Staunton, April 12 – There is a classic Soviet joke which ever more frequently comes to mind given Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his obsession with ensuring that the only version of reality Russians hear about is the one he prefers, a joke that says more in short compass than any analysis of similar size.
According to the story, Adolf Hitler comes back from the dead and arrives in Moscow on the anniversary of his defeat in World War II. As the Soviet tanks and soldiers march through Red Square, he breaks out in an ever-broader grin. A Russian comes up to him and says “I bet you are thinking that if you had weapons like these, you wouldn’t have lost the war.”
“No,” Hitler replies, “I was thinking that if I had a newspaper like your Pravda no one would ever have found out that I did.”
Putin is following the same strategy: he appears more worried about controlling the media than about fielding a competent army. According to the Russian finance ministry, Moscow doubled spending on state media in the first quarter of this year from a year before (moscowtimes.ru/2022/04/12/milliardi-na-propagandu-rashodi-byudzheta-na-gossmi-podskochili-vtroe-na-fone-voini-a19511).
And that effort to ensure that Russians got the message the Kremlin leader wants them to get is on top of his criminalizing references to what is going on in Ukraine as a war and shutting down media across the country so that many hard-pressed Russians have no choice but to listen to his messages.