Russian officials and milbloggers largely did not react to the US announcement of more than $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine, further highlighting that the Kremlin and the Russian information space selectively choose when to portray Western military assistance as an escalation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on January 6 that the assistance would provide Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air missiles, and ammunition. Russian officials and milbloggers scarcely reacted to the latest announcement of military assistance, even though the Kremlin most recently portrayed the transfer of purely defensive Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine as an escalation.
The lack of Russian reaction to the US announcement of military assistance that Ukrainian forces could use to support counteroffensive operations supports ISW’s previous assessment that the Kremlin is more concerned with its information operations and the effect that Western military aid can have on specific Russian military operations in Ukraine than with any particular weapons systems, red lines, or the supposed Russian fears of putative Ukrainian offensive actions against the Russian Federation itself using Western systems. The Kremlin selectively responds to Western military shipments and assistance to Ukraine to support information operations that aim to frame Ukraine as lacking sovereignty and to weaken Western willingness to provide further military assistance by stoking fears of Russian escalation. The Kremlin and the Russian information space will likely seize upon future Western military aid that they believe can support these information operations rather than as a reflection of any actual Kremin red lines or specific concerns about the potential threat Western weapons systems may pose. ISW has previously noted that these observations are worth considering in the context of the Western discussion of providing Ukraine with Western tanks, long-range attack systems, and other capabilities.
Russian officials and milbloggers continued to respond negatively to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January 5 ceasefire announcement as hostilities continued in Ukraine on January 6. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin remarked that a ceasefire does not mean that Russian troops will stop responding to “provocations by Ukrainian troops,” or else Russian forces run the risk of affording Ukraine the opportunity to improve their positions in critical areas of the front. Pushilin’s statement was an implicit criticism of the ceasefire announcement and exemplifies the fact that the announcement was poorly received by Russian military leaders. Former commander of militants in Donbas in 2014 and prominent milblogger Igor Girkin called the ceasefire “a bold and decisive step towards defeat and surrender” for Russian forces and criticized Russian leadership for failing to learn from the outcomes of previous ceasefires over the last eight years. Other prominent milbloggers seized on the ceasefire announcement to criticize the Kremlin’s conduct of the war and accuse Russian leadership of directly placing Russian soldiers in harm’s way. The ceasefire announcement will likely continue to serve as a point of neuralgia for voices in the information space that have historically enjoyed a mutually reinforcing relationship with Putin.
While many voices in the Russian information space strongly criticized the ceasefire announcement, certain hardline elements seized on Putin’s statement to continue to propagate the narrative that Putin is a protector of religious values and morals. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated on January 6 that Putin offered “the hand to Christian mercy” to Ukraine and that Ukraine rejected it because Ukraine lacks faith. Commander of the Chechen Akhmat Special Forces, Apti Alaudinov, responded to the ceasefire with glowing praise for Putin, whom he called a “true believing Christian,” noted that Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam, and accused Ukrainian “Satanism” of being the reason why Kyiv refused to accept the truce. Alaudinov‘s praise of the ceasefire on religious grounds is part of a specific and long-running Kremlin information operation that seeks to cater to various religious minority groups in the Russian Armed Forces by framing Ukraine as an immoral enemy whose lack of faith transcends offends Christians and Muslims alike.
Prominent Russian milbloggers continued to use their platforms to advocate for the eradication of Ukrainian cultural and ethnic identity. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commander Alexander Khodakovsky claimed on January 6 that Russia and Ukraine share a “common gene pool” and “spiritual space” that Ukraine is destroying as the war continues. Khodakovsky’s statement is a clear rejection of the Ukrainian people as sovereign and distinct from Russia. Similarly, another prominent milblogger claimed that the idea of a Ukrainian ethnicity has never existed and was manufactured by Ukrainian “nationalists.” The milblogger invoked the concept of “Malorossiya”- the imperial Russian ideation of Ukrainian territory as entirely part of and subordinate to Russia. Another Russian war correspondent amplified the pre-February 24 fiction that Ukraine is oppressing Russian speakers and claimed that the war must continue in order to restore the Russian language to the “territory of the soon-to-be-former Ukraine.” These prominent and widely followed voices in the Russian information space continue to openly advocate for the dehumanization and destruction of the Ukrainian people. So long as the Kremlin continues to provide space for such voices as it ruthlessly censors views that stray from its own information lines, the intent behind Putin’s war remains clear.
- Russian officials and milbloggers largely did not react to the US announcement of more than $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine.
- Russian officials and milbloggers continued to respond negatively to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January 5 ceasefire announcement as hostilities continued in Ukraine on January 6.
- Certain hardline elements of the Russian information space seized on Putin’s statement to propagate the narrative that Putin is a protector of religious values.
- Prominent Russian milbloggers continue to use their platforms to advocate for the eradication of Ukrainian cultural and ethnic identity.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made gains in Soledar as Russian offensive operations continued around Bakhmut and the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area.
- Russian authorities and military leaders continue to face backlash for their responses to the December 31 Ukrainian strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing to target Ukrainian children to consolidate social control in occupied territories.