An Alternate Reality: How Russia’s State TV Films the Ukraine War

Cooperation between the Kremlin and state broadcasters dates back more than two decades, said Mr. Gatov, a former Russian journalist and state propaganda expert. Every day, the Kremlin provides the broadcasters with a list of topics of conversation. The closely guarded document, known as “Temnik,” is delivered to senior VGTRK officials and other organizations and outlines the issues the Kremlin wants to address, positive or negative, along with views to support and individuals who should be criticized, said Mr. Gatov, who has seen copies.

The Kremlin’s tight control over the media has increased since the invasion of Ukraine, but people’s confidence in what they see is falling as the war drags on and its violent realities become harder to hide, said Vera Tolz, Professor at the University of Manchester who has studied Russian media for the British Parliament and the European Union. “There are cracks,” she said.

In the early days of the war, what was not specifically described in Kremlin orders was left to the television producers.

The United States was a frequent target, according to the documents. Every day emails circulated with long lists of news clips and viral posts that served as a palette to paint a darker picture of the United States.

In early February, weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, producers flagged a clip of President Biden refusing to answer questions about sending troops to Poland, reinforcing the idea that America was eager for a fight. A New York Times article detailing Ukraine’s aggressive information warfare against Russia was also reworded as evidence of the country’s dishonesty. Another, taken from Britain’s Daily Mail, showed Mr Biden picking his teeth.

As the war dragged on, producers looked for clips of the aftermath in the United States. One came from a local news program in northern Alabama about stickers being put on gas pumps and Mr. Biden saying, “I did that.” Another video showing an empty grocery store in the US came from a viral Telegram Post. It appeared to inspire a program shortly after, titled “Oil Shock and Empty Shelves: Trump’s Dire Prophecy Comes True.”

In March, Denis Davydov, a VGTRK reporter in Washington, flagged a seven-year-old YouTube post that gained newfound popularity and claimed that the United States and NATO had fueled Russia’s hostility towards Ukraine.

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