TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — As Russia’s top military leadership announced on television that it was withdrawing troops from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, one man missing from the room was President Vladimir Putin.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s commander-in-chief in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, spoke loudly in front of the cameras about the reasons for the retreat. On November 9, Putin visited a neurological hospital in Moscow and watched a doctor perform a brain operation.
On the same day, Putin spoke at another event, but did not mention the withdrawal of troops from Kherson – Russia’s most humiliating move in Ukraine. In the following days, he did not comment publicly on the subject.
Putin’s silence comes as Russia grapples with the fallout from nearly nine months of war. The Russian leader appears to have outsourced the bad news he used during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kherson was the only regional capital occupied by Moscow’s forces in Ukraine and fell to the Russians in the early days of the occupation. For months, Russia has occupied the city, the main gateway to the Crimean peninsula, and most of its outskirts.
Earlier this year, Moscow illegally annexed Kherson region along with three other provinces of Ukraine. Putin himself conducted the ceremony in the Kremlin In September, they officially announced these steps and announced that “those living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye will become our citizens forever.”
However, more than a month later, the Russian tricolor flags fell over government buildings in Kherson, and yellow-blue banners were installed in their place. Ukraine.
The Russian army announced on November 11 that the retreat from Kherson and its surrounding areas to the east bank of the Dnieper River was completed. Since then, Putin has never spoken publicly about retreating.
“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”, and the president keeps his distance,” wrote political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya. in the last comment.
Putin, who was once said to have personally overseen the military campaign in Ukraine and given battle orders to generals, appeared to be focused on anything but war this week.
He discussed bankruptcy procedures and auto industry problems with government officials, talked to the governor of Siberia about increasing investment in his region, had phone calls with various world leaders and met with the new president of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
On Tuesday, under the chairmanship of Putin, a video conference on the monuments of the Second World War was held. He was expected to speak at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia that day, but not only did he decide not to attend, but he did not join it by video conference or send a pre-recorded speech.
The commemoration of the Second World War was the only one in recent days in which some cities of Ukraine, not Kherson, were mentioned. After the meeting, Putin signed a decree awarding the occupied cities of Melitopol and Mariupol the title of City of Military Glory, while Luhansk received the title of City of Merit.
Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political scientist, attributed Putin’s silence to the fact that he has built a political system similar to the Soviet Union, where the leader – “vojd” in Russian – is the term used to describe Joseph Stalin. to make a mistake.
“Putin and Putin’s system … are built in such a way that all defeats are blamed on someone else: enemies, traitors, backstabbing, global Russophobia – whatever, really,” Oreshkin said. “So if he loses somewhere, firstly, it’s wrong, and secondly, he’s not.”
Some of Putin’s supporters, even pro-Kremlin circles, have been suspicious of such apparent disengagement from what they see as major developments in the war.
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov said in a Facebook post that Putin’s phone conversation with the leaders of Armenia and the Central African Republic during his retreat from Kherson was more worrying than the “Kherson tragedy.”
“At first I didn’t believe the news, it was incredible,” Markov said, describing Putin’s behavior as a “demonstration of complete retreat.”
Others gave a positive spin to the retreat and tried to include Putin in it. Pro-Kremlin TV host Dmitry Kiselev said on his flagship news program Sunday night that the rationale for pulling out of Kherson was to “save people.”
Kiselev, who spoke in front of a large photo of Putin, who was busy with the inscription “To save people”, said that the president used this logic “to save people and every person in specific conditions”.
Analysts say that some ordinary Russians may also have a similar view of retreat.
“Given the growing number of people who want peace talks, even among Putin’s supporters, such a maneuver is perceived as a sign of calm or even a possible relaxation – saving manpower, peace is possible,” said Andrey Kolesnikov. Fellow of the Carnegie Endowment.
For Russia’s rogues—the Kremlin’s supporters, who are calling for tough battlefield moves and unhappy with Kherson’s retreat—there are regular missile strikes on Ukraine’s power grid.said analyst Oreshkin.
Moscow started working on a Tuesday. While nearly 100 rockets and drones were fired at targets across Ukraine, it was the country’s largest-ever attack on the country’s power grid and left millions of people in the dark.
Oreshkin believes that such attacks will not cause too much damage to the Ukrainian army and will not change much on the battlefield.
“However, it is necessary to create the image of the victorious “vojd”. That’s why it’s important to make some hits and shout about them. “I think that’s what they’re doing now,” he said.
For AP Ukraine war coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine