- In a country where independent media and commentary has all but disappeared, it's become unusual to hear dissenting voices on the many state-controlled TV networks in Russia.
- Voices critical of the Kremlin or the invasion are rarely heard, with most commentators publicly supportive of the war with Ukraine.
- But one well-known military analyst and veteran has stood out this week after he appeared on state TV and gave a damning assessment of the invasion, or what Russia calls a "special military operation."
In a country where independent media and commentary has all but disappeared from public view, it's rare to hear dissenting voices on the many state-controlled TV networks in Russia — particularly now with the country at war with Ukraine.
But one well-known military analyst and veteran has stood out this week after he appeared on state TV and gave a damning assessment of the Ukraine invasion, or what Russia calls its "special military operation."
"The situation, frankly speaking, will get worse for us," Mikhail Khodaryonok, a retired Russian army colonel, told the "60 Minutes" talk show on Rossiya-1 TV program hosted by Olga Skabeyeva, who's renowned for her pro-Kremlin stance.
"You should not swallow informational tranquilizers," Khodaryonok told the host as he warned that Ukraine was in no way near being beaten by Russia, and that Kyiv could mobilize and arm a million people if it wanted to.
Khodaryonok, who is also a defense columnist for the gazeta.ru newspaper and a graduate of one of Russia's elite military academies, according to Reuters, had previously warned the country against invading its neighbor Ukraine, saying it was not in Russia's national interests.
His advice unheeded, Russia is now almost three months into a bloody conflict in Ukraine with only a few significant territorial gains in the east and south, and with the invasion likely to turn into a long-term war of attrition with Ukraine's fighters showing a bravery and resilience underestimated by Moscow.
Russia has already had to scale back its apparent strategy to invade Ukraine from the north, east and south and has now focused its fighting forces on eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas region.
Khodaryonok emphasized that even if Ukraine had to rely on hundreds of thousands of conscripts that only had rudimentary military training, what mattered is that their hearts would be in the fight, and that would not bode well for Russia.
"The desire to defend one's motherland in the sense that it exists in Ukraine — it really does exist there and they intend to fight to the last," Khodaryonok said before he was interrupted by Skabeyeva who was trying to downplay the effectiveness of Ukraine's forces.
"We need to treat this million Ukrainian soldiers as a reality in the nearest future," he said.
Neither Khodaryonok nor Skabeyeva could not be reached for comment, Reuters reported.
On the global stage, Russia is widely ostracized and has been sanctioned to the hilt, with even its erstwhile allies in China and India edgy over how long the conflict could last.
"The main deficiency of our military-political position is that we are in full geopolitical solitude and — however we don't want to admit it — practically the whole world is against us ... and we need to get out of this situation," Khodaryonok continued on the talk show, with the other studio guests appearing dumbstruck by his outspoken critique.
While Russia is increasingly isolated, the West appears more united than ever. Ukraine's allies in the West continue to supply arms to Kyiv and Russia's invasion has seen the Western military alliance NATO tighten its security measures. In fact, Russia's invasion has only served to strengthen the alliance, with Finland and Sweden now looking to join the organization.
Russia predicated its onslaught of Ukraine largely on opposition to it joining NATO (a prospect that was not imminent) and has invariably blamed NATO for the invasion, as well as accusing the military alliance of preparing to invade what Moscow sees as Russian territory in east Ukraine, where two pro-Russian, self-proclaimed republics are located in the Donbas.
But its response to NATO's forthcoming expansion to include Finland and Sweden has been muted. Although it initially threatened "retaliatory steps" against the expansion, with President Vladimir Putin calling it "a problem," it has since said the expansion doesn't make a big difference to it.
Geopolitical analysts have noted there is little Russia can actually do about the enlargement anyway, although Russia has threatened to act if NATO military infrastructure is placed in Sweden or Finland.
Khodaryonok said Russia needed to see the reality of the situation in Ukraine. "The main thing in our business is to have a sense of military-political realism: if you go beyond that then the reality of history will hit you so hard that you will not know what hit you," he said.
"Don't wave rockets in the direction of Finland for goodness sake — it just looks rather funny," Khodaryonok said.