British journalist and writer Peter Pomerantsev, a long-time researcher of Russian propaganda, shared his impressions of the latest speech by the “evil and humiliated” Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in an interview with Radio NV on Oct. 3.
— For the start, I would like to discuss a little of what Putin said. He has already announced that "Russia is here forever" in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. It is also said that Putin has declared total war, in the sense that Russia will fight as long as Putin and his regime are alive. You used the term total war when you quoted Joseph Goebbels in your recent article in The Guardian. He said in 1943 that the Third Reich was surrounded by insidious Jews. In your opinion, is it possible to say that Putin openly said “as long as I am alive, all this will continue”?
“It was my birthday (Sept. 30) and I was driving from Washington DC to New York. And I only followed the speech on Twitter. I didn't have time to listen to it all. Sometimes tone is very important. I don't know what the tone was.
People said that Putin was not being himself. And everyone in the hall was scared that the leader of the country was already out of his mind.
If you look at the theses that were on Twitter and so on. Yes, total war. Yes, forever. But at the same time, what kind of war? There was not a word about Ukraine. He didn't talk about Ukraine. He lost to Ukraine. He needed to change the frame, change the focus. So, it was a total war, not even with NATO, but a global war with Satanists, and so on.
In a sense, he was probably trying to distract from the losses, firstly. Secondly, he said that there will be war forever, but perhaps it will be more like a cold war. Because this is a war where there is a worthy enemy; which Russia cannot legitimately win because the enemy is bigger.
And that means the Cold War is forever. We are looking for rational explanations for this nonsense. He is preparing for a Cold War. But there must be a nuclear environment before it – either the use of nuclear weapons, or a huge tension.
If we try to look for some meaning in these nauseating rhetorical feces, like doctors, then there will be huge nuclear tension, maybe even the use of nuclear weapons, and then there will be a new cold war, where Russia is “the main and great enemy of the huge satanic West.”
— There is an opinion that Putin still believes that he can defeat the West. Do you agree with this? Could this be in his head?
— It is clear that if people have been in power for so long, especially if they are small people with very large insecurities, who begin to think of themselves as a messianic figures.
He is a very angry, humiliated person who has achieved enormous power and, of course, such messianic themes have long been in his head. Of course, if this is the case, you cannot lose, you have some kind of mission – to save or destroy the whole world. This has long been disconnected with understanding the world, with rational moves.
But he knows, and he keeps repeating it all the time, that he has a trump card and this is a nuclear trump card. And, of course, he will somehow play it. How? We don’t know.
— On Sept. 30, it was obvious that a parallel reality was being created for him, that he was the only person in the St. George's Hall who was happy with what was happening. People were driven to the square, where, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 180,000 people – they were brought in on hundreds of buses. Those who create this virtual reality for Putin, what is their interested in it?
“That's a very good question, as is who is the one who delivers information to the chief. But I do not know.
I don't really care what kind of reality they create for him. It’s important that they are still trying to create this reality not for Putin, but for the nation.
Putin is in a dangerous situation in the sense that propaganda and public opinion play a strange role in all dictatorships, including Russia. Of course, there is no choice.
But one of the signs that he is a Tsar is that he can force the people to repeat the thesis that the government puts forward. This shows that you are in control of the situation in the field of propaganda. And if you start to lose it (and in the last couple of weeks he has started to lose a lot), then it shows that you are incompetent. Your real enemies that are around you start to think that you are weak, and this is dangerous.
It was very important, after this farce of the last two weeks, to show that he was in control. And that show is all about it. It's about "I'm in control, I’m on top of everyone, everyone has to bow down, stop resisting."
This is a very important indicator.I don’t know who builds reality for him and whether he believes in reality, or has gone into mysticism.
— You continue to research Russian propaganda. In that article in the Guardian, you wrote that indeed all these years, Putin's propaganda was aimed at demobilization - "just sit in front of the TV, enjoy it, we won't touch you." Now the opposite has happened - the so-called partial mobilization. And at the same time, we understand that Putin is already trying to promote the concept that this is not a "special military operation", but some kind of "great patriotic war to protect their territories." What should Russian propaganda do to sell this idea to this passive population? Do you see how this is already happening?
He started out saying it was a “patriotic war for territory” and now it’s a “great holy war against the Western devil.” There was not a word about Ukraine. It was only about the terrible West, how to rebuild the world and some kind of holy war against Satan.
They need to switch from propaganda that was built on passivity to classic mobilization-related propaganda. I don't think they will succeed, for many reasons.
They always had problems with mobilization. Putin really wants to be a fascist, but he is such a two-way fascist. Not in terms of cruelty – with cruelty, he succeeds. I mean in terms of motivation. The Nazis still knew how to make large crowds, where people had rapture. Putin has never had this – he always had to bring in crowds by bus.
We don’t know his military strategy. If its idea is to switch to a nuclear war and start this confrontation as soon as possible, then it doesn't matter who comes to the front. If this society isto be militarized (for total war, as Goebbels meant it), then they will be in trouble.
— Four states abstained from voting in the UN Security Council to condemn the Russian annexation of the territories of Ukraine – China, Brazil, India and Gabon. Can Putin's calculations be directed to the fact that there is still a large part of the world that will stay with Russia?
Yes, you are right. And these narratives of his are very old – from the Soviet Union, from the Cold War. In a huge part of the world – in Africa, Latin America, and at some points in South Asia – these are old narratives that the greatest evil is the West, and Russia is a liberating force, or at least a balance.
Ukraine should work together with its allies, to precisely go through the countries and figure out where it is possible to fight this. Maybe there are some countries that have romanticism towards Russia. Cuba, maybe, I don't know. But in reality, this is a very pragmatic relationship, when it is believed that Russia is a balance of America and China. And Russia has positioned itself quite successfully for the last 20 years as a supplier of weapons, propaganda, and energy; as such a stable partner who will help, mostly dictatorships, but not only, to balance some power.
You need to understand what these countries want and what interests them, and most importantly, send a message that Russia is not a stable partner, but a crazy, poor, incompetent, dangerous, toxic country. And then, I think that some countries will retreat very quickly. It’s already clear that something is changing in Latin America.
We need to work on this, and I know that Ukraine is doing a very good job. It’s very important that the allies help. You need to understand which ally can help with which country. And then we can start winning even in this arena.