Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Moscow Losing Battle for Hearts and Minds of Russians, Russian Specialist on Military Propaganda Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 17 – Yakov Stepanov, who worked as a propaganda and counterpropaganda specialist for Russian force in Chechnya, says that Moscow is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Russians with regard to Ukraine because the Kremlin entered the conflict without adequate preparation in this key area.

            In a commentary for, he says that in this most important segment of military operations, Russia began “completely unprepared, both in terms of propaganda support and counterpropaganda activity. There was neither a powerful information ‘artillery preparation’ within the country nor what is no less important a similar ‘shelling’ of Ukraine.”

            And this despite the availability of a wide range of resources, including Russia Today, means that Russia may be winning in other aspects of the conflict but it is losing in this one, the one that over time may prove the most critical, Stepanov continues (

            This lack of preparation, he says, had consequences far beyond the immediate battlefield. In Ukraine, the military operation has boosted popular support for the president of that country but “in Russia this hasn’t happened, at least not to the same degree.” And Russia is now deeply split between “patriots” and “pacifists.”

            Propaganda should be taken seriously in any military conflict, but as far as he can tell, Stepanov says, the only Russian structure that is doing so is the Main Political Administration of the Ministry of Defense, an institution which is neither large enough nor powerful enough to handle the entire task.

            Something similar happened in both Chechen campaigns, when the military by itself wasn’t capable of handling the propaganda campaign or working together with independent actors to ensure that the latter covered the conflict in ways “favorable to the federal authorities.” That “never happened” in the case of those conflicts; it isn’t happening now.

            “Sometimes,” Stepanov says of the situation in Chechnya that is now being repeated, “dur to the narrow-mindedness and unprofessionalism of the army leadership and the military’s press services, even journalists loyal to the army could not obtain permission to work without troops and thus were forced to turn to the enemy, where such problems didn’t arise.”

            The specialist on military propaganda and counterpropaganda says that he suspects that “one of the causes of our mistakes is the lack of cadre specialists in the ra of carring out information and propaganda work. In the army, it is obvious, there don’t remain any ‘golden pens.’ The last of them, with experience in Chechnya,” have retired and not replaced.

            At the same time, Stepanov says, one must not exclude the possibility that all this is “one of the components of a diversionary campaign which for many years has been conducted in the power and force structures. The tip of this iceberg is TV worker Marina Osvyannikova with her anti-war poster the First Channel.” How many more such people are still working this way behind the scenes.

            Just how badly Moscow is working in this area stands out if one compares it with what the Ukrainians are doing. They were prepared in advance and by the best specialists in propaganda in the world, the British and the West, who pioneered in such work and informed the activities of the Nazis as well.

            Unlike in Russia, the head of the Ukrainian effort in propaganda and counterpropaganda is a military professional with extensive training in psychology and experience in military operations. Not surprisingly, he is making fewer mistakes than his Russian counterparts who have been thrown into the breach only after the fact.

            Fortunately, Stepanov suggests, Moscow is beginning to wake up, albeit late and slowly, and has started to “purge from the media space” the national traitors who are to be found at all levels and in all branches of power. Only after they are gone and replaced with real professionals is there a chance that Russia can come back from its defeats in this area.

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