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Leaked Kremlin docs detail Putin’s ‘€1billion election propaganda blitz’

Internal Kremlin documents reportedly detail a staggering investment in a propaganda campaign to maintain Vladimir Putin’s firm grip on power and promote Russian nationalism.

The “Kremlin Leaks” documents, obtained by the Estonian news website Delfi, which worked in partnership with around ten other outlets, are said to reveal how Moscow is waging a state-sponsored “information war” inside Russia, with a total planned budget of €1.1 billion (around £940million).

The most recent documents obtained by Delfi date back to December.

It comes ahead of Russia’s upcoming presidential election on March 15-17, with Putin set for a fifth term as President – since only candidates approved by the Kremlin are permitted to run.

Vsquare, an investigative journalism site says some €631 million was allocated for the Kremlin’s information war, but the Russian state is also paying special attention to what Russia describes as “new territories” – referring to areas mainly in eastern Ukraine that have been occupied by Putin’s forces.

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The Kremlin has spent hundreds of millions of euros in these areas “to ensure the population’s loyalty”, Vsquare claims.

According to Meduza, an independent Russian investigative site that was a partner in the project, the lion-share of this budget is for the entertainment sector, namely television, cinema and online content.

Files seen by the Russian outlet reportedly lay bare the Putin administration’s focus on producing creative works highlighting “traditional values​” and suggest that “positive changes in the way Russians live are fundamental trends”.

Content should celebrate “modern [Russian] heroes of whom everyone can be proud” and offer a sense of national belonging to “residents of the new territories” to unify the country, as the roadmap refers to communities outside of Russia.

Around 15 organisations and associations were given almost €600 million to produce content following objectives imposed by the state.

According to the leaked files, the Institute for Internet Development (IID) was the big winner of this funding, receiving over €400million since the beginning of last year.

The IID is a partly state-owned entity founded in 2015 which, according to a Meduza article from 2023 reporting the organization’s growing influence, was launched to “establish dialogue between stakeholders in the Internet ecosystem and the government”.

But its purpose was changed in 2017, and it became a fund content targeted at young people, according to Meduza.

It has since become one of the main sources of financing for films and TV shows in the country, Meduza reports.

The IID has put together a “creative campaign content” document for the Presidential election, detailing a dozen film projects, TV broadcasts and has even reportedly drawn up plans for live music festivals.

One series, called “GDR” (the initialism for the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany during the Cold War), offers a scarcely veiled allusion to Putin’s early career, following the daily life of an intelligence officer of the period.

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The Russian leader had a similar position in the region before he rose to power in Moscow, and Strukov said it “gives a positive image of the security services agent”, responsible for tackling Western influence in the region, which was then an ally of the Soviet Union.

Another series “20/22”, presents a love story between a young Russian man who goes on a “humanitarian mission in the Donbas” with a young woman who opposes the “special military operation” (the euphemism used by Putin for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022).

Jeff Hawn, a Russia specialist at the London School of Economics, says it is the first time Putin’s administration has gone to such lengths to ensure victory at the ballot box.

“It shows how, since the war, Putin and his inner circle have had to be more proactive and hands-on to frame the narrative before an election, because they cannot trust the system to work for them as much as before,” Hawn told France 24.

As Putin is almost certain to be re-elected, he aims to “pre-rig the election”, Hawn claims, so the “manipulation of voting results is as small as possible”.

Increasing his margin of victory will send a message to the political class in Moscow and “give the impression that Putin still has big support among the masses, and therefore there is no reason to look for an alternative”, he told the outlet.

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