What's behind Putin's 86% Approval Rating

Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin is basking in the glow of an unheard-of 86% approval rating.  But his popularity has not stemmed from the people’s contentment or any monumental achievement of their leader.  His boat has been lifted by the rising tide of insane hatred for America and Ukraine sweeping Russia.  Hysterical chauvinism flogged by TV has brought the Russian people to a fever pitch, demonstrating the monumental power of propaganda.

Renowned Russian opposition journalist Vladimir Yakovlev, in a recent article published in his Russian-language Mulbabar blog, explained the mechanism of the current propaganda campaign designed to keep the Russian people focused on the external enemy and oblivious to their country’s sorry condition.

In Soviet times, every college in Russia had a military chair, something like our ROTC but compulsory.  It was an important incentive for the Soviet youth, because military training as part of the college curriculum was a sure way of avoiding the hated conscription.  Military training was geared to the specific educational profile of each institute of higher learning.  At Yakovlev’s alma mater, the Moscow State University School of Journalism, the students were trained, in an atmosphere of utmost secrecy, in the art of “combat special propaganda,” the methods of sowing discord in the enemy ranks by means of disinformation and mind-bending.

Combat, or “black,” propaganda is a highly effective weapon of distorting real facts with a view to achieving the propagandist’s goals.  Here are some of the methods the future Soviet journalists were taught and today’s Russian propagandists use with such astonishing success.

The “rotten fish” technique works as follows.  A false accusation is thought up, with the primary requirement that it be as scurrilous and scandalous as possible, such as petty larceny, child molestation, or murder, preferably motivated by greed.  The “rotten fish” is not aimed at proving the guilt of the victim, but rather at causing public discussion of its absurdity and injustice.  It is a quirk of the human psyche that as soon as an accusation enters the public discourse, it inevitably brings forth its supporters and deniers, “experts” and “people in the know,” rabid accusers and fervent defenders of the accused.

But irrespective of their positions and views, all participants in the discussion again and again repeat the victim’s name juxtaposed with the scurrilous and scandalous accusation, thereby rubbing the “rotten fish” into his (or her) clothes until the stink clings to the victim so tenaciously as to follow him everywhere.  And every time the victim’s name is mentioned, its association with the alleged crime (larceny-murder-child molestation) rears up its ugly head in the people’s minds.

Another method, “40/60,” traces its provenance to none other than Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi propaganda minister.  Under this technique, you set up a media outlet that starts out by disseminating 60 percent of its information favorable to the enemy.  Having thus earned the enemy’s trust, the remaining 40 percent are used to spread disinformation, which is extremely effective because of its high credibility.  During World War Two, a certain radio station was very popular in the anti-Nazi world.  People believed that it was a British radio station and took on faith everything it put on the air.  And it was not until after the war that the “anti-Nazi” radio station was unmasked as actually a Nazi outfit operating on the basis of Dr. Goebbels’ “40/60” principle.

Another highly effective propaganda technique was the “Big Lie” method, also used extensively by the Nazis and sanctified by Goebbels.  It looks somewhat similar to the “rotten fish,” but actually its mechanism is different.  The essence of the Big Lie is to propound, with the utmost degree of confidence, a lie so huge and terrible as to become believable – people simply refuse to believe that anyone can lie so blatantly.

The key to the success of this method is that a well-designed and constructed Big Lie profoundly traumatizes the listener or viewer, shaping his perception for a long time in spite of any logical or rational refutation.  The most effective Big Lies are those describing cruel torments of children or women.  A case in point is the highlight of the Russian TV’s Big Lie hit parade: the “report” that the Ukrainians crucified a three-year-old child on the door of his house.  The deep emotional wound inflicted by such a message renders the recipient impervious to any logical proof to the contrary.

Yet another technique, which works slowly but reliably, is that of “absolute obviousness.”  Under this method, instead of trying to prove what you want to get across, you deliver it as something absolutely obvious, self-evident, and thereby unconditionally believed by the vast majority of the people.  Although seemingly simple, this method, which is akin to the “bandwagon effect,” is extremely effective because it is rooted in the propensity of the human psyche to automatically react to the opinion of the majority, trying to join it.  The important condition is that the majority must be overwhelming and its support of the thesis being disseminated absolute and unconditional – otherwise the urge to join in fails to arise.

But if these conditions are met, the ranks of supporters of the “majority position” begin to grow inexorably, at first slowly but gradually gathering speed until the trickle turns into a roaring flood – primarily due to the support of the lower classes particularly susceptible to the “join-in urge.”  A classic implementation of the “absolute obviousness” technique is publication of all sorts of opinion polls demonstrating the near unanimity of the public on a given issue.  Needless to say, such polls don’t have to have anything to do with reality.

There are a lot of other techniques of this sort, but what characterizes them all is that “black” propaganda affects the audience at a deep psychological level in such a way that its effect cannot be countered by conventional logical arguments.  The Big Lie achieves its effect through an emotional trauma.  The “absolute obviousness” technique – through the “join-in urge.” The “rotten fish” – by planting in the minds of the audience a direct associative link between the victim and a scurrilous, scandalous accusation.

In short, “combat special propaganda” turns the person into a zombie who not only actively supports the settings planted into his or her mind, but aggressively resists those who espouse different views or attempt to show the propaganda victim the error of his ways by means of logical arguments.  It couldn’t be otherwise, for all “combat propaganda” techniques share a common goal: to undermine the morale of the enemy by sowing discord, causing mutual mistrust, and fomenting mutual hatred.

But today, writes Vladimir Yakovlev, the Russian people are the target of this psychological warfare waged by the Putin regime, and the results are exactly as devised.  Except that mutual hatred and discord arise in our own homes and families rather than in the enemy ranks.  The results are clear for all to see.  Over the past three years, the country has changed beyond recognition.  Apparently, “combat special propaganda” works against one’s own population even more effectively than against the enemy army.  Probably because the enemy soldiers can defend themselves, while the peaceful Russian civilians are totally defenseless.

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