Determined to quash support for Ukraine in its ongoing self-defense against Russian aggression, the Kremlin has issued a slew of threats against the West, magnified and echoed by the pliant state media. But instead of scaring NATO into backing off, that strategy seems to be causing something of a domestic fallout, with masses of everyday Russians fearing the idea of an imminent nuclear war that has been pushed by propagandists. It seems that now, even the most dedicated propagandists are becoming alarmed by the side effects of the Kremlin’s fear tactics.
Thursday’s state TV program, The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, began with familiar rhetoric but was met with some unexpected resistance. The host, Vladimir Solovyov, ranted and threatened the West with gusto: “I’m so sick of them! Constantly reading about whatever they will come up with next, like their new lists of sanctions, and thinking, ‘Guys, I’m sick of you!’”
Solovyov, who lost his multimillion-dollar villas in Italy because of Western sanctions, bitterly complained about the increasing cost of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead of suggesting Russian troops pull out from their neighbor’s territory, the state TV host followed what appears to be the officially approved line of rhetoric, promoting the idea of unprecedented escalation.
“I don’t mind it when inept people try to rule the world, but it irritates me when they’re so nervous. If you want war with us, then declare war, so we can start swinging!” he bellowed. Threatening retaliation for the anticipated damage that might be caused to Russian assets by the advanced weapons systems set to be delivered to Ukraine, the host quoted statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev. Solovyov recounted, “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] clearly said and Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] clearly said, we’ll strike the decision-making centers—and those are not in Kyiv.” Solovyov’s message was on par with the common theme on Russian state television: nuclear war is imminent, but dying for the Motherland is the best way to go.
But there was one pundit in the studio who was clearly fed up with the fear-mongering—and he made it known. When it was his turn to speak, political scientist Sergey Mikheyev couldn’t contain his rage. “There is a flood of information, including our mainstream media, about how scary and terrible everything is. About 500 times per day, on every channel, every talk show, they’re talking about how many more weapons are being sent, how frightening they are,” he fumed.
In a rare instance of transparency on Russian state TV, Mikheyev acknowledged that he thinks the changes in public opinion have been destabilizing the entire country. “Working with public opinion is crucially important, because the stability inside of the country depends on the stability of public opinion. The public opinion, day to night, only hears about the characteristics of foreign weapons, they don’t understand what happens next,” he said, “They tell us, ‘Terrible weapons are arriving over there, they keep coming and coming. They [Ukraine] promised not to utilize them a certain way, but most likely will do it anyway—and that will lead to World War III.’ Then we’re being told, ‘Calm down, comrades, everything will be alright. Don’t you worry, there’s nothing to worry about.’”
Solovyov had claimed that Russia “could spit” on the weapons provided for Ukraine’s self-defense against Russian aggression, boasting about more advanced arms that have been manufactured specifically for a future confrontation with NATO. “We’ve been anticipating this,” Solovyov said. “Everyone understood that after we destroy all of Ukraine’s weapons—which happened long ago, we destroyed all Soviet-made arms—the time would come to demilitarize NATO.”
What is that? Is that a normal approach? Is that the way to work with public opinion? People are getting worried.
The host flippantly told the audience: “Just calm down. Our guys are doing their job. They’re doing it correctly. All the hysteria in the West confirms that we’re moving towards our goal. Of course, we’d like it to go faster, but how could we leave our flanks unprotected? We can’t expose Kaliningrad or the border with Finland. We understand: our next operation may be war with NATO.”
Mikheyev challenged the host on that point, too. Complaining about the messaging employed by many prominent state media mouthpieces, the pundit noted with visible aggravation: “It’s rolling in: those will send [weapons] and so will others, on and on; they will most likely try to use them. The common man asks: ‘What happens next?’ and the answer is, ‘Be calm, comrades. Next comes WWIII. Keep on working, don’t worry about a thing, keep minding your business. The nuclear war is coming. That’s all.’
Staring at Solovyov, Mikheyev asked: “What is that? Is that a normal approach? Is that the way to work with public opinion? I think this is something to think about… People are getting worried. Realistically, we have a huge number of people who are extremely concerned about this.”
Unpersuaded, the host immediately dismissed the political scientist’s concerns about maintaining some measure of sanity in order to safeguard public opinion. Instead, Solovyov opted to follow the official guidance on messaging to the masses. He defiantly replied: “And after we think about it, then there will be nuclear war.”