(Aanalysis of the speech given by General Chirkin on March 8, 2022 in support of the "special military operation" in Ukraine1)
One of the main problems that the Russian Armed Forces are currently facing is the high rate of corruption among its cadres. Eliminating widespread corruption among both military and civilian leaders has long been a top priority for Moscow.
A case of corruption involving a high office in the military is the one that saw the arrest and conviction of Colonel General Vladimir Chirkin (photo), former Army Chief of Staff, guilty of accepting a "bribe" of 450.000 rubles (about 20.000 euros) to facilitate another soldier, so that he would be assigned housing to which he was not entitled.2 The Chirkin case has aroused considerable interest, as it is unusual for an official of this level, as well as a prominent public figure, to have been tried and convicted. One of the most interesting aspects of the case was the involvement of the Chief of the Russian Defense Staff, General Valerij Gerasimov.
General Gerasimov is a staunch supporter of General Chirkin and has asked that, even if he is found guilty of the crime attributed to him, he should not serve any period of detention.3 A sort of dangerous miscellany emerges between the spirit of service and devotion not to an institutional figure, but to a specific person. In the Soviet Union this attitude was expressed by the term "Bonapartism".
In a general political key, "Bonapartism" can be understood as the "tendency to use military prestige for the conquest of political power."4 In the military sphere, "Bonapartism" is also expressed by the sense of belonging to one's "Front" - equivalent to the "Chessboard", according to our current canons - that the soldiers of the Red Army had in the final stages of World War II. The writings on the tanks were not rare that indicated the use on a certain "Front" through the name of the commander of the deployed unit: for example Konevtsy, it indicated belonging to units deployed on the 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Marshal Konev and the soldiers of those units were proud to be called "those of Konev".
It is probable that in the case under examination Gerasimov wanted to protect, more than the person, the unwritten rule of "respect regardless", the current expression of the phenomenon of "Bonapartism". In the Russian system (but also in many other countries, in our opinion), personal bonds and loyalty to the individual often prevail over governance institutional and this episode prefigures a situation that can be traced back to this model. It is important to note that this conception of "relaxed morality" is not for the sole benefit of the leader high-level, as the Russian military judiciary has studied some changes whereby offenses that were once punished with discharge now have less severe penalties.
The concern that arose among the leaders of the defense seems to derive from the fact that the previous regulation eliminated too many valid officers, guilty of crimes considered, after all, of little importance. From the Russian point of view, it is far better to have an army with the best and brightest elements, even if not blameless from an ethical point of view, rather than a morally unassailable, but less effective army. Undoubtedly, as Russia continues to experiment with undeclared wars and asymmetrical conflict methods, it needs officers who can operate in the "gray zone" created when the orders to be carried out clearly conflict with the provisions of the laws of war and the law. international.
Having made this premise, aimed at framing the character and contextualizing the climate in which the type of rhetoric we are about to examine matures, let's see what is the narrative adopted by Russian propaganda on the occasion of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. We have chosen to analyze the speech given by the aforementioned General Chirkin on March 8, 2022, twelve days after the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, for what Moscow called a "special operation" and which is , to all intents and purposes, one war of aggression against another state.
The informative value of the statements made by General Chirkin regarding the losses suffered since the very first days of the invasion is immediately striking:
I categorically oppose the release of statements on the number of casualties in combat before the operation has also concluded its final phase. This is a gift for someone else's infowar, a trump card in the hands of the enemy, divulging false information among sincere alarmists inside the country: "they lie, hide the truth, underestimate everything", "no war", "Mothers, do not leave your children like this", "as I want peace", "how much blood can be shed" ... You can and you should. Soldiers die, they are heroes. They didn't come into the army to polish the cobblestones with their boots. They came to defend their country. Even at the cost of his own life. It was a mistake by the general staff, people should clearly understand the purpose of the operation, its necessity, the inevitability of the victims. But not the current price.
