With Russia’s mounting losses in its war against Ukraine, in addition to Western sanctions threatening the country’s feeble economy, state TV propagandists are resorting to mythical religious claims. Since the assertion that the Ukrainian government is a “Nazi regime” doesn’t hold water, the Kremlin’s mouthpieces are portraying Moscow’s invading hordes as modern-day crusaders and their opponents as demons and satanists.
During Friday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most popular political talk shows in Russia, Kira Sazonova of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration argued: “I’ve thought a lot about the ongoing situation with Ukraine, in terms of what modern Ukraine represents for the West. It took me a long time to find the right word, but I think I finally found it. It’s ‘Gollum.’ Ukraine is Gollum.”
This reference to a fictional hideous creature from the novel Lord of the Rings is fully in line with the latest propaganda strategy in Russian state media. In an apparent attempt to dehumanize their opponents, state TV’s pundits and hosts have taken to description Ukrainians as “the unclean”—the same word reserved for imps, demons, and witches in Russian fairy tales.
During Friday’s edition of the program The Big Game on Channel One, deputy of the State Duma Vyacheslav Nikonov claimed: “In the modern world, we are the embodiment of the forces of good. This is a metaphysical clash between the forces of good and evil… We’re on the side of good against absolute evil, represented by the Ukrainian nationalist battalions… and the American temple of Satan, located in Salem, expressed its support for Ukraine. This is truly a holy war, a holy war we’re waging and we must win.”
Earlier in April on Solovyov’s show, political scientist Sergei Mikheev went even further, claim that “the Ukrainian God is the devil.” He added, “Ukraine is being cut as a pig at a sacrificial pagan altar.” The same week on state TV show 60 minutes, political scientist Alexei Martynov described the blame being placed on Russia for its massacres in Ukraine as “satanism.”
While the Ukrainians are being routine demeaned, portrayed as an unholy nation not worthy of existence, Russian state media propagandists and lawmakers are calling on the Russians to forsake their personal needs in favor of Moscow’s crusade. During his Friday show, Solovyov was preaching to his audience about the importance of choosing morality over prosperity. This approach was conveniently timed to ease the frustrations caused by Western sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Economists predict that Russians are likely to deal with inflation of 20% or more by the end of the year.
Solovyov is a newly minted fan of austerity, having recently lost access to his multimillion-dollar Italian villas. Speaking into the camera, he asked the audiences at home: “What is more important: a prosperous life, when everything is simple, or when you’re heading into the unknown? But you believe, and your faith creates miracles.”
Solovyov urged the Russians not to worry about inflation but instead to focus on the positives: “There is no civil war, no intervention… and the war is not taking place on our territory.” To sweeten the pot, he pointed out how much better Russia was doing as compared to Ukraine: “I didn’t even bring up the casualties Ukraine is hiding, but politely speaking, I’m afraid we’re talking about more than 50,000 dead Ukrainians. And all of it is the fault of one certain criminal whose name is Zelensky.” The disturbing figure of alleged Ukrainian casualties is nowhere near the official or projected figures, which means that it was likely fabricated by Solovyov, perhaps in anticipation of Russia’s escalating atrocities.
As for Russia’s own casualties, the official count of 1,351 released in March is a far cry from the numbers estimated by experts. It hasn’t been updated since, but the request by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to increase funding for troop funeral services and tombstones speaks volumes.
During Solovyov’s show on Friday, State Duma Defense Committee head Andrei Kartapolov tried to gin up the excitement by presenting Russia’s war against Ukraine as an exhilarating challenge. He said, “We’re entering a very interesting period in the development of modern history. We’re all incredibly lucky to be able to witness these great events.”
Kartapolov pompously predicted: “Historians will later study this period, to talk about its role, its meaning as the turning point that determined the coming world order for many years to come. And we’re witnessing it firsthand! More than that, we’re participating in it! We should be proud of that alone. But more importantly, we have to—and should be—proud of our president and our army, for having created this turning point.”
Kartapolov veered into sacrilegious comparisons of Putin’s murderous, looting, raping troops in Ukraine with veterans of World War II: “Every day we’re losing veterans of the Great Patriotic War… New veterans and new heroes should replace them, of whom we have plenty… I fully support the idea of conducting the march of the Immortal Regiment, but I’m deeply convinced that next to the pictures of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War we should carry the pictures of our guys who carried out our aims in Ukraine, all of them! Those who perished there, as well as those continuing to serve. They are the real heroes, they are the foundation of our country’s future.”
The difficulty of selling everyday Russians on the idea that the coming suffering was worth it and Ukraine had it coming is seeing into every state TV channel. On Thursday, appearing on the program Time Will Tell on the state-funded Channel One, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy complained: “The realization that things will never be the same has been coming slow and hard… This is a war for justice. This is a war for freedom… This is Russia’s national ideology.”
During the same program, Duma deputy Oleg Morozov pointed out that Moscow’s agenda would likely not end in Ukraine: “Today’s world is very dangerous for us, but it’s also dangerous for Americans, for the Chinese, for the Europeans, for the Polish, and first and foremost, for the Baltics. Let them remember that denazification is a long, endless process and will very likely not end with Ukraine.”
Morozov admitted: “This new world is extremely uncomfortable for us. We don’t even know all the difficulties we are going to encounter in the process of building this world… Every single person will encounter these difficulties. Somebody will lose a job… Somebody will lose a business.” The host, Artyom Sheynin, asked writer Zakhar Prilepin what he would like to say to the Russian people. The exasperated writer distilled his message into childish oversimplification: “Nobody loves us and saving ourselves is in our own hands.”