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Geopolitics

Peace-Loving Putin v. War-Mongering West: How Russian Media Is Spinning Ukraine

The message from state-controlled media in Russia is clear: we are a peace-loving country constantly provoked by the West. The coverage is very different to the war hysteria before the annexation of Crimea and hides how the Kremlin benefits financially from tensions in Ukraine.

Photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin holding a annual end of year news conference in a pandemic friendly format from his offici

Putin holding a press conference in Moscow

Pavel Lokshin

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — For days now, Russian state broadcasters have had ample opportunity to convey to domestic audiences the Kremlin’s official line on the Ukraine conflict. The message: the West is talking up the threat of war and endangering Russia.

An example was Saturday night’s evening news on the state broadcaster Pervyi. The program opens with an alleged violation of Russian territorial waters in the Pacific by a U.S. submarine, a story that has long since been dismissed as inaccurate by the U.S. military.

This is followed by a fragment on Putin’s phone conversations with U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which they are said to have discussed “provocative speculations” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “impasse the intra-Ukrainian conflict has reached.”


The presenter sees the travel warnings issued by more than ten Western countries for Ukraine and the reduction of embassy staff as an attempt to further aggravate the crisis situation. The press spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is quoted as claiming that Western diplomats are aware of “acts in preparation” that would worsen the security situation in Ukraine.


The Kremlin's core message

This is not about the danger posed by Russian troops stationed near the border, but about alleged Ukrainian provocations that the West is aware of or has even orchestrated. Later, a regular commentator – who is also press director of the state oil giant Rosneft – speaks about “American scare stories” that even the Ukrainians did not believe.

Russia is a peace-loving country that is constantly provoked by the evil West

The situation is similar to the internet offerings of state propagandists. Vladimir Solovyov, who usually presents TV talk shows, mocks Joe Biden in his internet broadcast: the U.S. president always mixes up countries, maybe he doesn’t know what the Ukrainian conflict is about.

It resonates with the audience. It is implied: The 79-year-old is senile. The West is “a madhouse”. Top Ukrainian military officers are “fools” who are looking forward to war. NATO planes and ships are “on our borders”.

This is the Kremlin’s core message to its people. Russia is a peace-loving country that is constantly provoked by the evil West. The message is so omnipresent that even the media that are critical of the Kremlin are reluctant to make the Russian deployment on the Ukrainian border a broad issue.

Photo of people on their smartphones next to a newsstand in Moscow, Russia

A newsstand in Moscow, Russia

Alexander Sayganov/SOPA Images/ZUMA

A war that already benefits the Russian government

Last Friday, the thrice-weekly Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, ran the story of a tortured activist on its front page, and on Wednesday, a major interview with a security expert about the “political thriller” between Russia and the United States.

In many cases, the American warning of war is not taken seriously, even among Kremlin critics. Yulia Latynina, a journalist critical of the Kremlin who left Russia five years ago after threats and attacks, spoke on her program of a “war that will not happen” but from which the Kremlin has already benefited.

Top Ukrainian military officers are “fools” who are looking forward to war

Because the ruble’s exchange rate had fallen as a result of the Western panic, the Russian state budget had saved eight billion rubles. This refers to the fact that Russia sells it main exports – oil and gas – for foreign currency. The lower the ruble, the higher the revenue for the state budget.

Overall, the mood of the media in Russia is very different from the Russian war hysteria of 2014 and 2015, which was meant to prepare the domestic population for the annexation of Crimea, for example. But it would be premature to conclude that the Kremlin is not planning an escalation. This time, the Russian state can present its people with a fait accompli and trust that the people believe it — a plausible calculation given the many years of propaganda.


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