Home » Ukraine Update: As we prepare for the next phase of the war, a look into the Kremlin’s propaganda

Ukraine Update: As we prepare for the next phase of the war, a look into the Kremlin’s propaganda

A Ukrainian boy celebrates the liberation of his hometown in Kherson oblast

If this war was a long-running television series, we’d be in the off season, with writers writing new scripts, actors resting up, and the props department designing new sets, gear, and costumes. Season 1 was the Battle of Kyiv. Season 2 was the grinding battle for the Donbas, ending with Russia’s capture of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Season 3 was Russian culmination at Izyum, and the liberation of Kharkiv Oblast. Season 4 was the liberation of Kherson. Now we wonder what the writers have in store for us in the coming season. Is it Melitopol? Northern Luhansk (Svatove and Starobilsk) in northeastern Ukraine? More Donbas carnage? 

Artillery is slamming into both sides of the contact line, and fierce battles are happening, but check out these two reports from Ukraine’s General Staff. First, the usual rundown of Russian suicide attacks: 


With Kherson removed, and Ukraine in control of most of Kharkiv oblast, Russia’s sputtering offensive operations are relegated to just the two Donbas oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk. Still, that’s five assaults, so compare that to this:

One tank? Two armored personnel carriers? One artillery gun? Just one drone? The only number with any heft is the 330 claimed Russian dead, and even that is far below numbers we’ve seen in recent weeks of 500-800 personnel and Russian tank losses in the dozens. We can probably assume these claims are are generally inflated, but the trends are still worth tracking—it made sense the Russia’s losses were far higher during Ukraine’s Kherson counteroffensive, and now that it’s over, a single tank kill is logical. 

Yet Ukraine is repulsing attacks on those cities, and Ukraine did claim 330 Russian dead. That means that Russia is assaulting those villages without much armor, using human waves, marching them into a wall of Ukrainian artillery.

What a wretched way to fight a war. There are tons of videos of massed Russian casualties on the outskirts of some of these towns, and while I doubt my wisdom in sharing it, here’s two examples. Extremely disturbing video, so click with caution. I link only to show that I’m not exaggerating. There’s lots more video like that, with at least one Ukrainian Telegram channel devoted to the gore. I follow it, but I avoid it. 

I can’t quantify it, but I’m certainly seeing more dead infantry videos. Going back to the seasons metaphor, the Battle of Kyiv was all about St. Javelin, with video after video of Javelin and NLAW anti-tank rockets slamming into Russian armor. Season 2 was mostly artillery barrages and the first videos of WWI-style trench warfare. Season 3 was kinda fun—Kharkiv liberation videos, smiling babushkas, trampled Russian flags, replaced with Ukrainian ones, and POWs. It was also the introduction of HIMARS/MLRS videos. Remember HIMARS o’clock? Season 4, We were back to tube artillery, but this time with precision-guided Excalibur shells systematically slamming into tanks, as well as HIMARS taking out bridges and barges. And the spectacular Kerch bridge operation. 

Now it was clear people were dying in those videos, but it was sanitized, the carnage hidden from our view. How many videos did we see of burnt out Russian vehicles with nary a Russian body in the frame? Now, it is impossible to sanitize the results of a human wave attack. But given the decimation of Russia’s armored fleet, this is all Russia seems to have left for offensive operations. And those hundreds of thousands of untrained mobiliks will remain a gruesome speed bump in Ukraine efforts to liberate its lands. 

Anyway, things aren’t literally quiet in Ukraine right now. Artillery is loud. People are dying. But there’s a definite lull as both sides shift their Kherson armies to new locations, and Ukraine waits for the ground to freeze

Remember when Russia claimed they had to invade Ukraine because of NATO, then it was because they needed to save Russian-speakers from some undetermined threat, and then it was because of Nazis, and then a couple of weeks ago it was because of Satan? 

Finally, we have some truth:


“Holy hatred” is right—hatred that Ukraine had the gall to want independence from the dystopian hellhole that is Russia. They want Ukrainians to “freeze and rot” for the crime of standing by their president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They even act surprised! Why aren’t the masses rising up? Oh, it’s because they’ll get gunned down! The projection is … breathtaking, as is their ridiculous notion that the Ukrainian people will surrender because it’s too cold. Yes, winter will be hard, people will suffer, many will die, but this isn’t new for any country in Russia’s sphere of influence. Remember, Stalin literally starved millions in Ukraine during the 1932-1933 Holodomor in order to squelch the country’s bid for independence. 

