With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has further tightened its grip on the information that is being circulated in public space. Social media and foreign traditional media were either blocked, or they chose to withdraw from the Russian market since they were no longer allowed to carry out their activity freely. Ever since the first days of the war, the federal authority regulating the media market in Russia, Roskomnadzor, ordered the media to eliminate any reference to civilians killed by the Russian army in Ukraine, whereas terms such as “invasion”, “offensive” or “declaration of war” were banned altogether. The finishing stroke came a few days later. Whatever was left of the independent media still operating in Russia, trying to inform the public about what was really happening in Ukraine, was silenced with the adoption of a law that introduced prison sentences of up to 15 years for anyone spreading fake news – meaning anyone opposing the Kremlin’s official narrative about the entire situation. For most Russians, the only sources of information they can access right now describe an alternate reality, a story about a restricted “special operation” that is unfolding according to plan, without any Ukrainian city being bombed and only minor losses reported by Russian military, who are greeted with joy by the civilian population, the very people they are supposed to “liberate” from the Nazis.
Veridica has browsed Russian independent media and examined the last articles that were published shortly before the latest regulations came into force. In most cases, we had to dig through the Internet archives, as these articles are no longer available.
“What lies ahead – silence”
“Total censorship has been introduced in Russia”, GRANIRU writes. “According to the new piece of legislation hastily adopted by the State Duma, anyone writing ‘fake news’ and ‘discrediting’ the army risks serving up to 15 years in prison. The outlets that covered the war were all banned or they stopped their activity of their own accord. Roskomnadzor has fully blocked Facebook and Twitter.
The “Echo Moskvy” radio station was shut down under a decision of its board. The broadcast was interrupted, the website was closed down and the station’s social media accounts were all erased. TVRain station also suspended its activity. Novaya Gazeta announced the elimination of all war-related content from its website and social media accounts.
On Friday night, Roskomnadzor blocked the websites of foreign media outlets operating in Russia: BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Radio Freedom, as well as Meduza. The Russian media watchdog said these outlets were distributing “false information about the special military operation unfolding on Ukrainian territory”, about the “course of the war (the attacks on civilian population and infrastructure), the losses of the Russian army and civilian casualties.”
Ever since the first days of the war, The New York Times, Taiga.info, Nastoyashcheye Vremya, Krym.Realii were blocked. On Saturday, the authorities also shut down the Samara-based Zasekin publication, Protocol and Voice of Kuban, as well as all Radio Freedom projects: Sever.Realii, Sybiry.Realii, Kavkaz.Realii, Idel.Realii, Faktograf, Marsho Radio and Azatlyk.
Rsokomnadzor also blocked a number of Ukrainian publications.
On Saturday, the Prosecutor Office also declared the Istories publication and the Association for Media Development ‘undesirable’ organizations.
“How are we supposed to go on living?”
– Leonid Gozman asks in an article published by Novaya Gazeta.
“I don’t know when and how this special military operation, as they told us to call it, will end, but here’s another equally important question: how are we supposed to go on living? Those who stayed. People like my wife and I. By the way, if yesterday this was a personal decision, today it’s nearly impossible to leave. The borders aren’t officially closed, but all Aeroflot flights, for instance, have been grounded.
Our country, in which we’ve lived for the last few years, is no more. […]
Since any system is based on a group of people who are bound together from a psychological point of view, at different moments in time some people stand out. Take, for instance, people who use nails to carve obscene symbols on other people’s cars – I think their time is now. The new system will rely on support from these very people. They will be declared rightful, bearers of spirituality and patriotism. In fact, the idea that the world is theirs has long been promoted by federal media, yet people spreading such propaganda were only doing it for money, whereas these people are true believers. They also believe in the myth about enemies, in conspiracies, and are confident we will prevail. […]
How are we supposed to go on living with all that? Without our media, without social media, with our borders closed? Threatened with jail at every word we are forbidden to speak? How will we be able to fight for the Russia we want for ourselves, the Russia Catherine the Great named “a European country in its own right?”
“The death certificate came, the grave was dug out, but we had no body to bury”
All articles covering the war have been taken down from the Novaya Gazeta website. In one the eliminated reports, which Veridica has discovered in the Internet archives, the publication revealed how a Russian soldier’s mother was trying to bury her son:
“[…] The grave is ready to bury Maxim Hanygin, born in Ozernoe village in Saratov Oblast. He passed away on February 24, on the eve of his 22nd birthday anniversary. A note came to Ozernoe two days after his tragic death. His mother cannot have the body. ‘They said they can’t give me his body before everything is over, in order not to create a panic. They told me – you think yours is the only son over there? What ‘over there’ actually means, no one knows, neither the military police, nor the prosecutor’s office. It’s an impenetrable wall. No one knows where and how he died’.
