While the world waits to see if an actual war will erupt between Russia and Ukraine, the communications battle continues. As one who owns a PR agency, and who watches Russian TV daily, I have unique insight in this arena.
Ukrainians watch Russian TV – which is very pro-Putin and it makes it much harder to win the hearts and minds of Russian-speakers anywhere in the world. While Pro-Russian forces, over the past 10 days, have taken over more than a dozen government offices in 10 Ukraine cities, the story being told to the Russian people is completely different than that which we see in the West. Russian media speaks of being “on the verge of a civil war”, and continually shows images of so-called Ukrainian acts of aggression. Anti-American messages are heard and the word of Putin is regarded as gospel.
As I said in The Huffington Post some months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a Public Relations genius. His domestic popularity is through the roof – and the Russian Premier pays considerable attention to the foreign media (perhaps more than to foreign government officials.)
As Putin said this week during a call with President Obama “Russia retained the right to protect its interests and Russian speakers living in Ukraine if violence spread to eastern Ukrainian regions and the Crimea.” He pointed to “real threats to life and health of Russian citizens and numerous compatriots living in that country.” He knows to speak that way to appear as a strong man to his audience.
A poll conducted by the Public Relations arm of the Euromaidan – together with the Agency for Social Research – of 4200 people found that 56.8% of Russians “support the introduction of troops into Ukraine.” 52% of Russians answered in the affirmative in response to the question “Are you ready to be drafted into the army to carry out such a mission or send your child to war?” The people support Putin – who carries on with his comments of 2005 that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Putin continues to enjoy ample support from his people – and for a powerful leader most concerned with domestic affairs, that matters.
Putin has shown himself to understand media – who can forget the September 2013 op-ed in the New York Times, which urged the American people to oppose a U.S. initiative for military strikes in Syria? He continues the theme of being a strong voice against America – protecting Russian honor.
Putin continues to march forward – This week alone, he threatened to start charging Ukraine in advance for natural gas supplies, and continued to justify Russia’s military action to foreign media – as his troops move forward in Ukraine. Yet, he continues to manipulate the media, and he is not likely to give up on Ukraine so quickly.
Putin is winning the media war in Ukraine and Russian hands-down, and he is scoring points internationally. His mastery of the media is sure to make it that much harder for America and the European Union to oppose him. Meanwhile, American PR firm Ketchum continues its contract with the Russian government, which has earned the firm over $55 million since 2006.
Ronn Torossian does not speak Russian – he does however love the spy TV show about Russians, The Americans.