The Russian military blogosphere, which has vigorously supported the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has exploded into conflict over the past two days, with some pro-Kremlin bloggers accusing one another of working for the Ukrainian government.
Since the war began in February 2022, the pro-war bloggers — some of whom embed with military units and work for state-run news media — have become major sources of information. They often provided more detail to their hundreds of thousands of followers about the army’s movements than the Russian authorities do.
The bloggers’ proximity to the military has also granted them wide-ranging immunity — at least until last month, when Igor Girkin, an ultranationalist commentator who referred to President Vladimir V. Putin as a “nothingness” in a Telegram post, was arrested.
Infighting within the community has rapidly escalated since then, with torrents of jabs, accusations and self-justifications culminating on Wednesday. That day, a prominent blogger, Aleksandr Talipov, denounced two pro-war Telegram channels for posting photographs of possible Ukrainian attacks on Crimea, which Russia has illegally occupied since 2014. Suggesting that the channels were catering to Ukrainians, Mr. Talipov wrote, “Who do you work for?”
Another pro-Russian blogger, Anatoly Shariy, wrote to his 1.2 million followers that the owners of one of those two Telegram channels had stolen money raised by civilians for Russian soldiers at the front.
Other bloggers rushed to chime, with some trading insults.
Mikhail Zvinchuk, a military blogger who posts under the moniker Rybar to 1.2 million followers, called the situation an “epic blogger battle” and said that the Crimean branch of the F.S.B., Russia’s state security agency, has been monitoring it.
The Institute for the Study of War, a research group based in Washington, speculated that a possible cause of the dispute was the Kremlin’s wish to censor posts about attacks on Crimean soil out of concern that “this information will cause panic in the population and call into question Russia’s ability to effectively secure its occupied territory.” The institute noted that pro-war bloggers, after expressing outrage in late June when a bridge running across the Chonhar Strait between Crimea and the Kherson region was attacked, fell silent when the same bridge was struck again on July 29.
With much of the liberal opposition in exile or imprisoned, criticism of Russia’s management of the war has fallen to Telegram’s military bloggers. They have condemned Russia’s military leadership for a lack of preparation, inadequate supplies and senseless deaths. Unlike the voices from the left, these pro-war critics have been largely unchecked by officials. But after the brief rebellion in June by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, their immunity might be fading.
Mr. Girkin’s arrest, for engaging in extremist activities, signified the most obvious rebuke from the Kremlin. He was arguably the most outspoken of the pro-war bloggers, complaining to 800,000 followers on Telegram that Mr. Putin “managed to ‘throw dust in the eyes’ of a large portion of the population,” while calling the Russian leader a nonentity. The country would not survive “another six years of this cowardly mediocrity at the helm,” Mr. Girkin wrote, referring to the next presidential election.
Days before Mr. Girkin’s arrest, Vladimir Kvachkov, a retired colonel from Russia’s military intelligence who had appeared as a guest on Mr. Girkin’s YouTube channel, was charged with discrediting the armed forces, according to Russian news media reports.
With the pressure mounting, one pro-war blogger seems to have decided to take pre-emptive action. On Wednesday, Egor Kholmogorov announced to his 41,000 Telegram followers: “I am ending all of my political, journalistic and social activities.” He added, “There will not be any publications here anymore.”