A Nobel Peace Prize-winning Russian journalist said this week that “no one knows” whether Vladimir Putin’s standoff with the West could result in nuclear fallout – and claimed that the Kremlin tries to sell Russians on nuclear weapons with advertisements like it’s “pet food.”
“Two generations have lived without the threat of nuclear war,” Dmitry Muratov told the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow.
“But this period is over. Will Putin press the nuclear button, or won’t he? Who knows? No one knows this. There isn’t a single person who can say for sure.”
Muratov, 61, is the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, an independent paper known for its critical coverage of the country’s political and social life. The publication’s media license was revoked in Sept. 2022, amid increased government censorship during the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, murmurings about Putin deploying nuclear tactics have only grown louder. Just this week, the Kremlin announced that it would no longer give the US notice of missile tests.
Muratov believes the threats should be taken seriously
“We see how state propaganda is preparing people to think that nuclear war isn’t a bad thing,” he said of the government-enforced media diet.
“On TV channels here, nuclear war and nuclear weapons are promoted as if they’re advertising pet food.
“They announce: ‘We’ve got this missile, that missile, another kind of missile.’ They talk about targeting Britain and France; about sparking a nuclear tsunami that washes away America. Why do they say this? So that people here are ready,” he continued.
Muratov – who sold off his 2021 Nobel Prize last year to raise money for Ukrainian refugee children – described the Russian populace as “irradiated” by government propaganda that portrays the Kremlin as an arbiter of peace.
“In Russia, propaganda is twelve TV channels, tens of thousands of newspapers, social media like VK [the Russian version of Facebook] that serves completely the state ideology,” he explained.
When asked what would happen if the propaganda machine suddenly stopped, Muratov expressed hope in the country’s young people.
“Our younger generation is wonderful,” he said.
“I am convinced that as soon as the propaganda stops, this generation – and everyone else with common sense – will speak out.”
Muratov also claimed that most Russians are “categorically against” the war in Ukraine, and many are already speaking out.
“Twenty-one thousand administrative and criminal cases have been opened against Russians who’ve protested. The opposition is in jail. Media outlets have been shut down. Many activists, civilians and journalists have been labeled foreign agents,” he listed.
Muratov said that Putin’s own “enormous” fanbase is mostly elderly citizens who see him as “their grandson, as someone who will protect them and who brings them their pension every month and wishes them Happy New Year each year.”
Regardless of the outcome of the war, Muratov went on, he doubted there will ever be “normal relations” between Russia and Ukraine in the future.
“Ukraine will not be able to come to terms with this tragedy,” he said.
Muratov’s principal hope, he concluded, lay in the world beyond Vladimir Putin – and himself, as well.
“The only hope I have lies with the young generation; those people who sees the world as a friend, not as an enemy and who want Russia to be loved and for Russia to love the world,” he said.
“I hope that this generation will outlive me and Putin.”
Muratov’s remarks were also published amid news that Russia detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovic on suspicion of espionage.
When asked about Gershkovich’s arrest, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, flippantly told The Daily Beast that he would “check the torture cellar in my house — to see if he’s there.”