Putin is ‘trying but failing’ to control Ukraine invasion narrative by shutting down non-state media

The ‘human toll’ is on display in Ukraine: Benjamin Hall

Fox News’ Benjamin Hall reports on Ukraine’s efforts to defend against Russia.

Two independent Russian news outlets that refused to spout the Kremlin’s talking points following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine were forced off the air this week, forcing citizens to rely on state-run media that won’t even use the term “war” to describe the ongoing attack. 

“Putin is trying but failing to control the narrative,” Daniel Hoffman told Fox News Digital. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of dead Russian soldiers. Kids aren’t coming home, and that message is going to get out loud and clear, and that’s part of the tragedy.” 

Hoffman, a Fox News contributor and previously a senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency who served a tour of duty in the former Soviet Union, said the Kremlin’s assault on accurate information is similar to USSR-era attempts. 

Two independent news outlets that refused to spout the Kremlin’s talking points following Russia President Vladimir Putin’s ordered invasion of Ukraine were forced off the air this week.
(Yuri Kochetkov/Pool)

“In the Soviet days, the Soviets tried to crack down on news and exercise full control over what people could hear and read, you know, like George Orwell ‘1984’ stuff. But they weren’t successful and information got in, books got in, banned information got in,” Hoffman said. “Russians are crafty people, and they’ll find a way.”

Russian authorities accused Ekho Moskvy, one of the country’s oldest radio stations, and Dozhd, Russia’s top independent TV channel which is also known as TV Rain, of “false information regarding the actions of Russian military personnel as part of a special operation” in Ukraine. The move to silence non-state news organizations comes after Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal body responsible for overseeing media, has urged all news outlets to only use “trustworthy sources” when it comes to reporting on the invasion of Ukraine.

“What they mean by that is Russian government sources,” intelligence expert and national security commentator Rebekah Koffler told Fox News Digital. 

Russia Today, a state-run media operation also known as RT, remains available throughout the nation despite its editor-in-chief stepping down Tuesday after condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. RT has parroted Putin’s talking points related to the attack.

“That one is not going anywhere,” Koffler said. 

Daniel Hoffman, a Fox News contributor who was previously a senior executive Clandestine Services officer with the Central Intelligence Agency who served a tour of duty in the former Soviet Union, said the Kremlin’s assault on accurate information is similar to USSR-era attempts. 

RT’s American branch ceased operations this week.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called Putin’s efforts to shut down Russia’s free press “deeply” concerning to the Biden administration.

“The Kremlin, right now, is engaged in a full assault on media, freedom and the truth,” Psaki said Thursday.

Psaki said Russia has also taken steps to consider making “unofficial reporting” punishable by up to 15 years in prison and have blocked many social media platforms.

“What they are trying to do is block any information about what they are doing to invade a sovereign country,” she said. “They’re taking severe steps to do exactly that.”

People walk past a destroyed Russian military vehicle at a frontline position on March 03, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine.
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Hoffman feels Russia’s steps are making it more difficult, but not impossible, for citizens to learn what’s really happening in Ukraine, but they might have to rely in the internet. 

“Russia tried to build a great firewall, authoritarian internet, but I think it can be penetrated. I think Russians, especially their hacking community, is going to find a way to get the news,” he said. “The news people watch on TV is just state-run propaganda.” 

Hoffman also believes Putin, who has attempted to control access to truthful information in Russia for years, isn’t fooling the country’s population at large. 

“I mean, look, he’s calling Ukrainians neo-Nazis and drug dealers, and all this propaganda stuff we all know isn’t true. And I think deep down, a mass of his population, they know it’s not true,” Hoffman said. “It highlights for us, here in America, why Ukraine is on the front line … They are the geopolitical fault line right now between democracy and authoritarianism and a hallmark of authoritarianism is to control the narrative, control what people hear and see and then distort the truth.” 

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and spokesperson Ned Price have both appeared on Dozhd in the last two weeks, which is an indication of the now-banned outlet’s importance to providing accurate information to Russians. On Tuesday, Price appeared on Dozhd and criticized Russian authorities’ move shuttering the outlet.

“We condemn the Kremlin’s shuttering of independent media outlets like these in an effort to stifle dissent against its premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustifiable attack against Ukraine,” Price said Tuesday. 

Russia President Vladimir Putin has attempted to silence the free press.  (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since the Kremlin shut down Ekho Moskvy and TV Rain, leaders from both outlets have spoken out. 

Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, wrote that the accusations his outlets pushed inaccurate info “are not supported by any examples, any evidence … are unfounded and insulting to journalists and citizens of Russia,” adding that the order will be challenged in court. 

Dozhd TV’s chief editor, Tikhon Dzyadko, said he fled Russia along with several of his colleagues over concerns for their safety.  

“After the illegal blockage of Dozhd’s site, Dozhd’s accounts in several social networks, as well as threats addressed to some of our employees, it became obvious that the personal safety of some of us is now under threat,” Dzyadko wrote on telegram Wednesday, according to Radio Free Europe.

The Washington Post’s editorial board published a piece headlined, “In Russia, truth is criminal, war is not war and the last independent broadcasters go dark,” which condemned Putin’s actions against non-state media. 

“Putin’s regime has criminalized the truth, and does not want Russians to know it,” the editorial board wrote. 

Hoffman said the situation unfolding in Russia serves as a reminder of how important the First Amendment is for the United States. 

“Our democracy relies on the rule of law and freedom of the press, and that means the press should be able to ask our politicians whatever questions they want, even if they’re harsh ones. You’ve got to hold people accountable, and you’ve got to report the news. Even if it’s not the news that the administration wants to hear, it’s what the people need to know,” Hoffman said. 

“That is what democracy is all about and if the politician doesn’t like it, well, tough s—t,” he added. “Freedom of the press matters at it sets us apart from the evil totalitarian regimes like Russia and China.”

Fox News’ Paul Best, David Rutz and Gillian Truner contributed to this report. 

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