MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian politician who made waves by questioning Russia’s strategy in Ukraine on national television said Tuesday he spoke the truth and does not fear punishment under new laws against discrediting soldiers and spreading fake news about the conflict.
The remarks by Boris Nadezhdin, a former liberal member of Russia’s parliament, came as Russian forces retreated from much of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
During a talk show on state-controlled NTV on Sunday, Nadezhdin said Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by intelligence services that apparently told him the resistance in neighboring Ukraine would be brief and ineffective.
Nadezhdin also called for fighting to end and negotiations to begin.
Russian officials in recent weeks have repeatedly accused Ukraine of being unwilling to negotiate, but they have also put forth draconian terms. Former President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday that Russia would demand total capitulation.
In a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press, Nadezhdin said negotiations on a cease-fire “are possible always and everywhere.” But he said resolving issues such as the status of the separatist regions in Ukraine and of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, would be far more difficult.
“Negotiations on these issues? They are now absolutely unrealistic, because there is a position like this: ‘We will defeat you. No, we will defeat you,’” he said.
Nadezhdin’s televised comments over the weekend were notable because of Russia’s moves to stifle criticism of its sending troops into Ukraine. Days after the operation started, parliament approved legislation that outlawed alleged disparaging of the Russian military or the spread of “false information” about the operation in Ukraine.
OVD-Info, a legal aid group that tracks political arrests in Russia, has counted 90 criminal cases on charges of spreading false information about the Russian military since Feb. 24.
“I have definitely not violated any Russian laws,” Nadezhdin told the AP. “There was not a single fake at all, not a single fake in what I said. There was a statement of absolutely obvious facts.”
Nadezhdin has occasionally appeared on state-controlled TV and radio in the past as one of a few liberals who serve “effectively as whipping boys,” said Abbas Gallyamov, an independent political analyst and former speechwriter for Putin.
Gallyamov said he has noticed, however, “that the Kremlin’s control over the content shown on Russian TV has been weakening. But any system will weaken if it does not have a ready plan of action in crisis situations. Discipline is clearly being eroded.”
The pullback of troops from the Kharkiv region and Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Russian-held parts of the southern Kherson region have raised concerns that Russia is faltering.
The leader of the Communist Party, the country’s second-biggest political grouping, called Tuesday for a general mobilization to boost the military’s manpower and for the conflict to be openly called a war. Russian officials have insisted the actions in Ukraine must be called a “special military operation.”
“War and a special operation are fundamentally different. You can stop the special operation; you cannot stop the war, even if you want to,” Russian news media quoted party leader Gennady Zyuganov as saying.
“Maximum mobilization of forces and resources is required.” he said.
Mild criticism of Putin is also emerging.
Seven members of a local council in St. Petersburg last week called on the national Parliament to bring treason charges against Putin because of the Ukraine conflict. Five of them have been charged with discrediting the army.
A local council in Moscow last week passed a resolution calling on Putin to resign.
“The rhetoric that you and your subordinates are using has been riddled with intolerance and aggression for a long time, which in the end effectively threw our country back into the Cold War era,” the Moscow council said. “Russia has again begun to be feared and hated.”