‘Blame the West and scapegoat the commissars’
On September 21, frantic in the wake of Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive, Vladimir Putin announced mobilization in Russia.
While the response among the Russian populace has varied widely, the days since the president’s speech have seen hundreds arrested for protesting and at least a dozen arson attempts at government buildings, among other expressions of discontent.
In a bid to get citizens back on their side — or at least to make them shut up — the Putin administration has sent out instructions for how the country’s propaganda outlets are to cover the mobilization campaign. Meduza summarizes the guide.
Soon after Vladimir Putin announced the start of Russia’s “partial mobilization” (a misnomer, as there’s little, if anything, that’s “partial” about the Russian authorities’ conscription plan), Russian state and pro-government media outlets were issued instructions for how to cover the transformative new measure.
Meduza has obtained a copy of the guide, which was compiled by the Putin administration.
The document emphasizes that Russia has only won past wars when “everyone” in the country has contributed — and only when the people have believed the country is fighting a “people’s war.”
Thus, the authors conclude, the media’s current task should be to convince Russians of one main idea: that “the people of Russia must unite against the NATO threat.”
According to the Kremlin, the alliance is set on “dismembering and ransacking” Russia.
“It’s no longer acceptable to stand on the sidelines and dump the entire burden of responsibility on contract soldiers and the Donbas people’s militias. The front line is more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) long, and Russian soldiers and Russian people are being killed by NATO mercenaries and terrorists from the Kyiv regime using NATO weapons,” write the media guide’s authors, summing up their central thesis.
The document also suggests explaining the necessity of mobilization by citing the shelling of Russia’s border territories and of Crimea: “They’re already waging war against us on our own territory. We’ve gone from ‘not abandoning our own’ to protecting ourselves.”
The propaganda guide also instructs the media to emphasize that Putin announced mobilization “right at the moment when it became essential and would significantly increase Russia’s ability to achieve the goals of the special military operation.”
At the same time, the document explains neither what the “goals” of the “special military operation” are nor how the “special military operation” — a term invented to allow the Kremlin to insist there’s no war — can simultaneously be a “people’s war.”
“Russia is by no means fighting against Ukraine — it’s fighting against NATO.
The West has prohibited Kyiv from conducting negotiations with Russia. NATO intelligence agencies are gathering data about Russian territory for the purpose of ordering Ukraine to move the fighting into Russia,” the authors write.
Additionally, the guide “suggests” filling media materials with “as much direct speech as possible” from residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and other occupied Ukrainian territories.
The quotes should show the residents’ “enthusiasm” and “gratitude,” referring to Putin as a “protector” who “responded to people’s request.” According to the propaganda guide, these quotes should “arouse joy” among Russian audiences.
The guide also calls for propaganda outlets to emphasize that mobilization will supposedly only affect “one percent” of Russia’s draftable population. The document calls the mobilization effort “minimal,” noting that only “experienced men who have served before” will be drafted. As Meduza has previously reported, these claims are false.
Similar messages have already begun appearing on various social media pages throughout Russia.
One video that was posted on a page for Primorsky Krai residents claims that authorities are mobilizing only the 300,000 “most highly trained” men, all of whom have purportedly served in the army.
“I’m talking to you, average Sergey from Lipetsk who’s never undergone military training. You can cool your jets and drink your coffee.
Nobody fucking needs you there,” says the narrator of another video. Another clip addresses “Ivan Ivanovich” — a common Russian name — and tells him to “drink your vanilla latte and carry on with your graphic design.”
All of these posts are accompanied by the hashtag #DontPanic.
Two sources close to the Putin administration told Meduza that Dialog, an organization created at the Russian authorities’ initiative to spread messages on topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccinations to Russia’s 2020 constitutional amendments, has been tasked with distributing the videos.
Vladimir Tabak, who currently heads Dialog, did not respond to Meduza’s request for comment.
According to two sources close to the Putin administration, the new propaganda package is intended to counter Russians’ “negative reaction” to the mobilization announcement.
In addition, the Russian authorities hope to “redirect [draftees’ and their families’] anger” onto the country’s military commissars, who propagandists claim is “going overboard in order to curry favor, rather than working efficiently by conscripting experienced fighters.”
Russian TV propagandist Vladimir Solovyov has already called for unscrupulous military commissars to “be shot.”
RT head Margarita Simonyan, meanwhile, has called on Russians to report conscription officials’ violations, saying the commissars are acting “as if they’d been sent by Kyiv.”
“[The plan is] to ‘highlight’ the most egregious cases — the conscriptions of people with a lot of children or of older men. Then they’ll deal with those cases and cover the consequences widely. [While] regular, able-bodied men are being mobilized,” said a source close to the Kremlin.
Russian authorities are betting that propaganda will be a powerful enough tool to dampen people’s discontent at the mobilization.
Nonetheless, according to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin is “concerned” about the situation in the Caucasus — especially in Dagestan, where violent protests broke out this weekend.
Sources close to the Putin administration told Meduza that authorities plan to “curb the protests” both by “peaceful means” (such as conscripting people in a more targeted manner and returning people who’ve been conscripted illegally) and “by force.”