Russian TV jokes about missiles hitting London as Putin propaganda reaches new level
How many seconds does it take for a ballistic missile to reach London, Paris or Berlin?
That’s the question Russian state television pundits were asking themselves as the war in Ukraine entered its third month.
The worrying estimates were accompanied by a chart showing the trajectories Moscow’s intercontinental ballistic missiles would take to reach the capitals of European nations that provide kyiv the most military aid.
All the while, pro-Kremlin host Olga Skabeyeva and pundits on her “60 Minutes” show on the Russia-1 TV channel nonchalantly joked about how the West should connect.
Just a few months ago, the graphics, rhetoric and apparent casualness of such conversations would have been shocking even by Russian propaganda standards.
But with Russia’s military struggles, its emboldened rivals and the neighbor it invaded responding defiantly, NBC News watched dozens of hours of state media coverage to find the Kremlin and its spokesmen seeking to more and more outlandish new claims to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
“The Kremlin has relatively few instruments to try to influence the West, and that’s why they’re resorting to all this scary rhetoric as a means of attempting to intimidate,” said Mark Galeotti, senior research fellow at Royal United. Services Institute, a thinker. tank based in London. That leaves “the dark power to look crazy and dangerous” as one of the few tools at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disposal, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s bogus suggestion that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had ‘Jewish blood’ like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and that some of the ‘greatest anti-Semites were, as a rule, Jews’ has been widely condemned and ridiculed. Russian state media also peddled stories about “black magic” allegedly practiced by Ukrainian troops and hinted at baseless allegations of drug use by Zelenskyy.
The country’s tightly controlled media space means that Russian audiences have seen on their television screens a version of events in Ukraine that is startlingly different from that of Westerners – one that bears little resemblance to the evidence of what is happening on the ground.
Newscasts and daily political programs have spent countless hours on the air telling their viewers that the war in Ukraine is not, in fact, a war, but rather a “special military operation” designed to spare the civilians. Russian forces are portrayed as liberators, fighting what propaganda calls “neo-Nazis” who would invade Ukraine under the influence of the United States and its allies and commit “genocide” against Russian-speaking Ukrainians .
The atrocities documented in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities are staged by Kyiv, according to Russia. Moscow says it entered Ukraine as a pre-emptive strike against NATO, as Ukraine was in search of nuclear weapons. The public is told that harsh sanctions are just more evidence of the West’s pathological hatred of Russia that led to the conflict in the first place.
Above all, the state media would have the Russians believe that the military operation in Ukraine is going to be planned and that the Russian forces are winning.
A recent survey by the Russian Levada Center, which is not a state-run group, found that public support for “actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine” remains high at 74%, although experts have raised doubts whether these polls may be accurate.
But much of that support is for the war as portrayed on state television, rather than support for what is actually happening in Ukraine, Galeotti said.
“This is support for a limited, surgically conducted operation to prevent civilian casualties to prevent a neo-Nazi regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and committing genocide,” he said. “If that’s what you’re presented with, well, I’m not surprised a lot of people are saying – yeah, that sounds like a perfectly appropriate war. It’s more about what happens once the reality begins to confront them as more and more people begin to return from the battlefield.
Moscow’s war has been beset by uneven offensives and heavy personnel losses as kyiv’s allies step up military aid. It has seen Russian state TV rhetoric escalate to a point where talking about missile strikes on European capitals and the possibility of nuclear war is just normal, said Stephen Hutchings, professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester in the UK.
“There is an unprecedented and seemingly almost concerted effort to organize and play fast and free with this rhetoric of World War III and nuclear strikes,” he said. It is a reflection of a war that does not go as planned and in which people become frustrated and angry, he added.
One of the most egregious examples, he said, came from pro-Kremlin journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, who used an episode of a weekly news program in early May to illustrate how Moscow could rapidly transform the Great Britain into a “nuclear wasteland” if moved. do this.
The UK could be attacked with the unstoppable Russian Poseidon underwater drone, he said, generating a giant tsunami that would wipe out the nation.
“A lot of this rhetoric is basically aimed at making it clear that this is not just a war in Ukraine, but rather a proxy war with the West,” Galeotti said. “They’re trying to amplify the sense of the magnitude of this confrontation just in case the decision is made to turn it from a special military operation into a full-scale war. If you want to avoid that sounding like a defeat, then you have to say it’s because it’s not just about Ukraine anymore, but rather about Russia against the whole West.
The Ukrainian government has accused Russian state media of fueling the war, with Zelenskyy threatening reprisals against Moscow’s most prolific propagandists.
Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has also denounced his country’s state media for being “warmongers”.
All this takes place in the context of a country where there are hardly any independent media left. Russia passed a law criminalizing any criticism of its armed forces at the start of the invasion, and the few remaining independent journalists either left the country or stopped working altogether.
The internet, of course, is still there for those seeking international war coverage – although several foreign news sites have been blocked – but for an average Russian consumer, state television remains the main source of news. on Ukraine.
Feeding the public an increasingly intense flow of propaganda, including the possibility of nuclear war, However, the Kremlin cannot accomplish so much, experts said.
“It’s very good to threaten that stuff,” Galeotti said. “At what point do people start thinking – does this get really scary?”