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A pawn in a political game? – DW – January 4, 2023

Right-wing pro-Russian military bloggers, also known as Milbloggers, have used the messaging platform Telegram to express their outrage over what happened in Makiewka. A post on the channel Gray Zone, linked to the Wagner Group of the private military company Evgeny Prigozhin, reads:

“Predictably, the soldiers themselves began to take responsibility for what happened at Makiewka. You see, they were discovered with their cell phones turned on. I use it sometimes, but in this case it’s 99% a lie and an attempt to shift the blame.”

Former spy and self-proclaimed nationalist Igor Gherkin, who was convicted of mass murder by a Dutch court for his role in shooting down an MH17 airliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014, said Russian generals “cannot be trained in principle.” . Gherkin wrote in his telegram channel that the building housing the soldiers was also used to store ammunition and was therefore completely destroyed.

Boris Rozin, right-wing millblogger and author of the chat “Colonel Kassard” criticized the high concentration of military personnel stationed within range of Ukrainian artillery. Over the past few months, the Army has adapted to the situation and changed its strategy so that he does not store large amounts of ammunition and fuel in one place. But, according to Rosin, they were not applying the same concept to their people. It’s a big problem,” he said.

man speaking at a press conference
Right-wing millbloggers like Igor Girkin have voiced their criticism of the Russian military leadershipImage: Pavel Golovkin/AP/picture Alliance

In the eyes of Russian nationalists, harsh criticism of how the Russian military is failing the war effort is nothing new per se. Pro-Russian military bloggers have been very vocal for months. But a recent wave of anger directed at the Russian Ministry of Defense has raised questions as to why this criticism is tolerated in an increasingly authoritarian Russia. It looks like they can, but anti-war protesters face harsh penalties that can go up to 15 years in prison for crimes like “discriminating the Russian military” or spreading “false information” about Russia. Confront the Russian Armed Forces and their activities.

The Putin regime cannot fully control the narrative

According to Abbas Galyamov, a former speechwriter for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a political analyst on Russia, the difference lies in the direction of the criticism.

“Military bloggers criticize from a so-called patriotic point of view, i.e. they don’t touch Putin. They attack the performers, but they don’t question Putin’s leadership or his idea of ​​invading Ukraine. leadership and the war itself. They are viewed as enemies.

Nevertheless, one of the most prominent critics of the Russian military, Igor Gurkin, has repeatedly directly criticized Putin. Just last month, Girkin posted a 90-minute video of him on his Telegram, in which he said, “Fish heads are completely rotten.”

British historian and Russia expert Mark Galeotti says the Putin regime is increasingly realizing that it cannot fully control the narrative.

“People like the Gherkin are not only important in their own right, but in a way they are also spokespersons for a very important faction within the military and the security services. Also, you make them martyrs, and secondly you lose the chance to understand what they are worried about.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu (left) and Russian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov oversee military exercises.
Are Defense Minister Shoigu (left) and Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (right) in Putin’s good books?Image: Sputnik via Reuters

Political ploy?

At the same time, Galyamov says Putin is also unhappy with his military leadership. “They promised him victory within three days of him, but instead he embarrassed himself in front of the whole world. On an emotional level, he understands military bloggers.”

The motives behind the criticism also have a political dimension, in terms of power struggles taking place within the leadership.

“Part of it is like the behind-the-scenes politics of Putin’s courtroom,” says Galeotti. “Not everyone in the military is uniformly placed behind the defense minister. [Sergei] Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff [Valery] Gerasimov. There’s a widespread sense that both of these men will likely be out sometime this year. I think what we’re seeing in the social media world is very similar to real-life politics in Russia. ”

Editing: Rob Madge

Memorial to Russian soldiers killed in strike in Ukraine

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