The world watches Russian rockets and shells rain down on Ukrainian cities, yet Russian state media are telling domestic audiences that Kyiv is “quiet and calm,” Kharkiv had “an ordinary day,” and footage of Russia’s savage attacks is all just a “background of lies from the Western media.”
The Moscow Times described Russian state media coverage of the war as downright “surreal”:
Taking their cue from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the nation early Thursday morning, when he announced a limited “special military operation” to “demilitarize” Ukraine and protect citizens in the Donbas from what he said was a Ukrainian “genocide,” the country’s state TV channels have gone into overdrive to peddle a similar message to a somewhat hesitant Russian public.
“Ukrainians do not need to fear Russia’s special operation,” said a correspondent for rolling news channel Rossiya-24, as headlines flashed across the screen announcing Russia’s military successes and an apparent imminent Ukrainian threat.
“Ukraine launched three missiles at the Donetsk People’s Republic in the last seven minutes,” a breaking news banner read.
As the Moscow Times pointed out, this narrative was a “stark contrast” with actual events in Ukraine, which included heavy artillery assaults on populated areas, including Kyiv. Social media is brimming with footage of Ukrainians huddled underground while Russian bombs detonated overhead:
Terrified that Russia could attack the capital at any moment, many Ukrainians have taken shelter deep underground, in #Kyiv’s metro system. Ppl have brought along their dogs, blankets & crosswords, hunkering down for the long night ahead. #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/YGDHOuwq8v— Francesca Ebel (@FrancescaEbel) February 24, 2022
The Moscow Times noted Russia’s communications regulatory agency, Roskomnadzor, has been threatening media outlets with stiff punishment if they dare to broadcast information that has not been approved by Vladimir Putin’s regime.
This apparently includes information about the Russian invasion unexpectedly stalling out in key areas, losses among Russian troops, or military activities outside the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Putin ostensibly invaded Ukraine to “defend.”
Russian media are, however, very big on showing alleged weapons damage from “Ukrainian attacks” inside Donbas, video of Ukrainian soldiers who supposedly deserted their units, and any statements from Western leaders that could be employed to bolster Putin’s claims of the U.S. and Europe trying to “contain” Russia by militarizing Ukraine.
Russian media are also hyping alleged Ukrainian attacks hitting Russian soil, painting Ukraine as the aggressor nation and chastizing the United States for failing to control its ally:
#Russia's state media keeps reporting alleged incidents of #Ukraine's attacks on Russian territory. State TV acts appalled that the U.S. "doesn't believe that Ukraine intends to attack LPR/DPR and Russia." That part about Ukraine "planning to attack Russia" is something new. pic.twitter.com/3lXTqXv6FK— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) February 21, 2022
“As it becomes harder for state media to ignore the full-scale invasion into Ukrainian territory, some channels have started to frame Russian soldiers as eagerly anticipated liberators,” the U.K. Guardian observed Friday.
The Guardian contrasted these antics with Russian state media’s triumphalist coverage of the intervention in Syria, which often included “flashy videos of fighter jets destroying their targets” – a type of footage conspicuously absent from reports on Ukraine. The Guardian took this as “a sign that Russian authorities are aware of the country’s deep unease with the conflict.”
The Associated Press (AP) quoted Russian state TV presenters describing the attack on Ukraine as a joyous campaign of liberation in which Putin’s army would finally step in to protect the victimized ethnic Russians of Donbas from “genocidal” Ukrainian bullies:
“You paid with your blood for these eight years of torment and anticipation,” anchor Olga Skabeyeva told residents of the areas known as Donbas during a popular political talk show Tuesday morning on Russia 1 state TV. “Russia will now be defending Donbas.”
TV pundit Vladimir Solovyev echoed those sentiments on his morning show on Vesti.FM state radio. “We will ensure their safety,” he declared. “It is now dangerous to fight with them … because one will now have to fight with the Russian army.”
Channel One, another popular state-funded TV station, struck a festive tone, with its correspondent in Donetsk asserting that local residents “say it is the best news over the past years of war.”
These propaganda narratives have been buttressed with a flood of reports from Donbas portraying its residents as living in terror of a prospective Ukrainian counterattack. Russian state media broadcasts claim Ukraine is already targeting civilians in Donbas and might even be contemplating the use of nuclear weapons against them.
“Whether ordinary Russians are buying this is another question,” the AP commented drily, pointing to the surprisingly brash and widespread anti-war movement defying police crackdowns to speak out against Putin’s war and the noticeable air of cynicism among English-speaking Russians who can compare their local news to international broadcasts.