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That’s show business Russia spends $1.4 million on ‘marathon’ of pro-war concerts

Ramil Sitdikov / TASS

The Russian government’s recent “marathon” of pro-war concerts cost the federal budget 95.3 million rubles ($1.4 million), BBC News Russian reported on Wednesday, May 11. The concert series, meant to drum up support for Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, marks the largest state contract ever concluded in Russia for such an event (as per public procurement records). 

The “musical patriotic marathon” — called “Za Rossiyu” or “For Russia” — toured 30 Russian cities from April 14 to May 3. The concert’s programs were given names like “No Man Left Behind”, “Victory is Ours”, “For you, Motherland,” and “Everything will be fine!”. Its branding also included the hashtags #Zaмирбезнацизма (“For a world without Nazism”) and #Мывместе (“We are together”). 

Thirty-four performers took part in total, including pop artists, rock bands, and even poets. According to the BBC, the highest-paid act was musician Sergey Galanin’s band SerGa, which received 10.5 million rubles ($157,000) for seven performances. According to state contracts, singer Sergey Bobunets (the former frontman of the rock group Smyslovye Gallyutsinatsii) received 6.9 million rubles ($103,000) for five performances. And the rock bands Pilot and Va-Bank were paid 6 million rubles each (nearly $90,000) for playing four and five shows, respectively. 

The most expensive single performance was the concert played by the pop-rock bank Uma2rman in Barnaul, which cost an estimated 4.1 million rubles ($61,000). The lowest-paid musical act was PosleZavtra — a band best known for their song “Svoikh ne brosaem” (“No man left behind”). The group was paid 2.1 million rubles ($31,000) for three performances. According to the BBC’s findings, poet Ivan Kupreyanov had the smallest fee: 84,000 (about $1,300) for a single performance.

Singer Sergey Lazarev was supposed to perform as part of the show in Lipetsk on April 29, but he was replaced by singer Nikolai Baskov a day before the show. The journalists surmised that Lazarev’s show was canceled because he initially posted an anti-war statement on social media, which was then deleted. 

The BBC’s report noted that the general estimates included not only a performer’s fee and rider, but also the cost of airport transfers, hotels, and organizer services.

Producers working in the entertainment business gave the BBC’s journalists varying assessments of the performance fees: some said they were “overpriced”, while others described them as standard. One anonymous producer underscored that the state couldn’t force performers to take part in regional events pro bono or for less than their usual fee. According to this source, the only unspoken exceptions to this rule are the New Year’s program Little Blue Lights and Victory Day concerts. 

The BBC’s source said that 95 million rubles would have been about the average cost for a 30 “marathon” concerts before the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, he noted that stage equipment and security make up 70 percent of the costs for outdoor performances. The contracts for the “For Russia” concert series did not include these expenses.

As the state contractor behind the events, Rosconcert — a company owned by the Russian Culture Ministry — hired the Social Research Expert Institute (EISI) to organize the shows. The BBC described this non-profit organization as “far from show business, but close to the Kremlin.”

EISI was founded ahead of the 2018 presidential election. Its founders include several major universities and the Russian Society of Political Scientists; its board of trustees is headed by United Russia chairman Boris Gryzlov. According to the BBC, the “For Russia” deal was EISI’s first state contract. 

The “For Russia” website is registered to Ulitsa Svobody LLC. Its owner, Pavel Doroshenko, is a longtime associate of EISI head Anna Fedulkina. Both Doroshenko and Fedulkin previously held senior positions at a private consulting agency called “Polilog.” All three companies are closely linked to each other, and “Polilog” has ties to Putin’s administration, the BBC reported. 

Ilya Shumanov, the general director of Transparency International Russia, told the BBC that EISI was likely contracted for the concert series because of its status. “An institution close to the Kremlin, led by the head of United Russia’s Supreme Council Gryzlov, has more political weight for negotiating with artists and bargaining with them over fees,” he said. 

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