Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Framing Sanctions in the Russian Media: The Rally Effect and Putin's Enduring Popularity

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Framing Sanctions in the Russian Media: The Rally Effect and Putin's Enduring Popularity

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article analyzes a paradoxical situation: sanctions have real negative effects on the Russian economy, but are not recognized by the population as a problem. The article analyzes the key strategies used to deproblematize the economic sanctions (and the Russian food embargo) that were used in four Russian newspapers from March 2014 to December 2014. Drawing on agenda-setting theory, we assume that the use of deproblematization strategies in the media discussion on economic sanctions proves to people that the effects of the sanctions are not severe. The second section discusses another puzzle: against the background of a large-scale economic and political crisis in Russia, Vladimir Putin's support is increasing. We explain this outcome using the rally-around-the-flag effect. We argue that Russia's media discussion can explain why the rally effect in Russia is substantially more stable than in other countries.


Russia's annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2014, had a significant impact on Russia's relations with the West. Public discussion about the annexation of Crimea was largely ideological. Countries have adopted various positions on the issue and defended them in various ways, including through the media. It is possible to accuse the Russian (1) and the Western media (2) of promoting a politically desirable public opinion on this issue. Western countries have supported Ukraine in the conflict and described Russia as the aggressor. Thus, the declared purpose of the economic sanctions Western countries imposed on Russia is the return of Crimea to Ukraine and the revision of Russian foreign policy.

A number of governments imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses immediately after the annexation of Crimea. Initially, the sanctions had the largest impact on the country's image and involved only a travel ban on the officials named in the sanctions list to the countries that introduced these measures. Later, the sanctions were extended, and additional countries supported them. In addition, the West began to impose economic constraints on Russia. Thus, in July 2014, a new package of sanctions targeted certain Russian raw materials and defense companies, and in September, restrictions limited loans to Russian companies and individuals. One reason for the expansion of economic sanctions was the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

International sanctions against Russian individuals, businesses and officials became an iconic topic in 2014 for the Russian media. The possible consequences of the sanctions were actively discussed. In 2014, the central and regional press published 92,155 articles on this issue, according to an analysis of the Integrum database. (3) The sanctions also attracted substantial public attention. According to surveys by the Levada Center, the issue was repeatedly named as the most memorable event of the month prior to the survey (21-28% of respondents). (4)

After the sanctions were implemented, Russia faced serious economic problems, including a decline in foreign trade and GDP per capita. The sanctions contributed to other economic problems in Russia, including the drop in the price of oil, ruble devaluation, inflation, and budget deficits. (5) However, unexpectedly, the economic sanctions were not recognized by the population as a problem. Opinion polls revealed that a large proportion of Russians did not perceive negative effects from the sanctions for the country as a whole (62 percent) and for themselves personally (92 percent). (6) Additionally, the Russian food embargo was positively evaluated.

We assume that these perceptions are due to the purposeful construction of the image of the economic sanctions in the media. Although the public has observed the price increases connected with the sanctions, (7) it believes that the sanctions and, in particular, the food embargo will benefit domestic manufacturers and therefore the country as a whole. …

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