The scale of Russia’s propaganda effort in the Ukraine crisis has been breathtaking, even by Soviet standards, Celestine Bohlen writes for The Times:
Like so much about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the massive propaganda onslaught seems strangely anachronistic in a time when access to the Internet was supposed to undercut the influence of state-controlled media. It’s all the more puzzling since Russia boasts one of the world’s most active and creative blogospheres, not to mention a thriving community of independent hackers drawn from the same top math schools that feed the ranks of the modern-day successor to the K.G.B.
Telerussia & internetrussia
“According to a government-sponsored survey conducted last January, almost half of Russia’s adult population uses the Internet; for those younger,” she notes:
And yet the propaganda campaign seems to be working. Russian public opinion has been whipped into a nationalist fervor over the fate of Crimea…The Internet itself is hardly a guarantor of healthy debate or accurate information. Users often go online to confirm their own views — only to have them amplified by a steady spewing of paranoid and xenophobic diatribes…….Still, Boris Akunin, one of the country’s most popular writers and a member of the opposition with his own blog, is counting on the Internet to loosen the Kremlin’s grip on public debate.
“One shouldn’t confuse two different Russias: telerussia and internetrussia,” he said in an email. “The former is largely uninterested in politics; they eat what they are fed but they are passive politically. The latter Russia is predominantly anti-Putin — precisely due to the free flow of opinions and information on the net.”
Several weeks before pro-Russian forces intervened in Crimea, President Vladimir V. Putin won another important victory, notes Nickolay Kononov, editor in chief of Hopes & Fears, a digital magazine about business in Russia. On Jan. 24, the social network VKontakte, with its 60 million daily users, came under the control of businessmen allied with the Kremlin, he writes for The New York Times:
VKontakte is Russia’s Facebook and the largest independent medium in the country. The founder of VKontakte, Pavel Durov, had long resisted all pressures to step down. But he sold his 12 percent share of the company to Ivan Tavrin, a partner of the pro-Putin oligarch Alisher Usmanov, and is leaving.
The brilliant young businessman was unlucky in his timing. Before the Olympics, the state wanted to control the only independent platform where Russians could communicate with one another and organize. If the government had issued a special decree allowing for the tapping of the phones of journalists in Sochi, how could it ignore VKontakte? And not having an independent social network has also proved convenient for a Kremlin on its war footing.