Russian Media Monitoring – Bogus Elections and Propaganda Narratives

Written by Matt Wickham by UCMC/HWAG

Following the bogus 2024 Russian “presidential elections,” in which Putin unsurprisingly emerged as the ‘winner’ with over 87% of the total vote, Russian propaganda has been quick to push three key narratives.

First, emphasizing the election’s ‘unprecedented’ turnout, framing it as proof of unwavering public support for Putin and the failed attempts by Russian opposition. Second, how the Russian soul is designed to rise up and resist in the face of “monstrous Western pressure” and “injustice” they have long been subjected to. Third, attempts to legitimize Putin’s presidency compared to Ukrainian president Zelensky (due to Zelensky’s pre-full-scale war presidential term date soon to expire).

To begin, we must reject labeling these events as “elections” or considering their outcome as anything close to legitimate. After all, they don’t fit any criteria of a democratic election process. Factors such as Putin’s power grab through fraudulent constitutional changes in 2021, the presence of military personnel overseeing voting booths (we’ve all seen the video of the soldier storming into the booths, checking who people were voting for), psychological coercion, and the illegal conducting of elections on occupied Ukrainian territory, discredit any claims of legitimacy. Therefore, Monday’s alleged “landslide win” for Putin must be viewed as mere manipulation, coercion, and disregard for democratic principles. And simply put, a complete and utter farce.

Unprecedented Numbers

The Russian opposition, Navalnya and her team, called for those living abroad to vote in the elections as a mark of solidarity against the Putin regime, proving to one another and the West that ‘good Russians’ are not alone in this fight, that there is hope. The plan failed miserably. Although long lines of voters were seen across multiple capitals, propaganda was quick to exploit the turnout to reaffirm its victory. The Kremlin hailed it as undeniable proof of the election’s legitimacy and ‘record breaking’ figures. This large turnout was broadcasted on some of the most prominent Western news channels, with Western publications strangely giving significant interview time to pro-Putin candidates in the queues (although, apparently the minority, told the Russian opposition).

Russian propaganda span this turnout into its own positive, proudly proclaiming the Russian people’s love for democratic and transparent elections, which, according to propaganda, “You now can’t deny”. Once again, the Kremlin outplays the Russian opposition, which long told of their plans to hold these acts, or ‘flash mobs’. You saw the queues. People showed up and voted exactly as they wished, demonstrating their free will,” tells Maria Zakharova, going on to say how those who attempted to interfere (i.e., the ‘collective west’ and Russian opposition) were ignored and instead created a bigger hype around the ‘elections’.

“We’ve always had a high turn out number abroad, but in this case it was exacerbated by the [foreign] government’s never-ending hysteria, which sought to terrorize people.” However, Ukrainian diplomat, Pavlo Klimkin tells “They [propaganda] even allowed themselves the luxury to show that the embassy votes did not vote for Putin but for other candidates,” telling how, even though propaganda used it as a win, those living abroad are still considered traitors.

“The Mystery of the Russian Soul Revealed – Resistance Against Oppression”

Sergey Mikheyev reinforced one of the main messages the Kremlin intended to push post ‘elections’ – the “great Russian will to resist.” It’s long been known Russian’s have a heightened sense of self-worth, which has been solidified by propaganda, inflating victories over a dangerous adversary (the US) for decades. These elections were, apparently, a reflection of the Russian will to resist gigantic pressure and repression – part of their identity. Mikheyev told, “When you try to put pressure on our people, you will feel a strong resistance that is practically genetic.”

Zakharova explains that the “enigma of the Russian soul,” a phrase close to what Churchill coined, has now, perhaps, been revealed: “The more limitations we are subjected to, the more we push forward. Every culture has a unique character, and this is ours.” A rather interesting take on events considering repression in the country has increased to levels not seen in decades. Russians are sent to their deaths in Ukraine against their will (for some) and there have been practically zero significant protests against the war in Ukraine or for “Navalny’s murder”, yet these signs of “strong resistance” are yet to be seen. 

Ukrainian political scientist Volodymyr Vesenko explains to Radio NV how this repression, after Putin’s bogus victory, is only going to increase. “It’s not just a return to the USSR ways of operating, but to a level of Stalinism, something long called for by the speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin.”

Mikheyev claims that this so-called “victory” is the work of the West itself. He tells how, if Western powers had handled themselves honestly and without double standards, the course of history would have been drastically different. Mikheyev attributes Russia’s apparent shift from a once-friendly, West-leaning stance to one that has finally realized the evil beyond Russia’s borders. He claimed that the war forced Russia to abandon its previous complacency – “For years, we neglected our own infrastructure, failed to bolster our military, all because we perceived no external threat.”

The irony lies in the rather humorous contrast between the propaganda narrative and the reality of the Russian psyche. In truth, the Russian soul’s enigma is not its resistance, but its bewildering inclination toward submission, whether out of reluctance or weakness of the people. It often appears that the “slave nation” has been programmed to obey rather than embrace Western lifestyles, which it indeed has – thanks to the propaganda apparatus. Yet instead of showing this great national character of resistance as the Kremlin portrays, the majority of Russians remained inactive, as noted by Maria Litvenenko, widow of the poisoned Alexander Litvenenko, who urges Russians to recognize that “supporting Ukraine in this war and strikes on oil refineries is the path to freedom.”

Russian propagandists attempt to instill a false sense of national pride by appealing to the public’s overinflated sense of self-worth and deeply ingrained victim mentality. They glorify the Russian people, portraying them as resilient heroes who defeated an “awful, monstrous, disgusting external aggressor,” Zakharova’s words, but all the Kremlin is doing is praising their blind and unquestioning obedience.

(il)legitimacy of Putin as President

Andrei Klintsevich attempts to distort the significance of these labeled ‘elections’ as a validation of Putin’s renewed leadership. He exaggerates Putin’s handling of the electoral process, boasting that Putin managed to carry out these elections even amidst wartime—a feat Ukraine failed to achieve. In doing so, he draws comparisons between Putin’s legitimate authority and the supposedly lack that of Zelensky’s. However, Ukraine’s parliament democratically voted to keep Zelensky in power until a later date, due to the difficulties and dangers of conducting elections during war, putting the safety of citizens and Ukraine’s current defense first. Nevertheless, Klintsevich inadvertently acknowledges the major obstacles of organizing elections amid war.

Moreover, he alleges numerous attempts by Ukraine, apparently managed by the West, to disrupt the electoral process, including the formation of brigades aimed at sabotaging voting procedures with the aim to take voters hostage. He says, “Despite these challenges, the elections were held without incident, albeit at a high cost in terms of personnel losses.”

What’s next?

The hype surrounding Putin’s elections will eventually subside, but the Kremlin will continue to use these events to highlight Russia’s alleged commitment to democracy, comparing Putin’s ‘legitimacy’ with that of other countries. The Kremlin frequently portrays them as mere proxies for the US. This will ring true for narratives pushed against Ukraine, where Zelensky’s official presidential term is soon to expire, but he continues to serve as president until parliament decides it is safe to do otherwise. Russia will continue to push this disinformation to sow distrust in the Ukrainian leader among the western audience, claiming Ukraine is far from democratic.

The Kremlin will maintain the narrative that, despite ‘Western interference’ in Putin’s elections, Russia overcame major obstacles and so is victorious ‘once again’. Evidence of this will be shown by the international turnout caught on camera by many western nations, which will help spread more doubt among Ukrainian skeptics abroad that perhaps there is ‘some truth’ to what Russia has to say. It will continue to spread the notion that, in the face of relentless Western pressure and unfair international relations dictated by the United States for years before the SMO (full scale-invasion), Russia stands as a ‘beacon of hope’ for many people around the world looking for a safer world. This, they will claim, will be made possible through alliances with BRICS countries and Africa, with whom Russia seeks to establish a new world order.