It sounds harsh, but this is the harsh reality of war. We will dry our and women's tears after the Victory; we adore every widow, mother, spouse, sister for their men's deeds.
The fact of not wanting to make statements on the real number of victims suffered in a war is a common heritage of the narrative of the infowar of all armies and, however, there is a clear admission on the Russian side that they have had a significant number of "Victims in combat".
We are faced with an attempt to justify the non-return home of thousands of young people to arms, without there being a sufficiently high reason to make the death of their relatives and loved ones acceptable. A reason, therefore, must be "constructed" and it is here that we witness the surreal dialectical "reversal" with which Chirkin emphasizes the role of the soldier and attributes a "defensive" value to a clearly "offensive" operation: “They didn't come into the army to polish the cobblestones with their boots. They came to defend their country. Even at the cost of one's life ".
But that is not all; as mentioned, the victims are there and they must be justified and here then, the masterpiece of rhetoric elaborated by Chirkin with a difficult, apparently painful, certainly artificial attribution of responsibility to those military leaders from which he himself comes: "It was a mistake by the general staff, people should clearly understand the purpose of the operation, its necessity, the inevitability of the victims. But not the current price."
Note that the j'accuse it is aimed at the military team, not at the leadership politics - that is Putin - that cannot be questioned.
The closure is worthy of a Risorgimento epic, the tones are deamicisiani: “We will dry our and women's tears after the Victory; we adore every widow, mother, spouse, sister for the deeds of their men. "
The problem is that, contrary to what happened in Syria, Libya and during the eight years of the conflict in the Donbass, today it is no longer the mercenaries of the Wagner Group or the paramilitaries who voluntarily enlisted in the various pro-Russian formations, but conscripts or “in short term”, very young, with no experience and adequate training, often also aware of what they have been called to do. Their disappearance must find a reason in the hearts and minds of their families.
It must be said, then, that the speech is part of the massive information campaign implemented by the Kremlin in support of its own war initiative; this campaign of infowar it is oriented both to the achievement and consolidation of internal consensus, and to the attempt to disjoint cohesion outside Russia, packaging media products aimed at the Ukrainian people and the international community. The whole speech is a sample of structured language on the emphasis on the salvific role played by the Russians towards their Ukrainian brothers, victims and hostages of a government and a West repeatedly defined as "Nazis". Precisely the fight against Nazism is the leit motif accompanying the arguments proposed by Chirkin:
There are few flowers and few loaves; people are crushed by propaganda and lies and terrified to madness by the Nazis. ... Imagine that during the year of service there, what the Nazis got into their heads gave them the opportunity to shoot "quilted vests and dyes" at the settlements with impunity,5 to mock the local civilian population. The fact of being able to count on local help and on the part of the Ukrainian army, therefore, did not work; cancer in Ukrainian society is simply monstrous. But ... we will cure him. We try to explain our tactics implemented in the first twenty-four hours: it is a "reconnaissance battle"6 of the Great Patriotic War reworked in a creative way. Only a deep and rapid penetration into the territory occupied by the Nazis.
This part, also placed at the beginning of the speech, offers numerous food for thought. In the first place, the illusory expectation of the Russians emerges to be welcomed as "liberators" by the majority of Ukrainians, in the name of the cultural affinity between the two peoples, whose historical roots are to be found in the different phases of the Tsarist era first and, subsequently, Stalinist. The reference to the victory over the III Reich obtained with the "Great Patriotic War" and the language is raw and direct: it is about eradicating "a cancer in Ukrainian society". How are the diseased cells of an individual bombed, why shouldn't those of a society be bombed? But yet "Being able to count on local help and help from the Ukrainian army did not work"; paradoxically it has made Ukrainian communities more cohesive - with the exception of the pro-Russian minorities, of course - in a patriotic and identity dimension that goes beyond all imagination, polarized around an institutional figure who, after all, before the invasion was quite "colorless" and to which the attack by Moscow conferred a charismatic authority: President Zelensky.
