Award-winning Russian-American filmmaker: Americans fail to grasp Vladimir Putin's propaganda power

Award-winning Russian-American filmmaker: Americans fail to grasp Vladimir Putin's propaganda power
President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the G20 Japan Summit Friday, June 28, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Russian-American documentary filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin believes that the American public is unequipped to process just how powerfully Russian President Vladimir Putin's decades of propaganda have influenced his population. Putin, who ascended to power in 1999, has run a masterful campaign of mind control over Russia's 144 million people, Pozdorovkin explained in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Putin's battle for Russia's collective consciousness, Pozdorovkin stressed, has been wildly successful. That, he warned, is why the sanctions imposed upon Russia for Putin's invasion of Ukraine are unlikely to penetrate the populace's deeply-ingrained nationalistic fervor.

Putin's brainwashing is precisely why Russia's threats of deploying nuclear weapons, which have included turning the United States into a "pile of radioactive ash," are widely supported by his people, Pozdorovkin told the Post. They have been unknowingly programmed to perceive existential menaces lurking all around them.

Pozdorovkin noted that the election of former President Donald Trump in 2016 and the Republican Party's wholesale embrace of Putin's paranoid narratives underscore the infectious impact that his disinformation crusade has had beyond Russia's expansive borders. This is why Russian state television – a media marionette of the Kremlin – has been airing clips of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, ex-lawmakers such as Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, and even Trump himself calling Putin "savvy" and a "genius." Putin has also outlawed scores of independent news organizations and social networking sites, significantly limiting what information is able to trickle into Russian eyes and ears. As the genocide in Ukraine drags on, Americans are realizing how easy it is to fall victim to Putin's playbook. But Pozdorovkin maintained that percolating awareness pales in comparison to Putin's manipulation machine.

Per the Post:

The Russian-born, Harvard-educated filmmaker and thinker is behind several works on the subject, most notably 'Our New President' from 2018, an award-winning documentary deconstruction of the Russian media’s portrayal of Donald Trump’s election that was, as he puts it, 'a movie based entirely on actual footage without a single true statement in it.' He also examined the resistance to such media messaging in 'Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,' a nonfiction film on the political collective.

Far from just an attempt to negate discontent over its Ukraine invasion, Russia’s current state-media approach is, in Pozdorovkin’s view, a continuation of a decade-long campaign to warp Russian citizens’ view of the West. He argues the country’s population has been long primed for this moment — seriously lowering the odds for any tech company or foreign outlet hoping to poke through the veil.

A partial transcript of the fascinating albeit unsettling conversation is below:

Q: You’ve been very vocal in your work that there’s been a whole narrative about America playing out in Russian media that most Americans aren’t aware of. What exactly has been happening?

A: I don’t think Americans fully understand what’s been fed to Russians about the U.S. and the West for literally the past decade. It’s been an information war — a totally one-sided information war — and it has been waged so fully and artfully that it’s made a lot of what’s happening now preemptively possible. What this information war boils down to is this: 'The West is completely against us and trying to stifle and destroy our way of life.' It’s a simple message. But people are told this over and over, in so many different ways.

Q: Like how?

A: The Western sanctions back in 2014 over the war in the Donbas? An attempt to destroy the Russian way of life. The backlash to the Russian disinformation campaign in the 2016 U.S. election? An attempt to destroy the Russian way of life. Russian-doping punishments at the Olympics? Same thing. You name it, if it has involved Russia and the West, it was the West trying to destroy the Russian way of life. When in reality, of course, most Americans don’t typically spend much time thinking about Russia at all.

Q: And Trump fits neatly into this —

A: Trump fits neatly into this because Trump was the one American leader who wasn’t trying to destroy the Russian way of life.

Q: And in their eyes that’s what caused the U.S. backlash to him.

A: That was the one and only reason.

Q: What effect does this have? Like you said, it’s not like the U.S. or Europe has done much to really feed this narrative.

A: It’s true, the Russian media has been totally shadowboxing for years; no one was fighting back. But that doesn’t really matter. If you ingrain this message of victimhood so completely, what it does is when there’s any kind of [President Vladimir] Putin aggressive action, as there is now, a lot of people in Russia don’t see it as aggressive — they just see it as standing up for their way of life. That’s why the nuclear threat computes.

Q: Because it’s not viewed as much as saber-rattling as 'look at what you made me do.'

A: Exactly. 'We don’t want to take the nuclear option. But what choice do we have? You tried to destroy our way of life.'

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