War in Ukraine: astrologers, sorcerers… These improbable agents of Russian propaganda

War in Ukraine astrologers sorcerers… These improbable agents of Russian

With her serious air and her look of a political woman, Tamara Globa, 66, puts her hands on her knees, and answers for an hour and twenty to the interviewer who questions her. Scholarly, she says things like: “What happens between Libra Vladimir Putin and Scorpio Joe Biden is quite typical of zodiac relationships. Often Putin is seen trying to maintain a balance, to seek an agreement. And only when that is impossible, he goes on the offensive. Scorpio, on the other hand, strikes deliberately, after finding his opponent’s weak point”. It might make you smile; but this video of one of Russia’s most famous astrologers, released at the end of March 2022, a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, has been viewed more than 15 million times on YouTube.

Since then, she, like others, has been a regular guest on many state television channels or those close to the government, to provide their “expertise” on the conflict at work and its repercussions, but also on more general issues ( “what will happen to Europe in 2023?”, “which countries will experience the greatest migratory flows?”…)

They are astrologers, tarologists, or mediums. In truth, they apply themselves to distilling the propaganda of the Kremlin by claiming the stars or their alleged extrasensory capacities. Some, such as the military “psychic” (!) Andrei Savin, argue the superiority of a Vladimir Putin commanded by “God”. Others, like the “geopolitical astrologer” Svetlana Dragan try to give a convincing explanation of the Russian autocrat’s aims by invoking… the impossibility of “judging these choices with the minimal information we have”. As for Tamara Globa – whom we already know – she promises an improvement in the situation by 2024, as well as a “new civilization” from 2030. Nothing less.

55% of Russians think you can predict the future

The success of this mixture of genres is not surprising, Russian society has never completely broken with its penchant for occult beliefs. Backed by an ancient legacy of superstitions – beginning with the popular myth of Rasputin, the mage who whispered in the ears of the Romanovs – this trend crystallized above all at the end of the 1980s, in the midst of Perestroika. At the dawn of the collapse of the Soviet system marked by its rationalist atheism, the Russians, gripped by the anguish of an uncertain future in the face of numerous economic and societal changes, demonstrated a boundless passion for paranormal stories. Just as a wave of spiritualism had taken hold of the United States and Europe after the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic. “For many Russians, the occult was a way of giving meaning to their existence, in an extremely uncertain context, explains Dr. Daria Mattingly, specialist in Russian history at the University of Cambridge. ‘a human reflex of protection that anyone is likely to resort to in troubled times.

At the end of the 1980s, certain esoteric characters were Thus become very popular on television. Starting with the “healer” Anatoly Kashpirovsky, the most famous of the mediums dubbed by the Kremlin, follower of “healing sessions”. If this passion seemed to have dried up at the beginning of the 21st century, all kinds of so-called “magical” “services” have persisted in the shadows. Today, for example, some businessmen turn to “urban witches” to seek solutions to their problems and lawyers consult psychics to predict the results of future cases… Even some members of the Duma and the Kremlin do not hide their penchant for esotericism. In the lead: Anton Vaïno, head of the presidential administration, author of texts on the “nooscope”, a process supposed to allow the “noosphere”, or human thought, to be probed.

Few figures make it possible to estimate the real weight of these beliefs in public opinion. But a survey conducted by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research in 2015 showed that no less than 55% of Russians consider it possible to predict the future. And 48% of respondents said they believe that some people have magical powers. No wonder, then, that television programs that dovetail with the occult have existed for many years in Russia. According to Daria Mattingly, however, “the instrumentalization of esoteric professionals by the Kremlin is a real turning point. Previously, mages of all kinds were content to ‘cure’ people or ‘find’ missing people in the Donbass From now on, they are consulted on extremely sensitive geopolitical questions and are the direct spokespersons of the Kremlin’s ideology in this war”.

“Systems built on sand”

For the history professor at Worcester College in Oxford Peter Frankopan, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is far from having invented, however, this “use of the occult”. For him, the latter more generally characterizes “political systems built on sand rather than stone”. For his part, Dr. Alexander Colin, a specialist in political communication at Nottingham Trent University, argues that “propagandists are often drawn to the supernatural in times of war”. Witness the mystical promises made by Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda under Hitler who, to give hope to the masses, had introduced the idea of ​​a “miraculous weapon” (wunderwaffe in German), supposed to guarantee the overthrow of the catastrophic military situation facing the Third Reich at the end of World War II. “War being a desperate and troubling time, communication professionals often use all the tools at their disposal to encourage combatants and the general public to perceive the cause in a positive way”, further details the specialist.

Loss of propaganda momentum

However, since the start of the war in Ukraine, the “classic” tools of propaganda seem to have become blunted. The audiences of the State television channels betray a weariness of the spectators as regards the speeches of the generals or the Orthodox clergy. According to Alexander Colin, the Kremlin’s current emphasis on the occult is thus motivated “by the desire to increase the esteem and confidence of its own camp”, or even “to demonize, haunt and/or demotivate those of the opposing camp”. News sites, for example, present alleged evidence of the use of “black magic” by Ukrainian forces. Several experts still predict the collapse of the European Union between 2027 and 2032, the exhaustion of the United States as a world power and certify that a global nuclear conflict will not occur in the immediate future.

““He knows when Zelensky will sign the surrender””

Sometimes, some even go so far as to make catastrophic prophecies about the Ukrainian president. On the NTV channel, the “KGB military medium” and “healer” Ivan Fomin – presented on the air as being the one who “knows when Zelensky will sign the capitulation” – had promised the surrender of the Ukrainian president in the fall of 2022 and a change of president in 2023… Failed. But the challenge is not to aim straight, only to bring the population together around common goals, anxieties and hopes, with the strong man of the Kremlin as a compass.

Influencer Funding

To do this, all means are good. Sediq Afghan, a controversial mathematician and “prophet”, for example, predicted that Volodymyr Zelensky would persist in his strategy of “nuclear blackmail” over the coming year. To endorse his speech, the illustration video showed a Volodymyr Zelensky nodding his head, as if to validate the point.

For the time being, it is difficult to assess the Kremlin’s responsibility in inviting these mystical characters – even though they are the spokespersons of its ideology. All the same: several surveys have shown that the power finances many influencers – not only political ones – as well as its growing control of the national media.

At the very least, the Kremlin seems perfectly aware of the impact that such irrational arguments can have on its public opinion. Witness the reaction of the authorities when the shaman Alexander Gabychev crossed Siberia in 2019 to “drive” President Putin from power, provoking a wave of support from part of Russian society. Reaction of the Kremlin: intervention of the special forces, imprisonment then internment in a psychiatric hospital. In Russia, it is better for the stars to be pro-Kremlin.