Russian understanding of blame for the war

Amid the absence of free media and the complete control of Putin’s regime over television, the Kremlin is trying to create a monopoly on information. YouTube, in its turn, seems to be the only communication medium between the Russian opposition and the general public — Russian citizens representing different strata of society. 

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which are sometimes totally unknown and not attractive to ordinary Russian citizens, Vkontakte being long fully controlled by the KGB, TikTock being controlled and censored by China, and Instagram is focused chiefly on non-political content, YouTube is a platform that covers different needs for different target audiences. Being not only a medium for video content but also a place to find like-minded people, YouTube also becomes a platform for public discussion, as far as possible, in Russia. 

The Russian segment of YouTube offers all possible content, from aggressive state propaganda to channels that position themselves as oppositional — but critical narratives may be shared for both. YouTube algorithms target their videos to the perfect slice of Russian society — this is how the ideas become viral. Being primarily targeted to users who know Russian or to some areas of Russia, these messages often remain unknown to a broad audience. 

Thousands of anti-regime videos on oppositional (or “oppositional”) channels are either mirroring the Kremlin rhetoric in the “softer” light or pushing their agenda. After a year of a large-scale war, all the relevant movements’ prominent and credible experts (from the academic field to typical “talking heads”) articulating messages that are worthy of attention — all of them are now represented on YouTube, and this is the defining feature of Russian media space. 

The HWAG team does not seek to evaluate these channels themselves and their motives, and whether their position and objectives may coincide with Ukrainian ones. Our new project is aimed to introduce the English-speaking audience, who cannot consume Russian content directly due to either the language barrier or the peculiarities of YouTube algorithms, with materials and statements that we find worth your valuable time and attention.

The discussion “Pathetic copy” on channel Feygin LIVE (2, 06 million subscribers) — a YouTube channel that positions itself as a platform for “free information exchange, analysis, and political expertise of relevant agenda in Russia and world.

Speaker: Gennady Gudkov, retired KGB and FSB colonel and ex-lawmaker who is now criticizing Putin’s regime. He served in the Russian parliament from 2001 to 2012.

The discussion trigger is the temporary renaming of Volgograd to Stalingrad and the raising of a monument to Stalin as an act of totalitarian sentiment to celebrate the visit of Putin.

Talking about the ideological poverty of the current Russian regime, Gudkov mentions the transition of the romantic narrative from pobiedobesie (obsession with victory in WWII) to Stalinist ideology.

There are some essential points of discussion:

Stalin was a big Satan, but he was also a large-scale personality. It would be foolish to deny he had a planetary scale.

Comparing Stalin to Putin (for whom Stalin is a role model) and the modern Kremlin official, he condemns the mercantile spirit of the latter. At the same time, for Stalin, “material things were secondary” since “he was doing all that [dictatorship]not for trillions of dollars.” 

According to Gudkov, the main problem of Putin does not have a large-scale personality (in contrast to Stalin). However, the speaker mentions that Putin hypothetically has a chance to become the main villain in the history of humanity. 

Gudkov criticizes the Russian government for stealing money and resources, shifting focus from the war and collective responsibility to corruption:

 “People in power are thieves. They are stealing money from the military budget, money for equipment”.

The exact mechanism he also uses describing the Russian army: how can it be effective if it is the army of looters, rapists, and killers? This army cannot fight. As a result, the problem of the Russian military committing genocide against Ukrainians is replaced with structural difficulty: lack of discipline, poor discipline, etc. This also blurs the responsibility. 

Creating the dichotomy of “serious mafia structures” vs. “petty thieves”, he compares Putin to the latter ones because they got “no rules”. This creates a vision of Putin as a “bad leader” but also glorifies Stalin as a “proper one” — reflecting Russian sentiments towards dictators. Moreover, this leads to the next Gudkov’s thesis: the Kremlin ideology and propaganda do not address the conscience. It addresses the lowest instincts of a human being. And it works.

Talking about the “lowest instincts” and Russian people supporting the regime, military aggression, and war crimes against Ukraine, Gudkov explains their violence and inaction with abstract “human nature”.

Bloodthirsty ghouls in history, for some reason, provoke the feeling of delight. I cannot explain it by anything except for the bloodthirsty nature of a human being who survived in the most challenging condition, destroying their kind, not only animals but also people. Unfortunately, somehow, on a genetic level, everyone has such a trait. Everything depends on conditions: whether it shows up or not. If the conditions cultivate this talent of bloodthirstiness, it reaches its climax”.

Describing the Kremlin officials, Gudkov uses the term “tsaredvortsy” (courtiers) referring to the Russian imperial vocabulary, and this also reflects the Russian paradigm of thinking: even if it is critical towards the regime, it still exploits imperial categories.

Explaining the high level of support of the war in Russian society, Gudkov claims that people “were mentally ready for a new dictator”.

[In Russia] It reflects on the models of behavior — more submissive and agreeable people than free-spirited and appreciate their human dignity — I do not doubt that… In our country, for centuries, they have bred people who were submissive and ready to accept humiliation. This is the behavioral stereotype.

What is the effect of Putin’s propaganda? They learned to influence not conscience but sub-conscience. And on the subconscious level, the lion’s share of our people are brainwashed and disconcerted, they don’t have any rights and liberties.

According to Gudkov, the idea of „greatness”, which is now being a seller by the Kremlin, is a compensation for poor life quality and an effect of Inferiority complex of Russian society.

The motherland went crazy. I don’t recognize them

Our people are submissive. Our people stand for government. For any government.” 

But what about solutions? Gudkov offers some: for instance, a coup d’etat — but shifting the responsibility to some western Other: “somebody has to do it

Portraying Russian people as hostages of the situation, he emphasizes: “We can not escape this trap without the West

An enormous field of action for the whole world to transform Russia

We need force and the support of the West

In a way, he also contributes to the Russian narrative about “external governance of Ukraine”, symbolically depriving the country of subjecthood:

The West became furious. They gave Ukraine tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles. In fact, they are gaining Ukraine with NATO and EU membership

Trying to be tolerant but still feeling superior as an idea of Russian opposition:
Even these… (I’m sorry to say that, I have never been to that country but it’s my dream) Papuans refused to accept Lavrov… Even these guys despise Lavrov

There are some place for your reflection:

Russian understanding of blame for the war

1 / 2

Do you agree with Gudkov view the role of the West in transforming Russia?

2 / 2

Do you believe that most of the Russian society supports the war?