September 14, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist party, attends a plenary meeting of the Russian parliament on Tuesday. (Dmitry Dukhanin/Kommersant/Sipa USA/AP)

The rout of Russian forces in the Kharkiv region has led to some unusually harsh and public debate in Moscow. Commentators and politicians have been discussing what went wrong – frequently blaming the Ministry of Defense.  

The public airing of complaints over what Russia describes as a “special military operation” in Ukraine is in sharp contrast to the handling of previous setbacks, such as the loss of Snake Island, where the Russian withdrawal was described as a goodwill gesture.

Commentators have dismissed the defense ministry’s weekend explanation that forces were being “redirected” away from Kharkiv to Donbas. 

A member of Russia’s Council for Interethnic Relations, Bogdan Bezpalko, suggested that military officials who had ignored intelligence about an imminent Ukrainian attack should be held to account.

“On the front for two months, Ukrainian Armed Forces and military equipment have been massing in that area, all Telegram channels have been writing about it,” he said on state television.

“Where was our damned reconnaissance? All of their heads should be lying on Putin’s desk.”

Bezpalko called for “limited mobilization” in Russia. “Of course, this is a tactical defeat,” he said Monday.

Discussion of a general mobilization — and calling the “special military” operation a war — is also entering the Russian parliament.

“How is a special military operation different from a war? You can stop the military operation at any time. You cannot stop the war. It ends either in victory or defeat. I’m leading you to the idea that there is a war going on,” said Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist party, during a session Tuesday.

Some context: On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was “no discussion of this for now” on a general mobilization. When asked about criticism about the operation in Ukraine, he said it illustrated “pluralism,” adding that Russians support President Vladimir Putin and his decisions but warned there was a limit to critical opinions.

As for other, critical points of view, as long as they remain within the framework of the law, this is pluralism. But there is a fine line, and one must be very careful here,” Peskov said.

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