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Russia’s ‘guardian of traditional values’ How the Kremlin plans to sell Putin to voters in his fifth presidential campaign

Source: Meduza
Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

In 2024, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Vladimir Putin will run for his fifth term as Russia’s president. According to Meduza’s sources, Kremlin political strategists have started briefing officials from around the country on the rhetoric they should use to convince voters that even after nearly two and a half decades, Putin’s still the best man for the job. Here’s what we know about the messages they’ve chosen.

Members of the Putin administration’s political bloc have developed preliminary “ideological narratives” to promote during the president’s 2024 bid, Meduza has learned from two sources who attended a recent “closed seminar” put on by president’s team. At the event, subordinates of Kremlin domestic policy czar Sergey Kiriyenko outlined the basic campaign messaging to other Kremlin employees, regional officials, and political strategists.

Kiriyenko himself spoke at the seminar, as did two of his close associates, Rosatom regional relations head Andrey Polosin and presidential directorate for State Council affairs head Alexander Kharichev, the sources said.

The event’s organizers reportedly said that Putin’s 2024 campaign will be built around an “ideology of conservatism,” with the president casting himself as a “guardian of traditional values.” According to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin plans to use rhetoric that emphasizes Russia’s “moral superiority” over other countries (Putin has repeatedly accused the “collective West” of starting the war in Ukraine and of pursuing “colonial policies” elsewhere around the globe).

A source close to the Kremlin told Meduza that Russia’s political strategists started working on a “conservative isolationist ideology” for Putin’s 2024 campaign back in late 2021, before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the time, according to the source, Kremlin spin doctors intended for the idea of “anti-Western conservatism” to gradually replace that of the “Russian world” in officials’ and propagandists’ rhetoric; voters would be sold an image of Russia as a “self-contained state” that preserves tradition and has relatively little interaction with the outside world. Now, these plans have reportedly been revised somewhat: voters will now be told that the “Russian world,” including many former Soviet countries, should become part of Russia’s “self-contained state.”

According to Meduza’s sources, one of the campaign’s “ideological foundations” will come from the findings of “Russia’s DNA,” a joint project between the Kremlin’s political bloc and the educational organization the Znaniye Society whose goal is to study the “Russian worldview.” Andrey Polosin and Alexander Kharichev are on the team behind the project.

According to a recent article signed by both men, the phrase “Russia’s DNA” refers to certain “constant values” that have been “intrinsic” to Russia throughout its entire history. These values include “communality, a sense of duty and a higher objective, existential resilience, and the prioritization of the immaterial over the mercantile.”

The organizers of the “closed seminar” assured attendees that Putin will have no trouble winning the 2024 election because “demand is growing” for conservatism in Russia. But according to Meduza’s sources, they didn’t explain what data this assertion was based on, and there’s no publicly available survey data indicating that the claim is true.

According to RBC, the strategists at the “seminar” also outlined key performance indicators for the upcoming elections. Among other things, they plan for Putin to surpass his own results from Russia’s 2018 election, when he received 76.69 percent of votes with a 67.54 percent turnout (which was itself an improvement from his 2012 results). Meduza wrote about the Kremlin setting this goal in the fall of 2022.

Apart from the 2024 election, the “seminar” focused on the “development” of the annexed Ukrainian regions, including the future operation of Russian businesses and state-owned companies on the occupied territories. According to two of Meduza’s sources, representatives of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also attended the event. In May 2022, South Ossetia’s then-President Anatoly Bibilov announced that the unrecognized republic would hold a “referendum” on joining Russia, but he subsequently postponed it indefinitely “due to the risks.” According to two sources close to the Kremlin, the Russian authorities have not abandoned the idea of annexing the Georgian territories.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov did not respond to Meduza’s requests for comment.
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