Since Vladimir Putin has had his hand in Russian politics, he has peddled in conspiratorial thinking to help himself gain support and power within his country and the world. Russia has regained its podium on the global stage by being a thorn in the side of democratic countries across the world. Upset over the United States’ role in the fall of the Soviet Union’s power, Putin has directed much of his propaganda against the United States and its allies. This abuse of power serves as a dangerous example of the deadly implications that conspiracy theories can bring. As I explore Putin’s timeline of events, a pattern of using NATO as a boogeyman will start to become clear.1 Putin realizes that the United States and NATO allies are a threat to his own power, and he uses the alliance as the proverbial ‘bad guy’ to help himself turn the Russian citizens’ attention elsewhere. In a sense he becomes their protector against an international order that wants to eliminate Russia from the world stage. Therefore, Putin has dangerously used conspiracy theories to gain and maintain power within Russia and to create pretenses for the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Starting around 2004, Putin warned that the United States’ and its NATO allies not only served as an external but also an internal threat to the Russian Federation and the people of the state. Putin feared a revolution, like the one that took place in Ukraine, when they sought independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and then in 2004 when Ukrainian citizens protested political corruption in the country’s elections.2 Although Putin’s true intentions are unknown, he may have actually feared a revolution that could have disrupted his power within the country, or he could have used this claim to stoke fictional fears within the Russian population to see a gain in his own support and diminish his people’s views about the United States. However, his use of propaganda was used to gain and maintain his own power whether he truly feared a revolution or just used it to lie and fearmonger to raise his own support.
The State media in Russia has been used to Putin’s advantage in the telling and spread of conspiracy theories. In 2007, a Russian State reporter asked Putin about his opinion of the American Secretary of State saying that Russia’s resources should be controlled by the United States and redistributed among their citizens. Putin responded that he was not familiar with the statement they were referring to but called the quote alarming for the security of the Russian Nation. The quote referred to by the Russian journalist is non-existent on the record but was determined to be true by Russian intelligence agents who were ‘able to read the mind’ of the United States Secretary of State. Here Putin was able to use the Russian State Media to deliver a fake quote and question that helped to serve his own narrative. This lie was circulated again as recently as 2021 when Putin claimed, “[Everyone] wants to bite us or bite off a piece of Russia.”3 This demonstrates that one small lie told many years ago can become a fictious fact that is used to maintain Putin’s narrative. Therefore, this demonstrates that the Russian media is used to create and convey Putin’s lies that help him sustain and gain power within Russia.
Recently Ukraine has been a common target for Putin’s conspiracy theories, Putin has claimed that Ukraine has become a military base for the NATO alliance. In addition to housing the NATO militaries, Putin claims that the West have taken control of the Ukrainian government, and Russia will be next.4 In addition, Putin has stoked fear that the United States are building bioweapons within Ukrainian borders that will be used to kill the Russian people and destroy their nation.5 On February 24th, 2022, the rhetoric took a dangerous and drastic escalation after Putin decided to invade Ukraine’s territory in a move that plunged Europe into war that has been unseen since the second world war. Due to the snowball effect, all of Putin’s conspiracy theories have conjoined, justifying his attack as a move to protect Russia from the West. Therefore, Putin’s lies, and conspiracy theories were dangerous and allowed him to declare war on his Ukrainian neighbors based on unfounded and outright false pretenses.6
Throughout his time in power, Putin has always used conspiratorial thought and fear-based tactics to scare his people into believing his lies about the West and their intentions. The frequent targets of Putin’s lies have been the United States, NATO, and Ukraine since he became a prominent figure in Russian politics in 2004. Since then, he has been building and expanding on his conspiracy theories, creating a snowball effect as lies begin to build up. Therefore, throughout his time in power, Putin has used lies and conspiracy theories to maintain power and set the stage for the invasion of Ukraine.
1 Dettmer, Jamie “For Putin, All Conspiracy Theories Lead to the West” VOA News https://www.voanews.com/a/europe_putin-all-conspiracy-theories-lead-west/6177966.html
2, 3, 4, 5 Yablokov, Ilya “The Five Conspiracy Theories That Putin Has Weaponized” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/25/opinion/putin-russia-conspiracy-theories.html
6 The Daily Digest “Putin is using these 5 conspiracy theories to justify the invasion of Ukraine” msn https://www.msn.com/en-za/news/other/putin-is-using-these-5-conspiracy-theories-to-justify-the-invasion-of-ukraine/ss-AAZM6V2