Disappointment to find "A few flowers and a few loaves" and, in their place, many anti-tank missiles is expressed addressing the Russian people with the clear intention of saying: We punish these ungrateful! When we have finished and purged Ukraine of the Nazis, the "sane" part of the nation will finally recognize who was right and who was wrong! is a message wisely chosen for a medium-low-cultural level audience, or for that part of theintelligentsia Russian - well represented by the writer Eduard Limonov7 and by the philosopher Aleksandr Dugin - supporter of an exasperated nationalism and who identifies Putin as what Zelenzky has become for the attacked Ukrainians.
Another extremely significant part of the speech is the following:
It is too luxurious a gift for Washington and the EuroReich to have Russians and Ukrainians slaughtering each other with gusto. Bandera's "partisan units" will have a nerve-wracking experience, but the idea of the commanders is not bad. They will become legitimate prey for the anti-terrorist units, the military police and the men of the National Guard of Ramzan Kadyrov, who do not take the terrorists as prisoners, who kill them where they find them. Denazification in the true sense of the word.
An even sadder fate awaits the numerous mercenaries of the EuroReich, who do not form military units (sometimes), but sabotage and tactical groups. Our staff has already stated that it does not regard them as legitimate fighters; in their case no convention on prisoners of war applies. I am sure that a special, cruel and targeted hunt will be conducted against these "soldiers of fortune". Poor devils...
Apart from the repeated references to the strenuous fight against the Ukrainian "Nazis" and their supporters - the"Euroreich" - the legitimacy of acts that justify the indiscriminate elimination of enemies emerges immediately, regardless of whether they are regular or irregular fighters, as they are generally referred to as "terrorists" and, therefore, subject to actions "...of the men of the National Guard of Ramzan Kadyrov, who do not take the terrorists as prisoners, who kill them where they find them. Denazification in the true sense of the word."
What is most striking in this part, however, is the passage that also in this case takes advantage of the conceptual "overturning" technique used for ... numerous mercenaries of the EuroReich, who do not form military units (sometimes), but sabotage and tactical groups. Our General Staff has already stated that it does not consider them legitimate fighters; in their case no convention on prisoners of war applies. I am sure that a special, cruel and targeted hunt will be conducted against these "soldiers of fortune".
We are in the field of Armed Conflict Law and the paradox is that the Kremlin for eight years in Ukrainian territory - in perfect compliance with the logic of the "hybrid war" - made use of the work of organizations such as the Wagner Group, the PMC MAR or the ENOT Group8 Alongside the mercenaries, the numerous paramilitary formations located mainly in the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk acted (and still do). In short, we are talking about everything, except "legitimate" or "regular" fighters.
There are many other parts that would lend themselves to being analyzed in the framework of the info-campaign Russian in support of the war in Ukraine, but we want to conclude from where we started, from admitting the losses among its soldiers in order to motivate the sacrifice:
“Look at the map, calculate the distances, the progression, the continuity of the fighting, the groupings, the maneuvers for tens of kilometers and remember: our boys must face the third largest army in Europe and highly motivated Nazi formations. We must approach the rear, give ourselves a minimum of rest, keep the equipment efficient and carry out many actions not considered previously. … The objectives of the operation, strategy and tactics are a completely new page in the art of warfare; haste is unacceptable. … I want to reassure you, it is the twelfth day in which our boys act in a different operational and tactical reality, the victims will decrease rapidly. If before there was a peremptory order not to cause even hypothetical damage to personnel and civil infrastructures, today the situation has changed. … As a soldier I am completely satisfied: now that the humanitarian jokes are over, the real work will begin. You fire on a convoy: you are shot in turn according to military technical procedures. Orders like this only work that way. Civilian casualties? Yes, some casualties are inevitable, but it's not our fault. We do not attack cities on the basis of constitutive acts, we bypass them or we operate surgically with special forces, like in Kharkov. Using previously unknown tactics with maneuvering groups for night urban combat. "
In these words the whole logic of the speech is summarized: from the difficulties encountered by the soldiers in the field ("... our boys have to face the third largest army in Europe ... I want to reassure you, it is the twelfth day in which our boys act in a different operational and tactical reality, the casualties will decrease rapidly"), Further underlining the Ukrainian dictatorial threat ("... highly motivated Nazi formations ...”) And, again, admission - perhaps a lapse involuntary? - that not everything went according to plan ("We have to carry out many actions not previously considered."). We find, again, an ill-concealed disregard for the rules of war law: "If before there was a peremptory order not to cause even hypothetical damage to personnel and civil infrastructures, today the situation has changed. … As a soldier I am completely satisfied: now that the humanitarian jokes are over, the real work will begin.”Any comment is superfluous.
