A Kübler-Ross Interpretation Of This Russian Propagandist Contemplating Defeat
As the pity of Bakhmut sinks in
Vladimir Solovyov, aka the evil Max Headroom, is an algorithmic personality. If an artificial intelligence program learned to mimic a fire-breathing propagandist, it would be Vladimir Solovyov.
Given his penchant for breaking world records as a live newscaster, I would not be surprised to learn he is in fact a cyborg, or even a digital studio projection, shaking his 3D-rendered fist.
I am of course kidding. Solovyov is a human being. We can tell from watching his very human effort to grieve for the loss of Kherson Oblast.
As I have noted before, and shall now demonstrate again, reactions to moral defeat in wartime follow the Kübler-Ross model of grief. The phenomenon is perhaps most visible in authoritarian contexts which produce propagandists that crack under the stresses of defeat — your Joseph Goebbels or Baghdad Bob.
After you have been high on your own supply for long enough, quitting cold turkey is hard. For some hardcore addicts, it is too hard.
Not that I am saying you should feel sorry for them. Quite the opposite, really.
First, the conditions: Ukraine now enjoys a long, effectively continuous front on which to conduct a force-directed offensive.
Put another way, Ukrainian units are using their drones and HIMARS and captured T-62s and everything else to bleed Russian units, all day and night, without a headlong forward rush into close combat.
Poor logistics are deadly. Lots of Russians are building campfires rather than freeze to death and Ukraine is killing them for it.
In Kherson, patient pressure and constant attrition forced Russian armies to retreat. Although it was generally a well-ordered withdrawal, the combat strength thus freed up has been redeployed to Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in expectation of new Ukrainian offensives.
Initiative, and the weight of fire, clearly belong to Ukraine.
At Bakhmut and Avdiivka, apocalypse unfolds. Disturbing drone video of Russians fleeing in terror of the drone, being killed in their sleep by munitions dropped from the drone, lying dead in rows or bunches from artillery fire aimed by the drone, a man caught in mid death-rattle by the drone that killed him: the imagery compels and repels.
Ukrainians die, too, as war reporters announce the death of friends defending or attacking.
I recall First World War literature and historiography as I doomscroll Twitter. Russian defeat is certain. I know this because I see pro-Russian Telegrammers posting maps that are supposed to represent progress, but look to me like a fire sack, a zone of annihilation waiting for men to enter.
Artillery war is pitiless, the hungriest Moloch, and it is consuming the Russian Army faster than the Ukrainian Army. I can tell. So can Russians. Somewhere along this line, some time soon, there will not be enough Russians to hold the line anymore, and Ukraine will reclaim another piece of itself.
Surest sign of all is the flurry of Russian missile strikes. This retribution always follows on battlefield defeat. It does nothing to forestall that defeat, only signals how upset about it people are in the Kremlin.
Rumors that Vladimir Putin may try yet another round of mobilization, further reinforcing his failures, has analysts wondering if Russia could even arm and equip a second conscription wave, much less train the conscripts properly, or even house and feed them all.
Solovyov will know his country is on a path to defeat. Furthermore, his own place in Russian media hierarchy is under threat. If Ukraine emerges as the ultimate victor in the new year, he could be one of the resulting losers.
As the Institute for the Study of War has noted, Telegram has replaced mainstream media in terms of public trust, and aside from Yevgeny Prighozin, none of the media moguls in Kremlin orbit have the social media reach of the “milbloggers.”
Within the military, a culture of vranya, or institutional lying, promotes failures up the chain of command to this center. A bloody repulse on a Ukrainian position is reported as a success, because failure is impossible; the divisional commander orders the position reinforced, reporting a major success; the Ministry of Defense reports the destruction of an entire Ukrainian regiment.
Telegrammers will traffic in this cycle of bullshit only so long. Sooner or later, they will turn on the generals again, pointing to failures at the center and coming right to the edge of blaming Putin.
This has created a dynamic in which Putin turns against his own military command, passing the blame for every defeat, to stay ahead of the domestic consequences.
Putin likely recognizes that the Kremlin and especially the MoD has lost whatever trust many Russians may have had in the veracity of its claims as well as the need to rely on such voices as pro-war Russians find authentic to retain support for the increasing sacrifices he is demanding. Putin’s defense of the milbloggers’ criticisms of his chosen officials is remarkable. It suggests that he sees retaining the support of at least some notable segment of the Russian population as a center of gravity for the war effort if not for the survival of his regime and that he is willing to endure critiques from a group he perceives as loyal to secure that center of gravity.
The ‘war party’ in Moscow can only do this for so long. Eventually, the failures of the Russian center will translate into military defeat and Putin will have no insulation left. This does not mean he is a dead man walking, or that his regime will crumble.
It just means there is a limit to how many lies the most enthusiastic Russians can tell themselves.
“If we have weapons that secure total victory, it would be strange not to use them,” Solovyov barks. His understanding of nuclear deterrence is as muddled as his explanation for the war itself.
Forestalling the acceptance of defeat — denial — is the first Kübler-Ross stage of grief. Solovyov’s petulant demand for thermonuclear apocalypse instead of defeat — essentially, “if we can’t have Ukraine, then no one else can have anything at all” — is unbridled anger.
The panel is united in rejecting Solovyov’s call for World War III because they are not idiots. Frustrated in his maximalist approach, Solovyov then moves to bargaining, the next Kübler-Ross stage of grief. Maybe we could have just a little bit of Armageddon, please? A teensy bit? Pretty please?
Depression finally hits as the panel pours cold waters of reality on poor Vladimirovich Solovyov. Nuclear weapons are not enough to prevent Ukraine from winning more battles. He becomes a pouting boy told that his team really did lose the game, and that he needs to stop being such a sore loser.
What’s missing here, of course, is any final acceptance of defeat. Vranya (and Russian law) refute the possibility of defeat. Thus Solovyov is cast into a cycle he cannot escape; he can never quite let go.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who first described a five-stage cycle of grieving in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, was not a student of leadership heuristics or communications.
Nor am I, somewhat-student of both things, qualified beyond Psychology 110 as an academic, and with even that education decades old.
However, Kübler-Ross noted that people normally go through the stages not once, but many times, until acceptance sinks in.
Stress will continue to release danger hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, as the human being endures another bout of realization and denial. Manic anger or depressive rumination: the result is stress. Nervous symptoms appear. Behaviors may become erratic as fantasies of vengeance intoxicate the escapist mind.
History is replete with examples of defeat, and present-day wars offer real-time examples of defeat, that deserve study by historians versed in psychology. Defeat doctrine has not been properly added to the lexicon of military history yet, either. One might imagine an entire book of history’s sorest losers.
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