When Russia’s top military brass announced in a televised appearance that they were pulling troops out of the key city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, one man missing from the room was President Vladimir Putin.
As Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s chief commander in Ukraine, recited the reasons for the retreat in front of the cameras on Nov. 9, Putin was touring a neurological hospital in Moscow, watching a doctor perform brain surgery.
Later that day, Putin spoke at another event but made no mention of the pullout from Kherson — arguably Russia’s most humiliating withdrawal in Ukraine. In the days that followed, he hasn’t publicly commented on the topic.
Putin’s silence comes as Russia faces mounting setbacks after nearly nine months of fighting.
Kherson was the only regional capital Moscow’s forces had seized in Ukraine, falling into Russian hands in the first days of the invasion. Russia occupied the city and most of the outlying region, a key gateway to the Crimean Peninsula, for months.
Moscow illegally annexed the Kherson region, along with three other Ukrainian provinces, earlier this year. Putin personally hosted a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony formalizing the moves in September, proclaiming that “people who live in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia become our citizens forever.”
Just over a month later, however, Russian flags came down over government buildings in Kherson, replaced with the yellow-and-blue banners of Ukraine.
The Russian military reported completing the withdrawal from Kherson and surrounding areas to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River on Nov. 11. Since then, Putin has not mentioned the retreat in any of his public appearances.
Putin “continues to live in the old logic: This is not a war, it is a special operation, main decisions are being made by a small circle of ‘professionals,’ while the president is keeping his distance,” political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote in a recent commentary.
Putin, who was once rumored to personally supervise the military campaign in Ukraine and give battlefield orders to generals, appeared this week to be focused on everything but the war.
He discussed bankruptcy procedures and car industry problems with government officials, talked to a Siberian governor about boosting investments in his region, had phone calls with various world leaders and met with the new president of Russia’s Academy of Science.
On Tuesday, Putin chaired a video meeting on World War II memorials. That was the day he was expected to speak at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia — but he not only decided not to attend, but he didn’t even join it by video conference or send a pre-recorded speech.
Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin attributed Putin’s silence to the fact he has built a political system akin to that of the Soviet Union, in which a leader is by definition incapable of making mistakes.
“Putin’s system … is built in a way that all defeats are blamed on someone else: enemies, traitors, a stab in the back, global Russophobia — anything, really,” Oreshkin said. “So if he lost somewhere, first, it’s untrue, and second — it wasn’t him.”
Some of Putin’s supporters questioned such obvious distancing from what even pro-Kremlin circles viewed as a critical development in the war.
For Putin to have phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and the Central African Republic at the time of the retreat was more troubling than “the very tragedy of Kherson,” said pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov in a post on Facebook.
“At first, I didn’t even believe the news, that’s how incredible it was,” Markov said, describing Putin’s behavior as a “demonstration of a total withdrawal.”
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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