The head of Russian state TV network RT and one of Vladimir Putin’s top propagandists has suggested Moscow should freeze the war in the face of state-of-the-art Western weaponry that Ukraine now holds.
Margarita Simonyan, who has regularly called for all-out war on Ukraine, argued on prime-time television in favour of a negotiated solution and a halt to hostilities while referenda are organised in Russian-occupied territory.
“I’ve been talking about this for the whole year. It would be so good to stop the bloodshed right now, stay where we are, freeze it and hold referenda,” she said on Vladimir Solovyev’s prime-time talk show on Rossiya 1.
“Do we need territories where people don’t want to live with us? I’m not sure.”
Calls for resignation
Her suggestions, especially remarks about “disputed territories” in Ukraine, caused a backlash at home while some of Russia’s loudest mouthpieces of the war accused her of crossing Vladimir Putin who “officially” recognised the occupied areas as part of Russia last year.
“Did Simonyan get a new boss now? Who is paying her? A referendum on Russia’s territories that she calls ‘disputed’ would be a Godsend for Western strategists,” Roman Alekhin, a Russian military volunteer and writer, wrote in a column for Tsargrad TV on Wednesday.
Lesser known pro-war bloggers called for her resignation while Igor Girkin, a former Ukrainian separatist commander accused Ms Simonyan, an ethnic Armenian, of first betraying Armenia’s national interests by supporting a deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a breakaway region, and now trying to do the same for Russia: “We will figure things out for Russians and Russia without you.”
The surprising remarks by a long-time trusted member of the Russian political establishment do reflect views of some of the Russian establishment but it does not necessarily mean Moscow is going to call it quits here and now.
“Simonyan in her statement tries to say it makes no sense to wage war much longer, let things be as they are and revisit them later,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a long-time Kremlin watcher at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, said.
It can also be a Kremlin-inspired attempt to gauge public opinion while widespread censorship is keeping the Russian leadership itself in the dark about what Russians really think.
“Simonyan’s time-to-talk argument may yet prove to have legs – but it won’t grow those legs until it has proved its worth to the propaganda machinery itself, and ultimately to the Kremlin,” Sam Greene, a Russian politics professor at King’s College London, tweeted.
Russian nuclear strike on cards
Regarded as one of Russia’s best-known hawks, Ms Simonyan was calling on the Kremlin to annex eastern Ukraine months before the war began, and just weeks before the invasion she was publicly grilling Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister: “When are we finally going to whack Washington?”
When Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last February, the media executive said she was “genuinely happy” and “overwhelmed with euphoria”.
As Russian troops got bogged down in fighting last spring, Ms Simonyan said she didn’t see Russia “just giving up and going” and that a Russian nuclear strike was on the cards.
Recently, she has been saying that neither she nor anyone in the Russian establishment are “enjoying” bombing Ukrainian cities but insisted it had to be done to topple the Kyiv government.
When a Russian cruise missile hit the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia last summer, killing a young mother and her daughter, she insisted the Russians were targeting “Nazis”.