The ‘Goebbels’ of the Krem­lin

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In Soviet Rus­sia, ev­ery­body knew that they were be­ing watched. Any de­vi­a­tion from of­fi­cially sanc­tioned be­hav­iour would be treated with sus­pi­cion and most likely pun­ished. The Soviet state saw it­self as be­ing at war with al­most ev­ery­thing – for­eign spies, class en­e­mies, peo­ple wear­ing jeans or play­ing jazz. The regime’s dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy was not Marx­ism-Lenin­ism, but sus­pi­cion and an­i­mos­ity.

Not since the early 1980s, be­fore the first rays of glas­nost in Rus­sia, have those dark times felt as close as they do now. Pro­tect­ing so­ci­ety from en­e­mies, for­eign and do­mes­tic, is once again the or­der of the day. In­deed, an ethos of per­pet­ual vig­i­lance is cen­tral to sus­tain­ing Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s high pop­u­lar-ap­proval rat­ings. And no one plays a more im­por­tant role in cre­at­ing the nec­es­sary public at­mos­phere than Vladislav Surkov.

Once Putin’s chief of staff, Surkov served as Deputy Prime Min­is­ter from 2011 to 2013. He now for­mally ad­vises Putin on for­eign af­fairs, but is re­ally the regime’s chief pro­pa­gan­dist. He has been cred­ited with the in­tro­duc­tion of the con­cept of “man­aged democ­racy” in Rus­sia, and he played a lead­ing role in nur­tur­ing the se­ces­sion of Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia from Ge­or­gia. More re­cently, he was a guid­ing hand be­hind Rus­sia’s in­va­sion of Ukraine and an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, in­spir­ing the fever­ish media cam­paigns that have de­liv­ered near-uni­ver­sal public sup­port for these moves.

Surkov is the man most re­spon­si­ble for nur­tur­ing proPutin sen­ti­ment, which in­creas­ingly re­sem­bles a Stalin-like cult of per­son­al­ity. Surkov is Chechen by de­scent, in­fused – like Stalin – with the saber-rat­tling mind­set of the Cau­ca­sus. Un­der his watch, the cen­tral fo­cus of the Krem­lin’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy has been to sus­tain the per­cep­tion that the West wants to de­stroy Rus­sia. Thus, the con­flict in Ukraine has been framed as a re­newed strug­gle against fas­cism – and in de­fense of Rus­sia’s true, anti-Western iden­tity. The sup­posed threat to Rus­sia to­day was un­der­scored for the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, with bill­boards spring­ing up across Moscow to re­mind Rus­sians of the sac­ri­fices that vic­tory re­quired.

Like the Nazi pro­pa­gan­dist Joseph Goebbels, Surkov is not overly con­cerned about facts. Emo­tions are at the core of the Krem­lin’s mes­sage; in­deed, they are the tie that binds Putin to his sub­jects. This is why Surkov por­trays Putin, who re­cently di­vorced his wife of 30 years and is ru­moured to have fa­thered sev­eral chil­dren with a for­mer Olympic gym­nast, as an avatar of con­ser­va­tive val­ues, with the Ortho­dox Pa­tri­arch con­stantly at his side. The Krem­lin’s cam­paign against gay rights has se­cured the sup­port of the church, while re­mind­ing or­di­nary Rus­sians that the state takes a watch­ful in­ter­est in their lives.

To­day’s Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda com­bines quintessen­tially Soviet-style heavy-hand­ed­ness and state-of-the-art tech­nique. There have been no mass purges and few large ral­lies. Western val­ues may be un­der as­sault, but Western goods are welcome. A com­mon sight in Rus­sia is a shiny Ger­man-made car with a bumper sticker re­call­ing the glo­ries of World War II: “On to Ber­lin” or “Thank you,

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