May Snow: A Chilling Start for Putin’s New Reign?

Matt Wickham HWAG/UCMC analyst

With Putin’s inauguration on May 7 officially marking the start of another six years of a Putin presidency, the gray, snowy weather in May seems oddly symbolic. In a presidency where one can only expect increased oppression, instability in international order, and imperialistic ambitions leading to much suffering for all, the cold weather seems rather fitting.

Russian propagandists have a specific role, among many other tasks, in carefully curating, manipulating, and poisoning the Russian people’s perception of a specific event. And so, with the snow falling down on Putin’s “inaugaration,” a time that the aspiring Tsar needs the public to perceive as positive, monumental, and prosperous, the propaganda apparatus was sent to work. 

The unprecedented weather, even by Moscow’s standards, with such weather said to be observed only once every 25 years, is being pushed by the Kremlin as a metaphor of positivity.

The narrative spun: Russia has a strong, healthy leader at the helm capable of withstanding the cold; it representsa cold-shower for the civil servants to a new way of operating; and Russia’s strength to withstand the tough times for a victorious future.

Unprecedent: A wake-up call for those disloyal

With the president securing another term to entrench his power further, his closing remarks, “Only we will decide the future of Russia,” signal a tightening grip on the state apparatus. Amidst this, Putin is purging so-called disloyal members from his cabinet. Political scientist and writer Igor Skurlatov suggests the snow serves as a symbolic wake-up call for these parliamentarians as well as prosecutions waiting for them, while Russia will blossom.

“The weather was frosty, and for many officials it will symbolize a cold shower of resignations and prosecutions.[…] It is not possible to quickly break the old and oblique. We will evenly work on changes and hope that this thorny path will someday lead us to victories and blossoming of Russia”

The carefully crafted rhetoric, choosing wording that represents a positive future, emblematic of the propagandist’s skill as a writer, draws a poignant connection. It links the frosty, gray weather to disloyalty within the cabinet, suggesting that once purged, a bright, flourishing summer awaits.  This represents a classic manipulation of wording and perception, countering the negativity associated with the gray, frosty weather, which symbolized both Putin’s past presidency, and the term he is now set to pursue.

Putin, as fit as a Fox or an Ox?

With Putin’s health having been under question for a number of years, reportedly to having been hiding out in a bunker throughout COVID, his return to public life post-launching war on Ukraine appeared strange at best, schizophrenic at worst.

Propaganda has now, with his new term, been instructed to restore (to as much as is possible) his former macho image, once epitomized by half-naked horseback rides and fishing trips. However, as Putin visibly ages, attempts to conceal his frailty have become challenging. 

In an autocratic state where power and its perception reign supreme, propaganda is now attempting to erase the image of Putin seated in a seemingly grandfatherly pose, legs wrapped in a blanket at the 2022 May 9th parade to that of a healthy, mature president in his prime. The snowy weather and Putin’s “uncovered head” are the best propaganda could conjure for the resurrected macho leader. 

Putin at the 2022 May 9 Parade, Picture: Alamy

Sergey Markov, known for his most ridiculous Russian propaganda rhetoric tells how

“Putin stands bareheaded in the snow and biting wind. Putin demonstrates an example of steadfastness. And good health, which is also crucial for effective performance.”

Note how the propagandist flipped the narrative. The snow, usually viewed as dreary and dismal, is now portrayed as symbolic of the leader’s resilience, with Putin standing “bareheaded in the snow and biting wind.” But let’s return to reality for a moment. The propagandist’s rhetoric makes it sound like Putin endured hours in knee-deep snow, braving the cold. A true soldier. 

However, the reality is that, as part of the ceremony, Putin was outside for a mere 10 minutes before being swiftly ushered indoors. And, weather reports, as evidenced by the video footage, show the snow as more akin to sleet, quickly evaporating on the warm ground. A rather failed attempt from Markov to portray Putin as the macho he apparently once was.

“Summer will come, and so will victory”

Propagandists often leverage the power of shared struggle to unite the Russian people, blurring the lines between the populace and the leadership, making out that the elite are not separate to the people.

“But amidst the darkness, there is a promise of brighter days ahead. Just as summer follows winter and dandelions reach for the sun, we envision a future of enduring happiness and tranquility once we emerge from our trials. We defend our rights fiercely, facing the elements with unwavering resolve, akin to tulips resiliently blooming beneath a blanket of snow,”

tells Solovievlive host Yulia Vityazeva.

Vityazeva’s message champions unity during hardship, inspiring belief in the collective ability to conquer adversity, in this case, Ukraine and the West. A narrative used at a time when Russia is positioning itself as a victim of the West’s apparent escalation. Like the weather clearing on Putin’s inauguration day, the narrative shifts towards a victorious battle, telling how it may start dark and gloomy, but ahead is only the light. Vityazeva is essentially galvanizing resolve, framing the current challenges as a test of the Russian people’s determination and resilience, as opposed to an omen of the darkness Putin’s next term will bring.

The chatter around the snowy and dreary weather in May presents a compelling example of propaganda’s ability to spin any situation to its advantage, albeit to what success, it’s too early to tell. 

On a day meant to symbolize the promise of prosperity and hope for Russia, as Putin starts his 24th year in power, propaganda works to obscure the darker realities of Putin’s presidency and the weather it represents. To achieve this, they have carefully shaped the perception of the event, in this case, focusing more on the weather than the inauguration itself, leveraging the spiritual nature of the Russian people. 

Consider the contrast: if the weather had been sunny, propaganda would have hailed it as a bright omen for Putin’s and Russia’s future. The wave of messages in this regard would have been non-stop. But, instead, the day that marks Russia’s future for the next 6 years was marked by not sun, not cloud, nor rain, but grey, snowing weather… in May. Rather fitting if you ask me.