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The Results of Putin's Policies : The Collapse of Propaganda

The aim and the result of a totalitarian state is the absolute control of the Government over the life of the population.

If the Putin regime hasn't gotten there yet, it's not for lack of trying and it's clear that it's using all the tools proper to a despotic regime to get there. If many of our hopes have been dashed because of the passivity of the Russian population, it is because we have underestimated the regime's ability to control minds. It is therefore necessary to study why this system has been so effective, but also why this system is on the point of imploding.

For two decades the government's objective was to lull the consciences of Russian citizens. The technique used (specific to the most classic authoritarian regime) was on the one hand to use propaganda and on the other repression. Thus people had the possibility of sinking into a regular lie (served to them via television in particular) while any dissenting voice was crushed and became inaudible.

Repression, we understand very well what it is. It is about punishing, deterring and threatening. You have to reach such a level of pressure that the person who wishes to express a dissenting opinion either keeps quiet, or flees the country, or self-censors. Thus any thought really independent and dissonant with respect to the official version disappears and is no longer heard. It is then sufficient to add a layer of delegitimization with propaganda. Thus anyone who says the opposite of what Putin wants to hear becomes an “enemy agent”, a “traitor”, a “cynical manipulator” or even an “extremist”. We therefore arrive at a result in which the terrorist becomes legitimate while the person fighting for the rights of his fellow citizens becomes a terrorist. It is a perversion of reality.

But it is the mechanism of propaganda which is really interesting to study. The Putin regime used all the springs of Soviet propaganda of course (because let's not forget, Putin and his friends are the fruits of the communist dictatorship, they were trained by the Soviet regime). Thus the regime has used old techniques such as whitewashing the history of the country (the Russians do not know for example the defeat of 1905, or the details of the War in Finland in 1940, or the crimes committed by the tsarist regime) while they highlight the crimes committed by the West (Abu Ghraib, colonialism, genocides). This has the effect of making the average Russian believe that Russia has always been respectable and has never committed crimes while the West, which claims to bring Freedom, has only brought suffering to the world.

Of course, it is not a question here of whitewashing the crimes of the West. But we must always seek to establish the facts and not select them to correspond to a fanciful vision of what we would like the world to be. The crimes of the West do not make the crimes of Russia disappear and certainly do not justify them. One cannot appear before the judge accused of murder and say to the judge “Yes but the other fella there, he also killed in the past !”. It's not a viable defense. It is a denial. The West has already been judged a lot and will be again for its crimes. But it at least has the courage to recognize them and not deny them.

As John Adams said in his famous argument “Facts are stubborn things, which do not change according to our whims and desires”. This is why Russian propaganda plays the denial of the facts or only highlights the crimes of others. Because the facts are not favorable to the power in place. But even worse! The Putin regime has learned to flip and twist the facts to bolster its own worldview. Images of Russian bombings in Ukraine are shown on Russian television…they are just attributed to Ukraine. It is therefore a question of rewriting the facts. And this, even if the result makes no sense. So the Ukrainians would bomb themselves (although that would of course have no interest for them), and yet they continue to resist against the Russian “liberator”? No element of propaganda holds up against simple logical reasoning within the reach of any 5-year-old child. No more than the need to carry out a partial mobilization when only a limited “special military operation” takes place or the need to prevent NATO's advance towards the Russian borders in Ukraine but not having problems with Finland and Sweden joining the same organization…

This is why propaganda uses a second very powerful weapon: emotion. To numb a person's reasoning, it is often enough to excite him. And of course the emotions that Russian propagandists play on are fear and hate. While they are presented with an immediate danger to their own well-being, the Russians are convinced that the Ukrainians are all fascists who want to exterminate the Russian people. The Ukrainians are composed not of men and women who have the right to enjoy their autonomy, but of beasts led by the West to exterminate the Russians. So all the inconsistencies of propaganda fall by the wayside. It doesn't matter then that the Ukrainians would never bomb their own population, if they are beasts, they are capable of anything. And we see an incredible mix of the fascist enemy (like in World War II) with the Western enemy (like in the Cold War) to create a kind of “Super Existential Threat” to sell to the population. It's a bit like trying to tell Europeans that a communist and Islamist enemy is at the gates of Europe...

