A few hours after the first reports of the destruction of the Kakhovka dam appeared early Tuesday morning, the Kremlin's propagandists went to great lengths to present the Russian public with a culprit. "The Ukrainians staged an act of terror and destroyed the massive building of incredible proportions," announced Olga Skabeeva in her program "60 Minutes" at 12 noon local time on one of the country's most important channels Rossiya 1.
"The most alarming news is reaching us from the Cherson region," she reported. "Insane pictures. The water level has already risen by ten meters. The town of Nowa Kachowka is practically flooded."
"What Ukraine did there is equivalent in effect to the use of a tactical nuclear weapon," her studio guest Igor Korotschenko commented on the situation.
A day later, Skabeeva's husband and co-moderator, Yevgeny Popov, began the program with images from the flooded Russian-occupied territories, but then preferred to talk about alleged domestic political problems in the USA and the recruitment difficulties of the German Bundeswehr. A little later, one of his guests philosophized about the alleged drug use in the US armed forces and the US establishment - as if he himself had witnessed this alleged drug use countless times. Almost nothing was to be seen of the effects, which had been compared so dramatically to the use of a nuclear weapon the day before.
Three days after the Kakhovka disaster unfolded, the issue has faded into the background on Russian state television news. In the daily edition of the news program "Vesti" on the channel Rossiya 1 on June 8, the first article was about the Russian troops, who were said to be "successfully repelling" attacks by the Ukrainian armed forces. The flooding of the Kherson region was described later in the program as "a flood after the Ukrainian shelling of the Kakhovka dam".
The story repeated itself in the evening edition of "Westi": First, the destruction of the dam was described as a "barbaric action" by Ukraine. Subsequently, the correspondents of the program announced that a "flood" had occurred in the Kherson region. NTW news programs also use the same word.
In one of the news programs on Russia's main channel Pervyy Kanal (First Channel), the subject even moved up to fourth place in the schedule. The article about the disaster in the Cherson region was preceded by: a story about an "international forum of education ministers", a report about western weapons allegedly destroyed at the front and a report about the imprisonment of an alleged "Kiev agent" in Donetsk.
At the same time, the Pervyj Kanal broadcaster did not focus on the causes of the Kakhovka disaster. The hydroelectric power station was described as "attacked". How and who is said to have attacked it was kept from the spectators.
All state channels and propaganda online media are now focusing much more on the allegedly successful evacuation of the residents of the occupied area. In fact, the Russian authorities reacted far too late. It was not until the evening of June 6 that the Moscow-installed government said a plan to evacuate residents from the flooded area had been "worked out" and that the Ministry of Emergency Situations was ready to evacuate people "if necessary".
In the past few days, however, residents have reported that no help is in sight. On the contrary: the Russian army should prevent those who do not have Russian passports from leaving the flooded villages and towns. Several of those affected told the independent Russian medium "Meduza", for example.
The Russian rescue workers only went into action 60 hours after the flood began, a representative of a voluntary organization told the independent TV station Dozhd. While volunteers would try to save people, they would be fired upon by Russian soldiers. Contrary to official claims, the authorities would not keep statistics on how many people are missing or dead. Countless bodies can be seen in the masses of water.
However, viewers and readers of pro-Kremlin media see a different picture. An employee of a state publication revealed in an interview with "Meduza": People are told that "Russia saves and helps" and that "Ukraine shoots at those whom Russia helps".
A source close to the presidential administration (this is where the so-called handbooks for the propaganda media are written) explained the tactic behind it: "It is not advisable to focus on the causes [of the disaster] at this time," said the anonymous source.
"The president is officially speaking about Ukraine. Shoigu says that Ukraine did it. Dmitry Peskov makes the same statements. That's enough. It's better to focus on the positive, also in order not to scare people unnecessarily." This is standard practice, he assures, calling the destruction of the hydroelectric power station "essentially a natural disaster."
The interlocutor of "Meduza" added that although the disaster was an "important event", it "does not stand out from the general background of the war".
"So far, the death toll doesn't go into the dozens," the source claimed, apologizing for the propaganda tactic. A statement that reveals more about the relationship between the Russian government and its own population than about the actual number of victims. Volunteers are already assuming hundreds of deaths.
The renewed reluctance of the Russian state media could simply be due to the fact that they have not received any instructions from the Kremlin. This is what at least two sources in major pro-government publications told Meduza journalists. Accordingly, there were no clear recommendations for reporting on the Kachowka disaster. Usually such "manuals" are issued almost immediately after major events. But this time it was different.
According to the two sources, the propagandists were not even told what exactly should be given as the reason for the destruction of the dam. And so most of the Kremlin media chose to hit the brakes. "You don't have to pedal, but you don't have to cover it up either," is how one of the interlocutors described the current propaganda approach.