This is not the first time that right-wing pro-Russian war bloggers have criticised the incompetence of the Russian military. This time, the reason is the Ukrainian attack in which, according to Russia, 89 Russian soldiers died. These war bloggers mainly use the Telegram platform. One post on the “Grey Zone”, a Telegram channel attributed to the private military “Group Wagner”, says:
“As expected, after the events in Makeyevka, they started blaming the soldiers. Because they switched on their mobile phones and that’s how they were found out. Of course, the enemy has these possibilities and sometimes uses them. But, in this case, 99% of it is a lie and an attempt to take all the blame off themselves.”
The incompetence of the Russian military leadership
Russian generals are fundamentally incapable of taking advice, says Igor Girkin, a former Russian spy and self-proclaimed nationalist who was convicted by a Dutch court in December 2022 of mass murder for his role in the downing of Malaysian passenger plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Girkin writes on his Telegram profile that the building where the soldiers were housed has been completely destroyed, as it was also used as an ammunition depot.
Boris Roshin, a right-wing war blogger and author of the “Colonelcassad”, criticises the fact that too many soldiers are stationed in an area within range of Ukrainian artillery. In recent months, the army has adapted its strategy to the situation on the ground, so that large quantities of ammunition and fuel are not stored in one place. But, says Roshin, this does not apply to people. The Russian military top brass is responsible for this. “The incompetence and inability to understand the consequences of war is still a serious problem,” says Roshin.
Harsh criticism of the Russian military top for failing to conduct the war is nothing new for Russian nationalists. Pro-Russian war bloggers have been posting harsh criticism for months. But the latest wave of criticism of the defence ministry in Moscow raises the question of why such criticism is tolerated in Russia, which is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Bloggers who defend the war are free to express their opinions. Opponents of the war face up to 15 years in prison on charges of “discrediting the Russian army” or spreading “fake news” about the Russian army and its activities.
Moscow cannot fully control the narrative
The direction of the criticism is crucial, explains Abbas Galyamov, a political analyst and former speechwriter for Vladimir Putin.
“War bloggers criticise from a so-called patriotic point of view: they do not attack Putin, but those who carry out the actions. They do not question Putin’s leadership or his idea of invading Ukraine.” He adds that if someone questions Putin’s leadership or the war, he is seen as an “enemy”.
But Igor Girkin, one of the most prominent critics of the Russian army, has already repeatedly criticized Putin. In a 90-minute video posted on Telegram in December, Girkin said the fish’s head was completely broken.
British historian and Russia expert Mark Galeoti says Moscow is increasingly realising that it cannot fully control the narrative. According to Galeoti, people like Girkin are, in a certain sense, messengers of important currents in the military and security apparatus. There is a fear that they could become martyrs if pressed. Moreover, there would be no chance of getting a real impression of what exactly their intentions are.
Is this a political chess move?
Putin is also unhappy with his military leadership, says Abbas Galyamov. “He was promised victory in three days, instead he has embarrassed himself in front of the whole world.” On an emotional level, even bloggers understand Putin, says this Russian political analyst.
Given the power struggle within the Russian elite, the criticism is certainly politically motivated. Galeoti believes that not all senior Russian officers support Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. It is possible that these people will have to resign this year, he says. “What we see on social media is a reflection of a good part of real politics in Russia,” points out British historian Galeoti./DW/