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.
Valery Solovei is a Russian historian, publicist, and political scientist. He was recognized as a “foreign agent” in Russia for his opposition to the regime. However, his position on Ukraine is more in tune with the regime’s propaganda. He repeatedly stated that Crimea is the territory of Russia, and military operations in Donbas were conducted with the militia. He is also known for making political predictions in the context of the change of power in Russia and for actively spreading rumors about Putin’s declining health. Due to his liberal position, he is often a guest of other russian liberals, which allows him to continue broadcasting his narratives.
This time, he was invited as a guest on the YouTube channel of another well-known russian liberal, Yulia Latynina. This channel is her personal project, and although it was created in 2018, it has 726 thousand subscribers and almost 166 million views. Her video consistently gets over 100k views, although it is regularly a repost of her interviews on other channels. The channel contains content about political difficulties in Ukraine and Russia and videos on other historical and political topics.
The channel’s audience is an opposition-minded part of Russian society. The review the political situation in Ukraine and the invitation of the Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan also attracts the Ukrainian audience.
To a greater extent, this video brings to consideration political issues in Russia, and Valery Solovei once again repeats here his classic predictions:
• Fall of the regime shortly.
• Putin is sick and therefore weakens his foreign policy.
At the same time, it is essential to follow precisely how Mr. Solovei talks about this. He derives his thoughts from that, first of all, from Putin’s speech: “The president said that the elections in 2024 will be held according to plan, and this causes dissatisfaction among the military and security forces, so we expect decisive actions from them in the spring. After all, under “Chinese guarantees”, he promised a smooth transition of power to Dmitry Patrushev.” As a result, to deduce the emerging thesis, there is already an alliance between special services and the military. Immediately after that, he adds that because of the coup, the abovementioned alliance will not be able to hold power due to a lack of understanding of economic processes. Nevertheless, do not undertake to predict what this will lead to.
Reviewing the political duration in a broader context (Munich conference and President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv), V. Solovei expresses opinion: “All recent important political events were a signal not so much to Putin as to his clique, that they had better start dismantling the regime. Furthermore, this is excellent because it allows putting all the blame on Putin, not the environment…“. Supports the widely used, among Russian liberals, idea that Putin is exclusively to blame for the problems in domestic and foreign policy caused by the regime. Thus, forming the identification of the problem of the collective guilt of Russians and the elite.
Further, mentioning the relationship between domestic politics and the events at the front, he says, “The Russian military is dissatisfied with Putin’s policy and is most likely already sabotaging his orders. Russian troops are bound to continue to end in tragedy and disaster.” It is crucial how the Russian opponent of the regime formulates the terms and sympathizes with the fact that the Russian troops are losing the war. Judging by this, the problem does not arise in a conceptually incorrect decision to start a war but only in the inefficient use of resources to achieve domestic political goals.
To summarize, V. Solovei’s logic constantly jumps from side to side. Each time naming another bloc of the elites in Russia, he gives it a simultaneous positive from the point of intention and a negative from the effectiveness of activities. He constantly refers to unverified sources of information and, roughly speaking, does not express any specific opinions at all. His central message remains the same, but it does not allow for clear conclusions for the audience, but rather is informational noise. As indicated by some of his judgments, the Ukrainian audience must understand that his opposition activity does not mean his narratives are harmful to society.
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