Will Putin’s Information Iron Curtain Backfire?

Produced by ‘Sway’

On Friday, the Kremlin blocked access to Facebook inside Russia and passed a law making it illegal to spread what the government determines to be “false information” about the country’s armed forces. It was the latest move in President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on dissent, which may be working. TikTok announced on Sunday that it is suspending livestreaming and new posts from Russia in response to the new disinformation law.

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But Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent who is now at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, believes that ultimately this crackdown could backfire. He says Putin “has a disaster on his hands,” noting that a country cannot disinformation its way out of fallen soldiers — the Mothers of Russia will push back. And Watts believes platform interruptions and restrictions to operations of many Western companies — including Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Oracle, Cogent, Visa and Mastercard — mean Putin is playing a dangerous game at home. The result could be disastrous: “We’re worried about Kyiv falling today. I’m worried about Moscow falling between day 30 and six months from now.”

In this conversation, Kara Swisher and Watts discuss the evolving information crackdown in Russia and how the prevalence of smartphones and live video make this war unlike others. They also discuss the threat of cyberwarfare and why alarm bells should be going off in the West when it comes to Russia, and to China.

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

Credit…Emmy Tiderington

Thoughts? Email us at [email protected].

“Sway” is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, Caitlin O’Keefe and Wyatt Orme, and edited by Nayeema Raza; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; mixing by Carole Sabouraud and Sonia Herrero; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

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