Russian state media’s trumped-up narrative of Putin’s glorious war in Ukraine was last night shattered by a retired colonel who gave an unusually frank and damning assessment of the situation on the frontlines and world stage.
Mikhail Khodarenok, a former air defence commander and graduate of some of the Soviet Union’s top military schools, used his platform on one of Russia’s most-watched talk shows to warn that the war is going badly and is likely to get worse, and that nuclear sabre-rattling – far from being threatening – actually ‘looks quite amusing’.
Ukraine, he said, will soon have mobilised more than a million soldiers who will be trained by the West and equipped with modern weapons, ready to fight and die to protect their homeland against Russia.
Batting aside repeated interruption from propagandist Olga Skabeyeva that the army will be mostly made of conscripts, Khodarenok insisted that how an army is recruited is irrelevant – what really matters is willingness to fight, and Ukraine ‘intends to fight to the last man.’
Russia’s position on the world stage is no better, he added, pointing out that ‘we are in full geopolitical isolation, and that, however much we would hate to admit this, virtually the entire world is against us. And it’s that situation that we need to get out of.’
Khodarenok’s remarks, broadcast to millions of Russians who until now have been spoon-fed a narrative of their military’s prowess and Ukraine’s weakness, mark a stunning break with the state-sanctioned narrative and puts him at extreme odds with the Kremlin stooges stood to either side of him.
Mikhail Khodarenok, a former Soviet air defence commander, has given a full and frank assessment of Russia’s military failings on state TV – warning that ‘the whole world is against us’
Ukrainian solders examine the wreck of a Russian tank in an image taken on an unknown date at an unknown location, but released by the country’s defence ministry on Monday
A local resident looks at a destroyed Russian tank next to a residential house in the village of Mala Rogan, east of Kharkiv
Russia’s offensive across Ukraine has all-but ground to a halt, except for an attempted pincer movement around Ukrainian troops at Severodonetsk in the east, and an ongoing assault on the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol
Speaking on Skabeyeva’s evening talk show – which toes the Kremlin line so tightly that she has become known as the ‘iron doll of Putin TV’ – Khodarenok urged his fellow panellist to wean themselves off of ‘information tranquilisers’ and look objectively at the situation.
First of all, he said, rumours of a ‘moral and psychological breakdown in the Ukrainian armed forces which are allegedly on the verge of some kind of crisis in morale’ are ‘to put it mildly, is false’.
‘The situation… is that the Ukrainian armed forces are able to arm a million people,’ he added, who will be equipped with western weapons and trained how to use them by armies that are part of NATO. ‘So a million armed Ukrainian soldiers needs to be viewed as a reality of the very near future,’ he said.
Batting aside objections from Skabayeva that most of those men will be conscripts, he insisted that what really matters isn’t how an army is recruited but its willingness to fight.
‘A desire to protect one’s homeland, in the sense that it exists in Ukraine, it really does exist there, they intend to fight to the last man,’ he said. ‘Ultimately victory on the battlefield is determined by a high level of morale among personnel, which sheds blood for the ideas which it’s prepared to fight for.’
On the world stage, Khodarenok added, things hardly look better. ‘We are in full geopolitical isolation,’ he said, adding that: ‘However much we would hate to admit this, virtually the entire world is against us.’
Nuclear sabre-rattling, he insisted, will do little to deter Russia’s enemies and in fact ‘actually looks quite amusing’ when the whole world is arrayed against the Kremlin.
Urging those around him to ‘maintain a sense of realism’, he warned that ‘sooner or later the reality of history will hit you so hard that you’ll regret it.’
It is hardly the first time that Khodarenok has voiced concerns. Even before the war started, he wrote that Ukrainians would fight like hell to defend their country and that Russia was walking into a longer, bloodier, and far more costly conflict than it was preparing for.
It is not even the first time he has spoken out on state TV. Ahead of Putin’s Victory Day speech on May 9, he warned that a rumoured mass mobilisation of troops would not solve the problems Russia’s military is facing.
But his latest remarks are the lengthiest, most in-depth analysis of the corner that Moscow has backed itself into and seems intended to spark a conversation about how exactly the country gets itself out again.
What remains unclear – however – is whether anyone, and in particularly those in the Kremlin, are listening to him.
He spoke out after repeated briefings from western intelligence agencies said that Russia’s offensive in the Donbass has stalled and that a path to Ukrainian victory is now emerging.
In a sign of growing desperation in the Kremlin, military sources said last night that Putin is now micro-managing the war effort – taking decisions that are typically left to colonels as his battleplan falters.
General Valery Gerasimov is also said to be making similar tactical decisions, micro-managing the war in minute detail which would normally be overseen by a colonel.
