It is tempting to see in the loss of the Russian cruiser Moskva a symbol of a larger shipwreck: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Firstly, this event has an operational scope, especially since the Russian Black Sea Fleet cannot be reinforced by the Northern Fleet through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, which Turkey has closed since the beginning of the Kremlin’s “special military operation”. But it has, above all, political significance: the loss of the main Russian ship near the Ukrainian coast seems to demonstrate the gradual reversal of the balance of military, information and strategic power between Ukraine and Russia.
On the military front, the relationship of the weak with the strong
Whether as a result of a Ukrainian attack (as claimed by Kyiv) or an accidental fire (as claimed by Moscow), the disappearance of the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, highlights many essential elements of an ongoing military confrontation.
This ship was accepted into active service in 1983, weighs more than 12,000 tons, and was initially christened Slava (Glory), is a legacy of the Soviet Union, designed by Soviet engineers in the 1970s to fight the second Cold War, that of the Brezhnev era, at a time when Soviet armed forces were spread across all continents. After being decommissioned for ten years, from 1990 to 2000, he contributed to the renewal of the Russian armies stipulated in the major modernization plan launched by Vladimir Putin in 2009.
Its sinking is a symbol of the limits of this modernization of the armed forces that was carried out more than a decade ago in all dimensions (air, land, sea, cyber) to confirm Russia’s power in the distance (in Syria since 2015) but also close to its borders (Caucasus, Baltic, sea Black, North Atlantic). In other words, the combination of Soviet military heritage and Putin’s modernization of forces is not enough to achieve a decisive, clear and indisputable military victory.
Since the beginning of the invasion in February, despite the heavy civilian and military losses incurred in Ukraine, despite the destruction of many towns and many infrastructures, and despite the supposed superiority of the Russian armed forces, Moscow has not achieved its stated goals: to change the Ukrainian government and impose a state of neutrality. complete over the country.
For Ukraine, which claims to have sunk the ship as a brilliant act – this episode is a complete symbol of hope at the military level: it has long been criticized, recently reformed, and until recently benefited only from limited support from the West, and from the Ukrainian army as such takes revenge on the invulnerable Assumed by the Russian Army and from a paralyzed building at sea. An invasion deployed on at least four axes, backed by first-class air forces and experienced in overseas operations, failed.
Moreover, the disappearance of Moskva has a direct impact on the naval dimension of the Russian conquest. If Mariupol in the east and Odessa in the west were strategic goals for Russia, it is because the conquest of these cities would constitute for Moscow the strategic completion of the annexation of Crimea. In fact, it would allow him to turn the Black Sea into the “Russian lake” as it was during the Soviet era and deprive Ukraine of the coast. But such an invasion largely depends on the ability of Russian ships to support a land attack from the sea …
From the sinking of a 40-year-old cruiser to the victory over Russia, there is an important leap, but this episode confirms the obvious: on the military level, Ukraine has managed to establish a weak to strong relationship that deprives Russia of what it has been striving for victory for nearly two months.
In the media space, the struggle of generations
Soon, the fate of Moskva was at stake in a conflict far removed from the Black Sea and naval operations. For several hours, he embodies the confrontation of stories.
On the other hand, Russia downplays the event as it tries to mitigate the impression of its international isolation, downplays the number of its soldiers killed in Ukraine and denies war crimes charges.
Russia’s war communications are mastered by experience: they have already given their gauge since the beginning of the Russian operation in Syria. It is also bolstered by the mastery of the ubiquitous “troll factories” on social networks, and increasingly carried by traditional government-controlled media in the name of Holy Union, war effort and loyalty to the country.
However, in the event of Moskva’s loss, official Russian communication is evidenced by an outdated: drawing its matrix of official propaganda from the Soviet Union, steeped in the cult of the Russian president’s television personality, it repeats themes like classics that seem to be reworked and struggle to mobilize. Structured entirely by a “power verticality” which, as in the Soviet era, makes the leader appear alone at the pinnacle of power and control, it scrutinizes the fact that Russia is the subject of a Western media conspiracy that deliberately distorts reality, as in the occasional “simple” fire. on Moskva. In short, communications from the twentieth century are equipped with technologies of the twenty-first century … just like Moskva, which has been modernized with equipment of the twenty-first century.
The media strategy of Ukraine breaks with the twentieth century. This remark generally applies to the communications of President Zelensky and, in particular, to the incident of the loss of the Moskva – a ship that Ukraine had already mocked at the beginning of the war, when the Serpent Island was previously threatened by Ukrainian sailors. This huge cruiser and ordered to surrender, to which he replied in harsh terms.
Speaking directly to public opinion and political leaders around the world, often in their own language, highlighting individuals, resistance fighters or victims of the Russian invasion, pointing out all the loopholes in the Russian military system, the Ukrainian president and Ukrainian public communications agencies mastering the rules of contemporary media.
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Why is Volodymyr Zelensky winning the communications war
Abandoning the monopoly of narration, giving official communication the appearance of semi-automatic reality TV, it is clear that current Ukrainian communication is influenced by Zelensky’s previous career, but also by experience gained since the 2014 crisis. Public agencies and companies launch viral counterattacks against Russian propaganda through social media. In short, in the media sphere as in Ukrainian cities, the Ukrainian government wages guerrilla warfare that favors movement, evasion and light equipment, such as anti-ship missiles, anti-tank … and self-made videos of the President of Ukraine.
In the struggle between Ukraine and Russia for the conduct of the narrative, the inconsistency of means and the heterogeneity of strategies were striking in the case of Moskva. On the other hand, symbiotic state propaganda based on systematic denial. On the other hand, there is a new generation of callers, interactive and agile.
Unlikely Victory, Impossible Negotiations
The loss of the cruiser Moskva also underscores the state of the political and diplomatic balance of power between Russia, which is striving for victory, and the permanently weakened Ukraine. This ship has already allowed the Russian Black Sea Fleet to play its military advantage. Thanks to its firepower, Russia imposed a blockade on the Ukrainian coast, which impeded the economic life of the southern regions of the country and asserted Ukrainian sovereignty over its territorial waters.
Today, the loss of this ship is not a “game-changing factor”: it does not enshrine the defeat of Russia or the victory of Ukraine. Nor is he rushing cease-fire talks, let alone preparations for peace negotiations. Like many episodes of the war, this event does not suggest a way out. This is the tragedy of this war: symbolic successes are possible, but final victories seem unlikely. As a result, it appears that hostilities will continue at the cost of many human lives, particularly among Ukrainian civilians.