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Uncovering the Kremlin’s Efforts to Conceal Russia’s Military Setbacks

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August 10, 2023

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Kremlin finds itself in a precarious position, grappling with the emerging controversies swirling within Russia’s information space. Influential media figures and military bloggers have begun raising concerns over reports of setbacks in Crimea and the larger Ukrainian conflict, prompting the Kremlin to take measures to mitigate potential panic and unrest.

The latest analysis from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) underscores the growing sensitivity of the Kremlin towards reports of failures, particularly in Crimea. The situation has not only exposed divisions within the military blogger community but also illuminated the delicate nature of discussing setbacks in the pro-military Russian media landscape.

The fissure became evident on August 2nd when a prominent pro-war military blogger lashed out at fellow counterparts who had criticized the Russian government’s handling of the conflict. The blogger dismissed these critics as “imbeciles,” accusing them of endorsing “provocative publications” and engaging in “frantic criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defence.” This outburst was triggered by the dissemination of images by milbloggers, allegedly depicting the aftermath of recent Ukrainian strikes near Sevastopol and the Chonhar Bridge. There were concerns that such information could inadvertently fan the flames of panic.

Experts analyzing the situation speculate that the dispute highlights the Kremlin’s apprehension surrounding the topic of strikes on Crimea, an issue that holds particular sensitivity in the pro-war Russian media landscape.

According to the ISW report, the majority of Russian military bloggers maintained a conspicuous silence following a recent attack on the Chonhar Bridge by defense forces on July 29th. This silence raises questions about potential directives from the upper echelons of the Russian military command to keep quiet about issues that could be attributed directly to the command itself.

In a notable development, Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky announced the establishment of two new VDV regiments and the revival of the 104th VDV Division by the year’s end. This move is interpreted by analysts as a strategic demonstration of Teplinsky’s alignment with the Russian Ministry of Defence, countering rumors of his arrest in July, reportedly linked to his connections with the Wagner group.

The Kremlin’s deepening concern over continued attacks along the Russia-Ukraine border is exemplified by the Ministry of Defence’s provision of weaponry and vehicles to territorial defense forces in Belgorod and Kursk oblasts on August 2nd. The ongoing allocation of additional military assets indicates heightened apprehension within the Kremlin about border security.

On the Ukrainian side, counteroffensive operations persisted across multiple fronts. Reports indicated advancements near Bakhmut on August 2nd, underscoring the fluid nature of the conflict.

Key Takeaways from the ISW analysis on August 2nd reaffirm the Kremlin’s sensitivity to reports of setbacks in Crimea and Ukraine within the pro-war Russian media space. The dispute among influential voices and the ensuing allegations emphasize the neuralgic nature of discussing strikes against Crimea.

Beyond the media sphere, the conflict’s ramifications continue to unfold. Russian forces executed a drone strike on the night of August 1-2, resulting in the destruction of port infrastructure and a substantial quantity of grain in Odesa Oblast.

As tensions persist, the Kremlin remains central to the narrative. Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed the Kremlin’s stance by advocating the “Novorossiya” narrative and announcing initiatives to provide books to occupied territories of Ukraine on August 2nd.