As his troops lose ground in Ukraine, how is Russia’s commander-in-chief digesting the latest setback to his so-called special military operation?
Because on Russia’s talk shows, there is a definite sense of unease as the scale of Ukraine’s counteroffensive sinks in.
Last Friday, one in particular made the rounds.
Map shows huge scale of Ukraine’s win – latest updates
Called Meeting Point, it involved admissions from all sides that the operation was certainly not going according to plan; that it was clear the Ukrainians were not welcoming Russia with open arms at all; and that whoever advised President Putin that they might have done so had set Russia up for a fall.
“We hear everything is going according to plan. Does anyone really believe that six months ago we planned to be leaving Balakliya, or repelling a counteroffensive near Kharkiv?” said Viktor Olevich, billed as a policy expert, to an agitated cast of pundits.
“Everybody – people who are against the military operation and people who were pro-military operation – said something has gone wrong; we, the Russian army, have a big problem,” Boris Nadezhdin told Sky News.
Normally he is the only one voicing critique on those shows, the token liberal. This time it was everyone.
But he doesn’t believe Russia has exhausted its military capabilities, far from it.
“Russia is a very big country and it’s not a problem for Russia to mobilise one million people and bring them to Ukraine,” he said.
“Don’t overestimate the results of the Ukrainian army over the last days.”
The TV pundits have fallen broadly back into line since the weekend, their outrage focused on NATO and the West and less on Russia’s failings – which have been lumped loosely under the headline “regrouping”.
But the angry, nationalist chatter on Telegram persists.
Kremlin warns domestic critics to be ‘careful’
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Tuesday that critics were treading a thin line given Russia’s laws on discrediting the armed forces.
“One needs to be rather careful,” he said.
It is a first, though, that it’s the pro-war camp in the headlights, not the liberals who’ve made their positions clear and incurred both fines and, in some cases, jail terms for speaking out.
“It’s fun to watch, time to cook the popcorn!” said Timofey Nikolaev, who until elections last weekend was a local councillor in Moscow.
“Before there was just one camp of supporters of the operation and now there are two camps fighting each other and some are even accusing Putin of treason for not doing enough, for losing.”
His last act as a councillor was to write a letter to Russia’s state parliament calling on Mr Putin to resign. It’s not the only appeal.
Another group of politicians in St Petersburg have asked that Russia’s president be charged with treason for his actions in Ukraine.
They are facing charges, mostly fines, for discrediting the armed forces.
Mr Nikolaev was careful to avoid mentioning events in Ukraine. He says if his time in office was up, then Mr Putin’s should be too.
“The rhetoric you and your subordinates use has been riddled with intolerance and aggression for a long time, which in the end effectively threw our country back to the Cold War era,” he wrote in his letter.
“We ask you to relieve yourself of your post due to the fact your views, your management model is hopelessly outdated and hinders the development of Russia and its human potential.”
He admits the appeals – and an accompanying petition – are largely symbolic.
“I don’t expect any changes,” he said, “but you can’t know which is the last straw on the camel’s back.”