The party line How United Russia is instructing its candidates to talk about the war against Ukraine
The Moscow branch of United Russia, the country’s ruling party, has prepared a set of “recommendations for covering the special operation” for candidates planning on running on the party’s ticket in the September municipal elections.
Meduza has obtained a copy of the document’s text. Pyotr Tolstoy, the head of United Russia’s Moscow branch, told Meduza that the party didn’t prepare the document or anything like it — but its authenticity was confirmed by a source from the party and by another source close to the party's leadership.
The guide gives United Russia candidates four main talking points related to the war against Ukraine. The first concerns the history of Russia and Ukraine, the second focuses on the “restoration of peaceful life” in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” the third is about the conflict between Russia and the West, and the fourth is dedicated to the “Z heroes,” or the Russian soldiers fighting in the so-called “special military operation.”
Among other things, the document recommends candidates tell voters that a large part of Ukraine’s territory “has always been a part of the Russian world” (though the concept of the “Russian world” is left undefined), while the war is allegedly “a direct consequence of the policies the West has been conducting with regard to Russia since 1945.”
An alternate history
The guide recommends that United Russia candidates tell voters essentially the same thing Vladimir Putin has been saying about Ukrainian history in recent years: that Ukraine is not an autonomous, independent country, but rather a “Russian border territory.”
The guide’s authors (who go unnamed) also repeat Putin’s notion that the idea of the Ukrainian people wasn't “invented” until the end of the 19th century (a detailed analysis of this claim can be found here).
In addition, candidates are encouraged to condemn Vladimir Lenin (who Putin has called the “author” and the “architect” of modern Ukraine and has blamed for the collapse of the USSR) and to praise Joseph Stalin (for refusing to give the Soviet Union’s republics even the nominal right to leave the USSR). They’re also encouraged to criticize Nikita Khrushchev, who “built his career in Ukraine” before “giving Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR” and then “facilitating the strengthening of nationalist ideas in Ukraine” by granting amnesty to members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), among others.
Held hostage by the U.S.
In addition to providing “historical background,” the guide recommends United Russia candidates tell voters that one of the main goals of the “special military operation” is to “improve the lives of people in Ukraine and in the Donbas people’s republics, and to free them from the suppression of their nationalist government, which cares little about its citizens.”
Russia, according to the guide, supposedly takes care of Ukrainians in a number of ways. For example, it provides humanitarian aid — though the guide neglects to explain why Ukrainians might need that aid in the first place. United Russia itself, the guide claims, has been one of the main providers of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians: “Since the start of the operation, the party has delivered over 8,000 metric tons of humanitarian cargo and over 100 metric tons of medical supplies.”
Candidates are also encouraged to mention the fact that Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has visited Luhansk, where he signed a twin cities agreement with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. (Meduza has previously reported that Sobyanin was opposed to the trip, but that he went because Putin personally “recommended” that he go.)
At the same time, the guide warns United Russia candidates that by law, the party can’t currently open branches in the Luhansk or Donetsk “people’s republics” because “they are independent states.”
“That will only become possible for Russian parties after the republics are incorporated into Russia. It’s important to note that right now, United Russia is not engaging in politics in the Donbas republics or on liberated territories, but is rather conducting a humanitarian mission,” the guide’s authors remind candidates.
Meduza has previously reported on how the Kremlin’s internal political bloc is preparing to hold referendums on incorporating the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” and the Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions into Russia. The Kremlin has suggested that the referendums will all be held on the same day as Russia’s own local and regional elections: September 11, 2022.
The party responsible for the war
The guide makes it crystal clear who “started the war” in February 2022: “The West unleashed the conflict in Ukraine in order to destroy its main geopolitical competitor: Russia.”
This, they explain, is because after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “a so-called unipolar world was established, with the U.S. at the helm.” Soon, however, the United States began to see “modern Russia” as a threat and began “creating flash points in the post-Soviet space.”
