Propagandists on Russian state television have disagreed about the significance of a Ukrainian city which experts have said might soon fall to Kyiv’s advancing forces.
The Ukrainian armed forces have reached the important logistics and supply node city of Kupiansk in the eastern Kharkiv region as they continue to make gains in their counteroffensive. Kyiv’s troops have been pictured holding a Ukrainian flag at the outskirts of the city.
The commander of Russia’s Chechen Akhmat division, Aptu Alaudinov, played down its strategic significance, telling the program 60 Minutes on the channel Russia-1 he had “no idea” the city had been “turned into Russia’s capital.”
“Who knows what they are celebrating over there,” Alaudinov said, as he also referred to Balakliya, a Kharkiv town which the regional military administration head, Oleh Synyehubov, said on Saturday had been retaken.
Video has gone viral of residents tearfully greeting Ukrainian soldiers in the town where footage shows Ukrainian flags flying.
But Alaudinov’s view was at odds with that of the military expert Mikhail Khodaryonok, who insisted that the city would be a key prize for Ukraine because of its position as a logistical base which supplies Russian troops.
“So the stakes are very high,” said Khodaryonok, who in May made headlines with his downbeat assessment of Russia’s war effort on the program that usually boasts of Russia’s military prowess.
Khodaryonok said this week it was “not quite correct” to consider the capture of Kupiansk as a trivial matter, describing it as of “exceptionally high importance for supplying all our troops in that region.” The anchor Olga Skabaeeva responded, “It’s very troublesome, everyone is terribly stressed.”
Concerns voiced on state television about gains made by Ukrainian forces in their counteroffensive in a marked change of tone from the rhetoric at the start of the invasion.
Instead of touting a swift Russian victory against overwhelmed Ukrainian troops like they did at the start of the war, pundits and hosts have been describing Kyiv’s gains in the Kharkiv region, while complaining about the contribution of Western arms and expertise to Ukraine’s war effort.
The 60 Minutes co-host, Evgeny Popov, who is Skabaeeva’s spouse, described how Russian troops were “resisting an enormous horde that has been trained in the West.” Meanwhile, Vladimir Solovyov, a journalist with links to Vladimir Putin, said on his program, “it’s understood that everything is difficult.”
“But it can’t be easy,” Solovyov said in the clip put together in a roundup by journalist and Russia watcher Julia Davis, “people are dying…this is a serious, difficult situation.”
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment about Ukraine’s counteroffensive.