By Nikolai Storozhenko and translated by Saker Translators

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There was no surrender by Azov National Battalion militants, Kiev assures us. There was only an “evacuation” (not clear to where), and this bit of demagoguery was happily picked up by both Ukrainian and world mass media. The effort to conceal the embarrassing truth about the situation on the frontlines is consistent with how Kiev explains the catastrophic state of the economy.

“If I had the Pravda newspaper, the world would have never learned of Waterloo!”, Napoleon Bonaparte said in a famous Soviet anecdote. Pravda is no more, but the anecdote’s punchline holds true, since narratives need not depend on events.

Today the role of the collective Pravda is played by the talking heads on Ukrainian TV (president Zelensky, press secretaries of SBU, Ministry of Defense, political scientists, it doesn’t matter who).

This time Waterloo is the Azov Steel Works with the Azov Regiment militants who have been trapped there (for the most part). Together with soldiers from several AFU brigades, border guards and, as has been persistently claimed by the media, an uncertain number of either mercenaries or instructors. Who was and was not there, we’ll find out soon enough.

The myth of heroic 82 day defense is already actively promoted by Ukrainian media, even though since late March that defense consisted largely of Azovite efforts to break out of the trap. First on helicopters, then with the help of Macron and Erdogan. And recently they’ve tried to involve everyone who came to mind: Israel, UN, Doctors Without Borders, the Pope, and Elon Musk.

In the end, on May 16 and 17 we saw what we were fated to see. Some of the Azovites and AFU soldiers came out of Azov Steel underground, existed using the corridor specified by Russia’s military, were searched and sorted (the wounded to hospitals, the rest to filtration points) and…went into captivity.

Not an evacuation, not an exit, not an “extraction”, but captivity. A simple Russian word, though not a merry one. But that’s what we saw. The Ukrainian viewer saw and was told something entirely different.

The Ukrainian language also contains a word for captivity. But Ukrainian media try to avoid it at all costs.

Azov’s commander was actually the first. Already on the evening of May 16, as if anticipating questions, he said he’s implementing a decision by top military authorities. OK, but what decision? We know, but Ukrainians viewing his statement in a Telegram channel could not understand a thing and said as much.

Then came Zelensky. He mentioned the AFU, UN, ICRC, and at the end: “…soldiers were transported to occupied territory for future exchange.”

Who did the transporting? Not a word about that.

But instead we learned this is called an “operation to preserve the lives of Azov Steel defenders.” Russians think they took someone prisoner. But in reality there’s an ongoing military operation, so stop panicking. And it’s not just any operation. No, it’s an operation by Ukraine’s military intelligence (that’s how it was officially reported)! These announcements were picked up by not only Kiev-controlled media but also the most authoritative (well, until recently) world media platforms, including CNN. They also don’t use the word “captivity”, only “evacuation”!

But since it’s difficult to ignore videos of Azovites going into captivity, Zelensky’s office simultaneously launched several interpretations. Some talking heads tell Ukrainians it’s actually a victory, others that the prisoners should soon be exchanged for Russian soldiers in Ukrainian captivity. But the treacherous Putin cheated the naïve Zelensky. Yet we are dealing with Ukraine’s national embarrassment. People who swore to fight Russians until the last drop of blood surrendered. Kiev is now trying to whitewash that embarrassment.

We can, of course, laugh, and often with a good reason. But that chorus of “not a surrender but carrying out orders”, “not a surrender but an evacuation,” “not an surrender but an exchange” is that Pravda newspaper from the anecdote.

A citizen can focus on a topic for several days. Kiev hopes that by the end of the week everyone will happily forget Azov surrendered, if they are not reminded of it. And who is to remind them of it when Ukraine’s media have been purged and placed under government control?

It’s the same in the economy.

Azov’s surrender is not unique. In April we closely followed the worsening economic situation in Ukraine. At that time top leadership in the person of Finance Minister Sergey Marchenko and President Zelensky actively speculated on the topic of IMF infusions of cash in order to cover budget deficit. They spoke of 5-7 billion dollars a month.

And now Marchenko says that if conflict continues for three or four more months, government will have to cut budgets and raise taxes. Economists debate whether the minister’s assessment is correct or it’s an attempt to exert pressure on the United States and the IMF. There is no need for debates. One can see the same matrix with the budget deficit and the economy as with the situation at Azov Steel.

The matrix consists of a topic to be passed over in silence (captivity), and a whole range of signals mean to camouflage it. We can assume the matrix functions the same way in regard to Ukraine’s economy.

Here the topic to be passed over in silence is the actual state of Ukraine’s economy. Marchenko described it to The Economist, which is not read by most Ukrainians. The monthly sum of 5 billion dollars is presented by Ukrainian media as something the IMF will simply give Ukraine.

They managed to survive March and April due to the taxes collected earlier and war loans. Money is gone even today, and the period of 3-4 months which the minister mentioned is the time during which that fact can be successfully concealed.

Incidentally, one of Marchenko’s complaints concerned military salaries. He called them a heavy burden (they’ve been greatly increased, and the budget did not reflect it). But what then of Ukraine’s minister of defense’s plans to increase the size of the army to one million?

Ratings Wars

The “we have almost won, any minute now” approach might seem naïve. But Kiev has perfected it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Azov or the economy. It all revolves around the effort to protect Zelensky’s ratings. The purpose of stubborn resistance is the same.

Could Zelensky have resolved the crisis peacefully, since he knew of Russian demands before the start of the operation? Yes, he could have. But then his only remaining course of action would be to resign.

The current situation is not easy, either. The country is in ruins, there are thousands killed, even the closest advisors predict an economic catastrophe. But some of these problems can be solved with money, which means they are not problems but expenditures. The remaining ones can be dealt with Pravda.

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