Postponed “Judgment Day”: how Russian narratives around the war have changed

An explosion in a Moscow shopping center. Source: UNIAN

Over the course of 19 months of full-scale war in Ukraine, Russian headlines that once boasted about the successes of “theirs” have transformed into attempts to reassure the Russian society.

The news feed of Russian federal agencies TASS or Interfax until the fall of 2022 consisted mainly of statements about an absolute “victory.”

In the headlines of leading Russian media, there was a constant presence of the “victory lexicon”: captured, destroyed, liberated, taken prisoner, and so on. Most of the headlines were illustrated with demonstrations of the successful work of Russian weapons, the scale of the military, or videos of missile launches from the sea.

With time, the situation on the front lines increasingly diverged from the headlines, so propagandists gradually adapted their content. Like then, many materials now focus on the theme of “war fatigue” from the West, with theses that the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine will decrease.

However, increasingly, the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces, reporting on their own “successes,” is shifting towards the “defense lexicon”: now it’s news about the successful repulsion of attacks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, interception/shooting down of Ukrainian UAVs either on the territory of Ukraine or Russia, destruction of Ukrainian naval drones, and so on.

– The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the destruction of UAVs over the Domodedovo district of the Moscow region.

– The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the destruction of Ukrainian UAVs over the Crimean Peninsula.

– The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that they thwarted an attempt by Kyiv to attack UAV facilities on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Source: TASS, September 24, 2023

– Russian air defense shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle of aircraft type approaching Bryansk.

– The Ministry of Defense revealed details of the destruction of UAVs in the Belgorod region.

Source: RIA Novosti, September 26, 2023

Certainly, this can also be explained by the fact that the occupying army is mostly on the defensive in the captured Ukrainian territories, while the Ukrainian Armed Forces are advancing. However, it’s unlikely that supporters of the “special operation” would prefer to see such an agenda after so many months of war. The shift in narratives on leading Russian propaganda media is a red marker of the vulnerability of the Russian government.

Serhii Kuzan, the Head of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center, as well as a political expert.

“We see how Russians rhetoric is gradually changing. Let’s be straightforward: this change did not happen due to the sanctions or  deterioration of the standard of living, not because of Russia’s international isolation or condemnation by the global community. All of these arises solely from successful missile attacks and drone strikes. Defeats on the front and enemy diversions in the rear provoke public discussion and cast doubt on Putin’s authority and the course he has chosen for the country. We need to significantly increase the production of drones and missiles and greatly extend their range to reinforce this trend.

Only significant military defeats for Russia will be the catalyst for a change in its elites, much like the defeat near Bahmut led to an uprising by Prigozhin. And only a change in elites will lead to Russia abandoning its militaristic policy.”

The most indicative situation seems to be the drone attacks on Moscow, military, and strategic targets in temporarily occupied Crimea. Under such news, there are numerous angry comments from Russians who are accustomed to a completely different narrative.

Reader responses include mentions of “red lines” and “judgment day,” which Deputy Head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev promised to arrange for Ukraine in case of an attack on Crimea.”

Moscow, July 17 – Deputy Head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev warned that if threats of an attack on Crimea from Kyiv are realized, then for everyone, “judgment day” will come simultaneously, and finding shelter will be difficult.

Source: Interfax

Black Sea Fleet Headquarters, Sevastopol. “Red line” is once again insufficient.

Factories producing “red lines” are already operating in three shifts. Even in this ministry, they understand that with their statements about “red lines,” not only have Russians stopped respecting them, but they have also started to scorn them.

The change in Crimea is evident from local chat discussions. In the temporarily occupied Feodosia, they are not discussing the velvet season, as before 2014, but rather what is better to use for sealing windows: tape or painter’s tape. The new requests of Crimeans vividly correlate with the real situation on the peninsula with explosions and sabotage.

– You should use not scotch tape; it doesn’t wash off later, but painter’s tape. Or, like our grandmothers, strips of paper on a thick soap solution.

– I hope this night will be quiet.

– It will be quiet.

– Painter’s tape is paper tape.

– I will sleep in the corridor. There are no windows there. Or in the bathroom.

– So, it will be. Usually, after a noisy night, there is always a quiet one.

– And even better – turn over the bath and sleep under it.

– That’s why I don’t tell stories about Feodosia schools))

– Realities force everyone to change.

– You – don’t seem to change.

– Near the school, not far from me, there is a kindergarten with a bomb shelter. They told us that they would evacuate us there in case of a threat. I don’t understand how it should look. The whole school + little ones from the kindergarten in one room.

At first glance, it’s already noticeable in Russian media that if the war is going “according to plan,” then this plan is no longer Kremlin’s.

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