How the international media covered the Russo-Ukrainian war, May 16

Sasha Sverdlova

An American political scientist Sidney Tarrow wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, where he discusses Putin’s chances of reconstructing the Stalin regime. Further into the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s hardening control over in-country dissent are making more and more parallels between now and the totalitarian period of 1927-1953, writes Tarrow. And there are many similarities between the two dictators – using office decorations to improve their image, launching military demonstrations to demonstrate power, and surrounding themselves with sycophants. Using poison to get rid of opponents and convincing his people of external hostility towards Russia are also what Putin and Stalin have in common. Nevertheless, such parallels might be tricky as there are differences too: for starters, Stalin kept himself away from the public, while Putin loves being exposed while riding a horse or appearing in a dark suit and tie. Secondly, Stalin had the communist party as his main control base, while Putin relies on his internal circle. Putin has also violated Stalin’s cardinal foreign policy precept – never start a war you are not certain to win. The Ukrainian invasion has exposed the rot at the heart of Putin’s system. Tarrow claims Putin has neither machinery nor the ability to reconstruct anything of Stalinʼs system.

Foreign Policy writes about the “parallel universe” on the Chinese application Douyin – the original version of TikTok – that is full of admiration and worship of Vladimir Putin. While in most parts of the world, Putin is presented as a ruthless villain, thousands of users on Douyin refer to the Russian dictator as handsome “daddy Putin” who just wants world peace. For example, one of the popular searches is “Putin’s kindheartedness isn’t weak in the slightest.” Experts say the so-called Chinese internet arm boosts at least part of this campaign. While Chinese officials claim China is not officially taking sides in the war, pro-Ukrainian comments have been disappearing from Chinese social media, and news outlets in the country were instructed to avoid publishing anything “unfavorable to Russia”. Moreover, the state media line remains that NATO and the US are the actual initiators of the war.

The New Yorker writes a tale of the people of Melitopol facing the consequences of the Russian occupation. Among others, the outlet features stories of mayor Ivan Fedorov and Serhiy Pryima, head of Melitopol district council, who were both arrested by the invaders. As Melitopol did not have a military unit armed with heavy weaponry, the city was seized and occupied soon after the invasion. At the same time, local people did not accept the new “Russian” reality and started protesting against the occupation, putting the invaders in shock. Both Ivan and Serhiy were soon detained by Russian soldiers, who did not believe it was not them organizing the protests. Fedorov was accused of financing the “Nazis,” and Pryima was kidnapped. Fedorov was kept in Melitopol police station; they tried to force him to sign a resignation and pass the authority to collaborator Galina Danilchenko. He refused and later, on March 16th, was exchanged for 9 Russian prisoners of war. Fedorov believes the Russians did not need a symbol of resistance in his persona. Pryima was released at the end of April, but there have been hundreds of detains, with many people still missing. While people have been tortured and kidnapped, the newly appointed “mayor” Danilchenko is trying to create an image of “normalcy” and convince locals to surrender and accept the Russian version of the events. She persecuted the educators who refused to teach “russkiy mir”, held a “Victory Day” parade on May 9th, and ordered the printing of only propagandist news.