Finally, we find the quintessence of the "Gerasimov Doctrine" in relation to the need to adopt innovative and hybrid technical-tactical procedures and: "The objectives of the operation, strategy and tactics are a whole new page in the art of warfare; haste is unacceptable… We do not attack cities on the basis of constitutive acts, we bypass them or we operate surgically with special forces, as in Kharkov. Using previously unknown tactics with maneuvering groups for night urban combat."
Yes, Gerasimov, who just over a month later disappeared from the scene of the conflict and the international arena in which the conflict itself extends with all its implications at a political-strategic level. In many quarters Gerasimov - together with Defense Minister Sojgu - has been described as a "hawk", a supporter of the war in Ukraine in no uncertain terms.
Gerasimov is a military man and, as such, I use to obey orders. If we think, however, of his vision of modern warfare, of the latest widespread images that saw him clearly perplexed in front of a Putin who, keeping him at a safe distance at the other end of a very long table where he had relegated him and Sojgu, ordered him to keep the "nuclear defenses" ready and, above all, in consideration of its "disappearance from the radar" of the media scene, some questions regarding its full sharing of the opportunity to conduct this "special operation" can be asked. Unless, given the significant number of generals lost by the Russians in a month, he induced the Russian general staff to protect his leader in some secret place ... All hypotheses are open.
1 AlexD (trad.), Russian Colonel General on Ukraine: without hysterics and insults, South Front, 23/03/2022. https://southfront.org/without-hysterics-and-insults/
2 Ex-Russian army chief sentenced to 5 years for graft, Yahoo News, 14 / 08 / 2015.
3 For the record, on August 14, 2015 Chirkin was sentenced in the first instance to 5 years of imprisonment and the removal of all military decorations, except for the "Order of Courage" medal (Orden Muzhestva); subsequently, on 22 December 2015, on appeal, the sentence was commuted to a fine of 90.000 rubles (equivalent to 1030 euros today).
5 Russia is very large and has a very varied climate, but in most of its territories it is cold. The "quilted jacket" for its padding and its resistance to wear is the piece of equipment commonly worn for work. For these reasons, in Russia, "quilted jackets" have taken on a symbolic value in popular culture, such as boots, earmuffs and gloves. The term "quilted jacket" therefore indicates a certain category of citizens of the Russian Federation. While the "quilted jackets" see themselves as the backbone of today's Russia, the last bastion against the spread of world disorder, their detractors use the term with a strongly negative connotation, insisting on the aspects of their aggression and reckless patriotism. Currently this term is used in a sense of contempt towards the pro-Russian inhabitants of Donbass. It can be considered the equivalent of the redneck American. To explain the term "colorado" the reference is to the colors of the Russian tricolor, flaunted by the citizens of Crimea who were supporters of the Russian invasion and, therefore, so called by Ukrainians loyal to the government of Kiev.
6 In tactics this activity is called "contact movement".
7 Cristadoro N. - Deon. M., Military philosophy in Russian neo-imperialism, Defense Analysis, 9/4/2019. https://www.analisidifesa.it/2019/04/la-filosofia-militare-nel-neo-imper...
8 Cristadoro N., The Gerasimov Doctrine. The philosophy of unconventional warfare in contemporary Russian strategy, Il Maglio Editore, 2022.
Photo: Ria Novosti