Ukraine's Kharkiv victory

Ukraine’s Kharkiv victory has Russian state media struggling for explanations

  • Ukrainians celebrated their successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv, where they retook several key areas near the Russian border.
  • Russian media and officials struggled to explain their troops’ defeat, claiming that Ukrainians outnumbered them with the help of “Western mercenaries”.
  • Other Russian outlets voiced rare criticisms and called out the military over its inaction.

As Ukrainians celebrated their swift advance in Kharkiv, hosts on Russian state television struggled to provide a unified statement on Moscow’s rapid retreat from Ukraine’s eastern region.

Hosts and guests on state TV talk shows have been loudly supportive of President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. But the belligerent mood was more subdued in the aftermath of Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive over the weekend.

On Sunday night, Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov opened his prime time program by calling it “A most difficult week on the front.” As the studio backdrop displayed the word “Regrouping,” Kiselyov stated that “superior enemy forces” had pressured Russian troops to abandon “previously liberated settlements.”

On Monday, Vitaly Ganchev, a Russian-appointed official in Kharkiv, appeared in an interview on Rossiya-24. In an attempt to explain the Russian troops’ defeat, he claimed that they were outnumbered “eight times over” due to “Western mercenaries” boosting the Ukrainian forces’ numbers.

On the Gazprom-owned NTV channel, former liberal politician Boris Nadezhdin displayed a rare show of dissent. He said that advisers had misled Putin into believing that Ukraine will quickly surrender. He also called for an end to the conflict through immediate peace talks.

Other talk shows focused on Russia’s response. Following Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv, Russian forces bombed Ukrainian power stations on Sunday, causing power outages across the eastern part of the country.

On Monday morning, host Olga Skabeyeva of the daily 60 Minutes talk show highlighted Russia’s response as “a turning point in the special military operation.”

Guests declared that Moscow would only intensify military action from now on, echoing Putin’s statements in July, when he said that Russia “had not yet started anything in earnest.”

Newspapers gave mixed coverage. Some papers acknowledged that the plan did not go well, while some adopted the defense ministry’s rhetoric of a “tactical redeployment” of its troops.

The Izvestia paper chose to highlight Russia’s conquest when it summed up the weekend events. It claimed that Russia killed 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers and that the military simply “redeployed forces to focus on the Donbas.”

Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta provided a more critical outlook when it called out the defense ministry’s silence regarding “extremely disturbing reports from Ukraine … for several days.” It pointed out that Russia’s military leaders were busy attending the annual war game exercises — thousands of miles away in the country’s far east — while Ukrainians advanced on Russia’s western border near Kharkiv.


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