Staunton, April 22 – Since the start of the year, Russian government propaganda about the pandemic has passed through three stages, Kseniya Kirillova says. In February, Moscow focused on criticism of the West; in March, it claimed that Russia was almost the only country helping others. And now, it stresses the seriousness of pandemic to justify its isolation measures.
At no point, however, have the earlier stages disappeared, the US-based Russian journalist tells Ramazan Alpaut of the IdelReal portal. Rather, the central focus of the media has shifted. One can still find elements from the first two even as the third has become the most important (idelreal.org/a/30567493.html).
Even as Moscow outlets concede that Russia is having problems treating the victims of the pandemic and that the number of cases is “higher than official statistics” suggest, the journalist continues, some commentators continue to speak about the coronavirus as being “a biological weapon” being used by some world government to eliminate “unneeded” populations.
Another continuing theme, Kirillova says, is that the opposition in Russia is exploiting the situation, with some government outlets calling them “wreckers” and at least one urging that the Kremlin launch a new 1937-style purge to eliminate such people altogether (facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3131291693570087&set=a.519617291404220).
Such notions have not yet penetrated to the top levels of government media, Kirillova says; but with ever greater frequency, the government media are attacking the opposition for its comments about the pandemic and insufficiently “conscious” citizens for not observing the restrictions the government has put in place.
Kirillova says that the Russian media are not providing the population with sufficient information but that “the problem is not so much that the Russian powers are ‘concealing’ the true number of infected as that they in fact do not know what it is.” Many who do know part of the story are afraid to say anything lest they be attacked for spreading “fake news.”
She suggests that efforts to use the pandemic to mobilize Russians around Putin, efforts including billboards calling on people to pray for Russia and Putin, are achieving ever less, especially given that the Kremlin leader’s public appearances have been ever less convincing and impressive.
The pandemic has overwhelmed Ukraine as the center of Russian media attention, Kirillova continues. When Ukraine is mentioned now, it is generally in terms of its supposed failure to handle the coronavirus as well as Russia has and the likelihood that the pandemic will speed Ukraine’s collapse.
And she suggests that overshadowing all of this is the way in which the Russian government media is using the pandemic to cover or at least excuse all the regime’s mistakes and shortcomings by suggesting that the coronavirus is to blame for everything bad and the government everything good.
Meanwhile, there were three other pandemic stories in Russia today worthy of note:
· For all the talk of coronavirus federalism, the regions are increasingly falling into line behind Moscow’s approach. Twenty-one federal subjects, for example, are asking the central government to help them introduce digital pass systems like the one in the capital (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/the-digital-pass-will-be-introduced-in-21-region-of-russia/).
· Confined to their homes, Russians are spending massively on telecommunications. According to Sberbank, they spend “almost 45 percent more” on modems, routers and other computer products last week than the same period a year earlier (vedomosti.ru/technology/articles/2020/04/22/828748-raskupayut-modemi).
· Because Russian hospitals have been overwhelmed by the pandemic, those suffering from hepatitis, HIV, and cancer are finding it ever more difficult to get treatment, patient organizations say (kommersant.ru/doc/4327842).