Andrey Zakharov, Russian Service Of BBC: For Eight years, Propaganda Has Been Preparing People In Support Of The War In Ukraine

Andrey Zakharov is an investigative journalist from Russian service of BBC. He moved from Russia in November last year, when he was being designated as foreign agent in Russia, as many other journalists. He is currently living in one European country. In an interview for Thruthmeter, he speaks about the Russian propaganda and the way it’s spread, the way that the media in Russia are functioning and the support that the president Putin has among the citizens. In his opinion, Russia lost the information war comparing to the rest of the world, even though many Russian citizens supports it

Andrey Zakharov is an investigative journalist from Russian service of BBC. He moved from Russia in November last year, when he was being designated as foreign agent in Russia, as many other journalists. He is currently living in one European country. In an interview for Thruthmeter, he speaks about the Russian propaganda and the way it’s spread, the way that the media in Russia are functioning and the support that the president Putin has among the citizens. In his opinion, Russia lost the information war comparing to the rest of the world, even though many Russian citizens supports it


Author: Goran Lefkov


You are the first journalist who published the story about factory of trolls in Saint Petersburg that spreads Russian propaganda all over the world. Can you tell us how the system is functioning with Russian propaganda now, with the war in Ukraine?

Propaganda is one of the basic things in this war. We see several levels of propaganda – one level is the state propaganda, I mean several TV channels, TV news agencies which have a monopoly in television. All independent TV channels were closed, almost every popular independent media on internet (there are still small regional media) were blocked since the war started, including BBC. We see big number of state TV channels and state news agencies, that’s one level of propaganda. Another level are the trolls factory, based in Saint Petersburg. They even rent a specific office for covering this war and one of mine former colleagues from Saint Petersburg media, she still lives in Saint Petersburg, made a very good report from so called Saint Petersburg famous trolls factory, which was involved in the elections in USA in 2016. This factory in Saint Petersburg is supposed to be owned by Evgeniy Prigozhin, businessman close to Putin and Kremlin.

Another level of propaganda is the state troll factory. There is a State Agency that helps regional and Moscow authorities to cover different activities, but they are also involved in propaganda in covering the war. We see this huge propaganda machine which works extremely hard. For example, on two state TV channels from the beginning of the war, there are no entertainment programs during the day. From the morning till the evening there are only news and political talk shows that last for several hours and then another talk show starts, where they cover war from government perspective. All entertainment programs and movies are at night. So, it’s like a big wheel of propaganda working.

Do you think the propaganda works successfully?

Russia totally lost this information war comparing to the rest of the world. Russia has nothing to offer to western audience. Russia, in my opinion, lost this information war from the beginning with every war crime, and every day of the war we see Russia losing. At the same time, this propaganda machine inside Russia works successfully and a lot of people think this is a good war. People don’t know about the casualties, and they call them fake, because that is what’s constantly repeated on TV. Inside Russia, this propaganda machine is highly successful. At the same time, it is not successful when we speak about the rest of world.

What was the impact when ‘Russia Today’ and ‘Sputnik’ in the western countries were closed? How is Russia spreading propaganda on global level? How do you see this in perspective on media freedom?

I will divide my answer in two parts. First part is how closing ‘Russia Today’ and ‘Sputnik’ influenced on Russian propaganda. In fact, Russia Today wasn’t so popular in the most countries where broadcasted. Like in Great Britain, I think that less than 1% of the people watched it, so it was not effective. But they have popular YouTube channels in Germany, for example, they are blocked now, so I think they lost some audience, but in the same time even if they had this audience, they wouldn’t have anytjing to offer. In the case when Navalny was poisoned, or other scandals with Russia, this TV had something to offer. So even if they hadn’t been blocked, they wouldn’t have anything to offer and very few people would believe them and trust their weak explanations – that everything is fake except for the things that come from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The second part of the question, regarding freedom of speech. There are two discourses here. The first one is that we shouldn’t close any media and that the audience has a right to choose. Even the radical and extremist views news should exist in the information war.

Another discourse is that there is a border, and we can’t speak on freedom of speech if fake news is produced. Then, the media should be closed. If you have asked me this question before the war, I would have said that every media should exist, and the audience will choose who to believe and decide whether the information is true or not. With the war, all media that still think the war is a good thing and follow a bloody discourse, should be closed. In my opinion, before the war, Russia Today and Sputnik should have existed, but after this, I support the block.



What do you think about Kremlin propaganda on Ukraine territory and how do you expect this propaganda to develop in future?

