The propaganda machine is fuelled by a “cocktail of chauvinism, patriotism and imperialism”, says one journalist. It plays on deep feelings among the Russian public: post-imperial nostalgia for the Soviet Union, an inferiority complex towards the West, and a longing for self-justification.
The coverage relies on the scale of lies and the elimination of other sources of information, says one senior editor. When Ukraine suspended the broadcasts of Russian state TV channels, substituting the liberal Dozhd channel that had been cut off by cable providers in Russia, it was accused by the Kremlin of suppressing free speech. In Russia the state-controlled media creates an illusion of uniformity of thought. Many are scared to voice their opinions not because they may be punished, but because they may be isolated. Any dissenter is described by Mr Putin as a “fifth columnist” and a “national traitor”.
The propaganda campaign has seen several stages since the protests on Kiev’s Maidan began, says Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster:
It portrayed Maidan as a conspiracy by the West. It showed the protesters as nationalists, fascists and anti-Semites who had staged a putsch, posing great danger to Russian-speakers. It faked stories of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Russia (using footage of a border crossing between Ukraine and Poland). The case for taking Crimea, to defend the Russian population from an imagined threat, morphed into Russia’s reclaiming historic lands.
“Trumpeting Russia’s moral superiority, the Kremlin is preparing ordinary Russians for an economic downturn that it will no doubt blame on America,” The Economist adds:
Yet Mr Gudkov argues that, although most Russians support Mr Putin’s actions, they are not prepared to take responsibility or bear significant costs in lives or money. “Televisionwatching does not imply participation,” says Mr Gudkov. That gives some hope that Russia may not go farther into eastern Ukraine.
In short, as Abraham Lincoln reportedly said: You can fool some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.