Dhe “60 Minutes” program of the Russian public television channel “Rossiya 1” is not known for highlighting the war in Ukraine as viewers outside Russia are used to. The war here is the “special operation” proclaimed by President Vladimir Putin, in which the Russian armed forces, together with the “people’s militias” of the Donbass “people’s republics”, systematically rush from success to success.
On Monday evening, however, military journalist Mikhail Khodaryonok painted a grim picture of the Russian situation, in Ukraine and beyond. Contrary to Russian euphoria over the victory, the 68-year-old retired colonel, who served as an officer in the operations command of the Armed Forces General Staff until 2000, said he should not take “information sedatives”: claims that the Ukrainian armed forces are demoralized “correspond, to put it mildly, not with reality”.
Ukrainians ready to ‘shed blood for their homeland’
Russia’s situation in Ukraine “obviously will deteriorate”, Khodaryonok said. kyiv will receive more military aid from the West and will be able to “arm a million soldiers”, Russia must take this into account. Moreover, the Ukrainian army is “ready to shed blood for its fatherland”. Contrary to what “some of our political scientists believed”, signing a contract does not make you a career soldier. The “will to protect one’s homeland”, as it exists in Ukraine, is decisive for the will to fight; the troops who were ready “to shed blood for the ideas for which they are ready to fight” were victorious.
Russia’s biggest problem, Khodaryonok continued, is “total geopolitical loneliness and the fact that practically the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it. We have to get out of this situation. The presenter, Olga Skabeeva, who has seen countless state TV shows, repeatedly tried to refute the retired colonel. But Khodaryonok was undeterred, insisting Russia’s resources were limited and also calling for an end to “debates” with Finland over the country’s application for NATO membership.
The military reporter is known as a warning against too much Russian exuberance: Earlier this year, Khodaryonok was among two former military officials and a former intelligence officer who publicly warned of an attack on Ukraine. In an article published at the time by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Khodaryonok dissects in detail “the predictions of bloodthirsty political scientists” of a possible victory over Ukraine in “minutes”. There would be no “lightning war”, wrote Khodaryonok at the time, warning against a guerrilla like in Afghanistan or Chechnya and recalling the failure of the attempt to set up a “New Russia” in Ukraine from 2014. Armed conflict with Ukraine was not in Russia’s interest, Khodaryonok claimed then.
Plea for Russian “realism”
In mid-February, he was then invited to “60 Minutes”; At the time, state television was still trying to ridicule US warnings of a Russian attack on Ukraine, some of which were linked to data. It is possible that Khodaryonok was aiming to counteract the impression created by his and other warnings that Russian military leaders disagreed on the Ukrainian issue. Contrary to “corresponding opinions in the Western media”, the retired colonel said at the time that in the military leadership only “the will of the commander-in-chief” applies, that is, Putin. The Russian army has “surprises” ready and fulfills “every order”.
But now Khodarjonok’s call for “realism” in front of an audience of millions contradicts the confident messages the Kremlin constantly sends. One interpretation of his appearance is that the Russian population must prepare for further casualties; for a second, that the army, through its retired colonel, is trying to pressure it for new resources, more weapons, more soldiers. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that Khodarjonok’s appearance could also be interpreted in a more prosaic, less conspiratorial way: a lonely admonisher finds the courage to make uncomfortable statements at the right time.