Why is the Kremlin quiet about drone attacks on Moscow and raids in the border regions?

The Bell

In the first year or so since Russia invaded Ukraine, the war barely touched the home front. However, that has changed sharply since May: Ukrainian drones attacked Moscow and the surrounding region, while Ukrainian artillery fire forced the evacuation of Shebekino, a town of 40,000 people near the border. Federal authorities, at least publicly, have responded passively to this.

We asked political analysts Grigory Golosov and Kirill Rogov, plus sociologist and founder of the ExtremeScan independent research agency Elena Koneva, why the Kremlin is behaving this way.

Q: Over the past month we have seen many events that could be interpreted as symptoms of “instability in the power vertical.” Why is the Kremlin so passive in response? What’s the internal logic here? Or is there no logic, and simply paralysis?

Grigory Golosov: If we look at the media reaction, it’s clear that the main aim of these incursions into Russian territory is to attract the attention of Russia’s population, to disorient people and cause panic. Therefore, if the Russian authorities respond with active coverage they would, in fact, contribute to these aims. Thus there is no good reason, in principle, for the authorities to pay much attention to this in their coverage of events around Ukraine.

Prigozhin has his own agenda, and he is manipulating the situation in his own interests. The Russian authorities also play along with Prigozhin because, whether by accident or design, he is speaking more or less as one with Ukraine’s propaganda. For those who pay attention to him, the effect is the same: a sense that everything in Russia is falling apart. The Russian authorities want to avoid giving the population this impression.

Kirill Rogov: These are not mutually exclusive. The logic is to avoid sharing bad news with the population, to keep it off the agenda, to ignore it.

There is also the situation where it is unclear who is responsible for setting the media agenda. We do not understand how this is organized. As long as the authorities can ignore what is happening, they will try to do so.

Meanwhile, Russia’s media space is divided into two segments that exist in parallel. There is no overlap. We have the television, which is the official media environment, and then we have Telegram and social media, like some kind of parallel reality. And there’s no overlap. You could live with your television and know nothing of what happens on Telegram, or vice versa.

Q: But state television channels are not completing hiding this news – we can get a good sense of the nature and scale of events. Why is propaganda allowed to discuss what’s happening if the government is trying not to inflame the situation?

Kirill Rogov: There are two reactions to the events in the Belgorod region. One suggests that an attack on Russia, a Ukrainian “invasion” into Russian territory, should have a mobilizing effect on the population. That is, people should be mobilized by it. After all, as Putin said, we are under attack.

But a second model suggests that these attacks might demoralize the public – the authorities are powerless, we’re losing again, where is our military, where is our strength? It is not yet clear which impulse will prove stronger, so the authorities are cautiously testing how the news will be perceived.

Grigory Golosov: These are somewhat different things. It’s one thing to let the media report on [the shelling of Shebekino]. It would be impossible to avoid that because, after all, we have the internet and other sources of information. Unchecked rumors can be more dangerous than media coverage. However, it’s a different matter when the authorities are seen to react to events, and that already grabs the public’s attention. Right now, the media agenda admits that things are happening but dismisses them as unimportant. It is not in the interests of the authorities to ramp up the importance of these events by issuing official statements about them.

Q: How do you interpret the current relationship between the authorities and Yevgeny Prigozhin? Logic suggests that his actions are currently permitted, but why?

Grigory Golosov: We often hear this logic and, to me, it seems to indicate that the control the authorities have over important and useful players such as Prigozhin is somewhat exaggerated. I think that in this case Prigozhin is acting more or less on his own initiative, on the assumption that he will not be punished [for kidnapping a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army]. In reality, he is getting away with it because it would be too damaging to punish him now.

Prigozhin has rendered significant service to the regime. He showed his value in the operation for Bakhmut. But he has his own agenda which, possibly, is already some distance away from the authorities’ agenda. He’s actively trying to promote himself as an energetic and politically effective figure.

Q: The federal government is not commenting on events in the border regions. How are people reacting there, and is there any danger of discontent?

Elena Koneva: People who live in the border regions say that they feel cut off from Russia, abandoned. They watch programs on state TV that shape their understanding of the real world. These people then see how their difficulties are reflected by national media reports, and they are not satisfied.

We have to understand that the war here began in the spring of 2021, when Russian troops started grouping on the Ukrainian border. At that time, military bases and fortifications started to appear in the border regions. If, at that time, you had asked local residents whether there would be a war, they would have said yes, without a doubt, we’re heading for war.

People judge the government’s actions by two parameters. First, locals want more nationwide coverage of what is happening in their region. And second, they want more budget funding to be allocated to them. But frustration with the federal government is not translated into dissatisfaction with Putin. He remains untouchable and beyond criticism. Putin’s continued silence over the events in the Belgorod region has yet to spark any doubts among the local population.

Men in the border regions say that as soon as they get their papers, they will be ready to defend their territory. Moreover, they add that “it’s high time to hand out weapons and get Prigozhin to teach us how to use them.” In the Belgorod region they have an interesting attitude towards Prigozhin. They have seen plenty of the official Russian army. We do not know the current mood in the military nor, therefore, what they are sharing with residents of the border areas, but Prigozhin’s position is clear. He freely criticizes the “leadership.” Locals see how he is different from the “personnel officers,” he recruits anyone and makes an army out of them. At the same time, these locals are not keen to join the Wagner Group because they have heard that the punishment for any disobedience, and especially flight from the battlefield, is execution.


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