Putin scolds Russia's deputy PM as Kremlin replaces its commander in Ukraine

Russia's president remonstrated with his deputy prime minister in a meeting which was broadcast across Russia

Vladimir Putin is angry.

Jabbing his finger, he scolds deputy prime minister, Denis Manturov, for not signing any new contracts for aircraft in 2023.

In a meeting broadcast across Russia’s vast and powerful state television network, Putin is pictured eye-rolling, paper shuffling and scribbling as he takes the minister to task; slamming him for failing to sign contracts to procure new aircraft.

"Why are you playing the fool?" Putin asks Manturov. "When will there be contracts?"

In the United Kingdom, the United States or Europe the idea of broadcasting a government meeting on aircraft procurement would be almost unthinkable - it would send most viewers to sleep. But in Russia, meetings like this are a daily occurrence.

The Kremlin controls the airwaves and this is what they want Russians to see. But these meetings also tell us - in the west - a lot about how Putin governs and help explain, partly, why Russia is struggling in Ukraine.

Russian state TV is awash with long clips of Putin meeting various ministers or regional governors, discussing the federal budget, the creation of new maternity hospitals or payments for the widows of soldiers who have died in the war.

During these meetings, Putin often picks up his pen, flicks through documents and appears to take notes.

The message broadcast on state television is clear: Putin is in command; Putin knows exactly what is going on and, in the case of the hapless deputy prime minister, Putin will sort out the mess.

Putin’s deputy prime minister told him things were in place for securing new contracts for aircraft, "taking into account testing, certification and the import substitution programme". He promised to deliver contracts "in the nearest future".

But Putin did not listen. "Do it within a month," he said.

Russia’s economy is under western sanctions and it cannot access western technology - a problem for Russia which is pivoting its airline industry towards domestic production.

Putin, surely, knows this but, judging from his performance on state television, does not appear to care.

There is a saying in Russian: "A fish rots from the head down."

These highly choreographed meetings are not really about ensuring Russians lives are improving - there are widespread reports, for example, that soldiers' widows have not received the compensation Putin promised them - but rather that Putin is seen to be caring.

In democracies around the world, the free press scrutinise their leaders: they hold them to account, exposing problems and corruption in society.

In Russia, this does not happen.

While the Russian Ministry of Defence recently admitted it had sustained its highest losses in a single attack in Ukraine, Putin - instead of accepting responsibility - was pictured on state television launching a new ship and boasting of its hypersonic missiles.

Even though the war in Ukraine is Putin’s idea, he cannot be seen to be blamed for any of its failures.

Russian state television makes sure any (limited) broadcast of errors is confined to criticism of the Ministry of Defence, rather than Putin himself.

And when ministers come to Putin with real problems they run the risk of public humiliation.

This creates a culture in Russia - everywhere - of fear.

Why would anyone tell Putin the real issue? He may not listen, publicly criticise them or fire them.

Because there is no free press, the problems are covered up and the blame is shifted around. It is not the deputy prime minister’s fault that Putin invaded Ukraine, Russia was slapped with harsh western sanctions and now needs to procure, build and sell new aircraft - with no western technology. But Putin needs a scapegoat.

This meeting is one of the signs that there are deep problems within Russia.

Putin has been accused of totally miscalculating his war in Ukraine. It was sold to Russians as a "special military operation" in February 2022 and Russia expected to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in a matter of days.

Almost a year later, Russian forces are fighting vicious battles over tiny villages in the east of Ukraine with limited strategic value and have been accused, in outbursts by their own media, of creeping forward by mere centimetres each day.

In a recognition, presumably, that things are not going to plan, Russia’s Ministry of Defence suddenly announced it was replacing the commander of the Ukraine operation after only three months in the job.

It is not entirely clear why Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed General Armageddon, was suddenly demoted and replaced by Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who oversaw the war at the start.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence say it wants to achieve "closer interaction between branches of the armed forces".

There is speculation it could be a move by the Defence Ministry to gain greater control over the Wagner paramilitary group and to bring the man behind it, Evgeny Prigozhin, to heel.

Prigozhin has recently boasted of Wagner successes in battles for the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, bragging that his own forces – often made up of ex-prisoners – are more effective than those of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

But this also could be an attempt to turn around a war which is going badly and to deliver the Russian people - via state media - some sort of victory.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been plagued by disasters - retreats from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson - allegations of corruption, faulty intelligence, and mass casualties.

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In the west we know about these failures, but in Russia they are, largely, covered up.

The highly selective, pro-Kremlin propaganda shown on state media is powerful: polls show most Russians still support the invasion and believe it is progressing successfully.

Like the meeting broadcast on state television, Russia’s change of commander in Ukraine - the fourth in less than year - suggests there are deeper structural issues.

Does Putin know the extent of his forces' failures in Ukraine? What are his commanders telling him? Does he really listen or, as with the unfortunate deputy prime minister, does he just demand results?

In Russian, two often-heard sayings are:

"Who is to blame?" and "What is to be done?"

Putin can blame or change those in charge beneath him but not the facts on the ground.

With more and more issues building up, and Putin looking for 'wins' on a battlefield of losses, the question is: what happens if the multiple, festering, problems finally burst out into the open?