Russian TV jokes about missiles hitting London as Putin’s propaganda reaches a new level.
The eerie estimates were accompanied by a graphic showing the trajectories that Moscow’s intercontinental ballistic missiles would take to reach the capitals of European nations that supply Kyiv with the most military aid.
All the while, pro-Kremlin host Olga Skabeyeva and the experts on her “60 Minutes” show on the Russia-1 TV channel were nonchalantly joking about how the West should tune in.
Just months ago, the graphic, the rhetoric and the seeming casualness of such conversations would have been shocking, even by the standards of Russian propaganda.
But with Russia’s military struggling, its rivals emboldened and the neighbor it invaded responding with defiance, NBC News watched dozens of hours of state media coverage to find the Kremlin and its mouthpieces increasingly reaching for new and more outlandish claims to justify the Ukraine invasion.
“The Kremlin has relatively few instruments to try and influence the West, and therefore it’s resorting to all this spine-chilling rhetoric as a means of attempted intimidation,” said Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank based in London. That leaves “the dark power of looking crazy and dangerous” as one of the very few tools at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disposal, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s false suggestion that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood” like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and that some of the “biggest antisemites were, as a rule, Jewish” drew widepsread condemnation and ridicule. Russian state media has also peddled narratives about “black magic” supposedly practiced by Ukrainian troops and hinted at baseless allegations of drug use by Zelenskyy.
The country’s tightly-controlled media space means that Russian audiences have been seeing a strikingly different version of events in Ukraine on their TV screens than people in the West — one that bears little resemblance to evidence of what’s happening on the ground.
Newscasts and daily political shows have spent countless hours of airtime telling their viewers that the war in Ukraine is not, in fact, a war, but instead a “special military operation” designed to spare civilians. The Russian forces are portrayed as liberators, fighting against what the propaganda calls the “neo-Nazis” who are said to overrun Ukraine under the influence of the United States and it allies and are allegedly committing “genocide” against Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
The atrocities documented in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns are staged by Kyiv, Russia claims. Moscow says it went into Ukraine as a pre-emptive strike against NATO, as Ukraine was seeking nuclear weapons. The public is told that tough sanctions are simply further proof of the West’s pathological hate for Russia that drove the conflict in the first place.
A recent poll by Russia’s Levada Center, which is not a state-run group, found that public support for “the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine” remains high at 74 percent, although experts have raised doubts about whether such polls can be accurate.
But a lot of that support is for the war as it’s being portrayed on state television, rather than support for what’s actually going on in Ukraine, Galeotti said.