Letter From the Editors
As the war in Ukraine grinds on into its eighth week, its goal is becoming less clear. Is it the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine? Is it the liberation of the Donetsk Basin? Or is it NATO’s nonexpansion to the East? This week, Mikhail Shevchuk traces the many iterations of this goal as pronounced by Russian officials. In the run-up to the war, the major issue was Russia’s security proposals: If the West could guarantee an end to NATO’s eastward expansion, then a war might be averted. But this demand faded from official discourse as the war got under way, to be replaced with calls to “help the people in the Donetsk Basin” and to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. Perhaps, Shevchuk posits, the confusion stems from the fact that Russia, which was expecting a warm welcome, thought the Ukrainians would implement these goals and tasks themselves, and was caught off guard when this didn’t happen.
Naturally, this confusion is reflected in public opinion. A poll conducted by the state-run All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion showed that most respondents (45%) said the goal should be putting “Ukrainian Nazis” on trial. The other goals listed include Ukraine’s neutral status (39%); recognition of the DPR/LPR (34%); Ukraine’s nonnuclear status (32%); and criminal liability for promoting Nazi propaganda (32%).
According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, these results are not surprising, particularly when alternative interpretations are undesirable or even illegal. Instead, the paper says, “a conceptual media bubble is being formed, in which both society and government exist. And in this bubble, it is already difficult to understand whether the government is receiving new information that it later interprets, or whether it is being told what it itself has already stated and wants to hear in response.”
Experts who spoke with Meduza, however, argue that the Russian propaganda machine has “gone overboard with whipping up the topic of Nazism” in the neighboring country. “These triggers are too strong –it’s a revival of the memory of the Great Patriotic [War].” This miscalculation on the part of officials makes it difficult to argue with public opinion and means that “the fight has to continue until there’s some result that can be framed as a victory.”
This odd information bubble has left the authorities scrambling to place “positive” stories in the media to distract the population from impending product shortages and price increases. Using a tactic that a Meduza source calls “information reassurance treatment,” the media are reporting encouraging stories of import substitution, and new factories and products. In fact, Moscow authorities are even going as far as to launch a “spring media project” to prevent “a sharp drop in social well-being” and show that “Moscow is just as full of life, just as comfortable, as it was before.”
The economy, however, begs to differ. In a Republic.ru article, Yevgeny Karasyuk says that official rhetoric is beginning to hint at problems, using vague language like “certain difficulties caused by the refusal to cooperate on the part of several major international carriers.” Accounting Office chairman Aleksei Kudrin was more blunt: He told the Federation Council that Russia’s GDP would fall by 8% to 10% this year, wiping out all the gains the Russian economy has made over the last decade. And Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina’s report to the State Duma was also none too rosy. With gold reserves frozen and inflation skyrocketing, Nabiullina warned that the Russian economy will have to be fundamentally restructured.
The one group rejoicing now is the Communists. The worsening socioeconomic situation and talk of nationalization will certainly play into the RFCP’s hands and bring in more votes. But, according to expert Aleksei Kurtov, “no one will allow the RFCP to seize the laurels of power; rather the opposite may happen: United Russia will take credit for all the old and new leftist ideas, perhaps even those taken from the Communists.”
This means that when the bubble eventually bursts, United Russia will be the only one left to clean up the mess.