‘We think Putin and Gerasimov are involved in tactical decision-making at a level we would normally expect to be taken by a colonel or a brigadier’, said a Western military source, according to The Guardian.
The same source said that Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) had been ‘battered’, adding: ‘If Putin is doing the job of a brigade commander’ then ‘he could be delving into a force that could be as small as 700 to 1,000 soldiers’.
Putin’s soldiers have so far failed to achieve their military objectives in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have been attempting to mount a breakthrough in order to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region.
Ukrainian troops have posed with a border marker on the frontier with Russia having counter-attacked to the north of Kharkiv and pushed Putin’s army out of the country, the regional governor said today
It is thought the footage was filmed Sunday to the north of the town of Ternova, around two miles from the Russian border, which Ukrainian troops had captured the day before
Officials believe Putin’s decision to take personal control of on-the-ground troop movements could be contributing to the military failures.
Radio jamming has forced Moscow to send more battalion leaders to the front line in order to communicate with their troops, only for Ukrainians to take advantage by killing Russia’s generals – with 12 confirmed dead.
The news comes after Ukrainian soldiers became the country’s first to reach the Russian border after retaking Kharkiv from occupation.
Ukraine’s ministry of defence said on social media that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of its military had reached the border with Russia, marking the closest Ukrainian soldier’s have come to their neighbour since it was invaded on February 24.
On Monday, one of Putin’s top propagandists has declared Russia’s offensive in the Donbas region has failed as incredible pictures show the inside of the steel plant at Azovstal which has been under siege for much of the war.
Russian intelligence officer and commander Igor Girkin took to his Telegram channel to summarise the situation for Russian forces in Ukraine and said their intention was ‘so obvious’ that Ukraine Armed Forces have been able to resist.
Meanwhile, incredible photos have been shared of the inside of Azovstal steel works – which has been under siege in Mariupol for months – after wounded Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated.
Girkin, who has spoken frankly about the difficulties facing Putin’s forces in recent weeks as their invasion of Ukraine drags on, shared a detailed summary of their progress, or lack thereof, on his Telegram channel, adding that the failure to make headway was not a surprise.
He wrote: ‘With regret I must say that the widely advertised […] operation to defeat the Donetsk group of the enemy has FAILED.
‘In more than two weeks of fierce hostilities (which have cost both sides huge losses) only tactical successes have been reached. Not a single large locality has been liberated.’
Girkin said that perhaps some ‘local tactical successes’ could be achieved before a counter-offensive by Ukraine forces but said it was unlikely the Donbas region would be ‘fully liberated’, adding: ‘It’s likely the UAF will not even be pushed away from the outskirts of Donetsk. And I cannot say that this result is unexpected for me. Quite the opposite.’
It comes as Russia said on Monday that it had agreed to an evacuation effort from the bunkers below the besieged plant in Mariupol to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk.
A man examines the ruins of his house in the village of Mala Rogan, to the east of Kharkiv, after Ukrainian troops recaptured the area from Russian forces in the past few days
Ukrainian troops move past the ruins of a destroyed Russian vehicle along with discarded artillery shells in a village to the north of Kharkiv which has now been recaptured by Kyiv’s men
As the soldier were evacuated, incredible images were shared online showing inside the plant earlier today.
One photo shows a Ukrainian soldier standing under a beam of light in the now-wrecked steel plant as wounded forces were evacuated.
The fighting at Azovstal in ruined Mariupol has symbolised Ukrainian resistance throughout Russia’s nearly three-month-old invasion. Most civilians who had sought shelter at the vast Soviet-era plant were evacuated earlier this month.
‘In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,’ the Azov Regiment said in a social media post.
In an accompanying video, one of the unit’s senior commanders, Denys Prokopenko, said: ‘The main thing is to realise all the risks, is there a plan B, are you fully committed to that plan which must allow for fulfilling the assigned tasks and preserve the lives and health of personnel?’
‘This is the highest level of overseeing troops. All the more so when your decision is endorsed by the highest military command.’
Prokopenko did not spell out what action the defenders were taking. The video was released hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk.
Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians died in Mariupol during months of siege by Russian forces who destroyed the Sea of Azov port, a city of around 400,000 people.
The last defenders, including many who were wounded, had been holding out for weeks in bunkers beneath Azovstal, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe.
‘An agreement has been reached on the removal of the wounded,’ Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement.
‘A humanitarian corridor has been opened through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are being taken to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.’
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar earlier told Ukrainian television: ‘Any information can harm the processes that are taking place … Inasmuch as the process is under way, we can’t say what’s happening right now.’