A video released by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show dozens of uniformed crew members of the Moskva missile cruiser in formation, apparently days after the ship sank, did not answer persistent questions about the fate of the ship and its more of 500 people.
The questions reached the point Saturday where even Vladimir Solovyev, a popular prime-time talk show host whose pronouncements often reflect the Kremlin line, began asking what went wrong.
Solovyev, describing himself as “outraged” at the sinking, then asked a series of rhetorical questions that pointed to both versions of how the Black Sea fleet ship sank overnight on Wednesday.
If the ship caught fire before sinking, as the Russians claim, why didn’t it have a system to extinguish such flames, the TV presenter wondered aloud. If the ship was sunk by two Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles, as Ukrainian and unnamed US Department of Defense officials have claimed, why did she lack an anti-missile system?
“Just explain to me how you managed to lose control,” Solovyev asked no one in particular on his Saturday show, Solovyev Live, when he had no guests in the studio.
The segment was unusual, not least because Solovyev broached the idea that the Ukraine had managed to sink the Moskva, one of the world’s largest naval losses since World War II.
It comes as more pundits and other TV commentators in Russia have begun referring to the fighting in Ukraine as a “war”, although they tend to use the term when suggesting that all of NATO, including the US, is joining. in Russia. They do not describe the invasion of Russia as part of a war, nor do they mention the fact that the Kremlin started the conflict.
The Kremlin quashed any open discussion of the conflict by enacting a law in early March criminalizing the spread of any “false information” about what Russia calls its “special military operation,” including calling it a war, with violators facing up to 15 years in prison. .
Official Russian media generally continue to refer to the invasion as a “special military operation,” even as they broaden the definition of the enemy. A state newspaper last week referred to the enemy next door as “Ukrainian-American neo-Nazism.”
While carefully scripted TV news shows still use the “military operation” formula, guests in the heat of the screaming that are a trademark of Russian TV talk shows often yell about “war.”
The even angrier tone than usual when discussing the sinking of the Moskva indicates that many commentators found Ukraine to blame. Skipping the official explanation that it caught fire, for example, Vladimir Bortko, a film director and former member of the Duma, the Russian parliament, said on Thursday that the assault on the ship should be treated as an attack on Russia itself.
“The special military operation has ended, it ended last night when our homeland was attacked,” he said, after asking the other panelists to remind him what Russia called the war. “The attack on our territory is casus belli, an absolute cause for real war.” He suggested possible responses included bombing Ukraine’s capital, kyiv; the transport networks that allowed the visit of foreign dignitaries; or something more sinister: “Bomb ’em once and you’re done.”
His ranting about the war drew a warning from Olga Skabaeeva, the host of the popular “60 Minutes” show, who said he was speaking in the context of NATO’s aggression against Russia. Some analysts think that all the talk about the NATO attack on Russia is aimed at laying the groundwork for a possible general mobilization of the male population: martial law is a necessary preliminary step, and a declaration of martial law requires going to court. war or under threat.
However, so far, Russian news programs are not calling the events in Ukraine a war. They stick their tails out of Ministry of Defense briefings.
“It’s the entire presidential administration with its giant printer, no differences of opinion are available,” said Vasily Gatov, a US-based analyst for Russian media. “They will not take the risk of interpreting the Ministry of Defense reports.”
When it comes to Moskva, Russian media reports have stuck to the official version promulgated by the ministry and have been echoed by TASS, a state news agency. That version held that a fire on board had ignited an ammunition magazine, severely damaging the Moskva, named after the Russian capital.
After the crew of at least 510 men was evacuated, according to the ministry, the ship sank in rough seas while being towed back to Sevastopol, the fleet’s headquarters in Crimea. Ukraine has said it hit the ship with two missiles and the ship quickly sank.
The Defense Ministry posted a video on its official Telegram channel, as well as on its Zvezda TV channel, on Saturday showing Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, commander of the Russian Navy, and other officers allegedly meeting with what he said were some Moskva crew in Sevastopol.
The 26-second clip showed the admiral addressing dozens of sailors, but there was no explanation as to the fate of the rest. “The traditions of the Moskva missile cruiser will be carefully preserved and will continue in the way that has always been accepted in the navy,” he said, adding that the crew would continue to serve elsewhere.
Social media posts suggested that some of the crew members had been killed, but the number of victims is unclear. Videos posted online of an unofficial memorial service at a monument to the 300th anniversary of the Black Sea Fleet showed a wreath with a ribbon inscribed “To the ship and the sailors.”
Radio Liberty, a US government network based outside Russia, contacted the widow of a midshipman who confirmed his death and said 27 crew members were still missing.