Russian State TV appears to be preparing viewers for the loss of the occupied southern city of Kherson, amid an intensifying counteroffensive by Kyiv to retake its territory.
Olga Skabeeva, who hosts 60 Minutes on Russia-1, invited Alexander Kots, military correspondent of the state-run daily tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, to provide an assessment of the war, acknowledging in her opening question that “everything is difficult in Kherson.”
The broadcast came as pro-Russian officials began to leave the southern Ukrainian city on Wednesday, ahead of an advance on the city by Kyiv’s forces.
Kherson’s Kremlin-installed leader, Vladimir Saldo, told Russian state television that the administration was moving to the east bank of the Dnieper River. He also said on Russian state TV program Solovyov Live on Wednesday that authorities plan to transport about 50,000 to 60,000 people to the east bank of the Dnieper River within a week.
“What should we get ready for? What do we anticipate?” Skabeeva asked Kots. “Why did we decide to transport people out of there?
Kots proceeded to provide a dire assessment of the war, anticipating heavy destruction and fighting in the coming days. He said residents are being evacuated from Kherson “because we’re caring for their lives.”
“Homes and apartments can be built anew…here in the Kherson region, the situation is very hard,” Kots said. “During all of these months, the Ukrainian side has been systemically working to cut off our forces from supply routes, in the area of the Nova Kakhovka dam and in the area of the Antonovsky bridge.”
Kots also acknowledged Russia is struggling to supply its troops with equipment in the Kherson region.
“This creates difficulties for the Russian troops, especially since on the other side of the frontline, we are confronting forces that are quite substantial.”
Kots said that in some areas, Ukrainian troops outnumber the Russians “four to one,” and noted that many are well-equipped with weapons supplied by the West, such as the U.S.-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, also known as HIMARS.
Kots told Skabeeva that he doesn’t believe there will be “any good news” for Russia in the next two months.
“If we make it through that, there will be a breakthrough,” he said, adding that Ukraine is likely to recapture territory currently occupied by Russian forces in that timeframe.
The comments come shortly after the new commander of Putin’s army in Ukraine told the state-run Rossiya 24 TV news channel that “hard decisions must be made.”
“In the Kherson direction, the situation is not easy,” said Sergei Surovikin in his first televised interview since he was named this month to command Russia’s invasion forces. “The situation in the area of the ‘Special Military Operation’ can be described as tense.”
“The enemy continually attempts to attack the positions of Russian troops,” he said.
“Further actions and plans regarding the city of Kherson will depend on the developing military-tactical situation, which is not easy. We will act consciously, in a timely manner, without ruling out difficult decisions,” Surovikin said.
In recent weeks, there has been a noticeable shift on Russian state TV about the war, with guests and hosts demanding answers from the Kremlin and admitting the country’s shortcomings in the conflict.
Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Newsweek that Russian state TV is now “having to acknowledge that the war is not going well, and that Russia needs to do more.”
“It’s become untenable. On the one hand, Russia controls its own information space. On the other hand, when that information space is so clearly divorced from reality, that creates real tension,” he said.
“I think it says a lot, it’s had to really shift gears and now acknowledge that the war isn’t going well. And in part, that’s because of the advances that Ukraine made. I think Ukraine’s counteroffensives were really shocking. So they’re trying to create a new narrative for the conflict.”
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