Українською читайте тут.
As we wrote in the first part of the October review, Russian security services are more successful in disinformation campaigns when they monopolize information about events. This is easier with external events than with internal processes, especially after the late Prigozhin almost destroyed not only the monopoly on shaping public opinion in Russia but also questioned the legitimacy of the authority and competence of Putin and his team.
However, the Kremlin has a strong trait: persistence in applying repression against dissenters and systematic manipulation of information, which is also applied to subjects through a single vertical of power.
The weakness of this system is that its creativity depends on approval from a very limited circle of people, and decisions are ultimately made only by Putin. This means that the dictator has to personally implement decisions about the content and direction of the information agenda and when to implement this or that turn in the propaganda processing of Russians.
Putin himself created such a system, where even with a huge apparatus of political, military, and propaganda support that prepares, forms, or suggests various options, only his word starts or stops serious actions of the entire power vertical. When he loses control (verbally or otherwise), there are revolts by mercenaries or riots in the Caucasus.
However, the war with Ukraine and the "collective West" has been under Putin's personal close control since 2014. If we take this hypothesis as a basis, we only need to follow the flow of the Russian dictator's thoughts to imagine the goals Russia will pursue and the means it prepares for use.
Thus, in October, Putin decided that it was finally his time to seize the initiative on the battlefield and in the information competition. Significantly, the claims he made at the next Valdai Club meeting coincided with the activation of the Russian offensive on Avdiivka. We have repeatedly observed this subordination of military actions to information operations in 2014–2016.
Unlike those times, Putin is now much more cautious. Along with voicing traditional messages about the "state coup in Kyiv" and the "collapse of Ukrainian statehood and economy," which reflect his personal assessments and views, the Russian dictator uses theses that resonate with the target audience — foreign governments and his own population.
Thus, we assert that on October 5, Putin launched his own propaganda counter-offensive, consisting of a series of bluffs and stakes in the war with Ukraine.
Let's carefully examine and comment on each of the "Valdai claims":
— Claims of the significant Ukrainian losses during the "failed counteroffensive"
05 October 2023, RT in Russian:
"Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the losses of the Ukrainian troops during the counteroffensive amounted to over 90,000 people. 'Just from the beginning of the so-called counteroffensive, these are the latest data, just from June 4, Ukrainian units have already lost over 90,000 people. These are sanitary and irretrievable losses,' he said. Putin also added that the Armed Forces of Ukraine lost 557 tanks and almost 1900 armored vehicles of various classes during this period."
Commentary: Putin began speaking about the heavy losses of the Ukrainian forces back in June. The alleged high number of casualties and destroyed equipment is intended to add credibility to his statements in the eyes of Russians and convince them that the "SMO is proceeding as planned”. However, comparing these figures with those Putin announced in early September, it appears that Ukraine was supposedly losing 20-25 thousand soldiers, 100 tanks, and 600-700 armored vehicles each month.
On one hand, Russian propaganda explains such losses by claiming that NATO is fighting against Russia, thus justifying the constant replenishment of personnel and equipment. On the other hand, this contradicts another Russian propaganda message that the West is losing interest in Ukraine, a narrative actively disseminated in October in connection with the war in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, the claim about significant Ukrainian losses is crucial for the Kremlin to convince its population that the "SMO" is a winning war and that there is no need to fear mobilization.
— Assertion that the West is forcing Ukraine to continue the counteroffensive at the cost of high human casualties
October 5, 2023, RT in Russian:
"(In the West - RT), they publicly stated: we have done everything for this, now it's up to Ukraine, let them carry out a counteroffensive. And then they add in private: at any cost," said the President of Russia. Putin noted that he knows what he is talking about. According to him, in this context, Ukrainian military forces are trying to carry out a counteroffensive at any cost."
— The claim of the war that the West started against Russia in 2014 with the "coup in Kyiv"
"Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia did not start the so-called war in Ukraine, but is trying to end it. 'The war, started by the Kyiv regime with active, direct support from the West, has been going on for ten years, and the special military operation aims to end it,' he emphasized.
'I have repeatedly said that we did not start the so-called war in Ukraine. On the contrary, we are trying to end it,' Putin stated. He noted that it was not Russia that organized the coup in the Ukrainian capital in 2014."
— The claim of Ukraine's inability to continue resistance without Western economic support
"President of Russia Vladimir Putin stated about the incapability of the Ukrainian economy to exist without external support. 'By and large, the Ukrainian economy can no longer exist without external support... Look today, everything is balanced overall, externally. The budget in Ukraine is balanced, and macroeconomic indicators are more or less evened out, but at what cost? Due to monthly multi-billion injections... Just stop this — and in a week, everything will collapse. The same applies to the defense system,' he noted."
