain fell on Shoigu and Surovikin, the spectacle of the propagandists began. “The head of the Defense Ministry approved the proposal to redeploy the armed forces and take up a defensive position on the left bank of the Dnieper,” announced the anchorwoman for the evening news of Pervyy Kanal, Russia’s main broadcaster. The news format is equal to the German “Tagesschau” in terms of its importance and ratings.
The news of the country’s second-biggest channel Rossiya 1 showed the audience a full ten-minute speech by Shoigu and Surovikin about the need for a “regrouping” of the Russian armed forces.
“The situation in the region around Cherson is particularly worrying and calls for quick and difficult decisions. After a transfer maneuver by Russian units, to be precise,” the announcer for the evening news of the NTW channel also adopted the new official vocabulary.
Same mantra over and over again
The political talk shows, the most important inciters of Kremlin propaganda, immediately jumped onto the Punch and Judy show between Shoigu and Surovikin. The general tenor: the decision was very difficult, but necessary and unsurprising. “The army general has taken full responsibility for the military decision made,” began Vladimir Solovyov, Putin’s most outspoken agitator, praising Surovikin. “It is obvious that the decision was very difficult and painful.”
The same notes were struck in the studio of the special broadcast on Rossiya 1. “It was a difficult decision. Surovikin took full responsibility,” said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine, a member of the Public Council of the Russian Defense Ministry and a colonel in reserve.
“The lives of Russian people, civilians and military, are more important to us than PR,” announced the show’s host Olga Skabeeva. Unfortunately, as she said this, the camera stopped at one of her studio guests, who rolled his eyes until only the whites could be seen.
As if Vladimir Putin no longer exists
In the following program “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” the political scientist Dmitry Evstafiev jumped into the breach for the commander of the Russian troops. “Do you know what the value of the decision of the army general Surovikin is? And that was actually the first difficult episode. How difficult, you could see from the general (…) I think that this was the first unpopular difficult decision that one name, a surname, a position and a military rank.”
All other so-called maneuvers or “gestures of goodwill,” as talk master Solovyov corrected his guest, were anonymous. “What is happening now in Cherson is actually a maneuver. Everything that happened before that has nothing to do with maneuvers. (…) All these stories were somehow decided by someone, somewhere. And now it has found a man who stands there and says he made such a decision.”
Somewhere? anyone? The Russian armed forces have a commander-in-chief. And his name is Vladimir Putin. But his name is not mentioned once in connection with Cherson. Nowhere.
Suvorov and Kutuzov instead of Putin
This is a tactic that has been used by propaganda for years. Nothing should cast a shadow on Putin’s illustrious name. You can actually see how serious the situation is by looking at the Kremlin chief’s calendar. The rule of thumb applies here; The more absurd or harmless his appointments, the more catastrophic the situation. When Russian troops had to give up Kharkiv in September, Putin inaugurated a Ferris wheel in Moscow. While Shoigu and Surovkin were now ringing in the withdrawal from Cherson, Putin seemingly carelessly handed out orders and medals to the employees of the Burnazyan Medical Biophysical Center.
Instead of Putin, another character is dragged onto the stage: Alexander Suvorov. The Russian generalissimo is considered a brilliant strategist and is remembered for his campaign in the Alps in 1799, in which Russian and Austrian troops drove the French out of Switzerland and destroyed the French satellite states. Now the Kremlin propagandists are troubling the great general.
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“Not a single post should be considered a fortress. There is no shame in ceding a post to a numerically superior enemy. On the contrary, this is the art of war, to withdraw in time without loss. A lost post can be taken again, and but the loss of people is irreparable. A person is often more valuable than a post,” quoted Vladimir Solovyov in his program “Full Contact” Suvorov.
Head of the propaganda channel RT, Margarita Simonyan, remembered another great military leader. “As long as the army is intact, there is hope to end the war with honor. With the loss of the army, not only Moscow but all of Russia will be lost,” she quoted Mikhail Kutuzov as saying. In Russia, the prince is considered the hero of the Patriotic War against Napoleon Bonaparte. After the Russian defeat at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, he had ceded Moscow to the French and withdrew what was left of his army.
“Replace the word Moscow with the word Kherson”
“Replace the word Moscow with the word Cherson. Maybe then it will be clearer,” Simonyan wrote, trying to put Surovikin on the same level as Kutuzov. “I know for sure that this decision was not easy for anyone. Neither for those who made it, nor for us, who understood that it was going to happen. And still prayed that it didn’t come to that. Because there was only an alternative: bury the troops in the bare steppe, cover them with the corpses of those who had been mobilized and open the way to the Crimea. Would that really have been better?” Simonyan asks snidely on her Telegram account, using the derogatory word “Mobiki” for mobilized soldiers ” – only to then put forward the Kremlin’s view of things.
“By leaving Kherson, we are tying down a large group of the enemy in that direction,” she says, citing reporter Andrei Rudenko, who is loyal to the Kremlin. I will explain why: during the retreat of our forces, the Dnieper River stands between us and the enemy. The bridges are blown up. Under these circumstances, an attack is impossible for them. But neither can they withdraw troops from Cherson.”
Defeat becomes strategy in Russia
As is so often the case, propaganda turns a defeat into a strategically intelligent decision – even if it was still very difficult. Surovikin only had to order a retreat for the man, nicknamed the “Syrian Butcher,” to receive compliments. Not only on the part of the propagandists, but also by the party of military hardliners, led by Evgeniy Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, and Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the Chechen Republic.
“The decision that Surovikin made is difficult. But he acted like a real man who is not afraid of responsibility,” Prigozhin wrote.
“After weighing all the pros and cons, General Surovikin made the difficult but right decision between making senseless sacrifices for the sake of big statements and saving the priceless lives of our soldiers,” Kadyrov agreed.
The vocabulary is in place.