Indoctrinate Me Softly

1 December 2022, 0402 EST

“Some came to kill and the others came to protect” says the main male character with a charisma of a doorknob to his love interest in the “based on real events” movie “Crimea” (2017), financed by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The hour and a half epic features many equally deep and meaningful conversations between a female Ukrainian journalist from Kyiv and a male Russian soldier from Sebastopol whose romance is set against the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In its official annotation, “Crimea” promises

not a saga of the two warring clans of Montague and Capulet. This is a story about faith and honour, strength of spirit and true male friendship, about responsibility to one’s family and homeland. Finally, about simple human decency.

Unlike Hollywood’s more fruitful cooperation with the Pentagon, Russian defense ministry has been struggling to market “the second army in the world” even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. “Crimea” flopped spectacularly at the Russian box office and is now available for free on YouTube. The heavily discounted Dolph Lundgren lookalike who plays the male lead character is obviously supposed to symbolize Russia that “came to protect” an attractive Ukrainian woman who cries out “Thank you, I’m not sick. This is how I see, this is how I feel, how I love!” during one of the cringey conversations between the two characters. This stereotypical representation of a rational male soldier against an overly emotional female journalist who has a hard time understanding the politics and just “feels” is especially emblematic of the way the Ukraine has been portrayed by the pro-Kremlin mainstream media, not to mention much more insidious gendered tropes

It would have been much cheaper though to just post a couple of memes on Vkontakte (which Russian government did anyway). The movie can be essentially reduced to a couple of visuals circulating in many “patriotic” groups on Russian social media: Ukraine being represented as a silly promiscuous woman, “polite green men” who take charge and a boatload (literally) of weapons and military equipment that symbolize the virile resurgent great power that is supposedly Putin’s Russia. 

It seems like “Crimea” was just a start. According to the Russian Ministry of Culture’s financing priorities, Russian movie theatres are about to get way more trashy ideological content, including on “traditional values”, “children protection”, “Malorossiya [not even Ukraine] as a historical part of Russia”, “popularization of military service”, as well as something on “Anglo-Saxon neocolonial policies” and “European degradation”. I bet the latter one will be really fun to make! The latest policy comes on the heels of banning “unpatriotic content” (Death of Stalin) , cutting out scenes that qualify as “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” (Rocket Man) or not allowing “Captain America” to be on the billboards. 

None of it is surprising. With the “strategic regrouping” of the Russian army out of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson, the Kremlin is trying to strengthen its hold on the only reality they can control – a virtual one.