Two months after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Russian media reported a Ukrainian TB2 UAV had crashed a hundred kilometers from the Ukrainian border, near the city of Kursk. Normally this incident would not be reported in the state-controlled media. In this case it was believed the incident would help explain why Russia didn’t achieve the promised quick victory in Ukraine.
The official storyline was that the evil NATO alliance intervened and NATO member Turkey supplied Ukraine with the TB2 UAVs. These remotely controlled aircraft were similar to the 1990s American Predator, which could be used for surveillance as well as air-to-ground combat using laser guided missiles. Recently released (by the Ukrainians) video shows a TB2 destroying two Russian Raptor assault boats in the Black Sea. TB2s were also involved with an earlier Ukrainian attack on the Black Sea Fleet flagship, the Moskva, which subsequently sank. Russian propagandists decided to make the TB2 the main perpetrator for all embarrassing misfortunes. There was a lot of TB2 activity inside Russia and the government did not want to admit that Russians opposed to the war were responsible for some of the fires and explosions throughout Russia since the invasion began. There have been about a dozen of these fires and explosions deep (beyond artillery or rocket range) inside Russia each month, and this has to be explained. In reality the perpetrators are numerous, including Russians opposed to the war as well as incompetent Russian soldiers and corrupt officials. Ukraine won’t take credit for these incidents, at least the ones deep inside Russia.
Those fires and explosions are the result of more numerous movement (by truck and rail) of munitions to Russian forces in Ukraine. A lot of this stuff is elderly and unstable. If handled the wrong way by untrained conscripts or civilians, there will be explosions and fires. This has been happening since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia no longer needed thousands of tons of elderly and dangerous to use shells and rockets. Corrupt officials in charge of ammo supplies and storage sites have stolen cash provided for improved storage methods and disposal of the oldest and most unstable items. When called upon to ship more recent and safer ammo the corruption is hidden by an accidental fire or explosion. The numerous fires at recruiting stations and anti-war graffiti are blamed on NATO agents seeking to disrupt the war effort.
Blaming most of this on the Turkish TB2 works for Russia because Turkey is a NATO member, though it has become a very unreliable one over the last two decades due to buying Russian weapons and frequently cooperating with Russian military operations. All this should be grounds for expelling Turkey from NATO but the original NATO agreement made no provision for that. Lacking an expulsion option, Turkey has been expelled from key NATO programs. In turn, Turkey did not provide any military aid to Ukraine and continues to sell Ukraine TB2s and other weapons. That is good business but Turkey would also like to improve its standing in NATO because all the bad-will with other NATO members has meant Turkey can no longer obtain the latest military tech and has found that Russia has no suitable substitutes.
While Russia has material proof that at least two Ukrainian TB2s crashed deep inside Russia, no components of Turkish missiles or bombs have been recovered from the sites of explosions or major fires. There is always something, unless you don’t want to find it. That about sums up the current Russian attitude towards the war in Ukraine and the seemingly unending string of defeats, disasters and unwilling Russian soldiers who, if captured, blame their own government. Russian troops, including officers, are pretty open about their complaints, even when back in Russia. The government will not prosecute them because that will create more bad news that will be published inside Russia via encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Even government propagandists use Telegram because it is a more trusted news outlet than the state-controlled media.
The bad attitudes of returning soldiers is difficult to control or censor because these troops, and Russians of all ages, regularly use encrypted apps that have not been cracked by the government. The most popular one is Telegram, which was developed by the Russian Durov brothers in 2013 and was so successful that they had to flee Russia to avoid punishment. Telegram is also popular with gangsters and Islamic terrorists as well. It is the Russian soldiers and their families that are passing on the comments of Russian soldiers who have fought in Ukraine and know the government version of the war is all lies.
Ukraine believes more Russians would oppose the invasion if they knew what was going on with invading forces and the determined resistance of the Ukrainian population. Westerners do not realize how little most Russians knew about the “Ukrainian operation”, as the invasion is called by the Russian government. This began to change as more soldiers returned to Russia or parents complained that they had lost contact with sons in the military. The government has suppressed large public demonstrations in opposition to the war by simply arresting thousands of demonstrators at a time and firing those who work for the government or a state-owned company. That reminded Russians that the solution to that was to employ the Soviet-era expedient to be pro-war or neutral publicly while remaining anti-war otherwise, especially on Telegram. The government has a good idea of the number of people supporting or opposing things via Telegram and the anti-war sentiment keeps growing. Much of this criticism is directed at the poor government leadership during this war. That is getting a lot of Russians killed and humiliating the Russian military and Russia in general. These Russians often see this as the entire world turning against Russia and doing enormous economic damage to Russia. This degree of public opposition or criticism is unusual and causing a lot of political problems for Putin and his associates. Despite that, the war goes on and so do the battlefield defeats and the clandestine criticism from Russians.