Putin hasn't gone far enough for Russia's hawks

“These people are not calling for Russia to stop the war,” said Kateryna Stepanenko, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. “All of the military channels that I follow, they are explicitly saying that ‘we are criticizing the Russian government and military command for the sole purpose of Russian victory.’”

In an open letter sent last week to Putin and other senior officials, a Russian veterans group described the inability to capture Kyiv as a “failure” and condemned the army’s shortages of drones, ammunition, and thermal imaging. The letter from the All-Russian Officers Assembly was deeply infused with ethnonationalist language and conspiracy theories, describing the battle as a battle for the “preservation a white and Christian Europe.”

One of the most vocal critics of the war is former FSB officer Igor Girkin, better known by his nom de guerre Strelkov, who helped initiate the war in the Donbas in the spring of 2014 when he led a group of militants to seize the city of Sloviansk before rising to briefly become the minister of defense of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic. This week, Girkin amplified reports that fighters from the Donetsk region were allegedly forced to mobilize at the beginning of war and were pushed into battle poorly equipped with little training, sustaining high losses. While unable to independently verify the claims, the Institute for the Study of War noted in its daily report on Wednesday that such critiques of the war would not have gained such traction earlier in the campaign, “demonstrat[ing] the strong resonance anti-Kremlin narratives can now have.”

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