Billions of dollars to get re-elected… comfortably.

Internal Kremlin documents were leaked to the Estonian information site Delfi which, in partnership with around ten international media such as Der Spiegel (German) or Expressen (Sweden), was thus able to reconstruct the propaganda machine set up to ensure the victory of Vladimir Putin in the presidential election on March 17.

These “Kremlin Leaks”, published Monday February 26, detail the plan for what its promoters called the “informational war” underway in Russia. The most recent documents date back to December 2023.

An “information war” worth more than a billion euros

This program, whose main objective is to support the candidacy of the outgoing president, also illustrates “the importance for the Kremlin [of integrating] the 'new territories' - that is to say those occupied by Russia - in Ukraine,” notes Vsquare, an investigative journalism site specializing in Eastern European news which also worked on this document leak.

In total, they reveal that the Russian government has planned a budget of more than 1.1 billion euros to support this “informational war” ahead of the Russian presidential election.

The entertainment sector - television, cinema and the internet - takes the lion's share of this very special envelope, notes Meduza, an independent Russian investigative site also a partner of these “Kremlin Leaks”.

The presidential administration wants works that highlight the “traditional values ​​of the country”.

They must show that “positive changes in the way of life of Russians are fundamental trends”, and strive to exalt “the modern [Russian] heroes of whom everyone can be proud”.

And they aim to promote the unity of the country by offering a sense of national belonging to “residents of the new territories” occupied in Ukraine.

This roadmap “is nothing new in spirit and is reminiscent of the guidelines to follow for film studios in the 1930s [the Hays code, Editor's note]”, explains Jeff Hawn, Russia specialist at the London School of Economics.

“The 'Kremlin Leaks' above all reveal the financial details of the ecosystem set up to push the narrative desired by the Russian power,” specifies Vlad Strukov, professor of cinema at the University of Leeds and specialist in Russian cinema.

A spy in the former GDR and a love story in Donbass

Around fifteen organizations and associations received nearly 600 million euros in order to produce content in line with the objectives listed by the Russian authorities.

According to the “Kremlin Leaks”, the big winner of this operation is called the Internet Development Institute (IDI) which has received since the beginning of 2023 more than 400 million euros to put this propaganda into images.

The IDI was founded in 2015 with the aim of “strengthening cooperation between the State and digital players”, recalls Meduza in a 2023 survey devoted to the influence of this organization.

But from 2017, its purpose changed: the Internet Development Institute became a fund to finance “content aimed at young people”, underlines Meduza.

The IDI has not remained a machine for memes or series for teenagers.

It now represents one of the main sources of financing for films and TV shows in Russia, assures Meduza.

It is the archetype “of these alternative organizations to the traditional funds of traditional artistic creation that the power uses to push its own narrative”, explains Vlad Strukov.

For the presidential election, the IDI has prepared a “creative campaign content” document detailing a dozen film projects, broadcasts and music festivals.

It is about a series, called GDR (German Democratic Republic) about the daily life of an intelligence officer in former East Germany during the Cold War.

It “gives a positive image of the security services agent”, responsible for fighting against Western influence.

A barely veiled allusion to Vladimir Putin who held a similar position in his younger years.

There is also “20/22”, another series which evokes the love story between a young Russian who goes on a “humanitarian mission in the Donbass” with a young woman opposed to the “special military operation” (l (official euphemism used by Moscow to designate the Russian invasion of Ukraine beginning in 2022).

Minimize the need to rig elections

For Jeff Hawn, it is in any case “the first time that Vladimir Putin's entourage has put in place such a system to guarantee the re-election of the Russian president”.

A propaganda effort which may be surprising: the outcome of the vote seems in fact a foregone conclusion.

The idea, in reality, would not be to make Vladimir Putin win, but “to reduce the need to have to manipulate results”, assures Jeff Hawn.

Since the start of the major military offensive in Ukraine and especially the aborted “rebellion” of the late Wagner group boss Evgeni Prigojine, there has been a certain “insecurity at the top of the State regarding the sustainability of the system”, continues the expert from the London School of Economics.

If the deluge of propaganda allows the president-candidate's score to rise, “it will be a way of convincing the Russian political world that Vladimir Putin still has the support of the masses and that there is no need to look for an alternative” , believes Jeff Hawn. 

These “Kremlin Leaks” are also a reflection of Russian power which is becoming more and more ideological.

He has certainly always resorted to the cult of personality but “one of Vladimir Putin's strengths was that before the war in Ukraine he knew how to be pragmatic”, underlines Jeff Hawn.

Since then, the master of the Kremlin has played the ideological confrontation card with the “decadent West” and never misses an opportunity to praise “traditional national values”.

But as “Russia is not China in terms of controlling access to culture, the public can see Western productions or those from South America and Asia,” notes Vlad Strukov.

For this expert, the “Kremlin Leaks” thus show how the Russian power “delegates the production of the narrative developed by the Kremlin to all these structures such as the IDI, in order to be able to offer a competitive offer in the face of these other influences”, concludes. he.

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