Two days of Russian news coverage: another reality of war

In a televised meeting with female pilots and crew members of Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship airline, a participant asked President Vladimi...


In a televised meeting with female pilots and crew members of Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship airline, a participant asked President Vladimir V. Putin a question perfectly crafted to comply with new government rules in material for reporting on his invasion of Ukraine.

“We all support your actions, the special military operation going on there,” said one pilot, seated among about 20 women in Aeroflot uniforms at a long table, each with their own transparent glass teapot. “We know civilians are not suffering, but please reassure us of what lies at the end of this road.”

Mr Putin responded with a litany of grievances against Ukraine, but neither his answer nor any of the questions mentioned the reality of Ukraine – the violent destruction of towns and villages by the Russian army, the deaths of civilians , the desperate exodus of millions of refugees. With virtually all media now under state control, all of this has disappeared from national television screens and newspaper headlines.

Spending several days watching news broadcasts on major state channels, as well as probing state-controlled newspapers, is to witness the extent of the Kremlin’s efforts to sanitize its war with the Orwellian term. “Special Military Operation” – and making all news coverage aligns with that message.

Words like “war” or “invasion” to describe the actions of the Russian military are prohibited under a new law which President Putin signed on Friday. The law provides up to 15 years in prison for any coverage the state deems “false information” about the military campaign.

“This is not a war on Russian TV,” said Stanislav Kucher, a veteran Russian TV host and former member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Mr. Kucher moved to the United States after his shows were repeatedly shut down.

“You won’t see explosions, you won’t see strikes on neighborhoods where civilians live, you won’t see much in the way of troops, soldiers, heavy armored vehicles or anything like that.” , he added.

Mr Putin, 69, has long sought to wrap his administration in the heroic actions and terrible sacrifices made by the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany. Its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the destabilization of Ukraine by fueling a separatist war in the east that year were no exception.

The Kremlin described this bitter war as a continuation of World War II combat by the Soviet military against invading Nazis and their local sympathizers. During his last invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, Mr. Putin redoubled his efforts, repeatedly describing it as an attempt to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine.

So it is the refrain of state media, the main source of information for most Russians, especially the older generation. Mr Putin himself called the Kyiv government Nazis about 10 times during his meeting with female aircrew last Saturday, and the word is repeated endlessly on every broadcast. To reinforce the idea, news channels frequently broadcast black and white images of real Nazis.

The news bulletins are quite homogeneous from one television channel to another. The “operations” in Ukraine are basically described as a peacekeeping mission by the army to save the Russian-speaking inhabitants of the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk from the terrible war crimes perpetrated against them by the Ukrainian government. The West is portrayed as completely indifferent to their fate.

The extensive destruction suffered by the city of Kharkiv and many smaller towns in the northeast generally deserves passing reference at best, or is blamed on Ukrainian forces.

On Sunday, “Vesti Nedeli”, a widely watched program on Rossiya-1, appeared to use a report to prepare the Russians for the brewing battle for Kyiv. He noted that Russian forces had cut off the Ukrainian capital from the north and west, with fighting continuing in the suburbs. Then he accused the Ukrainian military of preventing civilians from leaving so they could be used as human shields. The tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Russian forces westward in caravans of fear and misery have not been shown.

The 2 p.m. Saturday newscast on Channel One, one of the two most popular channels along with Rossiya-1, was typical of this tale of two wars.

It started with the presenter quoting Mr Putin, saying the “special operation” was going according to plan. The destruction of military infrastructure will soon be complete, he added.

He accused extremist Ukrainian forces of blasting a building in the port city of Mariupol above 200 people sheltering in the basement, but there was no video.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of the rump states created by Moscow after the 2014 invasion, complained in an interview that civilians were not using the humanitarian corridor intended to reach the is under Russian control, but risked danger by heading west. Ukrainian officials said they could not use the corridor because Russian forces were shelling it.

“Vesti Nedeli” went into extra time on Sunday night with detailed war reporting – of course, without using that term. He repeatedly described the conflict as nearly won. , one of the Muslim republics of the Caucasus, not from the heartland of Russia.

The fallout from sanctions that are dismantling the Russian economy, such as the end of international flights by Russian airlines, are often attributed to current “circumstances” without further explanation.

Most TV presenters and talk show hosts, even those who had initially expressed vague reservations about the invasion, were quick to adjust their comments. Some of the Kremlin’s most prominent cheerleaders have been targeted by Western sanctions. Italy, for example, seized the nearly $9 million Lake Como mansion belonging to Vladimir R. Soloviev, a prominent talk show host.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, host of a Channel One news program called “The Great Game”, gave a belligerent speech in the Duma, or parliament, the day after the invasion, which he echoed on his show.

He described how much he loved Ukrainians and their wonderful country. “I think Russia is, of course, interested in being a prosperous and friendly country,” Nikonov said. “Our cause is just. We will be victorious.

All of this stands in stark contrast to Western and Ukrainian media reports of the fighting in the northeast, with homes burned and civilians lying dead in the streets. There were dramatic images on Saturday of a Russian MI-24 helicopter gunship bursting into a ball of flame after being struck by a surface-to-air missile.

The Kremlin has waged a protracted assault on independent media over the past decade, and some of the last redoubts were closed last week in the face of the new law. This included two mainstays: Echo of Moscow, an independent radio station that was a kind of family lounge for liberal Russians, and TV Rain, a TV channel that bravely aired segments like an interview with the father of a young soldier captured in Ukraine.

For the younger generation who don’t watch TV news, Telegram has become the app of choice for both sides, said Kevin Rothrock, editor of the English edition of Medouza, an independent news agency still operating from outside Russia.

Videos of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in Kyiv, for example, are posted there first. Scenes of angry Ukrainians shouting “Occupiers! among Russian soldiers in Kherson or elsewhere are readily available, but not mentioned in Russia.

In an attempt to reach the younger generation, the Ministry of Enlightenment and the Ministry of Education in Russia produced videos detailing the official explanation of the war; they were compulsory in schools.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, tried to follow the new guidelines. In stories where the interviewees say “war,” for example, there are ellipses and the phrase “word banned by Russian authorities.”

Some news has circulated outside of official screening. Leonid Ragozin, a freelance journalist, said a relative on a Moscow bus was talking to a frightened friend in Kharkiv, with sirens blaring in the background. She put the call on speakerphone and the whole bus fell silent to listen. Nobody complained.

Yet the onslaught of the official state version seems to have the intended effect.

Various Russian polls show considerable support for the war – around two-thirds of the Russian public – although experts say the pressure to repeat the official line must be taken into account.

Mr Kucher, the former freelance TV host, said he was surprised how often Kremlin talking points about the fight against Nazis in Ukraine were thrown back at him in phone conversations with former comrades of class.

“I was so stunned,” Mr. Kucher said. “I never thought propaganda would have such an effect on people.”

Sophia Kishkovsky contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Two days of Russian news coverage: another reality of war
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