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Influencing fragile minds Kremlin officials are coming up with ‘creative’ ways to hit back at celebrities who oppose Russia’s war against Ukraine
Despite the threat of military censorship, getting arrested, or facing criminal prosecution for spreading “false information” or “discrediting” the Russian military, many Russians openly oppose Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. According to Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin, officials in Putin’s administration are particularly “concerned” about the influence of celebrities who have spoken out against the war. And as special correspondent Andrey Pertsev learned, the Kremlin plans to do something about it.
Officials in Putin’s administration are “concerned” about popular musicians, actors, directors, and comedians making anti-war statements, three sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza. “Artists are opinion leaders, they influence the fragile minds of their audience,” one of these sources said, ironically.
The list of Russian celebrities who have directly criticized Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine includes television host Maxim Galkin, the rapper Face, singer Monetochka, and stand-up comedians Alexander Dolgopolov and Danila Poperechny, among others.
According to Meduza’s sources, the domestic policy bloc of Putin’s administration is now working to counteract these “opinion leaders.” Sergey Novikov, who heads the Presidential Directorate for Social Projects, and his deputy Alexey Zharich have been tasked with overseeing this work. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not responded to Meduza’s questions prior to publication.
The Kremlin’s efforts to “counteract” these opinion makers are being organized through Russia’s regional administrations. According to Meduza’s sources, Putin’s administration is “recommending” suitable “campaigns” for regional officials to carry out. In late April, for example, bus stops in Krasnoyarsk were papered with “promotional posters” depicting comedians, actors, and singers who had spoken out against the war.
One of the posters alleged that comedian Danila Poperechny would be performing in London, Paris, and “Talin” (an apparent misspelling of Estonia’s capital, Tallinn) as part of a purported tour called “Across the Border of Patriotism,” where he would allegedly “talk about dangerous topics at a safe distance.”
Another poster depicted members of the popular band Little Big above the phrase “Little Patriotism Big Idiocy.” Little Big members Ilya Prusikin and Sofya Tayurskaya have both spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Similar posters later popped up in St. Petersburg. The Krasnoyarsk Krai and St. Petersburg administrations did not respond to Meduza’s inquiries about whether these posters “came down” from officials in Putin’s administration. In turn, the Krasnoyarsk Mayor’s Office promised to take the “posters” down.
Another option Putin’s administration gave to regional officials was to personally condemn celebrities who had denounced the war. Primorsky Krai Culture Minister Elena Bronnikova, for example, openly announced that authorities in the region wouldn’t allow such artists to perform at local venues. “Entertainers who took an openly anti-Russian position after the start of the military operation in Ukraine have no place in Primorye,” she said.
The Primorsky Krai administration did not respond to Meduza’s request for comment prior to publication.
One Meduza source close to Putin’s administration explained that these “campaigns” are designed to reach a national audience through the news media and Telegram channels. The source even cited the “poster” campaign in Krasnoyarsk as an example. “The main thing was for the idea to be creative. It’s clear that the Krasnoyarsk pensioners sitting at the bus stops won’t appreciate it — they don’t know who [the rapper] Face is. But the media wrote about the posters, including opposition media. A very broad audience saw them, one that uses the Internet and knows about these artists,” the source explained.
At the same time, another source pointed out that so far, the campaign against the artists who condemned the war hasn’t been “deployed at full force, far from it.” Indeed, federal-level politicians and state media are “passively” taking part because they don’t want to show their audiences how many famous Russians have condemned Moscow’s actions.
With this in mind, RT head Margarita Simonyan publicly smearing television presenter Maxim Galkin is more the exception than the rule. After Galkin condemned Russia for killing civilians in Ukraine, Simonyan — speaking on air on the state-owned television channel Russia-1 — accused him of “hypocrisy” and alleged that he married an “elderly woman” (pop megastar Alla Pugacheva) to advance his career and “divert attention” because “everyone knows that he’s gay.”
Some State Duma lawmakers have also “passively” spoken out. For example, the head of the parliament’s Culture Committee Elena Yampolskaya (a United Russia lawmaker) proposed banning those who condemned the invasion of Ukraine from performing in Russia.
Meduza’s sources close to Putin’s administration, as well as a source close to the State Duma’s leadership, emphasized that the Kremlin has no plan to institute such a ban at the legislative level. However, both Russian and Ukrainian performers who have publicly, opposed the invasion have already seen their concerts banned.
The source close to the State Duma’s leadership explained the logic of these initiatives on the part of federal politicians to Meduza as follows: “They’re acting like this now — and [saying] whatever else is patriotic.”
Abridged translation by Eilish Hart
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