When Russia invaded Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s elite propagandists wanted to drink champagne in the studio to properly celebrate the moment. Head of state propaganda agency, RT, Margarita Simonyan, expressed “an overwhelming sense of euphoria” and added: “I’ve been waiting eight years for this . . . it finally happened. This is true happiness.”
With the bloody all-out invasion now in its second year, the euphoria has been replaced by a lingering sense of dread, with Putin’s mouthpieces routinely fretting about the possibility of war crimes tribunals. The issue is playing on their minds.
Appearing on the state TV show, Evening With Vladimir Solovyov in November, Simonyan said: “Let me tell you that if we manage to lose, the Hague — whether real or hypothetical — will even come for the street cleaner sweeping the cobblestones behind the Kremlin.” The same month, Olga Skabeeva, the host of the state TV show 60 Minutes, likewise predicted that if Russia loses its war against Ukraine, every Russian will be considered guilty. She argued that a resounding victory was the only way “to avoid tribunals at the Hague, criminal cases, and having to pay reparations.”
As the months go by, these concerns have not subsided. During Solovyov’s show on March 6, Vitaly Tretyakov, dean of Moscow State University’s Higher School of Television, worried out loud about the statements from “significant” Western figures expressing the demand that Putin and other Russians face war crimes tribunals.
The Kremlin’s propagandists have plenty of reasons to be concerned; street sweepers and other average citizens rather less so. The agitation for war crimes against Ukrainians (described as animals and worse), the descriptions of them as Nazis, and the delight at the attacks on their homes and civilian energy grid have, after all, not been broadcast by people on the street. From the lowliest pawns on Putin’s chess board to the queens of propaganda like Simonyan and Skabeeva, the state-controlled media has played a central part in prompting, encouraging, rationalizing, and normalizing the Kremlin’s massacre of its next-door neighbors. [Continue reading…]