Valentina Bykova: Russian propaganda copies Soviet one21.12.2022
Valentyna Bykova, head of analytical projects for countering disinformation of the International Center for Countering Russian Aggression (MC PRA), took part in the “Chronicles of Information War” program on the EspresoTV channel and answered the questions of host Olga Len.
EspressoTV: It is noticeable that in the russian federation they are trying to turn the attack on Ukraine into some kind of existential threat, into some kind of “all-people’s war”, as in Tolstoy’s words, “raise the club of the people’s war”. Do you think that the enthusiasm of the russian masses is caused by these appeals of russian propagandists and to what extent do they work at all?
Valentyna Bykova: According to what we observe in the information space of russia, there is no mass enthusiasm. The average russian was ready to watch this war from his soft sofa, but to participate in mobilization, to take part in military operations – this idea does not cause widespread admiration. Personally, I am very pleased that russian propagandists recently appeared with the message that “the Hague is waiting for us all.” And they are trying to use it precisely in order to supposedly unite russian society, “we have no other way”, “we need to unite”, “we need to win this war at any cost, otherwise we will all non-transfusion”. First of all, it speaks of insecurity, it speaks of the idea that “there is a national war, a holy war” as it was during the World War II, the masses do not have these attitudes, but they are trying to promote these narratives.
On the other hand, at a recent briefing, Peskov tried to deny that the alleged Hague and other international courts, which will be over russia, will not have any meaning and legal force.
I want to note that russian military propaganda in some ways copies Soviet propaganda. If we consider the scheme, it has three main links. The first is the message that is transmitted, the second is the channel through which this message is transmitted, and the third is the recipient, that is, the target audience for which this message is intended. The target audience (one of them) is the population of russia itself. Communication channels have changed, if earlier it was mainly television and print media, now the role of electronic channels, social networks and messengers has increased. But the messages broadcast to the domestic audience remained the same as they were during Soviet times – “we are strong, we are strong, no one will defeat us, but we are in the ring of enemies encroaching on our territory.” And another message – “America will collapse, it will rot, and Europe will collapse, it will also rot.” This is exactly what we are observing now, when they say that Europe will supposedly freeze without russian gas, although in fact russia is freezing.
EspressoTV: It reminds me not only of the Soviet Union. But it is still reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany, the last two years before the fall, when there was an attempt to mobilize the population, this Volkssturm, the Hitler Youth, it is actually very reminiscent, they just copy.
Valentina Bykova: Yes, it is.
EspressoTV: I can remember how we felt about those things when we were told in the Soviet Union how badly children live in America, but then there were no communication channels, no possibility to check. But how does a person live in Altai now, for example, where he has no heating, how does he feel about these conversations that Germany is about to freeze?
Valentyna Bykova: A person who does not have heating, who sometimes does not have a central sewage system, where does the fascination of russian people with plumbing products come from, they often do not have the Internet either. There are studies that say that a certain territory of russia is not yet covered by the Internet. But even those who have, why should they look for any information when you turn on “Russia Today” or the First Channel, and there the entire information agenda is laid out for you from morning to evening. And these are ready-made, specific messages that can then be used in conversation with others. The same “putin’s combat units”, there is not a single opinion of their own, let’s take Skabeeva, Simonyan, this is the same as what they say on TV, and it is then broadcast in the same way by russian citizens in their conversations.
As for the target audience, who is it aimed at. First, it is designed for citizens who lived in Soviet times. These messages were embedded in them back then, that “the West lives badly, but we live well”, and these same messages are embedded in them now. This is already the third, fourth, fifth layering of propaganda, which is already becoming its own conviction. They heard it in Soviet times, and they hear it now, and they do not experience any cognitive dissonance. And secondly, the fact that the Soviet Union is very good, there is such a trend now, for some reason it suits young people who did not live in Soviet times very well. They hear this and they have some kind of ideal image of the Soviet Union, where everything was good, where there was free education and health care, and these messages are also very good for them. The stratum of the population that thinks and draws its own conclusions is very small, it is about 10%, and unfortunately most of these russians have now left russia, especially after the mobilization began.
EspressoTV: And what is the general support for hostilities in russia now? We have seen these calls to volunteer. That is, they do not want to announce the mobilization again, apparently. That is, they will announce if everything is bad, but they don’t want to.
Valentyna Bykova: Recently, I watched such a propaganda video where conditional russians, one of them has many problems and no money, he cannot afford to buy anything. And there is his friend who has everything because he is fighting in Ukraine, has a high salary and has solved all his problems. That is, now, in addition to the fact that forced mobilization measures are taking place in russia, they are trying to launch such a lure into the information field – go fight for money. That is, there is no mass capture. Meduza this week published statistics with reference to a sociological study, which shows that over the past six months, the attitude of the average russian towards the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine has changed dramatically. If at the beginning of June, more than 50% approved of it, and only 25-27% were in favor of negotiations with Ukraine, now everything is the opposite – more than 50% are in favor of peace negotiations between russia and Ukraine, and only a quarter – in favor of continuing aggressive war until the complete capitulation of Ukraine. Such a change in worldview took place primarily due to the fact that the Ukrainian army does its job well, due to the fact that russia did not achieve the goals it had set for itself.