Vladimir Putin’s desperation as his invasion of Ukraine continues to bog down was on display on Friday, analysts say, when the Russian president invoked cancel culture during a videoconference.
In a short translated excerpt from the conference with Russian cultural figures shared by numerous media outlets, Putin claimed that the West was trying to cancel Russia and compared it to the JK Rowling saga.
“Not so long ago, children’s writer Joanne Rowling was canceled because she, the author of books that have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, didn’t appeal to fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Putin said, according to a translation of the video posted by The Guardian newspaper.
rowling came under fire in recent years for her stance on transgender issues. Putin’s statement on Friday essentially said the West was trying to nullify Russia, just like he says he did for Rowling.
The British author of the Harry Potter series was not impressed. Rowling rebuked Putin’s remarks in a statement on Twitter.
“Criticisms of Western cancel culture are perhaps no better made by those who are now massacring civilians for the crime of resistance, or imprisoning and poisoning their critics,” she wrote, using the hashtag #IStandWithUkraine.
During the conference, Putin also accused the United States of erasing Russian contributions to the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II from films. He alleged that the West was canceling the country by “advancing the discrimination of anything related to Russia”.
The statements have sunk into the culture wars in the West where issues such as transgender rights, race and free speech have polarized the political spectrum.
Putin’s comments are in line with a Kremlin strategy of using disinformation and propaganda to divide and undermine Western democracies, experts say.
But the “bizarre” rant shows how “distorted” Putin’s sense of reality is, said Mary Blankenship, a researcher at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“The rhetoric he uses is very similar to the rhetoric used in the West, especially in the discourse between more liberal and more conservative views,” Blankenship said. “In the United States, we have Fox News; the rhetoric is very similar to some of the rhetoric you would see there.
It’s too early to tell if JK Rowling‘s statement catches on, Blankenship said early Friday afternoon. But, in the past, similar statements managed to spread around the world.
Once such a remark is made, the Russian robot farms and the trolls try to perpetuate it. “Anti-Western” sentiments most often find momentum in Africa and the Middle East, where they are seen as highlighting Western hypocrisy, she said.
Comments usually come from Kremlin officials or other sources, she said, and not from Putin himself. Given how often Russia and its officials make such comments and spread disinformation, Blankenship is not surprised by JK Rowling’s remark of Putin, but finds others far more concerning.
“To call all Ukrainians Nazis and fascists and to say that Ukraine as a culture and as a country does not exist is crazier for me,” she said.
Marcus Kolga, a disinformation expert at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said the remark shows the Russian leader “smells the desperation” as the Kremlin continues to lose the battle to control the narrative of events in Ukraine.
Journalists and other Western news sources have succeeded in crushing the Kremlin’s attempts to distort what is really going on there. Russia targeted civilians, among other allegations, during its invasion.
“It’s completely consistent with Putin’s need to have enemies everywhere to make Russia a victim,” Kolga said. “So now he’s using cancel culture to kind of achieve that narrative and that goal.”
Kolga said Russia has been using divisive issues to undermine other nations’ democracy for years now.
There are both far left and far right elements that support the invasion of Ukraine and invoking the JK Rowling issue is a way to appeal to the far right in western countries, a he declared.
Putin has a history of polarizing Westerners, Kolga said, previously using COVID-19 conspiracies or racial issues to divide the population of Western nations.
Although he has gained some support from the political fringes, which continue to amplify Russian narratives, in the mainstream, Putin is losing the information battle, Kolga said.
More needs to be done to tackle disinformation tactics employed by Moscow, he said, such as imposing sanctions on Russian media.
“They just pull and pull and tear these issues apart in order to further separate us,” he said.
Blankenship said she finds direct attacks on the West concerning. Security experts believe Putin would view a loss to Ukraine as a humiliating defeat for Russia and may seek to draw NATO into the conflict to soften the ego blow of surrender, she said.
She worries that statements increasingly targeting the West could signal Putin’s intentions in the future.
With files from The Associated Press