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    HomeWorldRussia Expert Says Putin's Media Diet Is Likely Nonexistent

    Russia Expert Says Putin’s Media Diet Is Likely Nonexistent

    • Reports have said President Vladimir Putin expected Ukrainians to welcome the Russian invasion.
    • Experts said his miscalculations could be due to a starved media diet fed by his mounting isolation.
    • “Anyone who cared to look understood that Ukraine is an independent country,” one expert said.

    Amid Russia’s ongoing, unprovoked war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has cracked down on ordinary Russians’ ability to access independent news, verified information, and social media posts about the conflict. But experts say it appears the longtime Russian president is just as in the dark about the reality of the conflict as his own people.

    While international media has covered the Ukraine war extensively — reporting on Russian strategy failures, mounting military losses, and inner-Kremlin turmoil — experts told Insider that such stories are most likely not making it to Putin’s desk.

    “I would be very skeptical if Putin has a media diet that includes really much of anything at all,” said Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations. “He’s not just clicking on CNN or whatever news to see what the Americans are saying.” 

    Putin’s minuscule media consumption is likely due in part to his shrinking social circle, Miles said. The Russian president has become increasingly isolated throughout his tenure, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. 

    “When he started out in the early 2000s, he had a broad range of different types of advisors with different views,” said Daniel Treisman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose work focuses on Russian politics and economics. “Now it’s narrowed down to these hard-line, Russian nationalist friends and advisors.”

    As such, Putin is getting a “very filtered” stream of information, Miles said, and his few trusted advisors are unlikely to bring him “bad” news or unflattering stories out of fear of being punished.

    Putin’s miscalculations could be a consequence of his starved media diet: When his country’s forces first invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, the Russian president was, by many accounts, anticipating a swift victory.

    He justified the invasion by claiming to be on a mission to stamp out supposed neo-Nazism in Ukraine — a country led by a Jewish president — assuming there was a silent majority of unhappy Ukrainians waiting for “Uncle Vladimir” to rid their home of pro-NATO leaders, according to Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.

    But the idea that Ukrainians were waiting for Russia to liberate them was a delusion that Putin could’ve easily identified before ever invading, according to English.

    “Anyone who cared to look understood that Ukraine is an independent country with a very strong sense of identity and loyalty among the majority of the population, not people yearning to be liberated by Russia,” he said.

    “There’s no excuse for Putin. There’s no excuse for Russian analysts or Russian military intelligence leaders today to make such colossal blunders,” he said. “He could sit down and do some research for an hour and understand that his fantasies about Ukraine are wrong.”

    But experts told Insider that Putin’s autocratic regime operates as a powerful echo chamber, with his few trusted advisors too afraid to deliver difficult news or necessary reality checks. 

    Treisman and English said Putin is in some ways even more isolated than a typical leader in the Soviet Union, despite having the internet and easier access to international press than in the days of the USSR.

    “No matter what his strategic blunders, no matter how badly he deployed his army, no matter how thinly he spread his troops, and no matter what mistakes were made with logistics… if he’d been right that Ukrainians were yearning to be liberated, none of it would’ve mattered very much,” English said.

    “That was his most fundamental mistake,” he added. “And that one, there’s no excuse for.”

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