‘The military police told us they sent the death certificate by mistake. Now, their superiors are reprimanding them for it. We were lucky, but how does that count as luck, that it happened on the first day, that they notified us by accident’, Maxim’s grandmother, Natalia, also says. […]”
"No to war!" and "Swan lake"
In its last broadcasts, the independent TV station TVRain presented the first official figures regarding Russian soldiers who were killed in the war, and reported about the censorship on Russian media and cutting off seven Russian banks from the SWIFT system. TVRain has temporarily suspended its broadcast, the station’s executive director, Natalya Sindeyeva announced during a live broadcast on March 4., “We need to gather our strength, take a deep breath and consider what our next move is. We hope we will resume broadcasting and continue our work”, the TVRain director said.
The TV station also provided in-depth coverage about the events of 2013-2014 in Ukraine. At the time, it was harassed by the authorities, being cut off by cable providers, whereas its advertising funding was restricted.
Rain TV, which had been previously restricted by the Russian authorities before, also suspended its YouTube streaming on March 3. The team of journalists said goodbye to their audience, proclaiming “No to war!” and walked out of the studio. The station then played “The Swan Lake” ballet, a reference to the Soviet period when, on several occasions (the deaths of leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Kostantin Chernenko, but also during the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991), the ballet was aired on a loop by the public TV broadcaster, a hint to the Russian public that “something was happening.”
“A war without a plan”
– Ejednevni Jurnal wrote on March 3, before taking the article down, since it could be considered fake news in the Russian Federation, and its author imprisoned. “When you look at what is happening right now in Ukraine, you get the feeling that the General Staff had planned its military actions based on the wrong data. Its plans were a copy of American air strikes. The artillery barrage was supposed to solve two related problems. First, to take down the aviation and anti-air defenses and thus ensure air superiority. At the same time, the missile fire was supposed to neutralize the centralized defense infrastructure, thus preventing the Ukrainian army from taking its orders from above. Secondly, it would have shattered the morale of the opposing force, prompting soldiers to mass-surrender. Nothing of the sort ever happened in Ukraine. President Zelensky didn’t flee, the population didn’t greet the Russian troops bearing flowers, bread and salt. The notorious “plan B” that stipulated what to do in case the Ukrainian army puts up a fight and the government doesn’t fee, a plan that provides for such a scenario, however, doesn’t exist. In order to complete the task set by Putin regarding the change of regime, no amount of artillery attacks will suffice. The cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv must be sieged. Fighting in cities with millions of people is any soldier’s nightmare. It’s not about the humanitarian dimension, although such military actions will lead to the massacre and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. Konashenkov and Simonian will blame it all on nationalists’ unruly nature. It’s the fact that modern military technology is not designed for street-level close-quarter fighting, it’s an easy target for people carrying anti-tank grenade launchers. Therefore, the technological superiority of professional armies bows down to people who would sooner die rather than surrender their cities.”
When the source of the war is someone’s wounded pride, it also carries the seeds of the defeat that is to come. Because the purpose of such a war is not about inflicting losses to the enemy, but entails certain political objectives, which, as a rule, cannot be achieved by force. For this reason, it seems the Russian military doesn’t have a “plan B”.
“Sanctions won’t stop the war”
– ISTORIES headlines. “Sanctions will destroy the life of Russian citizens, but they will not stop the war, and they will not remove Putin. It’s what world history has taught us, economic expert Maxim Ananyev argues. […] Sanctions have already caused significant damage to the Russian economy and society: the collapse of the Russian ruble, the all-out pressure on the banking systems, people and companies fleeing the country in panic, the economic and political isolation of the whole country. Seeing that the ‘special operation’ is still underway, the Russian administration has decided that achieving Vladimir Putin’s historical philosophy objectives outweighs the welfare of the Russian people and the political elites.
If that is the case, economic sanctions – even a widespread trade embargo and cutting off Russia from the world’s financial markets – won’t put an end to the conflict. Best-case, it would worsen living standards, inflation, the lack of technological progress, the disappearance of a number of industries, instability in the border area and isolation on the international stage. Worst-case, it would escalate into a nuclear war. The Russian leader suggested this scenario is still on the table – an acceptable cost of the war against “pseudovalues”. If sanctions won’t stop the war, what will, then? The probability of a coup is hard to estimate right now. […] In the case of regimes that lack the institutional mechanisms for removing a leader from power, military defeat does not bring about a change in the status quo. And Russia is exactly that type of regime. “Better an end with horror than a horror without end”, reads a phrase coined by Ferdinand von Schill, a Prussian major that fought in the Napoleonic wars. If we draw on the historical experience of totalitarian regimes, then the Russian elite and society must consider the second option: a horror without end will reign in Russia.”