— Doubt about the EU's interest in accepting Ukraine and baseless claims about the reduction of Ukraine's population to 19 million
"President of Russia Vladimir Putin claimed that the population of Ukraine has decreased to 19.5 million. 'Is the European Union ready to accept such an economy into its ranks? Knock yourself out. But to support the viability of the population, which has already decreased from the post-Soviet period from 41 million to 19.5 million, and maybe even less... Still, 19 million need to be fed. This is not an easy task. Are European countries ready to take in such an economy? Well, let them take it,' he said."
Commentary: All these messages stem from the well-known Kremlin narrative that Ukraine is under "external management." The mention of the "West," which for Putin is the main enemy, is intended to legitimize Russia's "right" to seize Ukraine and thus "end the war."
Accordingly, at Valdai, Putin once again declared his goal to continue the war until the entire territory of Ukraine is occupied. This intention of the Kremlin is also evident in the following claim:
— The new goal of the "SMO" is the "protection of the peoples of Russia."
"The goal of the special operation in Ukraine is to ensure the security of the peoples of Russia; it's not about territories," declared Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the Valdai Club meeting, RT's chief editor Margarita Simonyan asked Putin where Russia intends to stop in the course of the SMO. "It's not about territories, it's about security guarantees for the peoples of Russia and the Russian state," the Russian leader responded. He noted that this is a complex issue requiring discussions.
Commentary: Thus, Putin is not considering any compromises or accepting the formula of "territory in exchange for peace." His goal is "the security of the Russian state." As known since December 2021, this implies the withdrawal from NATO of all Central and Eastern European countries that were once controlled by the USSR.
— The claim about Ukraine preparing an attack on the TurkStream pipeline
"Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the Ukrainians and their English-speaking curators aim to damage the TurkStream. 'We continue to supply gas to Europe through the TurkStream pipelines. And apparently, Ukrainian groups aim to damage it (the pipeline - RT),' he said.
According to him, Russian ships are guarding the pipeline system, but it is constantly under attack attempts. 'Using drones, prepared with the direct participation of English-speaking experts and advisors. We hear this on the air,' Putin noted."
Commentary: This claim is clearly aimed at an external audience and influencing energy markets. Putin has enjoyed scaring Europeans since the 2000s with the narrative that "Ukraine is stealing Russian gas." The words about sabotaging pipelines are simply a rephrasing of the message about Russia's significance as an energy supplier to Europe.
The Kremlin sends a clear signal to Europeans: if support for Ukraine continues, Europe can expect new energy and economic crises. If Ukraine is left to the mercy of Russia, then Europe can count on economic bonuses.
Thus, the Valdai Club platform was used by Putin to voice a bluff to his people and the West: Ukraine is already losing the war, and Russia will fight to victory, which can only be stopped by the capitulation of Ukraine and Europe.
Throughout October, the Kremlin will persistently promote this bluff at every opportunity:
October 9, 2023, RT in Russian: "The tasks set by Russian President Vladimir Putin will be resolved faster if there is less Western weaponry on the Ukrainian side, stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. 'If there is less Western weaponry on the battlefield from the Ukrainian Nazi regime side, perhaps, the tasks set by the president will be resolved faster, but they will be resolved in any case,' he said."
October 15, 2023, RT in Russian: "Kyiv is preparing new offensive operations in certain areas, but overall its counteroffensive 'has completely failed.' This was stated by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an interview with the program 'Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.'"
October 16, 2023, RT in Russian: "The so-called counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army has brought nothing but huge losses. This was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He reminded that there have been no results of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' attacks since June 4. 'There are only huge losses. The losses are simply enormous: approximately one to eight if in ratio,' Putin stated in an interview with China Central Television."
October 16, 2023, RT in Russian: "Russian military forces are improving their tactical positions in many areas of the SMO zone, stated Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He added that the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in their attempts to advance, encounter active defense and have not been able to achieve significant successes, although they suffer serious losses. For the Russian Armed Forces, the situation 'looks stable.' This was stated by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Two weeks after Valdai, Putin visits China for talks with the Chinese leader, presenting another excellent opportunity to attract global media attention and reiterate his main messages about the war.
Let's examine Putin's "Beijing claims."
Firstly, what stands out is Putin's forced message about Russia's readiness for peace talks. This clearly shows his weakness while visiting his comrade Xi. He cannot ignore China's official "peacekeeping" rhetoric or offend the summit's host. The Northern guest almost defends himself in front of the Chinese, suggesting that the "Zelenskyy’s decree" prohibiting negotiations with Putin is the main obstacle to peace.
