Navalny calls for ‘information front’ as Russia triples state media funds


Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has urged the West to break through Vladimir Putin’s ‘information wall’ and tell Russians at home the ‘uncomfortable truth’ about the war in Ukraine, as the Kremlin reportedly tripled funds for state media.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on independent media and news outlets in Russia.

On March 4, Putin signed a law that effectively criminalizes any account of the war in Ukraine that does not conform to the Kremlin’s line that the campaign in the neighboring country is a “special military operation” to liberate and denazify Ukraine. The new law makes the use of the word “war” illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised conference call with the country’s citizens ‘Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’ at the Moscow World Trade Center studio in Moscow on June 30, 2021. The Kremlin has tripled its funding to state media this year, according to The Times of Moscow.

The Kremlin also blocked access to Instagram and Facebook, considered “extremist”, as well as major news outlets accused of spreading false information about Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. The BBC suspended its operations in Russia and most independent Russian media, fearing legal action, decided to close shop.

According to Amnesty International, more than 150 Russian independent journalists have fled the country since the start of the war and more than 13,800 people have been arrested since the start of the war at anti-war rallies in Russia.

The Kremlin spent three times as much money from January to March as it spent in the same period in 2021, totaling 17.4 billion rubles ($210.5 million), according to The Times of Moscow, an independent English-language online newspaper, now based outside of Russia.

Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a protest in Moscow September 29, 2019. Navalny called on the West to launch an information war against Russia.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

“We have to admit that 24/7 Goebbelsian propaganda on all channels (Putin spends more than 110 billion rubles a year on propaganda from the budget alone, and the oligarchs also contribute), the shutdown of independent media and website blocks are slowly doing their job,” Navalny wrote Thursday on Twitter.

The Russian dissident has now called on the West to launch a massive social media campaign with targeted ads aimed at informing Russians at home of “the real monstrous losses of the army”.

“About the yachts and palaces of those who send soldiers to the slaughterhouse. About the massacre of civilians. About Ukraine, which is not our enemy. About the rising prices, the poverty and punishment.

“About the monstrous lies of Putin and his propagandists. About how we would all be better off without this war, which should be stopped immediately.”

“Truth and free information hit Putin’s insane regime as hard as javelins [missiles]“, wrote Navalny, calling on the West to open “the second front against the Kremlin war criminal – the information front”.

According to Navalny, 41% of Russians use Yandex, the Russian IT giant and search engine, as their main source of information.

Some Russian citizens manage to circumvent Moscow censorship. Almost a month after the invasion, The Independent reported that searches for “VPN” increased by more than 1000% in the past 30 days.

But Navalny, citing unsourced data, said more than 85% of Russian adults still use YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google and Facebook, and that’s where the West should try to reach them.

“We need ads. Lots of ads,” Navalny urged, calling for a “big national anti-war campaign” that will start with an advertising campaign. The dissident said the halting of ad sales to Russia by Meta and Google has “seriously hampered the work of the opposition”.

“I understand that in a democracy, authorities cannot order Google and Meta to allow advertising for some and disallow it for others,” Navalny said. He called on Western leaders to “find a solution to crush Putin’s propaganda using the advertising power of social media”.

Russia Ukraine anti-war rally
Russian police detain a man during an unauthorized protest rally at Manezhnaya Square in front of the Kremlin on March 13, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. Hundreds of people were arrested during an anti-war rally. Navalny says there are not as many Russians who support the war as the Kremlin claims.
Contributor/Getty Images

Navalny also said that support for the war in Ukraine in Russia is not as high as the data coming out of Moscow would suggest, but it is mostly indicative of the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissidents. “There is no 75% support for war with Ukraine in Russia. This is yet another Kremlin lie,” Navalny wrote.

“What kind of sociology is there even to talk about when the question ‘Do you support the war in Ukraine?’ and the answer “no” could result in 15 years in prison for the sociologist and the respondent respectively?”, wrote the Russian dissident, sentenced in March to nine years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and contempt. He was already serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating parole.

Newsweek contacted the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.


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