If there’s one part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic toolkit that has lived up to its prewar hype, it is the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. Propaganda is the proverbial carrot in the ocean of sticks that is modern Russia, responsible for co-opting the public into the state’s war agenda. Every day, 82 million Russians tune into a vast web of state-controlled network and cable television channels that feeds them a uniform vision of the world: a hostile, scary place, in which Russia wages a righteous battle against the forces of evil.
Putin didn’t invent propaganda. As a citizen of the now-defunct Soviet Union, I was born into a land of make-believe created for me and millions of other Soviets by the propaganda bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. According to our television sets, my fellow citizens and I lived in the most advanced, peace-loving, and just country in the world, constantly fending off attacks at the hands of imperialist forces. Listening to songs that cried out against the impending nuclear war, or watching broadcasts of U.S. police forces dispersing peace demonstrations with tear gas, I wondered why Americans were so bent on destroying our way of life.