“The U.S. tried to turn the former Soviet republics into an anti-Russia [Editor’s note: Putin has described the world order in these same terms before], and this venture was easier in Ukraine than anywhere else, because the Soviet authorities had laid the groundwork for it. It was with America’s help that the Kyiv regime launched its bloody war in the Donbas. Meanwhile, Moscow has always tried to develop neighborly relations with Kyiv.”
The document’s authors suggest candidates tell voters that Washington “was interested in conflict as a way to generate reasons to impose new anti-Russian sanctions.” The U.S. also “needed a better reason to put pressure on Moscow, so they began systematically preparing Ukraine for an attack on Russian territory.”
“Russia, for its part, did everything it could to avoid an armed conflict. It’s now obvious that the West has been defeated in the sanctions war, the information war, and the humanitarian war. The European countries are gradually coming to this conclusion as well — and the more they feel the effects of the sanctions, the more they’ll call for relations with Russia to be normalized. It’s obvious that the only party interested in escalating the conflict is the U.S.,” the document says.
The ‘Z’ heroes
The guide refers to Russian soldiers as “the heroes who will put an end to the Ukrainian neo-Nazi regime.” It claims that in World War II, Russia “effectively stopped fascist Germany by itself, while the majority of European countries surrendered without a fight.”
“As we’ve seen in practice, the West failed to learn the lessons of the Great Patriotic War, deciding it’s capable of dealing with Russia and its people. This has arguably been the main mistake made by the U.S. and its allies. If the USSR could put an end to Adolf Hitler’s fascist regime back then, then Russia will be perfectly capable of stopping Zelensky’s neo-Nazi regime, which is supported by a number of Western countries. Russian soldiers are proving in practice that opposing Russia is a lost cause.”
The text’s authors then add that “the special military operation will end with an unconditional victory,” though they don’t provide details about what that victory will look like.
They then suggest that candidates construe the reports of “atrocities” [meaning the numerous war crimes] committed by Russian soldiers as a Western “military propaganda technique.”
“In reality, the main enemy of Ukraine’s citizens is not Russia and the Russian people but the U.S. and its puppet regime in Kyiv, which dragged Ukraine into a bloody war for the sake of its own political goals,” it reads.
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A source close to United Russia’s Moscow leadership told Meduza that candidates are not required to follow the recommendations, because in Moscow, “not all voters have a positive view of the operation” (though there’s no credible data on this question).
“This is a guide for how to talk correctly — in accordance with the party line — about this topic, if a candidate so chooses. But when it comes to humanitarian aid and peaceful life in the Donbas, it’s best for candidates to say everything,” said the source.
Meduza’ correspondent analyzed the social media accounts of several dozen United Russia candidates in Moscow and found that most representatives of the “party of power” are reluctant to mention the military or even the Donbas. The topic is brought up more often by party functionaries, current United Russia deputies, and high-profile government employees.
“Long before the start of the special military operation, United Russia provided assistance to the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics: it sent humanitarian aid, provided support to local residents, and helped rebuild infrastructure,” wrote Alexey Volodin, a candidate for the Council of Deputies in Moscow’s Altufyevsky District.
In another post, Mikhail Ostrovsky, a deputy from Moscow’s Bibirevo District, wrote that “the party was supporting DNR and LNR residents long before the start of the special operation and continues to support them now.” Bogorodsky District head Konstantin Volovik added that “for all of us, DNR and LNR residents are part of our community; we won’t let them down in hard times.”
Mikhail Ostrovsky from Bibirevo posted a video that tells the story of “Z hero” Vladimir Muntyants. “In the course of a battle against Ukrainian nationalists, I supported an infantry offensive as part of an armored unit,” Muntyants says in the video. In a report from Channel One, he’s referred to as a “paratrooper” who “destroyed two mortar crews and a Ukrainian stronghold in battle.”
Meduza’s correspondent was unable to find any other posts about the war made by United Russia candidates running for office in Moscow.
Translation by Sam Breazeale