The impact of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is still being felt on Russian television. I wrote about this yesterday but today Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor for the Daily Beast has a new story up about all of the ways in which reality is slowly breaking through the Russian nationalist bubble.

Brutal realizations have been raining upon the Kremlin’s top propagandists—and when it rains, it pours. The same pundits who used to threaten NATO countries with nuclear strikes are begrudgingly acknowledging that Russia’s Armed Forces have suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in Ukraine

On Monday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, filmmaker Karen Shakhnazarov likewise dispensed a large dose of brutal honesty. “I urge everyone not to panic in the face of a defeat we’ve suffered in the Kharkiv region, and we have to acknowledge it,” he said. “A defeat has some meaning when you acknowledge it and draw new conclusions. And if you don’t acknowledge it, all you get is another defeat, perhaps even more devastating. This is a very difficult situation and we have to recognize that we’re battling a very powerful adversary.”…

Political scientist Sergey Mikheyev described recent developments in Kharkhiv as “a serious failure,” on the part of Russia. “Call it ‘regrouping’ or whatever else… This is our most serious defeat during the last six months, and the most significant success of our adversary… Perhaps this failure is beneficial, because being so obvious, now it’s impossible to pull the wool over our eyes, pretending that everything is wonderful,” he said.

One of the issues being most hotly debated right now, and not just on television, is what Russia should do about this humiliating defeat. One possibility would be for Russia to quit pretending this is just a “special military operation” and instead formally declare war on Ukraine. So called “full mobilization” would allow for about two million former Russian soldiers to be brought into the fight.

On Monday, Russian media quoted Mikhail Sheremet, a State Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party, as saying “full mobilisation” was necessary for victory.

On Tuesday, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in a statement on the party’s website: “Most of all, we need maximum mobilisation of our strength and resources” in order to win what he called a “war” against the United States, Europe and NATO…

On Sept. 2, before the Ukrainian counteroffensive began, Igor Girkin, a former Russian security services officer who led the original separatist insurgency in east Ukraine in 2014, wrote on Telegram that mobilisation is Russia’s “last chance” at victory in Ukraine.

The issue of full mobilization is also tied to another closely guarded secret. How many soldiers has Russia already lost in Ukraine? US estimates have suggested that as of July Russia has lost about 15,000 troops and had about three times that number wounded. But recently a “leaked letter” from the Russian Finance Ministry has been circulating which gives a total amount of money paid out by the government for the deaths of soldiers in Ukraine. Doing some simple math brings you to a conclusion that they have lost more than 48,000 men.

I don’t know if the leaked letter is real or just a clever bit of Ukrainian propaganda. But even if you rely on the lower estimates coming from our own CIA, Russia has suffered substantial losses even before last week’s rout. Those losses might make full mobilization necessary if Russia plans to get back on the offensive. Yet today the Kremlin announced that mobilization was off the table.

“At the moment no, there is no discussion of this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked for the second day running if Russia would mobilise its reserves after being driven out of almost all of Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine.

So the question is this: Is full mobilization not being considered because it’s genuinely not necessary or is it off the table because Putin knows it would be extremely unpopular and an admission of failure? I suspect there are people inside the CIA who have thoughts on what’s really going on here but they’re not sharing them with reporters. Suffice it to say, the longer this drags on the more pressure Putin will be under to either double-down or admit defeat. I don’t think he’s going to admit defeat so the prospect of full mobilization isn’t going to go away.

And yet, you have some skeptical voices on TV noting that even mobilization is no guarantee of success. Full mobilization would force a bunch of working age men out of the already struggling economy to instead become under-trained cannon fodder for the war effort. It could be bad for the economy and bad for Putin when a bunch of those young men are killed without anything to show for it.

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