Putin crisis as ultra-nationalist Russians aim ire at leader

Putin left waiting for a meeting with President of Kyrgyzstan

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Putin’s closest allies in Russia are ramping up their criticism of Russian military failures in Ukraine as Kyiv’s troops rapidly take back occupied territories. The Russian leader first suffered criticism among his close circles of oligarchs, military and veteran groups, in March, when Russian forces failed to conquer the Ukrainian capital.

Putin has yet to comment publicly on the battlefield setback suffered by his forces this month.

But as Ukrainian officials say 9,000 sq km (3,400 sq miles) have been retaken, about the size of the island of Cyprus, Putin’s allies are beginning to voice their concerns.

The Russian President was presiding over the grand opening of a Ferris wheel in a park in Moscow over the weekend at the very moment Russian troops were forced to run for their lives in Ukraine.

Blasting his fury directly at Putin, a pro-Kremlin blogger said: “You’re throwing a billion-ruble party. What is wrong with you? Not at the time of such horrible failure.”

Ukraine has also launched a major offensive to recapture territory in the south, where it aims to trap thousands of Russian troops cut off from supplies on the west bank of the Dnipro river, and retake Kherson, the only large city Russia has captured intact since the start of the war.

Russia’s state-run RIA news agency released video showing smoke billowing from Kherson’s Russian-occupied administration building after apparent Ukrainian rocket attacks.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy head of the region, told Russian state TV that one wing of the building had been practically destroyed, and there were dead and wounded though it was too soon to say how many. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment.

In the east, the chief prosecutor of the pro-Russian separatist administration in Luhansk was killed by an explosion in his office, along with his deputy, according to Russian news agencies. Russia also reported strikes across the border in its Belgorod region.

The Russian leader is also losing the support of his communist allies in Beijing.

On Thursday, Putin said he understood that Xi Jinping had questions and concerns about the situation in Ukraine but praised China’s leader for what he said was a “balanced” position on the conflict.

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At their first face-to-face meeting since the war, Xi said he was very happy to meet “my old friend” again after Putin said US attempts to create a unipolar world would fail.

“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told Xi, whom he addressed as “Dear Comrade Xi Jinping, dear friend”.

“We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have talked about this before.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later told reporters that the talks behind closed doors had been excellent.

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“Our assessments of the international situation coincide completely … there are no discrepancies at all,” he said. “We will continue to coordinate our actions including at the forthcoming UN General Assembly.”

Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks.

China has refrained from condemning Russia’s operation against Ukraine or calling it an “invasion” in line with the Kremlin, which casts the war as “a special military operation”.

The last time Xi and Putin met in person, just weeks before the Feb 24 invasion, they declared a “no limits” partnership and inked a promise to collaborate more against the West.

Beijing is perturbed by the impact on the global economy and has been careful not to give material support to Russia that could trigger Western sanctions on China’s own economy.

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