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.
Andriy Piontkovsky is a Russian publicist, political scientist, candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Knight of the Order “For Intellectual Courage” of the Ukrainian magazine “Ї,” and, as he said, is “Russia’s greatest specialist in nuclear strategy”. He is invited as one of the most active critics of the current Russian regime on television in Ukraine and worldwide. He eloquently characterized the Russian regime as “thug capitalism.” What does his radical criticism of the regime actually say?
The channel is owned by the Russian lawyer of public and political figure Mark Feygin, known for his human rights activities with Russian opposition figures, Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko and military officer Nadiya Savchenko during their court cases in the Russian Federation.
The channel has quite an extensive reach, with over 2 million subscribers and over 700 million total views. The channel is aimed primarily at the Russian audience. Since its creation in 2009, it has mainly published reviews and videos about Russia’s domestic political situation and its role in the world political arena. However, it gained popularity after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine due to the active involvement in the project of an employee of the office of the President of Ukraine, Oleksiy Arestovych. This actively attracted the Ukrainian audience to the channel, which continues to listen to Feygin’s interviews with other “political experts”.
Critical narratives of Piontkovsky:
• “Putin has already lost the war because this is not a clash between the West and the East, but between civilization and barbarians.” In his opinion, the visit of US President Joe Biden means that almost all taboos for the supply of weapons to Ukraine have been lifted. However, at the same time, he does not forget to point out that not everything is so smooth among Ukraine’s allies, both in the United States and between allies at the support level. This is not at all, but to a certain extent, it fits one of the informational narratives of Russian propaganda about the “failing of Ukraine” and the artificial prolongation of the war.
• “Putin’s speech was empty because he had no victory at the front and was largely aimed at appeasing his patriotic crowd and at the same time flirting with the West.“
• On the one hand, Piontkovsky says that Putin does not comprehend the nuclear strategy and is fooled by his advisers. On the other hand, he shows that pausing participation in the New START is simply a signal to the world that it is still possible to negotiate with him and that it is all information policy for the “internal consumer”. In this way, Piontkovsky seems to blur the clarity of Putin’s actions and statements as the head of Russia. The first part of Piontkovsky’s narrative is aimed at a foreign audience, which for them deepens the image of a lowly dictator, and the second at the Russian one, which is aimed at undermining Putin’s authority among the “patriotic population”, which he repeatedly mentions.
• The above-mentioned “patriots” are obliged to overthrow Putin because he constantly betrays them and cannot deliver what he promises. Moreover, these calls are repeated in the continuation of the video several times. At this point, it ceases to be clear that Piontkovsky himself is a “liberal” in fighting the regime. Moreover, he called for a coup by people who wanted to see Putin’s victories at the front and an apparent more significant conflict escalation.
• At one moment in the video, Feygin and Piontkovsky begin to explain their judgment about the failure and weakness of the regime by the fact that Jews, Tatars, and Armenians are in power, not Russians. At the same time, say how good it is that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is not British. Which, to a large extent, sounds like the not-quite-liberal slogan “Russia for Russians”.
• Ukraine does not accept Xi Jinping’s peace formula. Most likely, it will be a compromise, which means recognition of non-aligned status and not because of territorial concessions. “What is Luhansk for Ukrainians, if it is possible to join NATO and solve all the issues ourselves…” Attempts to devalue the rejection of Ukrainian territories are also carried out in the direction of canonical Russian propaganda.
Andrii Piontkovsky has a fairly authoritative status in the media, and the brusque manner of expressing his opinion allows his judgments to remain vague in everything except the mode of criticism. Apparent attempts to influence the “patriotic population” with their opinion should shake the regime but only radicalize the population concerning the authorities. Thus, he formed an image of the population as antagonistic to the regime without solving the issue of its imperial attitudes.
There are some place for your reflection: