As Ukraine’s army presses forward with impressive gains in the south, forcing Russia to retreat from several positions in the Kherson region, a reporter has given a dire assessment of the war, acknowledging on Russian state TV a “difficult” situation on the front line.
During a Tuesday broadcast on Russian state TV, Alexander Sladkov, a military correspondent for the Russia-1 channel, which pushes Kremlin propaganda, spoke from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Kyiv’s counteroffensive in Kherson.
“The situation is difficult. Ukraine’s armed forces are at the peak of their capabilities due to their mobilization they started in spring,” Sladkov told Olga Skabeeva, who hosts 60 Minutes on Russia-1.
“Naturally, the peak of their [Ukraine’s] capabilities is also tied to huge deliveries from the West, with active participation of the orbit groups [satellites] in reconnaissance activities,” he said.
The remarks come as Russian state TV hosts and guests shift their tone on President Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine war, demanding answers from the Kremlin and admitting the country’s shortcomings in the conflict.
Joanna Szostek, an associate fellow with Chatham House, a UK think tank, told Newsweek that Sladkov’s remarks are likely “expectation management.”
“The Kremlin can’t easily ‘cover up’ its loss of territory, so it has to be discussed on the talk shows,” she said.
Szostek said that while she doesn’t think the change in tone is radical or hugely significant, it does show that the more Ukraine makes territorial gains, the harder it will become for Russian propagandists to spin the war in a way that sustains Russian morale and confidence in the political and military leadership.
Sladkov’s comments came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Ukrainian military liberated eight more settlements in the Kherson region that had been occupied by Russian troops.
Zelensky said the settlements of Lyubimovka, Kreshchenovka, Zolotaya Balka, Belyaevka, Ukrainka, Bolshaya and Malaya Aleksandrovka and Davydov Brod had been liberated by Ukraine.
“Yes, we lost 17 settlements in the Kherson region, it’s being discussed on the net. The level of difficulty in this situation was predictable, of course. What is there to say?” said Sladkov.
The state TV host responded by saying that Ukraine recapturing 17 territories amid their counteroffensive “is very concerning, politely speaking.”
“Is Kherson itself in danger right now? Why isn’t anything protected there? When will the people get there? In 2 or 3 weeks, could it be too late?” she asked the reporter.
Russia is counting on the arrival of some of the 300,000 Russians whose mobilization was recently ordered by Putin to turn around his military fortunes in Ukraine.
“When forces are massing, and Ukrainians are active on two fronts, especially near Lyman and Kherson, how do I explain this? Do you want us to end up in a sack?” replied Sladkov. “This is why they are straightening up the frontline, but retreating from the territories.”
He added, “Of course, it’s painful, we also have losses, but that’s what war is like. They’re [the mobilized soldiers] coming and equipment is coming. I’m not lying, I’m not engaging in propaganda, I’m a simple reporter, I only describe what’s happening.”
Sladkov said Russia’s issue at present is not “some gigantic strategy,” but “how we act on the location.”
“We are still learning. I understand that it’s scary to hear in our eighth month of the special military operation, nevertheless, we’re the reporters, we’re waiting for the reinforcements, they are coming. If we throw those people [mobilized soldiers] into combat right now, what would happen to them?” he said.
Sladkov added that it is likely to be two months before Russia sees any positive changes in the war.
“So we’ll wait for 2 months,” Skabeeva responded.
The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, assessed on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces continued to make significant gains in the Kherson region while simultaneously pursuing advances in Kharkiv and Luhansk provinces, forcing Russian forces to retreat toward Kherson city.
Newsweek contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment.