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“Kremlin Leaks”: unprecedented revelations on the extent of propaganda and information control in Russia

How does Vladimir Putin plan to secure his re-election as head of the Russian Federation in mid-March? The Kremlin is said to have set up a major propaganda network for its population as well as solid control of information as part of its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

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“Kremlin Leaks”: unprecedented revelations on the extent of propaganda and information control in Russia

How does Vladimir Putin plan to secure his re-election as head of the Russian Federation in mid-March? The Kremlin is said to have set up a major propaganda network for its population as well as solid control of information as part of its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The Estonian online media Delfi has in fact revealed a sum of documents, coming from the Russian presidential administration, the most recent of which date from December 2023. These documents were published in a joint investigation by several European media, and show in detail how the Kremlin built a large propaganda network whose budget, planned for three major axes: the presidential election, information warfare and propaganda in the occupied territories of Ukraine, reached 1.1 billion euros.

We learn in particular in these “Kremlin Leaks” that the Russian government subcontracts state propaganda to a vast network of organizations. For example, the famous propagandist Voloviev would have received 15 million euros, as also evidenced by the Russian public budget, and could receive 30 million euros for the year 2024, according to one of the documents which reveals the budget of the Federation from Russia for the new year.

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According to another note dating from October 2023, 15 of the subcontracting organizations have a total of nearly 4,400 employees with a total budget of 600 million euros. Among them, the Internet Development Institute (IRI) which produces television series, films and even mobile gaming applications for the population. According to the documents, the IRI’s goal is to “strengthen civic identity and spiritual and moral values” as well as “support and disseminate government content.”

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In film production in particular, propaganda works must serve at least one of the objectives set by the IRI: "the defense of national interests and cultural and societal values", "the evolution of the quality of life in Russia”, “the heroes of the moment and the big names of the country” or even cohesion with the new territories. The survey also shows that an editorial team has been responsible since the end of 2022 for supervising the production of each film, from writing the script to distribution.

In the context of the presidential election, we learned that the Kremlin's budget for the electoral deadline amounts to 740 million, including the ordering of secret "sociological studies" to better understand the "temperature" of Russian society. . A document also provides, on Putin's orders, for the surveillance of employees of the Russian Ministry of Education and the identification of “opinion leaders” among them.

“This is all part of a broader trend that Russia is becoming a totalitarian society. It is no longer a false authoritarian democracy,” comments Martin Kragh, deputy director of the Center for East European Studies in Stockholm, to the media V Square.

For the occupied territories, the Kremlin Leaks also reveal drastic information control measures, such as the development of the “Automated Internet Security System” (ASBI), the nerve center of Russian digital censorship which, with 90 million euros of budget, must make it possible to “resist the dissemination of prohibited information [...] in the new territories”.

"It is in fact the ASBI which administers the vast network of TSPUs, these famous 'boxes' which allow the Russian authorities to block or slow down 'undesirable content'", explained on X during the broadcast of the investigation Kevin Limonier, specialist in Russian-speaking cyberspace. “Thanks to the latest technological developments, TSPUs are in fact capable of blocking hundreds of different VPN services,” he explains.

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