From "special operation" to "war": Military losses are causing great resentment in Russia - but Putin has been silent so far

It took more than half a year, but in the meantime many people in Moscow also feel at war.

From "special operation" to "war": Military losses are causing great resentment in Russia - but Putin has been silent so far

It took more than half a year, but in the meantime many people in Moscow also feel at war. Since the invasion of neighboring Ukraine ordered by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin at the end of February, there has been persistent talk of a "special military operation" in which everything has always gone "according to plan". And so the Russian Defense Ministry made every effort last weekend to portray the withdrawal of its own troops from the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv as a strategic "regrouping". Only: The thing with the appeasement didn't really work this time.

In a first reaction, Russia's state television spoke of a "hard day". The head of Chechnya, who is actually loyal to Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov, grumbled after the successful Ukrainian counter-offensive about "mistakes" by the leadership in Moscow. Nationalist military bloggers and war correspondents spoke of a "disaster" and "enormous losses" - and expect consequences. In the first session of parliament after the summer break, the question of how to proceed in Ukraine was also an issue in the middle of the week.

"In my opinion, the special operation in Ukraine and Donbass has turned into a war in the past two months," said Gennady Zyuganov, the party leader of the communists who are considered close to the Kremlin on central issues - and thus promptly made it onto the Front page of the important daily newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta". "The Americans, a united Europe and NATO have declared this war on us."

Zyuganov's party colleague Mikhail Matveyev caused a stir when he said that leading Russian politicians would "actually have to shoot themselves or at least volunteer for the front" after such a debacle. Duma deputy Mikhail Sheremet, himself a member of the Kremlin party United Russia, spoke out in favor of a general mobilization of the armed forces, without which Moscow's goals in Ukraine could no longer be achieved.

Alexander Khodakowski, a commander of the Moscow-led separatists, argued that a measure so unpopular with the population, such as mobilizing reservists, would shake Russia so badly "that it would not be able to withstand it." The 49-year-old wrote that it is not primarily more fighters that are needed, but better leadership and organization of the operation. He also called for the Russian economy to be more war-oriented. Other observers insisted on the resignation of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

In view of the great resentment, even the Kremlin seemed compelled to put the biggest agitators in their place. Of course, critical points of view are part of the pluralism of opinion, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "But the line is very, very fine." In addition, there was no talk of military mobilization, he assured - "at the moment".

The journalists from Peskov wanted to know what President Putin thought of the latest developments. The head of the Kremlin himself has so far remained silent on the "regrouping" of his troops in eastern Ukraine. On the day the Russian soldiers left Kharkiv in a hurry, Putin inaugurated a particularly huge Ferris wheel in Moscow, which broke down again just a day later, to the amusement of his political opponents.

So how will Russia's leadership proceed now? The Kremlin spokesman was tight-lipped: Putin would of course be informed about all military developments, Peskov said only. And so the rumor mill continues.

Political scientist Abbas Galliamov believes that the mantra that has now been emphatically recited, "There is no war with Ukraine, but a war with the collective West," allows the Kremlin to cushion the shame of the defeat. At the same time, he makes it clear that this could result in a very different reaction from the general public than in circles close to the Kremlin: namely, that the desire for peace negotiations could grow - and resistance to mobilization. "In the end, the Russians were prepared for a short-term and victorious special operation and not for a long and bloody slaughter," writes the scientist.

While many in Russia are eagerly awaiting a decision from Putin, a small group of local politicians who are critical of the war are trying to get rid of the Kremlin chief himself. In a very politely worded letter, they ask Putin to resign - at least you can try. "Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich," says the open letter from the deputies of Moscow's Lomonosov district: "You had good reforms in your first and partly in your second term, but after that everything somehow went wrong."

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