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War in Ukraine | On Russian television, the alternative reality of the “special military operation”

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(Paris) The independent media, already few in Russia, have been strangled by Moscow since its invasion of Ukraine, the narrative of the conflict now being dictated by the Kremlin for whom it is not a war, but a a “special military operation”.

The offensive sounded the death knell for two pillars of Russian journalistic integrity: Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio and Dojd (Rain) TV channel closed their doors a week ago after the blocking of their websites.

The daily Novaya Gazetawhose editor-in-chief won the Nobel Prize in 2021, said it would remove its archives on Ukraine from its website.

Because Moscow, whose troops are progressing much more slowly than expected, recording heavy human and material losses, aspires to total control of information on its soil. A law adopted last week punishes heavy prison sentences for any dissemination of “false information about the army”.

The government also blocked Facebook and restricted access to Twitter. Several international media have announced that they have suspended their activity in the country while the use of the term “invasion” is prohibited for Ukraine, in favor of the formula “special military operation”.

These changes leave “no space for freedom of expression and opinion on war”, regrets the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic.

“We are powerless witnesses to the live killing of the independent Russian press,” lamented Jeanne Cavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a press release.

“Heroism” of the soldiers

News programs therefore present the war in Ukraine through the prism of the Kremlin, adept at a very alternative reality on the subject.

The country’s main television news, Vremya (Le Temps) on Channel 1, a monument of information since the Soviet era, starts each evening by saluting the “heroism and courage” of Russian soldiers.

No mention is made of the number of soldiers killed, frozen at 498 since the only official report announced on March 2, while Ukraine claims that more than 12,000 have died and that the United States places it between 2,000 and 4000 killed in two weeks.

The successes of the Russian troops, although not very visible on the ground, are shelled. The presenter, who uses the language elements of the Kremlin, castigates a Ukrainian “aggression” against Russia. He rejects protests from the West, which he describes as “hysteria”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is mocked and commentators or a psychiatrist are mobilized to seriously question his mental health.

Although it is currently difficult to gauge Russian support for the war, a poll conducted last week by the VTsIOM polling institute – considered pro-Kremlin – concluded that 71% of the population supported the invasion. and that this proportion was on the rise.

“Guaranteed Destruction”

“Not everyone in Russia understands what is happening” in Ukraine, judge Kadri Liik, researcher at the European Council for International Relations. “The information space in Russia was already very tightly controlled. He has become even more so”.

Other broadcasts make extensive use of the Kremlin’s lines of communication, in particular those hosted by presenters Vladimir Soloviev and Dmitri Kisselev, both of whom are on the European Union (EU) sanctions list.

Mr. Kiselev already warned in 2014 that Moscow could turn the United States into “radioactive ashes”. He recently reiterated these threats: “Our submarines are capable of firing 500 nuclear warheads to guarantee the destruction of the United States and all NATO countries.”

On her set, the editor-in-chief of the international state channel Russia Today (RT), Margarita Simonian, argues that Russia should take inspiration from China and ban access to foreign social networks.

“We authorized, years ago, the entry into our country of a foreign army. We authorized the installation of military bases in the name of this Facebook and other things of this kind, ”she argues. “And now we are surprised that this foreign army is shooting at us.”

Alexei Navalny, an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and currently imprisoned after surviving poisoning, said he was “shocked” by the media’s treatment of the war. “Soon, you (my fellow citizens, editor’s note) will have the same access to information as me in prison, he warned on social networks, that is to say… nothing”.

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