What the ‘chattering classes’ of Russia are talking about

by | Mar 23, 2022


My harvest of impressions from the past 48 hours of monitoring Russian political talk shows and news bulletins of Russian state television is filled to the brim with both highly interesting and at times frightening and off-putting developments. 

The most momentous is perhaps what I just saw 15 minutes ago on the latest edition of Время покажет (Time Will Tell), a talk show I know from the inside having twice been a panelist there in 2016-2017. The program opened with mention of the forthcoming European visit of Joe Biden which has two cities on its itinerary: Brussels for the next regular G7 and NATO gatherings, and….Warsaw.

Why Warsaw? The presenter notes that this meeting with the Polish leadership might be linked with the planned visit of President Duda to Washington next week. But then she moves on to link it was another announcement made yesterday by the US envoy to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. In the video recording of Thomas-Greenfield projected onto the screen, the envoy tells us that while the United States has no intention of sending any military personnel to Ukraine, any member country of NATO has the right to do so on its own.

This matches up nicely with the latest Polish government thoughts aloud to the effect that it might just move some troops across the Ukrainian border to secure its own eastern flank. In this way, the Poles would be doing no more than the Turks have done in Syria, where they still are parked in the predominantly Kurdish sector of the country in violation of international law.

 Meanwhile, per the talk show presenter, Hungary has already said it will not consider any clash with Russia resulting from forces sent by any NATO member state to Ukraine as justifying action under the famous NATO Alliance clause 5 of “all for one and one for all.” In other words, per the management of Time Will Tell, a little and probably very short lived Russo-Polish war will follow. Complete defeat of Warsaw is foreseen, even if it would take longer than the 2 days projected by the Polish army command itself not long ago; longer because so much Russian armed strength is presently committed to holding down Ukraine. As the presenter joked, this might mean the end of Polish statehood…

A bit earlier today, the latest edition of Большая игра (The Great Game) hosted by Vyacheslav Nikonov also was full of interesting commentary. Over the past several years, Nikonov proved his talent for leading public discussions of the most serious topics in US-Russian relations with some of the best minds in Russia. His program today was one more demonstration that The Great Game has moved ahead to rank above Vladimir Solovyov’s talk show in terms of intellectual content. Like the above mentioned Time Will Tell, The Great Game uses video clips of Biden and other US and Western leaders as the starting point for discussions. I mention this by way of answer to the several readers of my essays who could not imagine that Russian state television disseminates more than the official Kremlin point of view. In fact, the views of the foreign adversary are given extensive airing before they are demolished by Russian experts.

In today’s show, the American views to be demolished were those of the President and of the Pentagon commenting on Russia’s use this past week of its hypersonic missile Kinzhal to attack a military target in Ukraine. President Biden was quoted as saying that he saw nothing special about the Kinzhal other than speed, that its warheads were the common variety. The Pentagon was quoted as saying that the Russians “appear” to have fired their Kinzhal in Ukraine, which would be a wasted effort for the given target.

 Nikonov’s guests pointed out that the target of the first Kinzhal strike was a “nuclear attack hardened” structure 60 meters underground and protected by reinforced concrete dating from Soviet days. Inside this bunker were Ukrainian missiles and other munitions of high value. In other words, thanks to the incredible energy of mass and speed, the Kinzhal using what they characterized as one of its weaker potential conventional, as opposed to tactical nuclear charges could destroy a target otherwise considered protected against a nuclear armed ICBM. Nothing special about this weapon system, eh?

Meanwhile, some of the Russian state programming these days is awful in the thesaurus meaning of ‘extremely disturbing or repellant.’ The latest edition of 60 Минут (Sixty Minutes) with Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva took a strong stomach to sit through. To be sure, the repellant material on the screen is coming from Ukrainian state television and includes the following: first, the televised statements of a Ukrainian government representative addressed to the wives and fiancées of Russian airmen, warning them that they will soon be widows, that Ukrainian forces will follow them to the ends of the earth to take revenge for their role in the current war, that they will be killed while vacationing on the beaches of Turkey, etc., and second, the televised address of the head of a Ukrainian medical institution telling the doctors under him to castrate any Russian prisoners of war who come their way, because they are not people but cockroaches.

Add to this the testimony of escapees from Mariupol who describe the methods of torture and disfiguration inflicted on them by the Nazi battalions in the city. The source material is full of hate, and the airing on Russian state television also is not innocent: it has the clear purpose of inciting hatred for Ukrainians among the television viewers and so to prepare them for the much more cruel conduct of the war that Russia is likely about to implement, given that its human resources are insufficient to further prosecute the war quickly under the gentlemanly rules observed up till now. To be specific, the Russians may switch over to the “American Way of War” out of necessity, meaning use of carpet bombing to ‘neutralize’ the Ukrainian forces, both regular army and nationalist battalions just to the west of the line of demarcation. 

The objective of a new and vicious though completely ‘legal’ attack on the Ukrainian troop concentrations will be in line with the recommendations of Clausewitz, who obviously enjoys great respect in the Kremlin: namely to win a war by destruction of armies, not by capturing cities. Thus, it is very likely that Kiev will never be conquered, that the regime will capitulate because it has no more fighters in the field to resist the Russian presence.

Reprinted with permission from GilbertDoctorow.com.