Russia's new Ukraine commander cracks down on battle bloggers
Russia’s top commander in Ukraine has launched a war against Russian military bloggers who have criticised his tactics and strategies by imposing cumbersome new reporting rules on them.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War said that General Valery Gerasimov, appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine only three weeks ago, is insisting that bloggers wear blue '‘press’' body armour and stick to strict embedding regulations.
“The Russian military command may also be attempting to resurrect its previously unsuccessful censorship efforts targeting the critical milblogger community,” it said.
This effort to control Russian military bloggers follows an earlier order to Russian soldiers from Gen. Gerasimov to get a haircut and shave.
This was interpreted as an effort to undermine scruffy Wagner mercenaries, mainly ex-convicts, and bearded Chechen fighters who freewheel around battlefields in Ukraine, often outside Russian military control.
Russian military bloggers have complained that the real reason for imposing the new reporting rules is also an underhand effort by Gen. Gerasimov to undermine them too.
“Those who came up with this legislation are waging war against us using every method. Including dirty ones,” said Russian military blogger Alexander Kots, who has 670,000 subscribers.
The visibility and impact of Russian military bloggers have skyrocketed over the past year. They are followed by millions of people who are looking for a more nuanced Russian view of battlefields in Ukraine than the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is prepared to give.
But, although doggedly in favour of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine last February, these military bloggers have scorned commanders’ tactics and accused them of being incompetent.
They are generally far more impressed by the exploits of the Wagner mercenaries and the Chechen fighters than they are of Russian soldiers. They also criticised Vladimir Putin for appointing Gen. Gerasimov as the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, demoting Gen. Sergei Surovikin who had impressed them.
But the Institute for the Study of War also said that Gen. Gerasimov was taking a risk as his new rules could create an “information vacuum” for Wagner-linked bloggers “who have a significantly stronger distaste for the Russian ministry of defence” to fill.