Status: 24.09.2023, 11:49 a.m.
By: Karsten Hinzmann
Hit to the core: The attack on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is fueling doubts about the success of the Russian invasion of Crimea. © Sergei Malgavko/Imago
The propaganda is getting louder – and so is the criticism: First, Ukraine punctured air defenses over Crimea and now shelled a staff building. This is having an effect.
Sevastopol – Materially, the damage may have been small. But the stab in the heart of the Russian leadership is violent and painful: Russian propagandists are foaming with anger. But critics of Vladimir Putin are also becoming more impudent. On Friday (22 September), Ukrainian missiles hit the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Another pinprick against the Russian occupation of Crimea, which has been going on for almost ten years. A painful pinprick. For the Russian president, the Black Sea Fleet is a prestige object of his great power fantasies.
The Russian propaganda celebrities are correspondingly aggressive – for example, through Margarita Simonyan, the chief speech actor of the television station Russia Today: She suspects Ukraine's Western allies to be the masterminds of the attack and issues a clear warning via her Telegram channel: If the violence caused by Ukraine were to increase further, Russia would be "forced to issue an ultimatum to everyone" vis-à-vis the West, at what point we perceive them as directly involved in the conflict," as quoted by Newsweek.
Simonyan adds that she already considers Ukraine's allies to be military opponents. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had already threatened to do so. Russian political scientist Sergei Markov also blames the West for the length of the conflict.
Putin adviser: "Need to retrofit Russian air defenses"
"The brutality of air strikes by missiles and drones is increasing," the Kremlin's adviser writes on Telegram; he sees the blow to the headquarters as Ukraine's most serious attack since the outbreak of the conflict and thus justifies the need for action by the Russian invaders: "Russian air defense urgently needs to be upgraded," he writes.
It is possible that Russia is now getting scared. That, at any rate, would be an interpretation of a statement by Andrei Kortunov on BBC Radio's Today programme. He considers the air strike against the headquarters to be militarily rather meaningless, but "psychologically significant," as he says. For him, the stakes in Crimea, as well as in Ukraine, are no less than the entire world order.
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Andrei Kortunov is Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow. The think tank was founded by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to prevent international crises and help solve existing crises. As Kortunov has told The Economist, he considers the Ukraine war to be a conflict of values between two countries that together once constituted a large part of Soviet territory: "It is also an intellectual and spiritual confrontation between two ways of thinking: two views of the modern international system and the world as a whole; two opposing perceptions of what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is not, what is legitimate and what illegitimate, and what national leadership should mean. Ukraine's triumph could lead to a tamed and domesticated Russia."
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Blow to Black Sea Fleet also one against Russian elite
The recent air strike against a staff building of the Black Sea Fleet leads not only to the louder drumming of propaganda, but also to the exact opposite: to loud criticism. Even by a Russian journalist known as a propagandist. OnTelegram, Sergei Mardan has now shown himself conciliatory, describing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a "catastrophic mistake" and the current attack by Ukraine as a "crushing blow to the Russian elite". According to him, they now want the conflict to be frozen in the fall of this year.
This could mean that the blow to the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet actually penetrated to the core of the Russians. Days earlier, Ukraine had apparently also punctured Russian air defenses over Crimea after direct hits on two ships: This attack in the Ukraine war had been directed against the S-400 surface-to-air missile - the pride of the Russian air defense in Crimea with the internal designation "Triumph". Two out of four battalions with S-400 ramps are said to have been destroyed or at least severely damaged by Ukraine. A battalion consists of eight batteries, each with up to twelve mobile four-firing pads, including radar systems and command vehicles. This, too, is already a catastrophic loss for Russia.
Critics call on Russia to concede defeat in Crimea
Journalist Mardan therefore sees only one way: the partial defeat of Russia in Crimea. For Putin, Crimea is an important bridgehead on the Black Sea. For centuries, Russia has been pursuing its interest in the Black Sea for ice-free and, if possible, warm access to the vital sea routes around Europe, which underpins its claim as a maritime power. As quoted by Newsweek, according to Mardan, the airstrike against the headquarters finally destroyed the fantasy "that in 2014 we would have brought Crimea back to Russia without a single shot."