After spending the last year reassuring Russians that victory is inevitable in the war against Ukraine, the Kremlin is now frantically working to lower expectations—and rolling out a contingency plan to lessen the impact of a humiliating defeat.
A new manual prepared by Russia’s presidential administration and distributed to the Kremlin’s army of propagandists contains some surprising instructions: Do not “underestimate” Ukraine’s impending counter-offensive and do not spread the idea that Kyiv is somehow “not ready” for it.
That’s according to the independent news outlet Meduza, which says it obtained a fresh copy of the manual and spoke to sources close to the Kremlin about it.
“If the offensive is unsuccessful, it will be possible to say: the army [of Russia] skillfully fended off an attack that was superior in power,” making the “victory” that much more impressive, the sources were quoted saying.
But perhaps more importantly, the sources explained, if the Ukrainian military manages to take back territories and claim battlefield victories “with the help of weapons from the U.S. and Europe,” Russia’s losses will be understandable—after all, they were up against the “entire West.”
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In that case, the sources said, the Russian military will also be seen as having “pulled through.”
And just in case any Russian citizens begin to wonder about the colossal amount of funds the government is funneling to the very same Ukrainian territories it decimated before declaring them “part of Russia,” propagandists are advised to steer clear of the subject.
Instead, Kremlin spin doctors want their mouthpieces to churn out material on Russia upgrading schools and kindergartens, or hospitals.
“It’s clear there will be problems with the economy, and it’s clear why. Spending on the ‘special military operation’ isn’t going anywhere,” one source close to the presidential administration said, noting that funds will go towards the “new regions” rather than the old ones and people will inevitably feel neglected. “It is better not to show in specific amounts how much was taken [for the new regions].”
The Kremlin’s new guidelines are a stunning reversal from just a year ago, when propagandists were still pushing the idea that Russia would soon be reborn as a mighty superpower taking control of huge swathes of Ukraine.
At that time, the war was still a distant reality for many Russians—unlike now, when even residents in St. Petersburg and Moscow are on edge over drone attacks and even, in some cases, bomb-toting “Ukrainian pigeons.”
Security concerns were cited as the reason for the cancellation of Russia’s beloved Victory Day celebrations in some cities on May 9.
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“There will be no parade, so as not to provoke the enemy with a large concentration of equipment and military personnel in the center of Belgorod,” the governor of the border region said last month.
Even in Moscow, the country’s biggest Victory Day parade this year will forego its traditional procession of the Immortal Regiment, which sees thousands march carrying portraits of loved ones who died fighting in World War II. Authorities reportedly feared some people might show up carrying portraits of troops killed in Ukraine, inadvertently calling attention to the staggering losses there.
The Kremlin reportedly instructed its propagandists not to “play up” preparations for the parade.
And Moscow officials are also on high alert over any potential embarrassing disruptions in the parade: Utility workers have been ordered to patrol the city in search of bombs or drones ahead of the event, according to Sota.
That move came after a Ukrainian banker publicly offered 20 million hryvnias (about $545,000) to anyone who can design a drone—ideally painted with “Glory to Ukraine!”—that will land on Moscow’s Red Square in the middle of the parade.