It is this trust, which has developed over the years, that allowed Putin to make Russians believe absurd stories about Nazis
or "bioweapon labs" in Ukraine.
I want to stress, however, that it is misleading to call Russians "brainwashed victims
" of propaganda. The repetition of falsehoods by state media over many years has undoubtedly played some role. Nevertheless, the Kremlin's narrative about Ukraine has been so effective because it heavily exploited Russians' existing beliefs and feelings, including post-Soviet ressentiment, a condescending attitude toward other ex-Soviet nations, etc. Many Russians are eager to believe what propaganda is selling, and state media satisfies this existing demand.2. State media outlets make each other appear more credible
The Kremlin's information bubble, however, can affect even those citizens who don’t strongly sympathize with its pro-Putin, anti-Western narratives, and even those who try to consume news more carefully and consciously.
To understand the power of the propaganda bubble, it is worth considering how we usually decide whether to believe news reports that we see. If, for example, we see a report from a source that we don’t trust fully, we might look for external confirmation of the story. And when we find that other news outlets are also reporting it, we may decide to believe it.
Such verification is a completely reasonable thing, and news-consumers across the world commonly engage in it. Russians aren’t an exception: in a recent survey of internet users, I found that about 80% rely on this criterion when they evaluate news stories. "I heard it elsewhere," or "I googled it, and it is confirmed by other sources" – this is what respondents told me in many cases.
However, when the government controls virtually all media organizations, relying on such external verification becomes counterproductive and dangerous. When the Kremlin decides to spread a new bit of disinformation, the story is usually promoted through many state-controlled outlets, including online media, more or less simultaneously. And even the most ridiculous statements, as a result, are "confirmed" by multiple other news outlets. Moreover, if you use Yandex – Russia's most popular search engine – you won't even see any articles by independent news outlets in thesearch results (Yandex used to index diverse news sources, including independent media, but over the past several years the government forced
it to exclude virtually all independent outlets).
By "confirming" each other's stories, state media prop up each other's credibility. If you consistently find that the reporting of RIA Novosti is "corroborated" by other sources, you would ultimately come to believe that RIA is a trustworthy, reliable source. And the same applies to other major state-run news outlets that routinely repeat each other and thus create the illusion of credibility.
Even critically-minded citizens fall into this trap.