Staunton, Nov. 11 – State television channels have given only the barest of barebone accounts of the Russian withdrawal from Kherson and the Ukrainian victory there, but the absence of such reporting has done little or nothing to prevent the fall of Kherson from becoming the most discussed story in Russia.
That this has occurred shows that in the current media environment, the Kremlin cannot count on its control of central television outlets to define how Russians view events. Instead, Russians can turn to independent outlets on the internet and especially on telegram channels (meduza.io/feature/2022/11/11/rossiyskie-federalnye-telekanaly-pochti-nichego-ne-rasskazyvayut-ob-otstuplenii-iz-hersona).
And that loss of Kremlin control over the setting of the Russian popular agenda may prove at least as important as its loss of control over the Ukrainian city of Kherson, a city Moscow had pledged would be “with Russia forever.” Now that Russians have this experience with this case, they are even more likely to shift from TV to telegram channels in the future.
Recapturing them for the Kremlin’s preferred outlets will require either a dramatic expansion in official repression against telegram channels and other media that the authorities haven’t had control over up to now, a task that may prove beyond the capacity of the Putin regime to do in an age of VPNs and the creativity of IT professionals.
Or the Putin regime will have to decide to allow its own channels to provide more accurate information, a step that by itself would constitute an important form of regime change and might presage even more thoroughgoing regime change in the future, a risk that likely will keep the Kremlin from adopting that course.
Thus Kherson may constitute a turning point. On the one hand, the Kremlin has been shown to be a loser as far as many Russians are concerned. And on the other, efforts to put that genie back in the bottle could prove even more explosive triggering other kinds of moves for regime change at the same time.