Powerlessness and frustration erupt from the screen during daily propaganda talk shows on Russian TV. “The Moscow cruiser is a a victim of war“Shouted TV director Vladimir Bortko. “100 percent! We have to answer, but how?”
The rocket cruiser Moscow (Moscow), the leading ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, sank near the coast of Odessa last Thursday. Earlier, the Ukrainian General Staff announced that it had carried out a successful attack with two ‘Neptune’ cruise missiles. Russia’s defense ministry spoke only of the “fire” and “explosions” that led to the sinking of “Moscow” – the largest naval loss from British torpedoing by Argentine cruiser General Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands War.
However, on Russian state television, the speakers did not question the real cause of Moscow’s loss. “This is our flagship!” Exclaimed director Bortko. “This is an attack on the homeland!”
But who carried out that attack? How could these Ukrainians make the Russian Navy look like that? Leader Olga Skabeeva asked for words.
“We may not be fighting NATO itself,” she said grimly. “But at least with NATO infrastructure.”
After six weeks of war, Russia’s “special military operation” ended in a disgraceful retreat around Kiev and other northern cities. And while Moscow is trying to regroup for the decisive battle in Donbas, the Ukrainians took one of the largest Russian warships to the basement.
No more navy
From a military point of view, the sinking of Moscow is not decisive – since the annexation of Crimea and the confiscation of Ukrainian warships, Kyiv no longer has a navy. But warships are primarily symbols of military power. The Ukrainian postal system last week issued a new patriotic stamp, based on the ‘heroic’ resistance of a handful of ‘Snake Island’ defenders. “Warship, fuck off,” Ukrainian border guards shouted as ‘Moscow’ lay in front of their port.
That desire quickly became a reality. “The loss of Moscow,” writes the American Institute for War Studies, “is a great propaganda victory for Ukraine.”
In this propaganda war, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to explain how the Russian armed forces, the world’s second most powerful army, have made so little progress against “nationalists” and “fascists” led by the government considered an unstable ‘junta’.
Western military observers go from one surprise to another. The Russian air force, much larger and more modern than the Ukrainian one, has not yet managed to achieve complete air superiority. Russian ground operations are total chaos: every time a Russian tank column advances somewhere, Ukrainian artillery seems to be waiting for it – with deadly consequences.
On May 9, Russia commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in a grand military parade across Red Square. According to various sources, President Putin wants to force a breakthrough sometime before that date: in Mariupol, which is still defended with teeth and nails, or around Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, where the main forces of the Ukrainian army are deployed. The chances that this victory will be won on time are decreasing day by day.
No wonder propagandist Olga Skabeyeva is now talking about a de facto war with NATO. Even before the Russian invasion, the West delivered thousands of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, which played a decisive role. And as Russia straightens up again, more and more NATO countries are ready to provide Ukraine with heavier weapons: from old Soviet tanks to heavy artillery.
Last Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a new $ 800 million aid package. The war in Ukraine is developing more and more proxy war between East and West, by analogy with Afghanistan in the 1980s. Although the Ukrainian ‘mujahideen’ are not secret, they are openly supplied with modern Western weapons.
The Kremlin does not seem to have formulated an adequate response so far. Washington Post reported this week on a diplomatic letter warning Russia that further arms deliveries to Ukraine would lead to “unpredictable consequences”. “The special operation in Ukraine has already turned into World War III,” host Olga Skabeeva said on Thursday. But for now, Moscow has not dared to go beyond another burst of missiles at Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv. For now, Putin does not seem to want to draw the final consequences of his failed military adventure: to declare a state of war and call on tens of thousands of conscripts to die in Ukraine.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on April 16, 2022
A version of this article also appeared in the NRC on the morning of April 16, 2022