Just a picnic.
On Saturday, Russia’s media censorship bureau banned news outlets from calling the war in Ukraine—well– a war. Also forbidden are the words assault and invasion.
The bureau, uneconomically called the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, said print, Internet and broadcast outlets face fines up to five million rubles, the equivalent of about $60,000, or possible closure altogether.
The preferred label is “special military operation,” the phrase provided last Thursday by President Vladimir Putin when he launched the, er, event.
The decree was one of several odd events that suggested that Russia’s invasion was not going as well as expected in the Kremlin. There were also indication that the decision to invade was not unanimously endorsed by officialdom.
Three days into the invasion, Russian troops had not yet conquered major cities that its troops have assaulted, including Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, nor Kharkive and Mariupol bordering the contest region of Donbass. And it wasn’t clear that beyond that the Russians and their allies had yet progressed far beyond Donbass enclaves the Russians.
The Russian assault on Kyiv from the west and north has been aided by missile, jet bomber and artillery strikes on residential areas. Ukrainian forces claim to have shot down a troop transport plane in southern Ukraine that may have carried dozens of Russian soldiers.
In the far west, Russians fired missiles at Lviv on the border with Poland. The city has been the funnel for about 120,000 refugees fleeing into Poland.
Subtle changes in Putin’s daily rhetorical pep talks success the speed of the invasion has been slower than expected. On Thursday, he urged Ukrainian soldiers to throw down their arms and go home. On Friday, he urged them, instead, to overthrow the Ukrainian government.
He also tamped down talk of negotiations. On Friday, Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky offered to discuss with Russia a “neutral status” for Ukraine. Apparently, he was referring to the kind of deal reached among Western allies and Russia in 1955 over formerly Nazi-annexed Austria. Austria is still formally neutral, is not a member of NATO although it belongs to the European Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Ukrainians could negotiate if its soldiers laid down its arms, according to Russia’s TASS news agency. Saturday, the Kremlin announced there would be no talks because Ukrainians refused them.
But there have been signs everyone, in the Russian government is not fully on board. On television, he curtly shut down discussion from a top intelligence chief about of opening negotiations with Ukraine over the future of breakaway eastern provinces in Ukraine.
Andrey Kortunov, who heads the government-linked Russian International Affairs Council, said Putin risks a cataclysmic decline in popularity if the war drags on. He said colleagues he knew at the Russian foreign ministry were “very surprised, shocked and even dismayed” by Putin’s actions.
The difficulties in taking major cities and generally to press the offensive forward suggest that the Russians have “lost the initiative,” said Lawrence Friedman, a professor at King’s College in London.
“If you’re defending your country you have higher morale,” said Friedman. The Russians seem to have been overconfidence. They haven’t taken a major city yet. It’s not turning out at all like Putin expected.”
Great Britain’s Defense Ministry said, “The speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”
A US Pentagon official told American reporters said that Russia’s thrust into Kyiv has been “slower than expected,” due to resistance in the city.
That far from spells the end of Ukraine’s agony. At least 120,000 refugees have entered Poland, and thousands of other across the borders of other Eastern European state bordering the country.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops still await on the border inside Russia. And Putin, who oversaw part pf the war against breakaway Chechnya in 1999 into the year 2000 is capable of unleashing much more mayhem. Russia’s army bobarded Grozny, the Cheshen capital for several days to drive out first civilians and then Islamic rebels.
But this weekend, the focus in Moscow to cover up a dreary face: The government ordered that the news media must stop publishing, “untrue information about the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the death of civilians in Ukraine… as well as materials in which the ongoing operation is called an attack, invasion, or a declaration of war.”
And the Kremlin has yet to announced casualty numbers.