Staunton, July 1 – Given the Kremlin’s ability to mobilize the population via Moscow television, Vladimir Putin could “at any time” refuse to cooperate” with the West on Ukraine “and receive the support of society,” according to a lead article today by the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”
That reality, the editors say, dramatically increases the risk that the Ukrainian crisis could quickly get out of hand and raises the question as to “why the Russian authorities are not reducing the temperature” in their television reporting about what is going on, the editors say (ng.ru/editorial/2014-07-01/2_red.html).
They note that 91 percent of Russians, according to the Levada Center, get their news about Ukraine from television, and that a majority of them think Moscow should “actively support ‘pro-Russian forces’” in Ukraine and regard the participation of Russian “volunteers” in that conflict as a good thing.
Given the kind of coverage of Ukrainian events that has been on Russian television, it would be strange, the editors say, if the population had any other views, especially given that few use the Internet or other sources to find out what is going on.
But at the same time, it is striking that Moscow television coverage continues to echo “the line of Boroday and Strelkov” even though the Russian government “has limited itself to statements that it ‘respects’ the choice of the residents ofDonetsand Luhansk [and] condemns the force operations of the Ukrainian authorities.”
The pro-Russian leaders in eastern Ukraine have “publicly criticized the Kremlin” for its failure to do more, “accusing it of sabotage and the betrayal of Russians.” In these circumstances, the paper says, Moscow television has been forced to move back and forth between the two positions.
At one level, “the Russian ruling elite, enjoying a real monopoly on television can form public opinion practically on any question.” But the Russian population, even as its opinions are being shaped by that source, “balances itself between indifference and various types of radicalism, moral, left-wing and so on.”
Consequently, the Kremlin can push things more easily in some directions than in others. “When the authorities want to adopt liberal or take a decision potentially popular in the West,” the editors say, “public opinion isn’t interested.” When the Russian leadership pushes “conservative, anti-liberal and anti-Western” ideas, it can count on public support.
That pattern, of course, increases the risk of any such conflict getting out of hand because the Kremlin knows that a more radical approach will win it more support at home than a more conciliatory one, and because that is so, Putin and his regime are likely to be inclined to the more radical one, all the more so because choosing guarantees popularity, at least in the short term.