While Russian troops slowly advance in Eastern Ukraine, questions loom as to how far President Vladimir Putin is planning to take his invasion of Ukraine. During a recent press conference, Putin claimed that nothing has changed and everything is going according to the plan: “I have formulated the overall goal, which is to liberate Donbas, protect its people and create conditions that will guarantee the security of Russia itself. That is all.” His deliberately vague responses implied that Russian attacks in other parts of Ukraine were meant “to distract” the Ukrainian leadership.
Some military experts are convinced that fierce Ukrainian resistance may be insurmountable, as long as it continues to be aided by the ongoing Western support. Appearing on the state TV show The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov last Friday, Andrey Gurulyov, State Duma deputy and a former deputy commander of Russia's southern military district, stressed that the West will continue to supply Ukraine with every conceivable type of weapons, “up to a nuclear bomb—just not to let us win.” He proposed re-creating the Cuban Missile Crisis, but this time with hypersonic weapons, in order to reach an eventual détente with the United States: “Our hypersonic weapons... should be brought to the near vicinity of the United States, with a flight time of no more than five minutes.”
Gurulyov candidly admitted: “That is the only scenario for us to be able to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine. Only a direct threat to the U.S. and the UK... will force all of them to the negotiating table... all of this is part of a greater plan of conducting not only a special operation, but World War III, which is for us the second Great Patriotic War.” He positioned nuclear blackmail as Russia’s golden ticket, urging the country’s leadership “to seriously think through the plans of how we can painlessly get to the next crisis that will be our ticket to the future.”
Host Vladimir Solovyov opined: “Thanks to the idiocy of NATO countries, the world can anticipate hunger and a big war.” His constant attempts to deter foreign support for Ukraine through threats of nuclear attacks against Western countries have become so overplayed that even fellow propagandists routinely wince and roll their eyes. Solovyov, who is reportedly purchasing military equipment himself to aid Russia’s war against Ukraine, is currently advocating total destruction of the country’s critical infrastructure. His theatrical threats are ringing hollow, but at the same time, they are raising expectations.
On Monday, the Kremlin childishly declined to congratulate the United States on its Independence Day. Military expert Alexey Leonkov appeared on Solovyov’s show on July 4 proposing that Russia should declare the U.S. and its allies “state sponsors of terrorism” for helping Ukraine deter Russian aggression. The host enthusiastically agreed and threatened that Russia would start shooting down American satellites, which would lead to a direct confrontation with the United States. Solovyov added, “I don’t know why we haven’t already declared them to be terrorists.”
While most of the world hopes for a speedy conclusion to Russia’s brutal war against its neighbor, the Kremlin’s pet propagandists insist that the slaughter must continue—and expand. On Sunday evening’s broadcast of Solovyov’s show, one of the program’s recurring guests, Yaakov Kedmi, also known as Yasha Kazakov, an Israeli former politician and diplomat, insisted that Russia must take all of Ukraine and that nothing less would do.
“If the results of this operation will be maximally close to the expectations of the Russian people, that will be a victory. If they will be far removed from that, it will constitute a defeat. Semantic somersaults, like claiming, ‘We set the liberation and security of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as our goal,’ will be of no help. It will be regarded by the Russian people as a defeat. It doesn’t matter what created that anticipation of the goal, whether it was smart or not, that’s what they’re waiting for,” he said. “If they have such expectations, any deviation from a complete and final victory over Ukraine will be seen as a loss, with consequences for Russia.”
Bringing up the remarks of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Kedmi said, “He noted and others are pointing out an incredible support for Putin as a result of this operation. What is the basis for this support? Unshakable confidence of the Russian people that he will secure total victory. God forbid this trust would be broken or somehow damaged... The people won’t accept and won’t forgive anything less than a total victory. I’d like to remind you, based on Russia’s history, how the people reacted when the government didn’t meet their expectations. With the same force they supported [the government], they will stomp it into dirt... Anything less than Novorossiya [a proposed confederation of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic] and the left bank of Ukraine will be a catastrophe. Not merely a defeat, but a catastrophe.”
Solovyov jumped in: “In that case, let’s be even more blunt. In reality, the goals were formulated in December of 2021. They are not limited to Ukraine, but demand that NATO’s infrastructure be returned to the boundaries of 1997-1998.” Kedmi concurred: “That was another one of Kissinger’s mistakes. As I’ve said before, everything that is happening in Ukraine is a prelude for the main confrontation, the main fight, which will determine the fate of the entire world, the fate of the United States, as well as Russia’s fate. This big battle will develop based on the outcome of the actions in Ukraine. Russia has no right to lose this big battle, or the battle in Ukraine, as defeat resembles death.” Solovyov concluded: “Defeat is death.”
The next guest, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, seemed to be seething about Kedmi’s comments, which may indicate that the Kremlin has indeed settled for a more modest endgame in Ukraine.
She told him to speak to the Israeli government and leadership about the ills of “the Kyiv regime,” instead of “fantasizing” about the wishes of the Russian people. She claimed that there is “a total unity” of average Russians with the country’s government, with respect to their goals in Ukraine.
Zakharova’s angry tirade attempted to cover up the fact that even the top propagandists seem to be unable to figure out the Kremlin’s final aims, much less the everyday people. The latest poll by Russia’s Public Opinion Research Center VCIOM shows that 38 percent of Russians believe that the goal of the invasion was to disarm Ukraine, 20 percent think that the aim was to protect Donbas, only 19 percent believe Putin’s dubious claim of “denazification” and 8 percent think that Russia’s intent is to occupy all of Ukraine and absorb it into Russia.
Instead of helping Putin’s regime, the angry bluster by the state media’s propagandists only highlights the senselessness of a conflict that even Russia’s own population struggles to grasp. The cartoonish promises of taking over the world fail to overshadow the fact that Russia’s economy is descending into the abyss. No territorial gains could ever justify the unbearable human toll.