His name is linked to the vast Russian Doppelgänger [“lookalike” in German] disinformation campaign in Europe, and to that which targeted South America.

kyiv, last December, also accused Ilya Gambachidze of having developed a new information war plan in Ukraine. 

Enough to give the impression that this discreet man plays a central role in the new online propaganda system orchestrated by Moscow.

He would thus have become a serious candidate to continue the online propaganda work of the Internet Research Agency, this troll factory whose influence crumbled after the death of Yevgeni Prigozhin, its creator. 

Officially, Ilya Gambachidze is a “political technologist” (or political technologist) like hundreds of others in Russia.

A profession well known to Russians, who see these experts parading throughout political programs on television sets, but little known outside the country's borders.

The political technologist is a central figure on the political scene in Russia and increasingly embodies Moscow's ability to influence the world.

Explanation with Andrew Wilson, Russia expert at University College London, author of “Political Technology: The globalization of Political Manipulation”, published in December 2023, a book which focuses in particular on these Russian specialists in political communication.

France 24: To begin with, what is a political technologist?

Andrew Wilson:

According to the official definition in Russia, this is an individual who offers political engineering solutions [political decision-making assistance, Editor's note] in order to provide a partisan advantage to his employer.

To understand exactly what this means, we need to go back in time a little.

The modern role of political technologist took shape in the 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Soviet regime.

At that time, their main mission was to help their political master avoid problems.

In this sense, Vladimir Putin carried out the work of a political technologist in 2000, ensuring shortly before becoming president himself that Boris Yeltsin escaped legal proceedings against him.

They then became great electoral architects.

A famous example of a technique used by political technologists is the candidacy of General Lebed against Boris Yeltsin during the 1996 presidential election. The individuals who financed the campaign of the future Russian president also, behind the scenes, pushed Alexander Lebed to introduce himself.

This soldier will finish third by gathering nearly 15% of the votes in the first round, then will call on all his supporters to vote for Boris Yeltsin. 

This scenario illustrates how political technologists have begun to control elements of the Russian political system.

Then, with money, influence, and "kompromat" (compromising material to blackmail the victim), they set up a much larger political system, like a chessboard on which they control the movement. of each room.

What is the difference with the “spin doctors” or “political advisors” found in the West?

The original role of "spin doctors" was to go to the media after a political debate and try to convince them that their candidate had won the verbal contest.

Political consultants or advisors are supposed to simply provide advice or improve the image of the candidate for whom they work. 

Obviously, these concepts have evolved and these individuals now run all aspects of an election campaign.

They set up the entire media distribution system, take care of fundraising and create the campaign narrative.

In this sense, it can be similar to what political technologists do.

But the context is different.

In the United States, candidates serve private campaign funds, electoral committees and the media who offer an alternative reality favorable to their champion.

Politicians are immersed in this whole universe created by political consultants to highlight them.

In Russia, politicians are mere puppets of political technologists.

Their techniques have established total control of the political world where everyone is an actor reading a script.

Everything that comes out of Vladimir Putin's mouth is staged by political technologists to produce the desired effect.

Also read: Ilya Gambachidze: simple soldier of disinformation or king of Russian trolls?

How has this profession evolved?

After taking control of the Russian political system in the 1990s, they refined their method to prevent their puppets from escaping their grip.

Then, they had to face popular protest against this very controlled political system.

This is what happened, notably with the demonstrations of 2011-2012 [following the massive fraud revealed during the legislative elections, Editor's note].

Political technologists then developed ways to neutralize this threat.

They succeeded because today the centers of power are controlled by these political technologists.

But if everything is rigged and everyone knows it, no one wants to participate and vote.

This is how political technologists had to add a string to their bow: succeed in improving electoral participation. 

Since February 2022, Russia has become much more conventionally repressive towards the opposition and has less need for the know-how of political technologists to lock down the political system.

So the latter continue to reinvent themselves and take more care of everything related to politics, even outside of the electoral process. 

This is the major change since the election of Vladimir Putin in 2000. Political technologists have gradually taken over the Russian historical narrative [from its founding until Putin's arrival in power, Editor's note], rewriting it to make a propaganda tool.

They deal with foreign policy, and interfere in religious politics.

Vladimir Medinsky, the current Minister of Culture, illustrates this evolution well.

Sometimes called Putin's historian, and appointed at the start of the war against Ukraine to negotiate with kyiv, he worked for a "polit-technology" firm in the 1990s. 

Also read “The Other Ukraine”, the pro-Russian disinformation platform of an exiled oligarch

Should the West be wary of these political technologists?


In fact, the first title I thought of for my book was “The Hacking of Global Democracy”.

I started working on this book on the occasion of the American presidential election in 2016. The way in which Russia sought to influence the result is nothing other than the application on the international scene of methods used by political technologists on a national level.

The main method is what is called "secondary infection".

Political technologists start by injecting false information into the public debate, then set about implementing "secondary infection" which consists of circulating this information in traditional media.

And the major American newspapers and television networks have fallen into the trap of tackling themes that were originally pushed by Russian trolls to inflame the debate.

And since then, we have found political technologists at work in many countries, particularly on the African continent.

They try to influence the parties on the spot, train local relays in the art of rigging elections and, more generally, organize the manipulation of ballots.

They were also very active during the independence referendum campaign in 2017 in Catalonia where Moscow has, a priori, little to gain... except to inflame disagreements within an important member country of the EU.

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