In the months leading up to Russia’s February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine, virtually no prominent Kremlin pundits were actually predicting that Kyiv would fall “in three days.”
Russia’s state-controlled media instead a spent the weeks leading up to the launch of its unprovoked aggression attempting to convince their domestic audience that “the Collective West” was pushing Ukraine to commit a “provocation” that would leave Russia no choice but to intervene in a conflict that, Kremlin-led voices claimed, Moscow was strenuously attempting to avoid.
In fact, the predictions were more readily heard in U.S. media, with Fox News citing congressional sources saying then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley provided a potential 72-hour timeline for Russia to take the Ukrainian capital weeks before the war broke out and Newsweek citing three U.S. officials with a 96-hour forecast on the day of the invasion.
While examples do exist of prominent Russian talking heads suggesting that, in the event of a war, Kyiv would fall “in three days,” most of these examples are not from the early winter of 2022, but from the spring of 2021, when Russian military hardware was being transported to within striking distance of the Ukrainian border and the Kremlin’s mouthpieces appeared to have been testing out a variety of potential justifications for plunging the country into conflict.
That earlier hysteria continued until Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu calmed the situation on April 22, 2021 by announcing that the Russian military’s “snap inspection” had been completed successfully. Before that, however, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan had time to utter the phrase that, after Russia did invade just under one year later, provided ammunition for a decisively misleading meme.
On April 11, 2021, during a live broadcast of “Sunday Night with Vladimir Solovyev” on the Rossiya-1 television network, Simonyan did, in fact, say that, “in a hot war, we would defeat Ukraine in two days.”
Like many of the arguments laid out in the three weeks leading up to Shoigu’s April 22 announcement, Simonyan’s remarks were focused on the idea that the United States and NATO were scheming to create the necessary pretexts for an attack on Russia. Before talking about Ukraine, the RT editor-in-chief had given a six-minute lecture about the impossibility of reaching any sort of lasting agreement with the United States.
“That’s why I agree with the previous pessimistic orators that a war is completely unavoidable,” Simonyan said. She clarified that, “in our time, I don’t believe there can be a full-scale hot war like the Second World War, nor a long Cold War, but a war of a third type. It will be a cyberwar.”
She then described the kind of conflict she had in mind, one in which “a button is pushed, and suddenly the lights go out in Voronezh,” a city of one million located in southwestern Russia. “The pipes freeze and there is no heating. Then, from the other side, a button is pushed, and the lights go out in Harlem, or in Florida.”
“It will be a war of infrastructure,” she warned, “and in this sphere, we have many vulnerabilities.” Among them, she cited “the lack of a sovereign internet” and the absence of “a perimeter making it impossible to turn off Voronezh.”
It was in this context that she made her infamous statement about defeating Ukraine “in two days.”
“We need to be ready for this war,” she said, speaking of the cyber world war, “which is inevitable, and which, of course, will start from Ukraine. For this, we need a Stalinist program of mobilization in order to sew up, sew up, sew up these vulnerabilities quickly, quickly. Because I don’t want us to be too enamored of our capabilities.”
At this moment, Simonyan went off on a short tangent.
“So that it is understood, yes, in a hot war, we would defeat Ukraine in two days,” she said. “What is there to defeat? My god, it’s Ukraine. We suppress their firing points, as we discussed during the commercial, and then we won’t even have to bomb their unfortunate cities. God forbid that it ever come to that.”
She then returned to her core argument about Russia not yet being prepared for a cyber world war.
“But this war will be different,” the RT editor-in-chief warned. “We could do that [to Ukraine], and [the West] could respond by turning off Voronezh. Until we take measures to ensure that they can’t turn off Voronezh, we should refrain from being too enamored with our own capabilities.”
Although war-related rhetoric on the Russian airwaves significantly decreased just under two weeks after Simonyan made her projection, it began to pick up again in earnest in January 2022. By then, however, Russia’s domestic propagandists, including Simonyan, were all but entirely eschewing any talk of Kyiv falling “in three days,” let alone in two.
While Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did say in a February 5, 2022 interview with Rossiya-1 host Vladimir Solovyov that a hypothetical Russian war against Ukraine would last “maximum, three or four days,” the publicly fanciful Lukashenko did so in the midst of a rant about how, were a wider war to break out, “by the time [the Americans] get around to sending their forces, we will already be standing at the English Channel…they understand that fighting us is a hopeless prospect.”
Lukashenko’s comments were not typical. At the time, Solovyov’s program, along with the rest of the Kremlin-controlled domestic Russian media sphere, was focused on the supposed military threat that Kyiv’s largely Russian speaking forces posed to Russian speakers in the Russian-occupied Donbas.
On February 20, 2022, as part of an in-studio dialogue with Simonyan, Solovyov offered up the most common narrative that the Russian public was told in the lead-up to their country’s invasion of its neighbor.
“Why is there this constant talk of war?” Solovyov asked rhetorically. “It’s as if [the West] really wants us to destroy this unfortunate Ukraine. In Russia there is no war hysteria. We do have an anti-war movement, but we have no pro-war movement. It’s surprising. The Americans say ‘no, you must invade. We know it for a fact.'”