Some group of Ukrainian people supported Russia before the war, not so much like in 2014, but still, they supported it, even though not so much as Kremlin expected. The expectation was that people of Ukraine will welcome them and will be happy with this occupation and that is the main mistake. I know people that supported Russia before the war, but those people now are anti-Russian. Maybe there are some strange people who still think the war is good. We see that Russian propaganda is not as effective, regarding the fact that Ukrainians can still watch Russian Television on the Internet.

One of the biggest media in this war is Telegram. Telegram channels are very popular in Russia and Ukraine, those are the new media. The channel of Russian independent media ‘Meduza’ has more than 1 million subscribers. Our BBC telegram channel in Russia has over 300.000 subscribers. You post one short news on your channel on Telegram and in several hours 100.000 people read the news. That’s a great opportunity. There are extremely popular Telegram channels on both sides. Ukrainians can also watch Russian channels, but they don’t believe them, because they think the war should have been stopped. In some cities, like Mariupol the Russians switched on the Russian TV channels and switched off the Ukrainian TV channels, hoping that Ukrainians will support the Russians.

Most modern people, except for old people, take information from the Internet, so even you switch on the Russian TV channels, you still can’t block Telegram channels so everyone can see what’s happening in reality. That is why I think the Russian propaganda is not effective.

There are many Russian businessmen with investments in the Balkan countries. How do you think they are dealing with these issues? 

I don’t think that Russian propaganda is strong on the Balkans now. It is focused on other regions and Russia’s main friend in the region is Serbia, and it is enough for Russia in this situation. I don’t see any activities in Bulgaria and Macedonia. But if we speak about businessman with Russian origins, it is difficult for them all over the world now, because there are only few countries in the world that support Russia. I think maybe in Serbia, but I don’t know how many people, really support Russia. In Bulgaria, traditionally people support Russia, but we still saw a big anti-Russian rally in the central Sofia and on the other hand, the pro-Russian rally was very small. Russian businessman either prefer to be silent or if they say they are against the war, they will have sanctions or deal with harassment. To be Russian with money, not to live in Russia and to support the war, you should be prepared that you will be expelled from the country you live in the moment. That’s why I think Russian businessman prefer to be silent now.



How did you leave Russia and what’s happening with the Russian service of BBC in Moscow?

I left Russia before the war in November last year because I was being designated as ‘foreign agent in Russia’, that is an official status. It means a lot of birocratic problems that can lead to jail if you don’t follow this status, so I left Russia like many independent investigative journalists did before. Since the war, hundreds of journalists left Russia because those media that were not blocked before, now are blocked. Those are extremely popular media, like ‘Meduza’, for example, which has several million visitors per day, there is TV ‘Rain’, and BBC Russian service web sites were blocked. Russian authorities also blocked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, only YouTube is western media that is not blocked in Russia now. The reason that YouTube is not blocked is because it is very popular, and if they block it, some problems with other Google services can follow, like Google Play market and other services. Even though BBC Russian service is blocked in Russia, people can still watch it on VPN and VPN service is very popular now. Last month VPN was the most popular downloaded Google play service, so people can still reach independent source of news about the war.

Does Putin’s regime have support among ordinary citizens?

A lot of people really support the war, and it’s not only about propaganda, which was preparing people for this war for 8 years, since Crimea action. Although propaganda was really preparing people, saying the war is good and Ukraine is a fake country, at the same time in post imperial states like Russia, if your propaganda is saying that the war is good, you raise negative feelings in peoples’ minds. We can’t say that this is only Putin’s war. Although I’m sure that if we had another president who didn’t stepped to prepare people for this war, we wouldn’t have this much support. People support it.

There are situations when relatives from Ukraine send videos and photos to their relatives in Russia and the relatives say, ‘that is fake’. In some moment they ignore the reality and if you ignore the reality, it’s like it doesn’t exist. Some people try to protest, but as I said before, it is very dangerous in Russia, so a lot of people left Russia and some were arrested. Some sources say that 300.000 people left Russia since the war started, not just journalists. I don’t know if this numbers are real, but I know that a lot of people left the country. They just don’t want to live in a country that started a war with the neighbor.

But, people will feel the effects of the war later. In a half of year or after one year. I think people will be changing their mind about this war, step by step, when we will see the economy crises. But this process can’t happen fast. If people realize and admit that this war is a crime, it will ruin the whole picture in their mind, from psychological point of view. It is a lengthy process, and we can’t expect it to happen tomorrow.




All comments and remarks regarding this and other Vistinomer articles, correction and clarification requests as well as suggestions for fact-checking politicians’ statements and political parties’ promises can be submitted by using this form

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.