TASS, October 18, 2023:
"Claims that Russia is supposedly suffering defeat in Ukraine are laughable: 'If Russia has lost the war, why supply ATACMS? Let them take back the ATACMS, all the other weapons, sit down for pancakes, come to us for tea.' The Armed Forces of Ukraine have started another counteroffensive, 'long announced and expected,' now in the Kherson sector: 'So far, there's no result, only losses. The result is absent, as it was in the Zaporizhzhia sector, among others.' Moscow notices changes in Western and Kyiv's rhetoric about possible peace negotiations. 'If the Ukrainian side really wants a negotiation process, then it should not be done with "theatrical gestures," but first, what needs to be done is to cancel the decree of the President of Ukraine [Volodymyr Zelenskyy], forbidding negotiations.'"
To demonstrate strength amidst such weak statements, Putin resorts to an open threat to the USA with "hypersonic Kinzhal missiles," and also denies the significance of ATACMS ballistic missile supplies to Ukraine. Clearly, this claim will greatly appeal to Russian fascists.
TASS, October 18, 2023:
"The Russian Aerospace Forces begin regular patrolling in the neutral zone of the airspace over the Black Sea. Our MiG-31 aircraft are equipped with Kinzhal systems. 'These systems have a range of over a thousand kilometers and a speed of nine Mach.' This decision was made because the United States is increasingly drawn into the Ukrainian conflict. 'Plus, against the background of the Middle Eastern conflict, all this happens, all this heats up the atmosphere.' 'This is not a threat, but we will carry out visual control, control with weapons over what happens in the Mediterranean Sea'...
The ATACMS missiles secretly supplied by Washington to Kyiv will not be able to change the situation fundamentally: 'Firstly, of course, it causes harm, and it creates an additional threat. Secondly, we will be able to repel these attacks.' 'For Ukraine, in this sense, there's nothing good. It just prolongs the agony.'"
After Beijing, Russian propagandists repeat, distort, and take out of context any reports in Western media to divert attention from Putin's "peacekeeping" messages, reinforce his claims about the impending defeat of Ukraine and the West, and present the Kremlin's desires as a 'fait accompli':
October 19, 2023, RT in Russian: "Abrams tanks supplied by the USA to Ukraine are unlikely to help the Ukrainian army significantly, writes Newsweek. The magazine notes that the combat vehicles arrived in the country too late and now only add problems for Kyiv."
October 26, 2023, RT in Russian: "The French newspaper Le Monde stated the failure of the Ukrainian army's counteroffensive. In an analytical article, the publication noted that the Armed Forces of Ukraine no longer achieve successes, while the Russian army has taken the initiative, beginning a large-scale offensive."
October 27, 2023, RT in Russian: "American political scientist, Professor at the University of Chicago, John Mearsheimer, expressed in an interview with the Centre for Independent Studies that Russia will control more territories and occupy a significant part of eastern and southern Ukraine. 'The Russians will take a significant part of eastern and southern Ukraine,' said the professor. He also noted that Ukraine, losing territories, will turn into a 'dysfunctional' state."
October 28, 2023, RT in Russian: "Military analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Gustav Gressel, stated that Russian leader Vladimir Putin made the right bet on the EU and US fatigue from the growing expenses on Kyiv. He said this in an interview with ZDF. 'In Russia, they know that Ukraine is dependent on international support,' noted Gressel."
October 28, 2023, RT in Russian: "Former Director for Russia at the United States National Security Council, Fiona Hill, expressed in an interview with Foreign Policy that Russian leader Vladimir Putin feels the conflict in Ukraine is moving in Russia's favor. As she noted, the confrontation in many countries, according to the Russian President, will be key to undermining support for Ukraine and leading to the start of negotiations on Moscow's terms."
London, October 29, TASS: "The failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive has provoked disagreements between the country's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) Valerii Zaluzhnyi regarding Kyiv's further actions. This was reported by The Sunday Times, citing sources."
October 30, 2023, RT in Russian: "Western countries fear that Moscow will interpret Western assistance to Ukrainian intelligence as the use of their weapons against Russian territory, leading to 'direct retribution.' This was stated by Professor Mark Galeotti of University College London, as reported by Spectator."
In addition to statements and speeches, in October, the Kremlin resorts to a series of symbolic actions to convince Russians of Putin's serious intentions to continue the war “until victory” and prepare them for a prolonged conflict.
In particular, they bring back the military idol of ultra-Putinists — "General Armageddon."
As expected, the general is spotted in the Moscow region at a church service, where he "briefly" shares his plans — "to serve Russia." This news is circulated and repeated for an entire month, using it as an informational pretext for the appointment of the new Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS RF) commander. Thus, Russians are led to the conclusion that Surovikin will not return to his old position to "serve the motherland."
