Journalists detail how propaganda is convincing Russians ‘there is no alternative to Putin’

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Experts gathered to speak to the Helsinki Commission on Tuesday about Russia’s extensive and seemingly effective propaganda campaign regarding Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Peter Pomerantsev, who was born in Kyiv but spent 10 years working as a journalist in Russia, spoke of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s major role in directing the propaganda machine at the hearing.

«He depends on their feeling that, in the words of his own spin doctors, there is no alternative to Putin,» Pomerantsev, who is now a fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Agora Institute, said, referencing the Russian people.

«And that is why he’s doing so much to control the information environment, emotions and perceptions at home. It’s why breaking through the new information Iron Curtain is a challenge, which is as much psychological as it is technical,» he added.

Also during the hearing, Fatima Tlis, a Russian American journalist, spoke of the varied tactics Russia uses on domestic and international groups.

«The Kremlin’s disinformation operations are coordinated. They use traditional media outlets, social media platforms and cyberattacks to bombard people inside and outside Russia with specific messages, each designed for certain audiences,» Tlis said.

«In targeting domestic Russian audiences, the Kremlin deploys disinformation and propaganda designed as entertainment,» she added, noting that the propaganda «tells pure lies robustly and convincingly »

«In targeting in foreign countries, Russia employs well-sourced, smartly-designed and precisely-targeted disinformation,» she also said, adding that Russian propaganda portrays the U.S. as «forever the supervillain and chief target.»

After describing the state of affairs in the Russian media, the experts offered some solutions to delivering accurate information to the Russian public.

«We can’t have a scattergun approach in the face of a focused, concerted and coordinated enemy. It’s simply not enough,» Pomerantsev said, acknowledging that a solution must «entail cooperation between governments, between tech companies, between media and academia.»

«Needless to say, only Russians can and should change the political situation,» Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian journalist and opposition politician, also told the committee.

«In our country, that change is coming. And I think faster than you thought before February the 24th,» he added.

Policies prohibit Russian state-run news channels and outlets from even referring to Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine as an invasion or war. Instead, they must call it a «special military operation» or face up to 15 years in jail.

But some, like Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at popular Russian broadcaster Channel One, have spoken out nonetheless.

Earlier this month, Ovsyannikova held a sign behind a news anchor that said «Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They’re lying to you here.»

As a result, she was fined and detained by authorities.

The editor later told CNN that some Russians have been «brainwashed» by the information provided in the country.

«State propaganda is blaring from every state TV channel from morning until night,» she said at the time. «There is an information war.»

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