Russia Ukraine war: Battle for hearts and minds within Russia could be key to victory over Vladimir Putin – Scotsman comment

As she was fined for a second time for criticising Russia’s war against Ukraine, former state television journalist Marina Ovsyannikova told the court: “What's going on here is absurd. War is horror, blood and shame… the purpose of the trial is to intimidate all the people who oppose the war in the Russian Federation.”

Ovsyannikova made international headlines in March when she interrupted a live news programme at the station where she worked to protest against the invasion, holding a sign saying: “No war, stop the war, don't believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.”

In any war, it is understandable if people start to demonise the other side, and this is particularly true given Russia’s forces are clearly guilty of war crimes on a vast scale. It is easy to begin to hate.

However, it is important to remember that while Vladimir Putin clearly has the support of many Russians, there are people, like Ovsyannikova, who are trying to stand up to him.

If there were not, the threat of a 15-year prison sentence for anyone criticising Russia’s armed forces – a law passed shortly after the invasion began – would not be necessary. Putin knows he needs to keep the crimes of his soldiers quiet. He fears the truth and also, crucially, how his own people would react to it.

A Ukrainian counterattack in the southern Kherson region offers hope that, with western weaponry, its armed forces can defeat Putin’s.

But, just as the West needs to keep up its supplies of military hardware to enable them to maintain the momentum, it should also be alive to how the hoped-for defeat affects public opinion in Russia.

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Vladimir Putin's regime is the enemy, not all Russians (Picture: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

In times of trouble, people tend to rally together. But when ‘strongman’ despots like Putin show signs of weakness, their mystique can quickly evaporate.

As well as the battle of guns and bullets in Ukraine, there is also a battle of a different kind that should be waged inside Russia: for the hearts and minds of its people – and not just by our intelligence services.

The Internet Age means it is possible for anyone to encounter ordinary Russians while playing online games or in chatrooms. Spewing hatred will probably achieve little, but a mixture of ‘love-bombing’ and truth-telling just might help sway public opinion.


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