Who is providing Russia’s propaganda machine with a platform? And is it still well-oiled or running on empty? 

The age-old tale of propaganda appears to remain alive and well in Russia as the Kremlin continues to up the ante on its wartime publicity. The pomp and persistence of the country’s media ops come as no surprise to the rest of the world, yet many have begun to question if the effectiveness of propaganda is beginning to waver or if pro-Putin sentiment endures.

Two years on from Russia’s initial advancement into Ukraine, it has become clear that the Kremlin has been fighting a losing battle in terms of controlling the global information space. Internationally, the vast majority of media outlets have backed the Ukrainian horse but within their borders, Russian leaders have maintained the narrative of a well-justified and heroic liberation of the former Soviet state.

But how exactly has Putin supposedly pulled off this domestic media masterclass? 

Oftentimes when trying to understand the success of propaganda, we turn to disinformation as the most integral element. However, Russian propaganda relies equally on three separate componentsisolation, intimidation, and disinformation. These elements are symbiotic, reliant on one another to keep the cogs of the propaganda machine turning. 

Actions such as declaring Meta an extremist organisation and blocking Twitter have been key drivers in isolating the Russian information space from other sources and external influence. Without this distance, disinformation that portrays the war as legitimate and justified can be challenged by non-Russian sources and thus weaken the Kremlin’s narrative. 

Against the backdrop of a vastly connected global environment, isolation alone is not enough to ensure that disinformation can run rampant in Russia unopposed. This is where the third aspect of Russia’s propaganda model comes into play. Intimidation by targeting individuals and local media outlets works alongside laws and legislation which extend prosecution power to silence dissent and disloyalty, thus propping up isolationist policies. 

When all is said and done, the fact remains that propaganda can do well to start a war but must work much harder to try and finish it. Initially, the Kremlin’s claims of a just war in Ukraine worked well to present to their citizens that there simply was no alternative. In doing so, the government relied heavily on the narrative of a swift and victorious war. This story begins to fall apart the longer fighting continues, making it ever harder for Russia to portray any agreement with Ukraine as a victory. 

With Russian media working overtime in Europe and across the Atlantic, commentators like the former Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson seem to be rocking the boat. Having been fired by the American news giant in April of last year, Carlson is now the first Western journalist to interview Russia’s Vladimir Putin since he commenced the offensive in Ukraine in early 2022.  

Fox News is the most-watched US cable news network and the conservative commentator’s show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, was the highest-rated cable news programme in the 25 to 54 age demographics. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Carlson’s interview with the Russian president made headlines. The meeting was greeted with hostility from Western audiences while in Russia, state-owned media relished the opportunity to present Carlson as one of the most influential journalists in the US. 

The encounter was interesting, to say the least, with Putin accusing Carlson of not asking serious enough questions and then going on to provide a lengthy, and at times questionable, account of Russian history. Although he has since mocked Carlson, the President of Russia had much to gain from a sit down with the former Fox presenter.

In the context of standoffish and unproductive communication between the West and Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, the Carlson interview could be seen as a Russian attempt to return to some sort of dialogueHowever, the bridge Putin is trying to build seems to be not between Russia and the US political mainstream but instead between Russia and Carlson’s crowd: conservatives. 

In personalities like Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump and Elon Musk, the Russian leader sees potential ideological allies. Putin sees Trump as a figure likely to wreak destructionand that a second term in office for the former president would work to potentially deny Ukraine the support they need and weaken the West. He went on to argue that Russia was ready to stop the fightingpushing the narrative that Russia is ready to talk.

With an endlessly complex and ever-evolving situation in Ukraine, it is difficult to assess where and how all the puzzle pieces fall into place. Propaganda remains rife within Russian borders but the question of whether Putin’s platform can extend to Western media remains unanswered. The addition of personalities like Tucker Carlson into the mix means that the future of Russia’s media reach in the US and other Western countries is falling into uncharted territory. 

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