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From Military Reforms to Media Warfare: Russia’s Strategic Narratives and Public Opinion Manipulation

Numerous analysts have discussed the military reform undertaken by Russia in October 2008, a change stimulated by the difficulties encountered by its army against the Georgian forces, which, despite their numerical inferiority, were better equipped and prepared. This period also saw Russia dedicate itself to the development of highly advanced and potentially apocalyptic weapons, which, however, were not produced on a large scale. Despite the professionalization of the army and the technological advancement of weapons, success in war is not guaranteed without the support of public opinion. After the devastating toll of World War II, with 27 million Soviets dead, the population wanted to avoid new conflicts. In addition to indirect conflicts like those in Korea and Vietnam and actions of “normalization” in Eastern Europe, the USSR avoided direct confrontations post-1945, except in Afghanistan (1979-1989), under Brezhnev, to support a local “socialist” government. Gorbachev concluded that it was not possible to win without the support of public opinion, a sentiment reinforced by glasnost and by Svetlana Alexievich’s book, “Boys in Zinc,” which exposed the true perceptions of the war in Afghanistan.

With Putin, there was a decisive effort to prepare Russia for the reconquest of an “empire,” especially after the Russian-Georgian conflict, seeking to change the mentality of the population, particularly young people, towards nationalism and patriotic sacrifice. After returning to power in 2012, Putin established the Russian Military History Society to promote the study of Russian military history, patriotism, and to valorize military service. This society, founded in 2015, aimed to militarize consciousnesses and mentally regiment the youth, offering military training and glorifying military service through books, uniforms, and school military preparedness programs. Russia also inaugurated military theme parks and organized events like the Immortal Regiment procession to strengthen nationalism and prepare the population for a conflict, using history and propaganda to legitimize its actions and identify enemies.

The aggressiveness of political and journalistic rhetoric, focused on a hostile depiction of the West and Ukraine, paved the way for the current conflict, presenting it as a “just war.” Propaganda figures like Vladimir Solovyov and Dmitry Kiselyov played key roles in spreading these narratives, asserting the moral superiority of Russia and justifying its military actions. The Russian society, involved in this broad indoctrination effort, is immersed in a parallel reality constructed by propaganda, which glorifies the Soviet past and promotes the ideology of an invincible Russia, destined to fight and win against evil.

Specifically regarding the journalists just mentioned, it is appropriate to highlight some extremely relevant aspects. Vladimir Solovyov and Dmitry Kiselyov are two of the most influential and controversial media figures in contemporary Russia, both known for their strong support for Vladimir Putin and their nationalist and anti-Western rhetoric. They occupy central roles in the Russian media ecosystem, significantly contributing to the spread of state propaganda and the patriotic indoctrination of the population.

Vladimir Solovyov is one of the most recognizable journalists and TV presenters in Russia. He began his media career in the 1990s and, over time, has become one of the Kremlin’s most fervent supporters. Solovyov hosts the program “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” on Russia 1, a state-owned channel. The program is known for its political discussions where Solovyov often expresses strongly nationalist opinions, criticizes government opponents, and attacks Western countries, particularly the United States and Ukraine. His transformation from a liberal in the 1990s to a supporter of Putin’s regime reflects a broader change in Russian society and media. Regarding Dmitry Kiselyov, he is another pillar of the Russian media machine, known for his role as a TV presenter and director of the state news agency Rossiya Segodnya. Similarly to Solovyov, Kiselyov has shifted from an apparently pro-Western stance in the 1990s to a fervent supporter of Putin’s politics. He is famous for his provocative statements, including one in which he claimed that Russia could “turn the United States into radioactive ash.” Kiselyov uses his weekly program, “Vesti Nedeli,” as a platform to promote the Kremlin’s narrative, criticize the opposition, and denigrate the West. He has been described as one of the most influential voices of Russian propaganda and, like Solovyov, plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion in favor of the government’s policies.

Both journalists have been criticized, both domestically and internationally, for their role in amplifying state propaganda and spreading misleading or outright false information. They are seen as key tools in maintaining popular support for Putin’s government, particularly in relation to its aggressive foreign policies and suppression of internal dissent.

Their rhetoric is often framed in terms of defending Russia against a hostile and treacherous West, resorting to historical narratives to galvanize national sentiment. The dominant presence of figures like Solovyov and Kiselyov in the Russian media is indicative of the Kremlin’s tight control over information and its strategy of using the media to consolidate power.

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