The Putin Method | Propaganda, payments and intimidation

Long before invading Ukraine, the Kremlin made sure it could prevent any popular uprising in Russia, says Oxana Shevel, a political science professor at Tufts University in Boston, president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies. and Fellow of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. The Press spoke to him.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Nicolas Berube

Nicolas Berube
The Press

Q. Many commentators draw parallels between the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. But you don’t like that comparison. Why ?

A. Because in the late 1980s and early 1990s Russia had two things that it no longer has today: democratic elections and a free press. The USSR’s difficult war in Afghanistan and the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers were hotly debated in Parliament, and these exchanges were televised live. Russian citizens could follow the reviews of the war in Afghanistan, presented during prime time.


Oxana Shevel, professor of political science at Tufts University in Boston, president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies and associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

All this is absent today in Russia. There are no more free elections, there are no more free media. There is only all this Putin regime propaganda. That’s why I’m skeptical about a rebellion that would come from the Russian population. Yes, many Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine, but that does not lead to debates or questioning, and even less to a popular uprising in Russia.

Q. Vladimir Putin promised that Moscow would pay the families of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine, in addition to paying sums to the families of wounded soldiers. What effect will this have in Russia?

A. When you mix propaganda, payments and intimidation, I believe that you have a situation where the hold of the Kremlin on the population is practically total. We sometimes hear about the possibility of an uprising by the mothers of Russian soldiers killed in action, but let’s not forget that these mothers are subject to the same Kremlin propaganda as the rest of the population about the invasion of Ukraine. These mothers want to believe that their children died for a good cause, that they died to “fight the Nazis”, as the regime repeats, so they will paradoxically support the conflict.

There is also intimidation: the Russian regime is a master at intimidating people who criticize it. People protesting or posting content the Kremlin doesn’t like on Instagram, Telegram or elsewhere are visited by police or FSB agents [Service fédéral de sécurité de la Fédération de Russie]. It’s bullying on an individual and local level, and it’s very effective. So it’s hard to see how the war in Ukraine could cause instability among the Russian population. If ever Putin’s regime were to collapse, it would not be due to popular protests. It would rather be due to a split at the level of the elites, or at the level of the army or the oligarchs. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it would be more likely, in my opinion, for it to come from there rather than from civil society.

Q. Discussions between Ukraine and Russia are continuing. What is your opinion on the question of a possible agreement?

A. I believe it is a good thing that there are discussions, but I also believe that the stronger the Ukrainian army will be and will make gains on the battlefield, the more the prospect of an agreement will be possible. . More broadly, Ukraine knows that it will not be admitted to NATO, but it wants security guarantees with other countries in order to be protected in the future. But why would the West give this guarantee to Ukraine? Nobody in the West wants to be in direct conflict with Russia because of nuclear weapons. Then we would find ourselves at the same point as today, with a Russian attack in Ukraine and no one to fight alongside the Ukrainians. We turn arround. Could the negotiators come up with an alternative, which can combine neutrality with security guarantees? Maybe, but I don’t see what it could be.

Learn more

  • 7 million rubles
    This sum, which represents approximately C$100,000, was promised by Vladimir Putin to the families of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine. The sum of 3 million rubles (C$44,000) was promised to the families of the wounded soldiers.

    Source: Interfax Agency

    This is the proportion of Canadian GDP devoted to defence, a proportion that is expected to grow over the next few years. The average spending of NATO countries is 1.8% of GDP, while the United States spends 3.7% of its GDP on defence.

    Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

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