Does Putin read the news? One expert says he'd be surprised if the Russian president's media diet 'includes much of anything at all'
- Reports have said President
Vladimir Putinexpected Ukrainians to welcome the Russian invasion.
- Experts said his miscalculations could be due to a starved
mediadiet fed by his mounting isolation.
While international media has covered the Ukraine war extensively — reporting on Russian strategy failures, mounting military losses, and inner-Kremlin turmoil — experts told Insider that such stories are most likely not making it to Putin's desk.
"I would be very skeptical if Putin has a media diet that includes really much of anything at all," said Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations. "He's not just clicking on CNN or whatever
Putin's minuscule media consumption is likely due in part to his shrinking social circle, Miles said. The Russian president has become increasingly isolated throughout his tenure, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
"When he started out in the early 2000s, he had a broad range of different types of advisors with different views," said Daniel Treisman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose work focuses on Russian politics and economics. "Now it's narrowed down to these hard-line, Russian nationalist friends and advisors."
As such, Putin is getting a "very filtered" stream of information, Miles said, and his few trusted advisors are unlikely to bring him "bad" news or unflattering stories out of fear of being punished.
Putin's miscalculations could be a consequence of his starved media diet: When his country's forces first invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, the Russian president was, by many accounts, anticipating a swift victory.
He justified the invasion by claiming to be on a mission to stamp out supposed neo-Nazism in Ukraine — a country led by a Jewish president — assuming there was a silent majority of unhappy Ukrainians waiting for "Uncle Vladimir" to rid their home of pro-NATO leaders, according to Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.
But the idea that Ukrainians were waiting for Russia to liberate them was a delusion that Putin could've easily identified before ever invading, according to English.
"Anyone who cared to look understood that Ukraine is an independent country with a very strong sense of identity and loyalty among the majority of the population, not people yearning to be liberated by Russia," he said.
"There's no excuse for Putin. There's no excuse for Russian analysts or Russian military intelligence leaders today to make such colossal blunders," he said. "He could sit down and do some research for an hour and understand that his fantasies about Ukraine are wrong."
But experts told Insider that Putin's autocratic regime operates as a powerful echo chamber, with his few trusted advisors too afraid to deliver difficult news or necessary reality checks.
Treisman and English said Putin is in some ways even more isolated than a typical leader in the Soviet Union, despite having the internet and easier access to international press than in the days of the USSR.
"No matter what his strategic blunders, no matter how badly he deployed his army, no matter how thinly he spread his troops, and no matter what mistakes were made with logistics... if he'd been right that Ukrainians were yearning to be liberated, none of it would've mattered very much," English said.
"That was his most fundamental mistake," he added. "And that one, there's no excuse for."
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