How Vladimir Putin Weaponized Russia’s Media

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during an annual call-in show on Russian television "Conversation With Vladimir Putin" in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 16, 2015.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service via AP

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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during an annual call-in show on Russian television "Conversation With Vladimir Putin" in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 16, 2015.

After decades of wielding Soviet-style hard power, Moscow is developing a subtler form of influence.

Vladimir Putin is a news junkie

The Russian president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t use that expression when we talked by phone, but that’s what he described to me: a man at the center of an ever-churning machine processing vast amounts of news and data at his command.

“Sometimes we’re wondering what is the limit for a human being for absorbing this huge amount of information,” Peskov told me, “but, well, it’s really a very, very, very heavy job.”

Peskov, speaking fluent English, described the operation. “First of all, the information and press department of the presidential administration prepares digests on print media, on Internet sources, on domestic media—federal and regional.

“We have special people working around the clock, preparing TV digests. We’re recording TV news on the [Russian] federal channels for him during the day. Obviously, it’s very hard for him to watch news so we make digests, let’s say, zip versions of TV news, divided into issues.”

Putin views these summaries in his car, plane, and helicopter, Peskov said.

“It’s quite convenient when he’s going home, let’s say, from [the] Kremlin, when he is not spending a night here … he can use this 20 minutes for really understanding what happened during the day in terms of information.” He watches TV news channels in English and German—a language he speaks fluently thanks to his posting in Dresden as a KGB agent in the late 1980s—and receives English- and German-language newspapers.

“Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t say that [Putin] is a fluent user of [the] Internet,” Peskov added, “but he is fluent enough to use some resources, plus, definitely, he is comparing what he sees and hears from [the] press … with the news he’s receiving—when it comes to foreign affairs—from his foreign ministry, from his special services, from intelligence, from various ministries, and so on.”

As a former KGB officer and head of the KGB’s successor agency, the FSB, Putin knows the value of information. His concept of the media, however, is a far cry from the First Amendment. For him, it’s a simple transactional equation: Whoever owns the media controls what it says.

Read more at The Atlantic

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