Russian state television goes off message by denouncing Ukraine war
Russian state television has broadcast calls for Vladimir Putin, the country’s president, to stop his war in Ukraine during a programme in which pundits openly likened the invasion to “Afghanistan, but even worse”.
Vladimir Soloviyev, usually one of the Kremlin’s most reliable chief propagandists, had to interrupt guests on his prime time television talk show to stop their criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking during a broadcast on Russia 1, Karen Shakhnazarov, a filmmaker and state pundit, said the conflict in Ukraine risked isolating Russia.
He told Mr Soloviyev: “I have a hard time imagining taking cities such as Kyiv. I can’t imagine how that would look.”
He went on to call for the conflict to be brought to an end, saying: “If this picture starts to transform into an absolute humanitarian disaster, even our close allies like China and India will be forced to distance themselves from us.
“This public opinion, with which they’re saturating the entire world, can play out badly for us … Ending this operation will stabilise things within the country.”
Later during the broadcast of An Evening with Vladimir Soloviyev, one of Russian television’s most-watched programmes, guest Semyon Bagdasarov, an academic, said: “Do we need to get into another Afghanistan, but even worse?”
He said that in Ukraine “there are more people and they’re more advanced in their weapon handling”, adding: “We don’t need that. Enough already.”
The reference to Afghanistan, a conflict that scarred the Soviet Union and still scars Russia, was particularly poignant. The Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, 10 years after it invaded, humiliated.
Historians have said that the Afghanistan failure and the disillusionment that millions felt after it helped pull down the Soviet Union two years later. Thousands of Soviet soldiers were killed in the war, which became deeply unpopular at home.
A clearly irritated Mr Soloviyev, who owns a villa in Italy that has been seized and sanctioned by the European Union, interrupted Mr Bagdasarov.
The Kremlin relies heavily on state television to project the message that Putin’s so-called “special operation” to rescue the Russian kinfolk of Ukraine from Nazis is going to plan.
Kremlin state television is one of the few sources of information about the war for the Russian public, after authorities restricted access to some social media sites and forced independent stations off the air.
Russia has threatened to imprison anyone who criticises the war for up to 15 years.
Ukraine has fought a savvy media campaign, which has included filming captured conscripts repenting for the invasion.
News of the setbacks in Ukraine appears to be filtering back to Russia. Over the weekend, a video emerged which showed mothers of soldiers angrily confronting a regional official and accusing the Kremlin of using their sons as “cannon fodder”.
Small protests have also continued in Russia, despite a hard clampdown by the police.
The prime time Vladimir Soloviyev show is not the only one that appears to be straying off-message.
On the Russian ministry of defence’s television channel, Zvezda, a serving army officer explained to a talk show audience how Russian soldiers were dying in Ukraine.
“Our guys over there, from Donetsk and Luhansk, and our special operation forces are dying and our country,” he said.
“No, no, no,” interrupted the presenter who gets up from his desk gesticulating and marches across the studio shouting: “Stop!”
“Our youth are still dying,” the soldier continued.
By this time, the presenter had come up to him and shouted: “Can you stop now? I will tell you what our guys are doing there. Our guys are smashing the fascist snakes. It’s a triumph of the Russian army. It’s a Russian renaissance.”