An operation to restore peace

Masha Gessen tells us that Russians don’t know what’s happening, because they don’t have access to truthful reporting.

A majority of Russians get their news from broadcast television, which is fully controlled by the state. “This is largely a country of older people and poor people,” Lev Gudkov told me. Gudkov is the director of the Levada Center, which was once Russia’s leading public-opinion-research organization and which the state has now branded a “foreign agent.” There are more Russians over the age of forty-five than there are between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Even those who get their news online are still unlikely to encounter a narrative that differs from what broadcast television offers. The state continues to ratchet up pressure on the few surviving independent media outlets, blocking access to their Web sites, requiring them to preface their content with a disclaimer that it was created by a “foreign agent,” and, ultimately, forcing them to close. On Thursday, the radio station Echo of Moscow and the Web-based television channel TV Rain, both of which had had their sites blocked earlier in the week, decided to stop operations. What the vast majority of Russians see, Gudkov said, are “lies and hatred on a fantastical scale.”

State television varies little, aesthetically and narratively, from channel to channel. Aside from President Vladimir Putin interrupting regular programming in the early hours of February 24th to announce a “special military operation” in Ukraine, the picture has changed little since before the war. There is no ongoing live coverage, no acknowledgment that what’s happening is extraordinary, even as Russian bombs fall on Ukraine’s residential areas and the Russian economy enters a tailspin. The news lineup, too, changes little day to day. On Thursday, the 7 a.m. newscast on Channel One lasted six minutes and contained six stories: a new round of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks in which Russia was eager to seek “common ground”; the “shelling of the Donetsk People’s Republic by the Ukrainian armed forces,” from which “twenty-five civilians have died.” …The next scheduled program is ‘Good Morning.’ ” There was no mention of Kharkiv or Kyiv, which had been bombed the day before….

Gudkov summed up the world view shaped by Russian television: “Russia is a victim, as it has been ever since the Second World War. The West aims to establish world domination. Its ultimate goal is to humiliate Russia and take possession of its natural resources. Russia is forced to defend itself.” Days before the full-scale invasion began, the Levada Center asked Russians who they thought was responsible for the mounting tensions in Ukraine. Three per cent blamed Russia, fourteen per cent blamed Ukraine, and sixty per cent blamed the United States.

The government has banned the words “war,” “aggression,” and “invasion” in reporting on its aggressive invasion of and war against Ukraine, with fines and closure for disobedience.

Most of Russia’s propaganda language is plainly Orwellian. After a few days, newscasts were consistently referring to the war as an “operation to restore peace.” On Tuesday night, when the TV Rain Web site was blocked, the channel was broadcasting a story about how the government, working through ad agencies, was offering to pay bloggers and TikTokers to post talking points about the war. “All posts should be accompanied by #LetsGoPeace and #DontAbandonOurOwn,” the offer began. Among the talking points: “We are calling for peace, and it’s unfortunate that these are the means we must use to achieve it.”

We had to destroy the village to save it.

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