Lankina, Tomila V. (2016) It’s Not All Negative: Russian Media’s Flexible Coverage of Protest as a Regime Survival Strategy, No. 449. PONARS Eurasia, Washington, DC, USA.
Pundits continue to debate whether economic shocks, public discontent at home, and isolation abroad will shake President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Much of the commentary on Putin’s survival strategies has focused on repression and aggressive military posturing. This somewhat obscures another important strategy: being highly sensitive to the public mood, deftly reacting to public sentiment, and effecting rapid policy shifts to moderate public dissent.
Manipulating how mass media covers popular protest is central to this strategy, but it would be a mistake to assume that such coverage is uniformly negative. Instead, Russian media coverage of mass protest shifts dramatically between attempts to undermine public support for anti-regime activism and efforts to pander to the public mood driving such activism, depending on changes in public sentiment and developments on the ground. In making this case below, I draw on findings from new research into how Kremlin-controlled media portrayed the 2011-12 protests in Russia and the protests in Ukraine that preceded the Euromaidan revolution in late 2013.