As the pro-Ukraine incursion into the Belgorod region continues into its second day, Russian propagandists and their public are struggling to cope with what is an epic embarrassment for the Kremlin.
What’s more, Ukrainian officials appear to be enjoying the proceedings, even ironically echoing lines used by the Kremlin itself back in 2014 when “little green men” invaded Crimea and then bussed-in “locals” appeared in the Donbas.
Russian state-controlled “news” media covered the border incursion and the official denial of involvement by Kyiv with visible emotion and frustration.
Olga Skabeyeva, a senior Kremlin propagandist and television moderator, during a Tuesday evening broadcast of the top-rated Vesti news talk show, attacked Ukrainian national leadership’s denial of involvement in the cross-border raid, describing it as “lying and, you [Russian television viewers] must agree, absolutely cowardly.”
She added: “They [senior Ukrainian officials] are saying that the tanks and weapons used in the attack were probably bought in military surplus stores, and that they had nothing to do with it.”
A few hours previously, in viral Telegram comments, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, used the same narrative of non-involvement and local armed groups rising up against a hostile state that the Kremlin pushed through its propaganda outlets during Moscow’s 2014 invasion.
“Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and is studying the situation, but it has no direct relation to it. As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military surplus store, and underground guerrilla groups still consist of Russian citizens,” Podolyak said.
“In a totalitarian country whose only political tool is repression, a partisan movement with weapons in hand is inevitable. Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and studying the situation, however, it has no direct relationship with it.”
Podolyak’s choice of language regarding the source of heavy weapons used in the Monday Belgorod cross-border raid – “military surplus store” – were identical to justifications offered by Russian state media outlets, led by Skabeyeva herself, that the men armed with tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers attacking Ukrainian troops and taking over Ukrainian towns and villages adjacent to Russia, were Ukrainian citizens who had armed themselves privately, without any Moscow support.
The main news website of the Ukrainian military on Tuesday commented on Skabeyeva’s anger at Podolyak’s narrative: “What goes around comes around!”
Russian citizens on social media were just as incensed at the news coming out of Belgorod, using far more colorful language to express their fury.
“It’s high time Kyiv was turned into a fu*king ruin,” said one. “I don’t know what they’re waiting for – strangle the scum in its nest.”
There was widespread anger at those who were supposed to defend Belgorod, with some people accusing Russian forces there of fleeing instead of fighting.
“ Did we just give them [Russian Volunteer Corps] an armored vehicle? There were no casualties among our border guards, only one prisoner?” asked one person.
There were also calls for punishment for those who allowed the situation to happen. “We will know the results from the investigation; then we will say who should be punished for this,” wrote one person.
Predictably, there was also blame placed on the US
“For some reason, nothing has changed, and the US has remained a threatening hegemon,” one person wrote. “It was not Ukraine that attacked Russia; it was the USA that forced Ukraine to give up Russia.”
Meanwhile in the Kremlin, authorities were trying to put a brave and calm face on events.
“What happened yesterday is a cause for deep concern and once again confirms that Ukrainian militants continue their activities against our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“This requires more effort from us and these efforts continue – the special military operation is continuing – so that this does not happen again,” he added, using the Kremlin’s term for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Elsewhere on Monday, the head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR) Kyrylo Budanov, had a far more serious message for Russian soldiers.
In a recorded address, he said: “You have a choice: die or save your life.” Budanov referred them to the state project called “I want to live,” a call-in service that explains to RF soldiers how to surrender.
“It's only going to get worse from here. You have a choice – die or save your life,” Ukrainian Intelligence Chief, Major General Kyrylo #Budanov addressed to the Russian military, urging them to surrender under protection of the Ukrainian program “I Want to Live”. pic.twitter.com/clLKvSYosP— KyivPost (@KyivPost) May 22, 2023
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