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Russia, the ‘island of tranquility’ Putin’s new campaign will downplay the war while painting the West as rife with problems, Kremlin insiders say

Source: Meduza
Russian Defense Ministry press service / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Russia’s next presidential election is mere months away, but Putin’s political strategists have been working on his campaign message for over two years. (Yes, the Kremlin plans to engage in fraud to ensure Putin’s election, but that doesn’t mean his popularity doesn’t matter.) Events like the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the ICC’s arrest warrant against Putin have repeatedly sent the campaign planners back to the drawing board, but according to Meduza’s sources, they’ve finally landed on a narrative: the West is engulfed in chaos, while Russia is an “island of tranquility” thanks to its wise and fearless leader. Meduza’s special correspondent Andrey Pertsev explains.

Vladimir Putin’s campaign for his fifth term in office will not draw attention to the war in Ukraine. Instead, it will “focus on foreign affairs” by criticizing Western countries in Putin’s speeches and propaganda materials. The Kremlin hopes this approach will portray Putin as the man responsible for turning Russia into an “island of tranquility,” Meduza has learned from two people close to his administration.

According to the sources, Russia’s leaders are confident that there’s demand among voters for criticism of the “collective West.” “Whenever the president speaks about this issue, criticizing [the West], we see his approval ratings go up,” one of them said.

While Meduza can’t independently confirm that criticizing the West consistently improves Putin’s popularity, it is true that surveys conducted by Russian government-funded polling agencies have recorded results consistent with this claim. According to the Public Opinion Fund, for example, 80 percent of survey respondents said in early November that they felt positive about Putin’s work. A month earlier, before the start of the war between Israel and Hamas and Putin’s various statements blaming the conflict on the West, his popularity was three percent lower.

According to another source close to the Putin administration, as the election draws nearer, reports from Russia’s propaganda outlets about the “difficulties” facing Western countries will “intensify.” The source cited the numerous articles in the pro-Kremlin media about the “bedbug infestation” in Paris as an example.

“The U.S. is about to collapse from the fact that it’s going to have to support not just Ukraine but Israel as well. Their end is inevitable,” the source said, summing up the main narrative Russia’s propaganda will seek to promote.

At the same time, the country’s state-funded and pro-government media will spread the message that despite all of the sanctions against it, Russia “looks pretty good against the backdrop of the general chaos” in the world. The war in Ukraine, meanwhile, will stay “in the background of the campaign.”

Meduza’s sources noted that these plans have not changed in response to the wave of stories in the American media about the mood in Kyiv amid the almost complete lack of good news from the front. The first of these articles was written by Simon Shuster for Time Magazine and argued that Zelensky believes the world is tired of war and the West has betrayed Ukraine. Then came an interview with the Ukrainian military’s commander in chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, in which he acknowledged the problems on the front and said the war has reached “deadlock.”

One source emphasized that the risk of Ukraine’s counteroffensive developing into a “black swan event” is now “extremely low.” “But to involve [the war] in the campaign, we would need serious success [on the front], not trench warfare,” he said.

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Reporting by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Sam Breazeale

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