Secondly, Putin's media loudly praises the "Surovikin line" and the general's defensive plan, which stopped the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
However, they immediately clarify all doubts, preempting rumors about Surovikin's return to the position of Chief of the General Staff or Defense Minister: on October 20, it is reported that Putin suddenly visits the "SMO headquarters" in Rostov, where Valeriy Gerasimov reports on the situation at the front. It is specifically emphasized that Putin has visited the Rostov headquarters for the third time in a year and controls the course of the war.
Thus, the Russian ultra-nationalists are enticed by the prospect of "General Armageddon's" return to the war, while the passively pro-government part of the Russians are gradually and persistently indoctrinated with the idea of Putin's awareness of the situation at the front, making them forget about Prigozhin's criticism of the war.
October 5, 2023, Moskovsky Komsomolets:
"The fate of the former commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Army General Sergey Surovikin, continues to interest many. Each of his public appearances sparks a wave of comments on social networks. Despite this interest in the general, whose name has been given to a defense line in the SMO zone, there is no official information about his new appointment.
The latest news related to Surovikin is that he was spotted near a Moscow church on October 3. The general refused to speak with the press, only saying: 'I serve the Motherland, no further comments.' So, again, there's no clarity. Therefore, we are left to gather bits of information about the general from various sources of varying reliability...
So, what is the phenomenon of public interest in General Surovikin? Most likely, many of us want a worthy general, already a part of SMO history, to realize his fighting capabilities fully. Of course, for the benefit of the Motherland, as he said he still serves."
October 20, 2023, RT in Russian: "Vladimir Putin visited the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Rostov-on-Don. During the meeting, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, reported to the head of state that the combined troop group is accomplishing its tasks in accordance with the plan of the special military operation. The Russian leader also held conversations with the senior leadership of the Ministry of Defense.
'Send my regards to all commanders. All the best,' Putin said, leaving the headquarters of the Russian Armed Forces.
Recall that the Russian leader visited Rostov-on-Don in March and August, holding meetings at the SMO group headquarters both times. In September, the head of state visited the 'Return' center for support of SMO participants and their families in Veliky Novgorod and also became acquainted with the work of the regional branch of the 'Defenders of the Fatherland' fund located there."
Thirdly, central and local media continue active advertising campaigns to convince Russians of the attractiveness of the war:
— Participation in the war brings not so much a threat as opportunities to improve one’s well-being;
— Only volunteers are taken to war, and tens of thousands of them are queuing up at the military enlistment offices;
— Compulsory mobilization will not affect "native Russians," but migrants from Central Asia.
In this way, propagandists continue to persistently transform the topic of mobilization and participation in the war, associated with negativity and terrible consequences, into an attractive alternative to everyday life.
October 4, 2023, Tsargrad TV: "The recruitment of contract soldiers and volunteers continues successfully thanks to the worthy social support of military personnel. Sergei Shoigu assured that only in September, the defense ministry contracted over 50,000 people."
October 4, 2023, Izvestiya: "Over the course of a month, 38,000 volunteers were recruited to carry out tasks in the SMO zone for the defense of Donbas, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported on Thursday, October 5, during a meeting at the headquarters of the Combined Troop Group."
October 28, 2023, Tsargrad TV: "Newly minted Russian citizens are being detained and voluntarily-compulsory taken to a training center in the Moscow region. There, migrants undergo a medical examination and prepare for deployment to the front. It seems that the emergence of a 'foreign legion' in the SMO zone will soon become a reality."
October 30, 2023, Izvestiya: "Participants in the special military operation — both mobilized personnel and contract volunteers — are proposed to be given the right to rest in federal sanatoriums of the Ministry of Defense, which are used by military personnel. As Izvestiya has learned, a bill will be introduced in the State Duma on October 30 by deputies from the A Just Russia – For Truth faction. The document is in possession of Izvestiya.”
October 30, 2023, Tsargrad TV: "Renowned war correspondent and political analyst Alexey Zhivov, in a conversation with a Tsargrad correspondent, noted that natives of Central Asia and the Caucasus, who sometimes obtain Russian passports by not always legal means, enjoy all the benefits of Russian citizenship. Yet, they ignore their duties, especially military service. Zhivov believes that raids should be conducted throughout the country, and the issue is finally addressed head-on: Russian citizenship for foreign men should be granted exclusively through service in the army. And not just a year, but let them serve for 10 years. 'During this time, if someone really wants to become a citizen, they will undergo cultural integration into Russian society in the army and become a law-abiding person,' says the war correspondent."
Photo: Getty Images