What's behind Putin's propaganda

2 min
Russian President Vladimir Putin

As in all wars, there are the facts and then there is the propaganda. Usually the latter, rather than responding to reality, envelops and conditions it. It is obvious that the media battlefield is decisive, both internally – to set the narratives among one's own citizens, including soldiers – and externally – to demoralise the enemy. Right now, in the case of Ukraine, the contest is being fought crudely on the ground, it is being fought not subtly at all in the media and social networks and, moreover, it is also being waged strategically in the economy. The three scenarios are interrelated, and sometimes movement on one of these flanks masks what is happening (or not happening) on another. That is why it is so hard to understand the meaning of some decisions and, even more so, to know who is winning and who is losing the war

From the Ukrainian side, the central argument is that to resist is to win: not only the Russian army, but surely most analysts a priori would have bet on a Russian military stroll to Kyiv. Instead, more than a month later the situation is deadlocked, to the point that this week Moscow has offered a supposed withdrawal or renunciation to continue advancing towards the Ukrainian capital. But both from Ukrainian brass and NATO have interpreted this gesture as a reorganisation to build a major offensive on the eastern front. In parallel, moreover, Russian forces have maintained the brutal siege of Mariupol and Kharkiv, making no concessions. Therefore, rather than a détente, we would be dealing with a military strategy and a diplomatic propaganda manoeuvre.

Also in the economic field we have witnessed a communicative move by the Kremlin to scare Western public opinion, implying a gas supply cut. First, the payment of Russian gas in roubles was presented as an obligation, with the deadline of this Friday, April 1; then the threat was softened by stating that there would be a middle way (paying with dollars or euros to a Russian bank, which in turn would convert them into roubles: this is what will happen in the end), and then Putin himself seemed to be going back to the hard line, which in the end will not happen. In other words: Putin has led the West a merry dance and appeared to his own people as resolute and implacable

It seems, however, that just as his army is making mistakes or, in any case, showing unthinkable weaknesses instead of the overwhelming superiority that was originally though, so too in the economic field the threats hide more than reasonable doubts about Russia's capacity for manoeuvre. Naturally, on this economic flank, the role played by China, which everyone is trying to pull to its side, will be key. At the twenty-third bilateral summit, which this time will be virtual, Brussels will remind Beijing that Europe is the Chinese's main trading partner and that it would therefore not be understood if they were to help Moscow. A few hours ago, on the other hand, the Russian Foreign Minister, from Beijing itself, was boasting about his good relationship with his counterpart. The war will also have to be read through Chinese eyes.