Russian propaganda: the military tactics behind Putin’s strength

Image copyright AFP Image caption Missile tests take place constantly in Russia Friday is Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s most unpredictable day of the week. His main preoccupation is to intimidate the international community as…

Russian propaganda: the military tactics behind Putin's strength

Image copyright AFP Image caption Missile tests take place constantly in Russia

Friday is Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s most unpredictable day of the week.

His main preoccupation is to intimidate the international community as a whole.

But if Mr Putin is the top geopolitical menace in the world, his regime’s civilians are under threat on nearly every other day too.

It is called “active measures”, and they are based on a sophisticated understanding of politics and the way the world works.

The vast majority of citizens, Mr Putin tells his countrymen, are well taken care of.

“If you live in Russia you have everything you need … housing, food, water, electricity, heating, you can get everything you need there,” he says.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Emergency workers search for the victims of an apartment fire in the Russian town of Yaroslavl

The aggressive nature of Russia’s response to the West over the past 20 years is legendary.

There have been mass bombing campaigns, cyber-attacks, clandestine espionage and the production of toxic agents.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Pro-Kremlin members are still protesting in several Russian cities in response to the anti-Kremlin “pussy Riot” punk group

While the targeting of a rebel group in Chechnya only saw the death of a Russian soldier in 2004, the target of the poison attack on Sergei Skripal in 2010 required weeks in hospital and still bears the effects of the horrific illness.

Since Vladimir Putin began his domination of Russia, the country has been the target of more international provocations than China, America or Russia.

But in many ways, his most surprising power grab has come in the last year.

2017 saw the outbreak of an extremist campaign by local activists determined to bring down Mr Putin by increasing the level of discontent in Russia.

Their tactics were often highly crude and even brutal but, with support from groups across the political spectrum, they managed to produce some convincing, if brief, movements in numerous Russian cities.

Mr Putin uses them as a stop-gap.

First, he steps in to keep the door of fear shut, then his new opponents find their own ways in and his hold starts to slip.

Such is the affection Putin is held in by some segments of the Russian public that when Mr Skripal was poisoned, it was made clear that he was more enemy than President.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Boris Berezovsky was a powerful critic of the Russian authorities

So while Mr Putin was careful to act against the liberal opponents he has long tolerated, he found, via assassination, a way to bring the opposition to heel.

And the Kremlin’s grip is growing.

The Russian Crime Survey recently published by Rusulliya Segodnya showed a 35% rise in the crimes committed against the citizens of Russia.

Between 1990 and 2012 that figure rose from 517,000 to 1.37 million, the main change coming from the increased rates of murder and robbery.

In one now notorious example of how the government tries to silence dissent, they fired a missile at the roof of their Moscow headquarters in 2017.

Image copyright AFP Image caption North Koreans are not immune to government propaganda campaigns

In the case of Mr Putin, threatening the lives of those inside his own buildings is part of a broader pattern of political repression.

The weapon has been available for years but perhaps never before employed to try to silence an entire city.

The justification for all of this suppression is that Russian democracy is a force to be reckoned with.

But when Mrs Trump fires her special counsel, the eye of the propaganda machine begins to turn to the Russians.

“Here we go again. Another real Russian attempt to interfere in our election,” Mr Trump tweeted on 19 October 2017.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption As Russian oligarchs lose billions, Mr Putin is able to boast of a booming economy

By the time the first bomb was dropped, it was clear that not one senior Kremlin figure had any idea that another attack on this scale was likely.

But all of that might have changed had the Americans gone ahead with the original plans.

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