Tallinn, Estonia (AP) — When top Russian military officers announced in a televised appearance that they would withdraw troops from the main city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin was missing from the room.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Sergei Surovkin, Russia’s supreme commander in Ukraine, also echoed their reasons for the withdrawal in front of the cameras. On November 9, Putin was touring a neurological hospital in Moscow, watching a doctor perform brain surgery.
Later that day, Putin spoke at another event but made no mention of the withdrawal from Kherson – arguably Russia’s most humiliating withdrawal in Ukraine. In the days that followed, he did not comment publicly on the matter.
Putin’s silence comes as Russia faces mounting setbacks in nearly nine months of fighting. The Russian leader appears to have delegated bad news to others – a tactic he has used during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kherson was the only provincial capital in Ukraine captured by Russian forces, and it fell to the Russians in the early days of the invasion. Russia occupied the city and most of the hinterland, a major gateway to Crimea, for several months.
Moscow illegally annexed the Kherson region, along with three other Ukrainian provinces, earlier this year. Putin personally hosted the pompous Kremlin party formalizing the moves in September, announcing that “people who live in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia become our citizens forever”.
Just over a month later, Russia’s tricolor flags fell on government buildings in Kherson, replaced by yellow and blue banners. Ukraine.
The Russian Army reported completing a withdrawal from Kherson and its surroundings to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River on 11 November. Since then, Putin has not mentioned backing down in any of his public appearances.
Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote that Putin “continues to live by the old logic: this is not a war, this is a special operation, the main decisions are made by a small circle of ‘professionals’, while the president keeps his distance.” In a recent comment.
Putin, who has been rumored to be personally overseeing the military campaign in Ukraine and giving field orders to generals, seemed to focus this week on everything but the war.
He discussed bankruptcy proceedings and the problems of the auto industry with government officials, spoke to the governor of Siberia about boosting investments in his region, made phone calls to many world leaders and met the new president of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
And on Tuesday, Putin chaired a video meeting on World War II memorials. That was the day he was expected to speak at the G-20 summit in Indonesia — but not only did he decide not to attend, he didn’t join her by video or send a pre-recorded speech.
The World War II memorial meeting was the only one in recent days in which some Ukrainian cities – but not Kherson – were mentioned. After the meeting, Putin signed decrees awarding the conquered cities of Melitopol and Mariupol the title City of Military Glory, while Luhansk was honored as City of Merit Labor.
Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin attributed Putin’s silence to the fact that he had built a political system similar to that of the Soviet Union, in which the leader—or “vozhd” in Russian, a term used to describe Joseph Stalin—is by definition incapable of doing wrong.
“The Putin-Putin regime … is built in such a way that all the defeats are blamed on someone else’s shoulders: enemies, traitors, stab-in-the-back, global Russophobia – anything, really,” said Oreshkin. “So if he lost somewhere, firstly, it was not right, and secondly – it was not him.”
Some Putin supporters have questioned such an apparent departure from what even pro-Kremlin circles viewed as decisive developments in the war.
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov said in a Facebook post that Putin’s phone calls to the leaders of Armenia and the Central African Republic at the time of the withdrawal from Kherson were more troubling than “the Kherson tragedy itself”.
“At first, I couldn’t believe the news, it was amazing,” Markov said, describing Putin’s behavior as “evidence of a complete withdrawal.”
Others sought to put a positive spin on the withdrawal and weave Putin into it. Dmitry Kiselev, a pro-Kremlin TV presenter, said on his flagship news program Sunday night that the logic behind the withdrawal from Kherson was to “save people”.
According to Kiselev, who spoke in front of a large photo of a seemingly preoccupied Putin with the caption “to save people,” this was the same reasoning the president uses — “to save people and, in specific circumstances, every person.”
Analysts say this is how some ordinary Russians might view the withdrawal as well.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior official, said: “Given the growing number of people who want peace talks, even among Putin’s supporters, any such maneuver is being taken calmly or even as a sign of potential awakening and manpower, the possibility of peace.” Fellow of the Carnegie Endowment.
For Russia hawks — Kremlin supporters who have demanded drastic steps on the battlefield and are unhappy with Kherson’s retreat — there is a regular barrage of missile strikes on Ukraine’s power grid.said the analyst Oreshkin.
Moscow launched on Tuesday. With some 100 missiles and drones launched at targets across Ukraine, it was the largest attack yet on the country’s power grid and plunged millions into darkness.
Oreshkin believes that such attacks do not do much harm to the Ukrainian army and do not change much on the battlefield.
“But it is necessary to create an image of” vozhd “victorious. For this it is necessary to make some kind of blows and shout about it loudly. That’s what they are doing now, in my opinion.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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