This week, on a snowy day in Moscow, a group of people entered a large hall under the Kremlin walls, bypassing armed police officers, to view an exhibition dedicated to what Russia, even after 9 months of war, calls “a special military operation in Ukraine.”

Between photos of destroyed Ukrainian cities and bloody civilian corpses exposed as heroic victims of the conflict, visitors are also invited to watch a triumphant video of Russia’s recent annexation of four regions of Ukraine. The only problem is that after the opening of the exhibition at the beginning of the month Russian army retreated from Kherson – one of the annexed Ukrainian cities – leaving behind billboards with promises that “Russia is here forever.” Writes about it Financial Times.

Katya, a middle-aged teacher from Moscow, who brought a group of 11-year-old schoolchildren with her, admits that the propaganda exhibition raises more questions than it answers. She does not understand why all these sacrifices.

“No one understands anything. First we approached Kyiv, then we left. How many people were killed? Then we captured Kherson, and now we have left again. And how many people were killed here?‘ she says.

Even the military, who know what war is, does not understand this strategy.”, the Moscow teacher added, referring to her family members who became veterans of previous Russian wars.

For many in Moscow, the retreat from Kherson was a disappointment. They had questions about the cost of war for Russia. This defeat added to the anxiety that had appeared in the country in September, when Putin announced the start of mobilizationthereby bringing war directly into Russian homes.

Everyone is in an unstable state, upset, alarmed. Everyone is depressed”, says Katya about her friends, colleagues and relatives.

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In Moscow, life goes on almost unchanged. Coffee houses and restaurants are full. But despite this, the latest survey that the Levada Center published last month found that 88% of people are “alarmed” or “very alarmed” by events in Ukraine. Only 36% of Russians said they supported the continuation of hostilities. Most believe that the time has come for negotiations. At the same time, if the Russians are increasingly worried about the war, they do not feel connected to the occupied territories, which Moscow annexed after fake “referenda”. Therefore, the majority reacted with indifference to the loss of control over Kherson.

Of course, it is amazing how easily the Russian authorities said goodbye to Kherson. And people don’t seem to appreciate “new territories” either.”, said Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the political consulting firm R. Politik.

She pointed to a recent poll by the Levada Center in which Russians were asked to name significant events they learned about from the news and remembered. Only 9% of those polled mentioned “referendums” and annexations. Although the survey was conducted just against the backdrop of the deployment of these events. Levada Center expert Lev Gudkov said that the retreat from Kherson would not affect Putin’s rating in any way. Over time, this may weaken faith in the Russian president as a leader, but now, in his opinion, “censorship and propaganda soften the significance of this event and the severity of such a local defeat.”

State media explain the retreat from Kherson as a difficult but necessary decision to save the lives of Russian soldiers. Ultra-nationalist commentators from the pro-war camp criticize the decision. But their voices have been silenced lately after harsh warnings from the Kremlin. However, dissatisfaction smolders on a personal level. A former Russian official told the Financial Times that the loss of Kherson 6 weeks after Putin declared it part of Russia says the Kremlin lacks strategic planning.

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They do everything wrong. They can’t think at least two moves ahead. Everything is absolutely reactionary. It’s humiliating. Kherson was the only regional center that Russia was able to capture. And after a month and a half they passed it‘, the official said on condition of anonymity.

For his part, Aleksey Venediktov, editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, told the Financial Times that most Russians would be alarmed only if Ukraine will try to regain control over the Crimea. The peninsula has acquired an almost mystical significance for the inhabitants of Russia. According to Venediktov, for the majority, “Crimea is sacred.” But the other regions that Russia has occupied are not associated with any emotion.

Donetsk, Luhansk, to some extent Nikolaev, Kherson, Zaporizhzhya – where are they located?“- said Venediktov.

He added that among the elites in Moscow, with whom he still maintains contact after the forced closure of the radio station in March, there is a sense of unease. Political and business circles do not like turbulence. They worry that military defeats are strengthening the political influence of hardline marginals such as Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya and mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

If everything is frozen as it is now, they will be happy“, – said Venediktov.

But no one in Putin’s circle dares to speak out against the invasion, explained the Russian oligarch, against whom the West has imposed sanctions.

Technocrats have no tools. The situation is very stable. Security services under Putin’s control. He makes his bodyguards ministers and governors. There is no change in public opinion. Millions of people who were against the war left‘, he explained.

Read also: The war will not end as long as Putin remains in power – The Economist

Entering the exhibition hall next to Red Square, visitors are immediately greeted with a striking video projection of Ukrainian Mariupol. Smoke rises from destroyed residential buildings in a city hit by the worst Russian shelling and bombing, leaving thousands dead. The following exhibition rooms rewrite the history of Ukraine and its relations with Russia, as well as the history of the war. Thus, the exhibition is trying to draw the inhabitants of Moscow into an alternative reality, in which the state media are constantly located. For example, the ruthless bombardment of Mariupol is explained by the fact that 600,000 residents of the city “became hostages of the Ukrainian army, which destroyed its own citizens, and snipers even shot at children.”

In the last completely white hall, portraits of Russian soldiers who died in the war hang. Visitors are invited to leave an entry in the guest book. And they are very different. These are children’s scribbles, thanks to Putin, calls for an even greater war. And only once someone wrote: “No to war!”.