And it's been years now that the regime has worked hard to convince the people that everyone is against them . The United States, Europe, the Ukrainian fascists, the enemies from within… An anxiety-provoking atmosphere where everyone is wary of their neighbor. Where no shred of truth gets through. A place where if you say what you think puts you in danger. Questioning the veracity of what is said on television means you are a traitor. It is therefore difficult not to sink…

And yet, there is hope. A recent study by sociologists (study difficult to conduct because data is sorely lacking in a state as closed as Russia today) shows that the Russians are not as fooled as we think. If about 25% of the population really believes the propaganda, we also know that they can change their minds. Only about 10% of the population will continue to believe the regime regardless of the facts and inconsistencies of the propaganda. Thus 15% of the population believes in the regime only because they have no other sources of information and do not have access to the facts.

There are also about 20% of liberals, who, despite the repressions and the danger, continue to fight to deliver the truth. We are therefore left with 55% of the population who have no opinion. Not because they are stupid, but because they understand that it is dangerous. They saw around them what was happening and preferred to take care of themselves, not to think about politics (as long as it does not concern them) and to say what everyone else says to go under the radar (which by the way makes the 25% supporting Putin believe that everyone agrees with them. 25% of believers plus 55% of people who claim to be convinced just to be left alone is around 80% of the population indeed).

This state of affairs could have been eternal. If Putin had not made a huge mistake: the War itself. Because with the economic sanctions, deaths, leaks and mobilization, politics was invited in the house of each Russian, forcing him to have an opinion. And the Russians sent to the front will now see the reality, their families will pay for the errors of the Government, no one will be spared.

Clausewitz said “No plan survives contact with reality”. We can therefore also say that “All propaganda collapses when the truth becomes manifest”. And Russia has a rendez-vous with reality in the coming months. And if the grip of propaganda crumbles, power will fall with it. A totalitarian power is powerful only as long as it controls minds. When it loses control, its days are numbered. Moreover, this is what happened with the fall of the USSR, which proves that Putin and his allies did not learn the lessons of 1991. They only restarted the machine because they were trained to do so: to be engineers, not reformers.

Which brings me to the last point: the Putin regime has used levers that have been placed in every Russian since the USSR (and even since the Empire). Because Putin is not just talking about invented threats today. He refers to threats imagined at the time of Stalin (the West wanting to submit Russia through fascists), or legends dating from the time of the Tsar (superiority of Russians over Ukrainians for example). So many decades have been used by successive governments at the helm of Russia to turn russians into docile slaves, that it is not surprising to see the effectiveness of the propaganda. Just as the Nazi Government fed on medieval and contemporary anti-Semitism, Putinism fed on Russian chauvinism and traditionalism, coupled with its age-old paranoia, to sell Russia a completely twisted and illusory vision of the world.

The Russian is therefore (according to the propaganda) the liberating knight who defends himself against the foreign enemy who has come to destroy him. This foreigner, who claims to be a defender of humanity, is in fact only a bloodthirsty torturer who wants to see holy Russia, bearer of ancient traditions, on its knees. This gives the Russian the right to crush in blood anyone who questions this reasoning because he is a traitor to the motherland and an enemy of the foreigner. The Russian has the right to defend himself by killing the Ukrainian who is not even a man but a bloodthirsty beast, but if he does it, it is because he loves him and wants to free him. We are right because we are Russians. You are wrong because you are not. We kill to defend ourselves and you cannot judge us because you are killers too. But beware ! When you say we kill, you are lying because we have never killed anyone!

But soon… Reality will come knocking at the door and we will have to pay for all the mistakes made and allowed. If I've learned anything in my life it is this: you always end up paying, even if you don't know why, even if you believed in a lie, even if you thought you were doing the right thing. This is why it is necessary, before doing, to think, to study, to ask questions and to always try to know everything instead of relying on our emotions and what we believe to be certain. After all, as Mark Twain said, “It's not what we don't know that brings us into trouble. It is what we think we know for certain and which turns out to be not so”.

I will therefore, in the coming weeks, in this new column, detail the result of Putin’s policies. We will see point by point what his presidency has cost us and what it will continue to cost us. Because this assessment is the reality with which the Russians will soon be confronted with, and which will destroy all the propaganda and all the influence of the regime on the minds of my fellow citizens.


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