The Putin show: How the war in Ukraine appears to Russians

Since the president announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24th, control over information has become even tighter. Censorship laws bar reporting that cites unofficial sources. Calling the war a “war” is a crime. Protesters are detained for holding signs that contain eight asterisks, the number of letters in the Russian for “no to war”. Many Western social networks and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have been banned or blocked. The last remaining influential independent media bastions have been pushed off air. Dozhd, an online tv station, has suspended its streams; Novaya Gazeta, a liberal newspaper whose editor recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, has halted publication; Echo Moskvy, a popular liberal radio station, no longer broadcasts from its longtime Moscow home on 91.2FM.

As Mr Putin’s regime shifts from a relatively open authoritarianism towards a more closed dictatorship, its propaganda is changing, too. Television hosts and guests present the “special military operation” as part of a grander conflict in defence of Russia. State media have long intoned about the West’s supposed intention to undermine Russia and Mr Putin’s efforts to protect the motherland. But where propaganda once sought mostly to breed passivity, cast doubt on reality and discourage political participation, it increasingly seeks to mobilise popular support for Mr Putin’s war, by convincing people that Russia is under attack and victory is the only way out. “The old rules of authoritarian life are breaking down, active participation is being demanded,” says Greg Yudin, a sociologist.

As in any country, the exact picture depends on the media you consume. For Russians with the desire and a bit of tech-savvy, unofficial information is still accessible. But those who follow the official news, as The Economist did on May 11th, see a world solely of the Kremlin’s making. Here is a day in the life of a follower of The Putin Show.