Peter Pomerantsev: “Russians’ Search Queries Reflect Public Sentiment” | Kyiv Post

by UKCHP_Admin

Propaganda is an essential weapon in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Peter Pomerantsev, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the state of Russian propaganda today, gave Kyiv Post an exclusive interview. The British journalist and author of This Is Not Propaganda and Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, spoke about the successes and failures of Russian propaganda, whether it is possible for Ukraine to counter it, and whether Elon Musk has, in fact, become the victim of Russian disinformation. The conversation took place during the Lviv Book Forum from October 6 to 9.

What is the current state of Russian propaganda? Is it still effective?

It is important to understand what one means by “effective propaganda.” Propaganda does not necessarily work like some kind of hypnosis. It can work like this, but for a short time. However, in the majority of cases, propaganda is just a way to send a certain signal. If you want to be a part of this society, you have to act within the established frames.

People are not passive slaves of propaganda; rather, they choose to live in this belief system because they like it. That’s why I don’t really believe in victims of propaganda.

In most cases, propaganda sends us signals about what can and cannot be said and done. Hitting your wife, children, Ukrainians, Kyiv is acceptable, but criticizing Putin is not. It’s a game. In this scenario, there’s no power vacuum. It’s not like “here is propaganda, and here are the authorities.” Propaganda is a part of this power and a part of this system. But it seems to me that the system is a little shaky now. It became evident after the partial mobilization was announced, which has caused more than 200,000 people to flee the country.

What about the probable changes in narrative and messaging by the Russian authorities? Especially in the context of Russia’s failures at the battlefield.

Russia is a country of humiliated people, it has always been this way. The land of those who get their sense of self-worth through Putin’s victories and wars on TV. And then these wars become real, but the people didn’t sign up for that.

It can be very intriguing to take a look at the share of people who feel they have mental issues, depression. This number has significantly grown lately. And one should monitor indicators like that – not the ones about the war apologists and adversaries, it’s all hogwash. One should focus on the indirect indicators. For example, the things Russians look up in Yandex [Russia’s main search engine] will tell you far more about public sentiment.

Who, in your view, is to blame for the collapse of the system? And were those who create this propaganda prepared for it?

I think that people creating propaganda understand everything, they conduct polls non-stop. But this is a classic example of a situation when leaders do not listen to sociologists. The Kremlin’s internal polls conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center are accessible to the wider public. It is clear that they ask questions so that the Kremlin will get the answers it needs. But sociologists are already hinting to the authorities that the country is having a mental breakdown. Nobody listens to them, just like nobody listens to the military.

Can this mental breakdown among the Russians affect something in the Russian Federation?

You know, this is all court politics. It is not a real democracy, where public opinion can actually cause some changes. There are certain telltale signs that you are the “tsar” – you control the economy, violence, and public sentiment. People have to believe you and fear you just enough so you can maintain your high rating. But if you do not control the situation with violence, then you are doing something wrong, then you are no longer the “tsar.”

Public opinion can change the dynamics of court politics. But we don’t know how it will happen because we don’t see it.


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