How Best to Penetrate Putin’s Media Iron Curtain in Russia? Dead Russian Troops

Why thousands of dead Russian soldiers are likely beyond the skill of Putin’s disinformation propaganda gaslighters and can strike at the core of Putin’s social contract with Russians and the foundations of his power

(Russian/Русский перевод) By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981) March 13, 2022; excerpted and slightly adapted from his article The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt published by Small Wars Journal March 8, which was featured on March 9 by Real Clear DefenseThe National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Democracy Digest, and SOF Newssee related RCN articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:

Also see Brian’s preceding February 21 Small Wars Journal piece The Utter Banality of Putin’s Kabuki Campaign in Ukrainefeatured by SOF News on February 26see related RCN articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:

Putin TV
Russian President Vladimir Putin lying about Ukraine as seen on Russian state television

WASHINGTON and SILVER SPRING—The focus of my last excerpted article was to show how disgustingly careless, even cruel, the Russian military has been with the lives of its soldiers, how abusive and deceitful they have been to these fighting men of Russia and their families.  And the point of this is to acknowledge that, by such unforgivable conduct towards Russia’s own soldiers and their families, Putin and his cronies may have finally sowed the bittersweet seeds of their own demise.  This was one thing with the hundreds of concealed deaths over eight years with “volunteer” deployments into rebel-held portions of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (known together as the Donbas) in Ukraine’s east (discussed in more detail earlier); it is already an entirely different phenomenon with thousands of deaths less than two weeks into Putin’s exponential escalation in the whole of Ukraine.

Even allowing for the possibility that some of the images and video coming out of Ukraine are not authentic, there is still (as I have noted recently) a lot of real footage of dead Russian soldiers and destroyed Russian vehicles, evidence of Putin’s lies to his own people and his lack of competence in managing and leading Russia’s army, evidence that increasingly destroys his credibility not only with his own people but his own soldiers and their officers.

The dead collectively are something that is very hard for Kremlin spinmasters and apologists in Russia and around the world to explain away, an undeniable public monument to Putin’s astounding failure.  The truth is enormous, visible even from afar, and death on the scale that the Russian Army is experiencing just across a border where many Russians have friends and family cannot be hidden by Putin from his people forever: Russia is not North Korea, its people not North Koreans.

As more and more Russians take in parts of the horrific picture, they will realize how totally they have been gaslit, how pathetically their army has performed under the leadership of a man so desperate to project strength that he literally rides around shirtless on a horse to pose for photos for public consumption.

The key psychological component here is that the foundation of Putin’s regime rests on the idea of restoring Russian strength.  So when the Russian people realize how totally degraded the Russian Armed Forces are after two decades of Putin’s leadership, only able to beat up on Georgia and Syria and utterly humiliated by its first real challenge under Putin’s Potemkin regime in a war with far smaller and far weaker Ukraine—which Russia has always regarded as a little brother, a former vassal of Russia in recent centuries—and understand that thousands of their boys have been needlessly slaughtered in a needless war as Russia hits its economic nadir and apex of isolation under well-deserved historic sanctions, there is going to be massive public outrage.

For Putin’s whole bargain with his people was “Give me your fledgling democracy to discard and I will raise you up and deliver you from the pit of Boris Yeltsin’s humiliated Russia,” yet Russia finds itself now—after only a matter of days into Putin’s absurd war—precisely where Putin promised to move it away from: the weak laughingstock status of the Yeltsin years, not respected, just tolerated because of its nuclear weapons and natural resources.

As more and more Russians realize this, Russians overall will realize that the bargain it struck with Putin repeatedly over the years is null and void, that they owe him no allegiance or support since the little man delivered (after some stability) mainly illusions and repression: the weakness of the Russian military, state, and international standing has now been exposed in a matter of mere days to the whole world as the Ukrainian people kick the Russian Army’s ass, the U.S.-led international order roars into action to show how defenseless the main institutions of Russian daily and economic life are rendered if America and its allies will them to be so, and the world overall isolates Russia as a pariah as no top-tier state has ever been isolated before. 

This last point bears some spelling out: Germany, Japan, and Italy had each other and numerous vassals during World War II.  Today, Russia could only muster the support of four other pariahs—Belarus (essentially its puppet), Syria (its mass-murdering client-state), the Stalinist/Maoist relic of North Korea, and basket-case Eritrea in a historic 141-5 vote at the United Nations condemning Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (China, Russia’s supposed new “best friend,” wanted no part in the historical record of being seen to be emphatically on Russia’s side here, settling for a cowardly pathetic abstention, a choice shared by 34 others).

According to a major CNN poll conducted shortly before Putin launched his full Ukraine war, when asked “Would it be right for Russia to use military force to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO,” half of Russians said “Yes,” one-quarter “No,” one-quarter “Don’t know;” if the war was framed as one “to ‘reunite Russia and Ukraine,’” that support dropped to only 36% “Yes,” “No” rising to a plurality of 43%, with 21% as “Don’t know.”

It is remarkable that the numbers for war are not higher when one considers the insane media atmosphere inside Russia and how it trickles down throughout public life in Russia.  It is a constant Orwellian bombardment of an alternate universe, one where Russia is a perpetual victim fighting against the whole world.  Ukrainians with relatives and friends in Russia (as well as the pro-Russian separatist parts of Ukraine’s Donbas and a very Russian Crimea controlled by Russia since that region’s 2014 invasion and annexation) are even having inane conversations with these brainwashed relatives and friends, those relatives and friends telling the dismayed Ukrainians laughable fictions about the reality of the war.  So strong is the pull of Kremlin propaganda that these wayward friends and relatives believe fantasy over their own blood as they dare to lecture on the invasion to those actually living through the bombs and shells of the invasion.  Much like America’s Trumpist Capitol insurrectionists in the U.S. believe in an alternate reality bellowed out by Fox News and its ilk, so, too, does Putin’s base in Russia (and the few Ukrainian regions with high-proportions of Putin-loyalists) loyally and enthusiastically consume Russian state-run television networks’ non-stop barrage of the world according to Putin (and it is no coincidence that the American rightist and Kremlin media ecospheres have tremendous overlap, as I have noted in detail before).

As a result, most Russians actually get their news from state-run media, so most Russians, then, simply do not have an accurate understanding of what is currently happening in Ukraine and believe as fact many absolute falsehoods while rejecting actual facts.  Because of the relentless propaganda, lies, and straight-up gaslighting that is the media and government apparatchik public landscape in Russia, they think that this has been a limited humanitarian peacekeeping operation mostly in the Donbas area of Ukraine with few Russian casualties. 

But there are others in Russia who see past the propaganda and disinformation.  And the brittle reality of the Kremlin’s fake news operations can come crashing down like a house of cards in the face of hard realities, none more likely to cause this than thousands of dead Russian soldiers and their enraged families.

See all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here

© 2022 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

Also see my eBook, A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia, or, Ukrainegate: A “New” Phase in the Trump-Russia Saga Made from Recycled Materials, available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook (preview here), and be sure to check out Brian’s new podcast!

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