Internet has burst the “bubble” in which Putin wants to keep the Russians; the price of popular dissatisfaction can be high

Attempting to control information on Russian territory seems to be a tougher task than the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, could have imagined. The wave of popular discontent – ​​which has already taken 7,000 prisoners in Russia, until Thursday (3) – brings to the fore a question that could have repercussions on the future of the war in Ukraine. To what extent can national public opinion destabilize Putin’s strategy?

A week after the start of the invasion, Kremlin soldiers are still on the offensive, and not just on Ukrainian territory. Also inside Russia, with slightly different weapons. Instead of bombs, press censorship, slower Internet signal for access to social networks (and restrictions on some), official authorities speaking of “denazification” of a Ukraine which would commit genocide against the Russians, poll of official opinion showing a growth in the president’s approval.

Since the decision by Roskomnadzor, the communications regulatory agency, that independent media in Russia should not use terms such as war, attack or invasion, at least two major media outlets have been suspended: TV Dojd and Radio Eco Moscow . The latter, born in 1990, at the twilight of the Soviet Union, is considered a symbol of democratic resistance in the country.

Even with vehicle restrictions, Putin’s disapproval manages to find loopholes. In an apparent act of sabotage, state television RT (Russia Today) used a “War in Ukraine” vignette in its programming for the first time on Thursday. The approved phrase is “special military operation in the Donbass”, indicating that the military action is intended to protect ethnic Russians in the east of the neighboring country. The change in tone comes alongside the resignation of presenters, which made it impossible for the vehicle to work in European capitals.

On the internet, there are traces

If on the one hand Putin claims to “denazify” Ukraine, on the other he uses the well-known Nazi device of investing in disinformation to obtain support for his project of expansion and domination. The difference is that in the age of the Internet, a slip can hardly be scanned without leaving a trace.

Episodes in Kremlin-related media reinforce this. An article published in an apparently hasty manner by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday celebrated the victory of Russia, which “restores its unity” with the conquest of Ukraine. “Russia is restoring its historical fullness, bringing together the Russian world, the Russian people – in its totality of great Russians, Belarusians and little Russians,” reads the text.

In an analysis of the British periodical The Spectator, Marl Galeotti, author of 24 books on Russia, analyzes that, presumably, the article was not supposed to be published until after the Russian victory, but ended up becoming public before. “The mistake was quickly noticed, but in the modern information age, our edits and mistakes remain embedded in the geological layers of the internet,” he reflected. Although the page has been deleted, the original remains on file at the Wayback Machine, a service that archives web pages, and was printed in The Frontier Post, an English-language newspaper published in Pakistan.

Another symptom that Putin’s censorship strategy could implode is a text published by TASS on Sunday. After reporting the president’s order that the country’s nuclear forces be on high alert, the article listed the losses of 146 tanks and 4,300 Russian troops, adding: “According to reliable sources in the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Putin is personally extremely disappointed by the course of the military operation. “Since then, the article has been removed from the network, but these accounts match the number announced by Ukraine’s deputy defense minister,” Galeotti warned, wondering if the post was the result of a hack or deliberate sabotage by a TASS reporter. . .

The major surveillance technologies

The world has also seen an unprecedented reaction from tech giants, which imposed restrictions on Russia in response to the invasion. Google Maps, for example, has been temporarily disabled in Ukraine to ensure public safety. Meta, owner of Facebook, also said it had deleted about 40 profiles spreading false information about the war.

Google Europe said on Tuesday (01) that it had blocked the YouTube channels in Europe of media outlets RT and Sputnik, linked to the Russian government. The video platform had previously limited the ability of both vehicles to monetize content through advertising. Earlier, the Meta company announced that it would restrict access to the same Russian vehicles on social networks Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Additionally, Twitter has started putting a disclaimer on content posted by RT and Sputnik that there is a link to the Russian government. The measures respond to a request from the European Union, concerning the limitation of the means of communication which would disseminate state propaganda content.

Apple has stopped exporting and selling branded products in Russia, limiting RT and Sputnik apps in its store. Netflix, on the other hand, stopped adding Russian channels to the platform and Spotify announced the closure of its office in the country.

disapproval grows

Popular demonstrations, with “No to war” flags, have also multiplied in the streets of the main Russian cities, taking thousands of prisoners. Alexei Navalny, one of the main opposition leaders to Putin, encouraged this Thursday, via Twitter, that his compatriots go out “every day in the main square of their city”.

“Russia wants to be a nation of peace. Unfortunately, few people would call us that now. But at least we will not become a country of scared and silent people, of cowards who pretend not to notice the war against Ukraine that has been unleashed by our obviously the “crazy” Tsar, said Nalvany, imprisoned since January 2021, and who accuses the country’s secret service of attempted murder by poisoning.

Dmitry Muratov, a freelance journalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, told the Guardian there was no “enthusiasm” among the Russian population for the war in Ukraine.

“The memory of the Second World War, that people have relatives in Ukraine and that Ukraine is a country that is dear to us, holds even the most fanatical supporters of the current leadership,” he argued.

But the disapproval does not stop at ideological and moral issues. The country’s economic situation, after severe global sanctions, puts Russia on the brink of social collapse. Videos on social media show citizens rushing to ATMs, fearing bank closures and deactivation of credit cards.

It is worth remembering that the astonishing devaluation of the currency, interest rates and blockades announced by the great powers directly affect the Russian oligarchs. The scenario has led analysts to bet on an increase in elite pressure on the Putin government.

“We want to affect the Russian elite, who support Putin and benefit from this regime, and in addition to this sanctions package (including the exclusion of Swift), we have others which focus on corruption and corruption. disinformation,” said the Vice-President of the European Commission. Joseph Borrell. , on Sunday.

strength of public opinion

History recalls other situations in which public reaction has been decisive for the course of conflicts. During the Vietnam War, for example, which was widely covered in the media, the American population received a great deal of images of the fighting, including chemical attacks and massacres of civilians. Amid this backdrop and reports of lack of assistance to victims, peaceful protests took shape in the United States and other parts of the world, pushing for the withdrawal of American troops, which began to take place. in 1973.

A change in public opinion also contributed to the United States’ entry into World War II. In December 1941, the excitement and indignation of the Americans in the face of the Japanese attack on Perl Harbor led the country, which until then had remained neutral, to take part in the conflict. There were also sequences of protests, popular insubordination and strikes that led to the fall of the Russian government during World War I.

The events are not comparable, but they are a beacon when considering the importance of popularity in major political decisions. Putin’s bet on a “disinformation war” shows his awareness of this. “It’s amazing to see modern information warfare evolving in real time,” disinformation researcher and former CIA analyst Cindy Otis told Time magazine.

As Russian troops attacked Kiev on Friday, rumors spread through the Kremlin media that President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled the country. Ukraine’s president himself debunked the invaders’ narrative by posting a video on his Twitter profile in which he walked the streets of the capital. In the age of social networks, the outcome of a conflict that is armed with information is even more difficult to predict. (Collaboration of Fábio Galão)

Related Articles

Back to top button