Putins deep fear about civilian uprisings as Russia becomes information bubble

Ukraine: Putin is the 'new Hitler’ says Oleksiy Honcharuk

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday — his first such appearance since Russia launched its invasion. He called on all countries to hit Moscow with tougher sanctions following his visit to Bucha on Monday in light of reports of atrocities allegedly committed against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops. Mr Zelensky has accused the Kremlin of genocide, and warned there could be worse discoveries yet to come in areas Russia troops are currently withdrawing from and still occupy.

Western countries — including the US, UK, and France — are expected to blame Moscow for carrying out war crimes.

But Russia denies any such doing, claiming that it is being framed, and has asserted it will present the UN with evidence that its forces were not involved.

While images of dead bodies of men, women and children — some with their hands tied behind their backs, some beheaded — flood social media, it is unlikely that they will reach those living in Russia.

This is because late last month, Putin took the step often associated with dictators to prohibit most forms of news and social media.

Under an extremism law, Facebook and Instagram were banned — the two apps having already been restricted beforehand — with Russia’s FSB (its secret service) accusing Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, of creating an “alternative reality” in which “hatred for the Russians was kindled”.

But while Russia claims its actions are intended to prevent the spread of “hatred”, Natia Seskuria, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), argues that the move is a signifier of Putin’s real fear: civilian uprising.

She said this has been a “deep fear” of the Putin regime for years, and that the Kremlin is more than aware that the conflict in Ukraine, coupled with crippling sanctions, has the potential to create conditions in which discontent flourishes.

Ms Seskuria told Express.co.uk: “What we’re seeing is really extraordinary, because I think there is a deep fear in Russia, and this is the fear that runs through the entire presidency of Putin.

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“Since 2003, he has been very fearful about the impact of the Colour Revolutions that happened in Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2004.

“The mass protest is something Putin’s regime has been suppressing and has been fearful of for a long time, and now is a crucial time as Russia’s population begins to feel the heavy weight of sanctions that are affecting the population at every level — not just the super rich but every single person.

“This is of course concerning for Putin’s regime because even if ordinary citizens are not that concerned about Russia invading a foreign and sovereign country and killing people there, economic issues are something that always cause a rage among a population.

“This could in the long-term really affect how people express their support for Putin, and I think what he is trying to do now is convert Russia into a big information bubble where citizens are only able to listen to state-owned media that are only concerned about spreading disinformation and propaganda.

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“Really, I think this demonstrates the fear in the Kremlin.”

The Colour, or Coloured Revolution, took place in several post-Soviet states in the early Noughties.

They followed disputed ballots or demands for fair elections in political environments in which many members of the former Soviet Union’s upper echelons held power over the ex-states.

These leaders, including in Ukraine and Georgia, were deposed, with the individuals who were viewed as the legitimate winners successfully taking power.

It saw Russia’s influence in these countries — which the Kremlin considers its “zone of influence” — dwindle to an all time low since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

On top of his banning of some social media platforms, Putin also moved to restrict access to several independent media organisations, including those from abroad.

In early March, the BBC’s Russia division was significantly stripped of its coverage, Deutsche Welle was banned, and the independent website Meduza and Radio Svoboda, the Russian branch of Radio Free Europe, were both censored.

While the websites of the BBC and Deutsche Welle were thought to have partly worked, articles about the war in Ukraine were inaccessible.

Russia was regularly described by watchdogs as one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to press freedom even before the war began.

But the conflict, and the subsequent coverage of it, has only compounded this.

Russian authorities have now banned the media from using information other than official statements about the invasion.

They have also prohibited the use of words like “war” and “invasion”, the Duma having passed a bill introducing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for intentionally spreading “fake” information about military action.

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