MOSCOW -- As protests continue against Russia's unprovoked war, observers are taunting the Russian propaganda machine for prematurely celebrating the conquest of Ukraine.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian army to invade Ukraine on multiple fronts last Thursday, he apparently expected a swift victory.
Alongside the military invasion, the Kremlin's disinformation war has been in full swing, pumping out predictable, nonsensical justifications for Russia's invasion and covering up Russian losses.
But there are signs the Kremlin's propaganda machine and Putin's trolls are struggling to keep on top of the story.
On Saturday (February 26) at 8am, the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti posted a celebratory story written by Petr Akopov declaring, "Ukraine has returned to Russia."
Somebody recognising the folly of the post hastily took it down, but automated internet trackers like the Wayback Machine saved copies for posterity.
Independent news organisations and social media users quickly jumped on the story.
The incident was "extremely shocking, even for Kremlin standards", said Christo Grozev, executive director of Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group.
"This essay was apparently written for a scenario where Russian armed forces had taken over Kyiv and subjugated the country...Which didn't actually happen," he tweeted on Sunday.
"OK, one can assume this was just an editorial mistake that was caught early, and the essay did not reflect the State view..EXCEPT.. this same essay was carried on other state-run channels too, like @SputnikInt," he said.
While the article vanished from RIA Novosti, it remains on the Uzbek page of the Sputnik propaganda site. It was also reprinted in English on a Pakistan-based website, The Frontier Post.
"Presumably the publication of this screed was scheduled well in advance, on the assumption that Mr Putin's forces would win a quick and easy victory, and someone forgot to cancel it," the Economist wrote Monday.
Excerpts from the Akopov piece are ominous and telling. They betray a toxic brew of messianic Russian chauvinism, denial of Ukrainian identity, longing for the bygone Soviet Union and unjustified confidence in Russian military prowess.
The opening of the story crows about a Russian victory that had not happened.
"A new world is being born before our eyes," he begins. "The Russian military operation in Ukraine has opened a new era."
It raises the question of when Akopov wrote it and whether he was aware at the time of writing that Russia, despite months of denials, had every intention of invading Ukraine.
"Ukraine has returned to Russia," he rhapsodises later, referring to a reversal of the Soviet breakup of 1991, when Ukraine become one of 15 post-Soviet countries.
Akopov glorifies a restored Slavic brotherhood under Russian leadership, a vision that the Ukrainians battling the mammoth Russian army clearly reject.
"Russia is restoring its historic wholeness, gathering up the Russian world, the Russian people in all its entirety -- the Great Russians [ethnic Russians], Belarusians and Little Russians [an outmoded term for Ukrainians]," he writes.
Ominously, Akopov uses a phrase reminiscent of the Holocaust in praising Putin's invasion.
"Vladimir Putin has taken upon himself -- without the slightest exaggeration -- the historical responsibility of not consigning the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations," he said.
"Returning Ukraine ... to Russia would have become harder with every passing decade."
In Akopov's eyes, the prematurely celebrated crushing of Ukraine represents the defeat too of the perfidious, meddling "Anglo-Saxons" (British and Americans).
"The confrontation with Russia, into which the Anglo-Saxons are dragging Europe, deprives Europeans of even a chance at independence," he wrote.
"Russia hasn't simply thrown down a challenge to the West -- it has shown that we can consider the era of Western global domination fully and finally over."