We have even seen hatred in Russian phone intercepts from Ukraine, with soldiers furious that Ukrainian standards of living are so much higher than their own. (And to be clear, Ukraine is among the poorest nations in Europe. The bar was already low.)

It is fun, however, when nuggets of truth emerge from Russian state TV propaganda. 

It’s true! Russia has a toilet bowl problem. 

More than one-fifth of Russian households do not have access to indoor plumbing, according to official statistics obtained by the RBC news website on Tuesday.

Russia leads the developed world with the worst sanitation record, according to the London-based WaterAid NGO. A 2012 estimate citing official data placed the number of Russians whose households are only equipped with outhouses at 35 million, or roughly a quarter of the population.

Sure, Ukraine is leaning toward Europe and the West because it offers an escape from Russian world. But … the West also promises the kind of prosperity Russia doesn’t even pretend to deliver to its own people (aside from the oligarchs, of course). Compare Poland’s economic development (25th of 45 in Europe), measured by per capita GDP, compared to Belarus (36th). They both started out in the same place post Soviet breakup.

In fact, look at the bottom of Europe’s per-capita GDP chart: Almost all of them are part of Russia’s sphere, or have been screwed by Serbia, also part of Russia’s sphere: 


In fact, there are Russian troops in Belarus, plus Armenia (41), Georgia (42), Moldova (44), and Ukraine (45). To remain in Russia’s sphere of influence means to remain an economic backwater. 

This has always been Russia’s biggest PR problem—not their brutality and imperialism. The United States and Europe have their own legacy of brutality and imperialism, yet the world gravitates toward them because in the end, economic prosperity is more attractive than shitting in a hole in an outhouse in the middle of winter. 

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has tried to explain that all away by wrapping himself in the Russian Orthodox Church

“The battle for cultural supremacy is growing on the world stage,” according to the statement Putin signed Monday on Russia’s “humanitarian policy” abroad. “Centuries of history have given Russia a rich cultural heritage and spiritual potential that has put it in a unique position to successfully spread traditional Russian moral and religious values.”

The decree calls for the country’s foreign policy to counter what it terms a campaign to discredit Russia and its goals. It claims Russia is increasingly seen abroad as a guardian of traditional moral, social and family values against what it describes as “the aggressive imposition of neoliberal views by a number of states.”

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (who also has a super yacht, just like Jesus intended), is in charge of promoting this anti-Western message, and homophobia anchors it all:

For eight years, there have been efforts to destroy what exists in the Donbas. What exists in the Donbas is a rejection, a principled rejection of the so-called values that are now being offered by those who lay claim to global domination. Today, there is a certain test for loyalty to that power, a certain pass into that “happy” world, the world of excessive consumption, the world of illusory freedom. Do you know what that test is? It’s very simple but also horrific: it’s a gay parade. The demand to hold a gay parade is in fact a test for loyalty to that powerful world, and we know that if people or countries resist this demand, they are excluded from that world and treated as alien.

Sound familiar? There’s a reason MAGA Republicans are so enchanted by Putin.

Meanwhile, this is a thing that happens in the Russian army: 


And that “excessive consumption” is such an evil, that Russian theft of Ukrainian washing machines is one of the most pervasive memes of the war. Are “Russian values”  so devoid of humanity that they allow for the mass murder and misery they’ve inflicted on Ukraine (and Georgia, Moldova, Chechnya, Syria, Chad, Libya, etc), and also on their own people, and even their own army

Those aren’t “values” anyone is buying. Even Russians themselves would be happy to trade their homes for one in the United States or France. 

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We’re now in the second week of election overtime and there are still plenty of major races yet to be decided—as well as tons more great news for Democrats to exult over on this week’s episode of The Downballot. On the uncalled races front, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard dive into a pair of House races in California and several legislatures that could flip from red to blue, including the Pennsylvania House. Speaking of legislatures, the Davids also go deep on what the astonishing flips in Michigan will mean for progressives and particularly organized labor.


November 2022