Friday, March 25, 2022

News From Russia


Lawrence Sheets, who used to be NPR's Moscow bureau chief 20 or so years ago, now president of Eurasian International Analytics LLC, whatever that is, has recently been holed up in Odessa watching TV—not Ukrainian TV, but Russian, the 9:00 national news show Vremya, which he thinks has been turning pretty weird. He offered up some observations on it last week in Politico, and showed up with a follow-up on the radio this morning.

He thinks the show is getting very frayed, not quite professional in production, and not coherent in message, and of course the coverage on the Ukraine "special military operation" is full of lies, but he thinks the message has been shifting in significant ways: the "Ukraine is run by Nazis" theme is falling into disuse, the theme of "Ukrainians are bombing their own civilians to make Russia look bad" is getting more play (indicating, I'd think, that more and more Russians are seeing video of the massive destruction in Kharkiv and Mariupol and so on, with their VPNs, and the authorities feel they have to provide some explanation for it).

And the paranoia is getting really baroque: it's now asserted that Hunter Biden and his laptops are or were personally in charge of the imaginary US-Ukraine program for developing biological weapons of mass destruction (remember when the word was that Hunter's simply getting a job was evidence of corruption, because he was obviously too incompetent to do a job of any sort? Now he's Dr. von Doom), and everybody's favorite Elder of Zion, George Soros, is of course behind it all. 

Which is also a big thing, I've learned from Twitter, among the American Putinists:

Underlining, it seems to me, the depth of connection between the international Putinism of Farage, Le Pen, Orbán, and so on, and the kind of Republicans who started signing up with Trump around six years ago, who now constitute pretty much the whole of the Republican party.

Another ongoing change, to Sheets, is in the express Russian war aims, which he sees as shrinking, as the Russian news coverage of the military action seems to be limited to the East and ignoring the onslaughts on Kiyiv and other western cities, and as the "Nazi" theme shrinks, and the denial of Ukrainian nationhood seems to have recedeed as well. As if they'd abandoned plans to occupy all of Ukraine and replace the national government with a Russian-backed alternative regime as in Chechnya or in Crimea and Donbas, in favor of just holding on to the territory they conquered in 2014. If this is true, if Vremya is really preparing Russians for this kind of settlement, which is something that could have been achieved a month ago without any further killing or destruction, and to which Ukrainians certainly won't consent now. But it's a hugely hopeful sign that the war could end soon and Putin himself is in some kind of desperation for a face-saving compromise.

Finally Putin himself looks as isolated on Russian TV as he does to us, losing contact with his usual security advisers and cabinet members (in particular the ongoing slow-motion purge of defense minister Shoygu), and also unwell: in the Politico piece,

there was an episode [17 March] that also suggested that Putin is off his game — about 20 minutes into his speech, his language deteriorated into a ramble. He searched for words, repeating a term roughly similar to “you know.” It then became a diatribe, punctuated with uneasy pauses, even poor use of Russian, full of unnecessary conjunctions and jargon. The clip of Putin’s speech that was posted later on YouTube edited out this section of the broadcast.

and in today's radio piece are hints that Putin may have suffered some kind of stroke—video rarely shows him walking, and when it does he has a limp, and he favors his left side; when he's shown holding a pen in his right hand he looks as if he's doodling more than writing.

Here's video of the 17 March cutoff and limp (from The Telegraph, which you can't assume is entirely honest, but it is suggestive):

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