Ukraine war
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Russian soldiers play with a bear at the zoo in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. Photo: AP

Russian military expert backtracks on grim Ukraine war prognosis on state TV

  • Russian former colonel openly criticised Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on state TV on Monday
  • Two days later, he was boasting about Russia’s military strength and playing down Western weapons
Ukraine war

Following a surprisingly pessimistic evaluation of Moscow’s war with Ukraine during a Russian state TV appearance earlier this week, military expert Mikhail Khodaryonok has publicly backtracked.

To believe that the Ukrainians could launch a counteroffensive is “a great exaggeration”, the 68-year-old said on 60 Minutes late on Wednesday.

The political talk show, this time entitled “Successes of the Russian Air and Space Forces”, was the same one in which Khodaryonok had declared only on Monday that the Ukrainian armed forces were far from disintegrating three months after the start of the war.

The programme is typically regarded as the Kremlin’s mouthpiece. Critical opinions are largely silenced in public. A new law also provides for up to 15 years imprisonment for alleged “fake news” about Russia’s armed forces.

While Khodaryonok had recently emphasised the strong will of Ukrainian soldiers to fight and importance of their weapons from the West, he now stressed that Russia’s armed forces were specifically tracking down and destroying foreign weapons.

“Soon all that will be left of the American howitzers will be a memory,” he said. Editors later inserted these words again in the broadcast as a large quotation board.

US aims to arm Ukraine with anti-ship missiles to fight Russia

Many global viewers were astonished earlier this week when they heard Khodaryonok, a military columnist for the newspaper and a graduate of one of Russia’s elite military academies, say how “the whole world is against us” in the war with Ukraine.

“The main deficiency of our military-political position is that we are in full geopolitical solitude and – however we don’t want to admit it – practically the whole world is against us – and we need to get out of this situation,” he said.

Khodaryonok’s apparent change of tune came as signs multiplied that Moscow was seeking to permanently occupy or even annex Ukraine’s southeast.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 but Moscow has repeatedly stressed it is not seeking to occupy Ukrainian territories.

A growing chorus of senior Russian and pro-Moscow officials however indicates Moscow intends to remain in territories it controls in southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson region and large parts of Zaporizhzhia.

Asked about the future of southern Ukraine on Thursday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that only local people would determine its fate.

“Nothing can be done without the expression of the will of the inhabitants of these regions, without them deciding how to go on and with whom they want to live,” Peskov told reporters.

Russia boasts using secret laser weapons in Ukraine

He rejected claims that Russia was seeking to permanently occupy the Ukrainian territory it currently controls, stressing that it was important to ensure basic living conditions for the locals.

“Social security must be guaranteed, there can be no pauses here,” Peskov said. “And many areas are now without electricity, and without sewage systems, and without water. And this needs to be done.”

Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, staging a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the West.

Russia secured its biggest victory since the invasion began when Kyiv announced this week it had ordered its garrison in a steelworks in Mariupol to stand down. Photo: AP

Separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk said they would also want to become part of Russia.

In a number of Ukrainian cities including Mariupol, Kherson and Berdyansk Moscow has installed local administrations in charge of bringing back a semblance of normal life and laying the groundwork for a future with Russia.

Plans are in the works to start paying public sector salaries and pensions in Russian roubles instead of Ukrainian hryvnia.

700 more steelworks defenders surrender to Russia, but Ukraine vows ‘unbreakable’ spirit

Russian officials and Moscow-appointed authorities have said that the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson – which provides a land bridge to Crimea – will likely become part of Russia.

“We look at Russia as our own country,” said the pro-Moscow head of the Kherson administration, Vladimir Saldo.

During a trip to the region of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said the southeastern Ukrainian region could also join “the friendly Russian family”.

“That’s why I came here, to help with integration as much as possible,” he told reporters.

dpa and Agence France-Presse