On March 8, The New York Times devoted one of the central articles to the "alternate reality" of Russian television and the brainwashing of Russian citizens over the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine.
This is discussed in the article Two Days of Russian News Coverage: An Alternate Reality of War.
has decided to describe the information bubble that the viewers of propaganda channels are being closed in through the eyes of an American journalist, as well as the remnants of common sense that still break through the Internet and the last independent media in Russia.
Civilians are still "not suffering"
Watching news broadcasts about the fighting in Ukraine on Russia's main state channels is to witness the extent of the Kremlin's efforts to sanitize the war, notes the author of the article Neal MacFarquhar.
He recounts how, during a RosTV propaganda broadcast with female pilots and crew members from Aeroflot, one participant posed a question to President Vladimir Putin that was "perfectly crafted" in accordance with the new government rules for covering the invasion of Ukraine.
"We all support your actions, the military special operation that is proceeding there," said one pilot.
According to Neal's description, the questioner was sitting among about 20 women in Aeroflot uniforms at a long table.
"We know that civilians do not suffer, but please reassure us what is at the end of this path," the pilot asked Putin.
The bloody dictator responded with a litany of his grievances against Kyiv. At the same time, Neil reports, neither his answer nor any of the questions mentioned the real reality of Ukraine—the violent destruction of cities and villages by the Russian military, the death of civilians, and the desperate exodus of millions of refugees.
"Now that almost all media is under state control, all this has disappeared from the screens of domestic television and newspaper headlines," the American journalist admits.
To spend several days watching news broadcasts on the main state channels, as well as surveying state-controlled newspapers, is to witness the extent of the Kremlin’s efforts to sanitize the war with "the Orwellian term "special military operation"—and to make all news coverage align with that message."
Not a single real shot of the war
Words like "war" or "invasion" are banned to describe the actions of the Russian military under a new law that President Putin signed on Friday. The document mandates up to 15 years in prison for any coverage that the state considers "false information" about a military campaign.
Russian television continues to insist that there is no war in Ukraine (recall, all the media should mention it only as a special operation), Stanislav Kucher said.
Stanislav is an emigrant from the Russian Federation to the United States, a veteran of Russian television and a former member of the presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Kucher moved to the States after his shows were repeatedly shuttered.
"You will not see explosions, you will not see strikes on neighborhoods where civilians live, you will not see a lot in terms of troops, soldiers, heavy armored vehicles or anything like that," he added.
Putin, 69, has long been trying to create an halo of heroism and the terrible sacrifices made by the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany around his administration.
"His annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the destabilization of Ukraine by fueling a separatist war in the east that year was no exception," the outlet reports.
Footage of Nazi during World War Two
The Kremlin portrayed this horrific war as a continuation of the Soviet army's struggle during World War Two against the invading Nazis and their local supporters. With his latest invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Putin doubled down, repeatedly calling it an attempt to de-Nazify and demilitarize Ukraine.
All this rhetoric about saving Ukraine from Nazism is constantly repeated by the state media—the main source of news for most Russians, especially the older generation.
Putin himself called the government in Kyiv Nazis about 10 times during a meeting with pilots last Saturday, and this word is endlessly repeated on every broadcast.
To reinforce this idea, news channels often show black-and-white footage of actual German Nazis during World War Two.
News bulletins are fairly uniform. The "operation" in Ukraine is mostly described as a military peacekeeping mission to save the Russian-speaking residents of the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions from the horrific and endless war crimes committed by the Ukrainian government.
The West is described as completely unsympathetic to their plight.
The vast destruction inflicted on the city of Kharkiv and a lot of smaller towns in the Northeast usually merits at best a passing mention, or is blamed on Ukrainian forces.
Battle for Kyiv: Tale about a special operation "according to plan" and "no casualties"
On Sunday, Vesti Nedeli, a very popular program on Rossiya-1, seemed to use one report to prepare the Russians for the upcoming battle for Kyiv. It noted that Russian troops cut off the Ukrainian capital from the north and west, fighting in the suburbs continues.
The journalists accused the Ukrainian military of preventing civilians from leaving so that they could be used as human shields.
At the same time, Neil reports, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing west from Russian troops in caravans of fear and suffering were not shown.
News on Saturday on Channel One, one of the two most popular channels along with Rossiya-1, stuck to the same tale.
The anchor quoted Putin as saying that the special operation was going according to plan. He added that the destruction of military infrastructure will be completed soon.
Vladimir Putin accused Ukrainian "extremists" of blowing up a building in the port city of Mariupol on top of 200 people sheltering in the basement, but there was no footage.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the so-called DPR, complained that civilians did not use the humanitarian corridor meant to reach the Russian-controlled East, but took risks heading to the West.
Ukraine, however, stated that it could not use the corridor because Russian troops were shelling it (the facts of the "green" corridors shelling, including the "road of life" from Irpin to Kyiv, were documented, confirmed and provided to The Hague—Ed. note).
On Sunday evening, Vesti Nedeli went into extra time with a detailed report from the war—of course, without using this term.
The program described the conflict as almost won. The newscast reported about only one soldier who was killed, not Russian, but a native of Dagestan.
Messages of Molotov's time and "love for Ukraine"
The consequences of the sanctions that are destroying the Russian economy, as well as the ending of international flights by Russian airlines, are often attributed to the current "circumstances" without explanation.
Most TV and talk show anchors, even those who initially expressed vague fears about the invasion, quickly adjusted their comments.
