While Russian President Vladimir Putin is raining bombs on Ukrainian cities, his top propagandists are most concerned about getting bombarded with text messages, and losing the information war to Ukraine.
On Thursday’s episode of The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, state TV propagandist Vladimir Soloviev complained that he and editor-in-chief of RT Margarita Simonyan are being terrorized by unknown individuals, receiving endless calls and texts about Russia’s military activities in Ukraine. He griped: “Margarita and I can show our telephones to demonstrate that we’re getting a thousand calls and texts per hour.”
Several days earlier, two other state TV propagandists, Olga Skabeeva and her husband Evgeny Popov, also reported a barrage of calls. Skabeeva, who hosts the state TV show 60 Minutes, angrily yelled that Ukrainians or their supporters have been “endlessly calling everybody, everybody, all citizens of Russia, including me and Evgeny!” Later in the show, she loudly interrupted a panelist to grumble about being subjected to a “mass attack that started at 2 a.m… we started getting calls from the territory of Ukraine, two to three minutes apart, Ukrainian and Polish phone numbers calling nonstop… And then, text messages with threats to kill me and my family, and photos—endless photos—of corpses, which they say are the corpses of Russian soldiers!”
The fact that the Russian military is experiencing heavy losses during the invasion of Ukraine seemed to be of little consequence to Skabeeva, who for years publicly agitated for war against Ukraine. She was, however, overtly angered by the messages, which serve as a reminder of the war’s consequences.
Meanwhile in Moscow, the Russian government has adopted new legislation to prevent the dissemination of “fake” information about the invasion, with state media describing worldwide condemnation of the Kremlin’s deeds as “informational carpet bombing.” Across state television, Putin’s attempted blitzkrieg against Kyiv is being entirely overshadowed by the Western response to the assault on Ukraine, including U.S. sanctions, which Russian lawmaker Alexey Nechayev described as “the blitzkrieg of the West against the Russian economy.”
Popular state TV pundit Karen Shakhnazarov conceded on Friday that, “It seems to me that we’re losing the information war. Our info-operation wasn’t thoroughly prepared, unlike the Ukrainian side—and whoever is standing behind them.” He, too, complained about getting trolled with strange phone calls. “By the way, I got a call from Zelensky. Well, at least it was his voice on my phone. Either a recording or somebody impersonating him. Other people are getting those too,” he said. “They’re well prepared, with hundreds of thousands or millions of templates for things that are being disseminated.”
Appearing on Soloviev’s show on Thursday, Alexander Khinshtein, head of the State Duma’s information committee, said, “This is a blatant, overt information war that is being waged for hearts and minds, to make people not only abroad, but within Russia to believe in these horrors and to experience fear, panic and hatred, to start a psychological war over here.” He went on to describe “unprecedented” cyber attacks against Russia’s “infrastructure and its government websites,” claiming that they are “two to three times more impactful than any prior cyberattacks Russia experienced.”
Khinshtein claimed that the cyberattacks targeted all government agencies, all federal and regional utility services, energy and transportation systems, as well as “objects of critical information infrastructure, including all of Russia’s state-controlled media.” He blamed unknown attackers for sending out text messages, push notifications and snail mail that is being delivered to physical addresses in Russia, describing the contents simply as “horrors.”
Khinshtein concluded that the aim of the ongoing offensive is to “cause the infrastructure to crash and the public to panic.” Soloviev chimed in to clarify: “We certainly understand that Ukrainians are not the ones doing that and our doctrine clearly describes cyberattacks as casus belli. So what are we waiting for?” Unsatisfied with just one war in progress, Soloviev is agitating for another—but in all fairness, he believes that Russia is already at war with the Western world. He exclaimed: “Our war is against the West—a big, serious war… Ukraine is a proxy through which the West is fighting against us.”
The impact of the war on Russia’s economic crisis is already starting to manifest, as the government and major supermarket chains have agreed to restrict the amount of food staples sold to each customer in an effort to limit hoarding.
Alexander Babakov, member of the State Duma, said: “The current situation can be factually characterized as war. An economical war, a battle for survival… Look at what the West is doing. It’s destroying all logistics, it’s destroying us economically… Let’s not be shy about it, we intend to win this war.”
Appearing on Soloviev’s show on Wednesday, political scientist Sergey Mikheyev predicted: “The situation here, internally, may deteriorate once the people start to feel the impact of sanctions… even those people who agree with us right now… It won’t be enough just to tell them that this is our life now, because we had to undertake the denazification of Ukraine… We should have been preparing for this moment 10, 15 years earlier, with a different economy, but even now, we need to communicate to people about this… We can’t just say that this is our new reality and we must live in it… We can tell them how hard this will hit America—which is also necessary—but that alone won’t suffice.”
Mikheyev added: “With all respect to our president, he always said that rising prosperity was the most important thing… Go ahead and explain, if the main thing in life is prosperity, then explain how we’re supposed to survive these sanctions.”
Without a hint of self-awareness, Soloviev boasted that he had no real concerns about the economic impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine—despite recently losing access to his two Italian villas, estimated to be worth a combined $8 million. The host bragged: “Myself, I’m well off.” He cackled: “I bought so much stuff in previous years that I don’t have to go to any stores for years to come.”
Even the most ardent Putin supporters sounded irritated with his government—not for waging war against Russia’s innocent neighbor, but for being unprepared to face the economic fallout. Andrey Sidorov, deputy dean of world politics at Moscow State University, noted: “Our government seems to be impotent. We’re never prepared for anything… How will people fix their cars without automobile parts?” Evoking the story of Cinderella, Soloviev bitterly pointed out, “And our phones are about to turn into pumpkins.”