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Martin Schram commentary: Is Putin’s offramp finally under construction?

Summary: Hmmm. Perhaps we will soon be looking back and saying wisely that this week’s stunning video of the colonel telling tough-truths on state TV was our first clue that a fed-up Putin was building his own offramp — and planning a quick exit from an unconquerable Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on as he holds a meeting of the Russia - Land of Opportunity platform supervisory board at the Catherine's Hall of the Kremlin in Moscow on April 20, 2022. This image is distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on as he holds a meeting of the Russia - Land of Opportunity platform supervisory board at the Catherine's Hall of the Kremlin in Moscow on April 20, 2022. This image is distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik.
Mikhail Tereshchenko/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
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We interrupt our regularly scheduled punditry to report some breaking news.

NEWSBREAK: Russia’s state TV permitted a highly decorated retired army colonel to report some actual, factual news on Monday about what has really gone wrong with Russia’s flailing, failing invasion of Ukraine.

Indeed, anchors and analysts on the Rossiya network’s leading news-talk show, “60 Minutes,” seemed shocked into silence when the show’s invited guest, retired Col. Mikhail Khodaryonok — who in 2020 was awarded by Vladimir Putin Russia’s “Medal of the Order” for “Merit to the Fatherland” — began uttering the sort of forbidden truths that had been carefully concealed from the fatherland’s propagandized public.

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“The situation for us will clearly get worse,” said Russia’s former air defense commander. “ … We are in total geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it.”

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Now, those words don’t seem shocking to our westernized eyes. After all, you’ve been reading similar warnings here and elsewhere for half a year. (Months ago, we were saying China’s President Xi Jinping would learn a lot from Putin about what not to do in Taiwan. Because Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would isolate Russia from the global economy – just the opposite of what a leader of the global economy wants.) But millions of Russia’s trusting viewers of state TV have sadly been believing Putin’s version of Big Lies. And now one of Putin’s decorated military leaders was telling them that they’ve been conned.

So no wonder the state TV show’s panel sat in silence. Only the show’s anchor, Olga Skabeyeva – who has been called the Kremlin’s propagandist-in-chief – attempted to counter Khodaryonok’s warning. She recited a few of Putin’s favorite false talking points, including his fatuous claim that Russia “had no choice” but to send in its military (referring to Putin’s bizarre insistence that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis).

You will not be surprised that Putin’s tele-propagandist was no match for Putin’s “Merit to the Fatherland” medal recipient.

“Let’s not consume info-sedatives,” replied the colonel (or “informational sedatives,” depending upon which translation version you choose to believe). “ … The most important thing is remain realistic. … If you don’t, then sooner or later reality will hit you so hard you won’t know what’s hit you.”

Remember, we must keep in mind what it must have been like for Putin’s millions of true believers to be watching this medal-winner’s warning with their Big Lie-fogged eyes. The colonel warned them about the danger of being misled by official information channels that inaccurately spread false info about Ukraine’s military. This Russian officer’s assessment was filled with praise for the military opponent his country chose to attack.

“Sometimes information is being spread about some sort of psychological breakdown in Ukraine’s Armed Forces, suggesting some sort of a breakthrough is imminent,” the colonel said. “None of this has a basis in reality.

“Ukraine’s armed forces can arm 1 million men. One million of armed Ukrainian soldiers should be accepted as a result of the near future. … As far as the desire to defend their Homeland, according to the understanding that exists in Ukraine, it’s most definitely present there. It is a component of an army’s high combat capability, it’s one of the most important components. …The European aid will fully come into effect, so a million armed Ukrainian soldiers needs to be viewed as a reality of the very near future. And it's that situation that we need to get out of.”

This rarest Russian TV video — Col. Khodaryonok telling of tough-truths on Russia’s state TV — has gone viral this week on the Russian social media website called VKontakte. It was an eye-opening first for millions of Russians who believed Putin and backed his Ukraine invasion.

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Finally, we are now left with one tantalizing (see also: tormenting) unknown: Vladimir Putin surely wasn’t blindsided by Col. Khodaryonok’s views or willingness to say them on TV.

In February, before the invasion, he warned in a newspaper column that Ukraine would fight fiercely and the West would provide sophisticated weaponry. “There will be no blitzkrieg in Ukraine,” he wrote then. A couple of weeks ago, Huffpost.com reported, he warned publicly that a Russian military mobilization wouldn’t help in Ukraine.

“We don’t have the reserves, the pilots or the planes, so the mobilization would be of little help,” he reportedly said. “Sending people armed with weapons of yesteryear to fight against global-standard NATO weapons would not be the right thing to do.”

Hmmm. Perhaps we will soon be looking back and saying wisely that this week’s stunning video of the colonel telling tough-truths on state TV was our first clue that a fed-up Putin was building his own offramp — and planning a quick exit from an unconquerable Ukraine.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com .

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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