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Inside Russia’s Media Black Hole

Photo by Alexander RyuminTASS via Getty
Julia Ioffe
March 10, 2022

Ever since the Russian army invaded Ukraine, I am constantly asked: what do the Russian people think about the war? Do they support it? This is a deceptively difficult question to answer. Even before the war, when Russia was an authoritarian country with a small, marginalized independent press, it was hard to separate what people actually believed from the sanctioned talking points they would parrot from state-owned television. How many Russians, after all, would give their true and unvarnished opinion to a stranger from an official-sounding organization, calling out of the blue

Of course, the job of the Russian pollster is that much harder now that Vladimir Putin has pushed the country into full totalitarian mode, shut down what was left of the independent media and criminalized any deviation from the official line on the war. Moreover, as I’ve noted before—and as a group of independent Russian sociologists recently documented—the majority of Russians do support the war, but only as they experience it in an informational blackout. It is not the same war that we in the West are seeing. Instead, they are told, it’s an easy, limited military operation to liberate the grateful Ukrainian people from Nazis, and with few casualties among the Russian military or the Ukrainian people.