Russians debate military future in Ukraine | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

Bad news from Donbass, the region that covers most of eastern Ukraine, keeps coming back to Russia. Even in a pro-Kremlin Telegram channel, news of the new Ukrainian attack on the Russian-controlled city of Lyman has recently been published.

In mainstream Russian media, the fighting in eastern Ukraine is ubiquitous.

“On the front lines of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, the desperate fighting continues,” was how prominent Russian presenter Dmitry Kiselev launched his weekly news program on Sunday. “Last week was probably one of the worst so far.”

At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that thousands of Ukrainian fighters were wounded and killed. He called Russia’s large-scale retreat around Kharkiv a successful regroupment operation.

But pundits on some of the country’s biggest political talk shows — airing in prime time and watched by millions across Russia — don’t buy into that version of events.

Surprising reviews on live TV

Karen Shakhnasarov, managing director of Russia’s biggest film studio Mosfilm, said: “We have to admit that we suffered a defeat in the Kharkiv region. We have to admit it! Because a defeat is meaningful when you admit it and draw conclusions from it.”

Widely circulated on Twitter, a video from NTV, a public television channel, in which a former politician said that the war could not be won.

“We are now at the point where we have to understand that it is absolutely impossible to defeat Ukraine using these resources and these methods of colonial warfare with which Russia is trying to fight,” said Boris Nadezhdin, a former parliamentarian. Russian.

“The Russian army is fighting against a strong army which is fully supported by the most powerful countries in the economic and technological sense.”

Spark new discussions

Calls for a massive mobilization of the Russian population to join the army are increasingly heard. On Tuesday, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov addressed Russia’s lower house of parliament, saying the special military operation had turned into a full-scale war.

“Warfare and special ops differ dramatically,” he said. “A special military operation can be ended. But you can’t just stop a war, even if you want to. You have to go through with it.”

“War has only two outcomes: either victory or defeat.”

The Kremlin was quick to quash any request for full mobilization, with President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that was currently not on the agenda.

Mobilization probably very unpopular

Russian expert Mark Galeotti, honorary professor at UCL’s British School of Slavic and East European Studies, said even partial mobilization is a “big deal”.

“It would mean that first, the war is not going to be planned.”

“And second, it will alarm a lot of people for whom war is a long way off,” he added. So far, the war has been fought by professional soldiers, who are largely ethnically non-Russian. A mass mobilization would attract many more ordinary Russian families.

“If you start going to a mobilization, you’re going to drag Russians into the main cities, and a lot of wives, daughters, mothers and girlfriends will be very worried about what’s going to happen.”

TASS photo showing young women walking, drinking coffee to chat, smiling

The Russian government is keen to project an image of normality in everyday life despite the war in Ukraine

But the Russian army remains desperately short-staffed. For this reason, soldiers cannot leave the front lines to rest.

At the same time, military professionals whose contracts are ending are refusing to renew. To solve these labor problems, right-wing propagandists have been calling for mobilization for months.

So far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears in the Kremlin.

Winter mobilization unlikely

Galeotti thinks a mobilization is possible but currently unlikely.

“It’s going to take about three months from when you declare mobilization to when you have troops, maybe over 100,000, actually available,” he says.

In three months it will be the middle of winter, when offensive operations will be the most difficult, Galeotti said.

“I think it’s more likely that if we see a mobilization it will be later so that they have the forces for a spring offensive; or more likely, to resist a Ukrainian spring offensive.”

But the word mobilization is beginning to gain momentum. Despite criticism of the military, the general tone in the media remains patriotic. It is possible that the Russian public is preparing for the next escalation of the war.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine, Sonya Diehn