Some of the Kremlin's most prominent ardent admirers have been targeted by Western sanctions. Italy, for example, seized a nearly $9 million mansion on Lake Como owned by Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent propaganda talk show host.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, host of the program Big Game on Channel One, delivered a belligerent speech in the Duma the day after the invasion, which he repeated on his show.
He described how "much he loves Ukrainians and their beautiful country":
"I think Russia is, of course, interested in it being a prosperous, friendly country. Our cause is just. We shall be victorious."
The last lines echoed a radio address given by his grandfather and namesake, Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s longtime foreign minister.
About the same messages he voiced on June 22, 1941, to announce that Nazi Germany had invaded in violation of the nonaggression treaty, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Earlier, we already gave a brief context of the USSR behavior during World War Two, when Hitler and Stalin divided Europe between them until the German attack on the USSR.
We also included the following quote in the article Sorry not sorry: Mr. Putin, we take you down together.
"Patience is the fate of all who have to deal with the Kremlin."
But also the head of the British Imperial War Cabinet during the Second World War, in his memoirs, mentioned separately the behavior of the Kremlin until the start of the conflict with Hitler:
"Up until the moment when the Soviet government was attacked by Hitler, it did not seem to care about anyone but itself. The Soviets watched the collapse of the front in France in 1940 and our futile efforts to create a front in the Balkans in 1941 with stony imperturbability. The Soviets provided significant economic assistance to Nazi Germany and helped it in many small ways."
Crash of independent media and exodus of youth to Telegram
The RosTV alternate world contrasts sharply with Western and Ukrainian media reports of fighting in the northeast, with houses on fire and dead civilians lying on the streets, American author reports.
But the Kremlin has waged a sustained attack on independent publications over the past decade, and some of the last redoubts shut down last week in the face of the new law.
That included two stalwarts: Echo of Moscow, an independent radio station that was kind of a family living room for liberal Russians, and TV Rain, a television channel that had bravely broadcast segments like an interview with the father of a young soldier shown captured in Ukraine.
For the younger generation that does not watch television news, Telegram has become the best app, said Kevin Rothrock, the managing editor for the English edition of Meduza, an independent news agency still operating from outside Russia.
Videos of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine speaking in Kyiv, for example, are posted there first. Scenes of angry Ukrainians shouting "Occupiers!" at Russian soldiers in Kherson can be easily found.
To try to reach the younger generation, the Ministry of Education in Russia have produced videos detailing the official explanation for the war; they were mandatory viewing in schools.
Uncensored news and support for the war
Some news circulated outside the official censorship. Leonid Ragozin, a freelance journalist, said a relative on a Moscow bus was talking to a frightened friend in Kharkiv, with sirens wailing in the background. She turned on the speakerphone and the whole bus went silent to listen. Nobody complained.
Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper whose editor, Dmitriy Muratov, shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, is trying to tell the truth and abide by the new rules at the same time. In stories where people interviewed said "war," for example, there is a clarification that this word is prohibited by the Russian authorities.
"Still, the onslaught of the official state version seems to be having the desired effect," the author reports.
Various polls in Russia show significant support for the war—about two-thirds of the population—although experts say that pressure to parrot the official line must be taken into account.
Kucher, a former independent TV presenter, says he was taken aback at how often the Kremlin's talking points about fighting the Nazis in Ukraine were repeated to him on the phone with former classmates.
"I was so stunned. I would never have thought that propaganda would have such an impact on people," the emigrant stressed.
Solovyov starts to talk about Russia collapse inevitable defeat in war
It is interesting that slipups about the war in Ukraine are still found even among propagandists. For example, in a live television broadcast, Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov admitted right up front that this "war cannot be won," and anyway, the war cannot be won, the operation cannot be completed, and a loss will lead to the collapse of Russia itself. In addition, he added that Ukraine already considers the Kremlin a spawn of hell and hates it and will continue to hate it.
The video of the fragment, already removed from the recordings of Russian TV channels, is cited by journalist Alesya Batsman on her Facebook page.
The fragment contains a conversation with another Moscow propagandist, who asked why it was necessary to start this war if they were not going to enter the cities, and not a single serious city had yet been captured, "only Kherson, and not even completely..."
"Is it necessary for the sake of the Crimea to sacrifice so many soldiers and capture Kherson?" he asks Solovyov.
The well-known propagandist answers:
"The mood is already heavy, and you are driving me into despondency right now with your pessimism."
By the way, on March 8, YouTube removed Solovyov's channel Solovyov Live, as well as the channel of his television program Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov..
Instead of an afterword. Apparently, the Russian television view continues to distort the reality of the Kremlin’s violent invasion of Ukraine and tries to portray Putin’s army as liberators and Ukrainians as people suffering from Nazism and in need of salvation.
Nevertheless, it is still difficult to cut off all channels of access to information for young people, and the truth seeps out, albeit slowly, through social media, including VKontakte, where Ukrainian citizens (with varying success) try to prove to the Russians what is really happening. People who "have a TV instead of a head," as Russian singer Andrey Makarevich called them, are unlikely to be impacted by this, and they have yet to feel more sanctions on themselves, but young people are gradually beginning to see clearly.
Already on March 8, emigrants from Russia could not withdraw money from MasterCard and Visa cards abroad, there was a shortage on store shelves, and companies massively refuse to work in Putin's country. For example, McDonalds will no longer work in Russia. However, the Russians still have KFC, but the company promises to send all the profits from the bloody country to help Kyiv.