Russia’s federal media watchdog has a secret team of people tasked with protecting Vladimir Putin’s ego—and alerting the president’s spooks should there be any online mentions of him as a “bald dwarf,” Hitler wannabe, or a “thief.”
That’s according to the independent outlet iStories, one of several news organizations to reveal the surreal findings of a leak from Roskomnadzor this week. The agency was targeted by a group of Belarusian hackers late last year that said they had breached an internal network and made off with a ton of data from a division tasked with “regulating” the media. That data was subsequently handed over to independent Russian journalists who released their investigations this week.
Among the most disturbing revelations, staffers at the federal agency compile reports on all “negative publications” about Putin and use an internal messaging system to brief the presidential administration and Russia’s security services on all of the president’s critics.
Putin’s image is reportedly monitored almost around-the-clock, with staffers signing on at 8:30 every morning to look for any online chatter that could pose a threat to the Russian leader—including any memes that diminish his macho image, such as his face superimposed over the body of a crab, or the equally threatening declaration, “Putin is a crab.”
One report compiled following a visit by Putin to Kaliningrad focused obsessively on “negative reactions” on the Russian internet to the president’s dialogue with local residents, according to iStories. The censors honed in on complaints that Putin’s interactions with locals were a “cheap spectacle” and that the “locals” were likely just members of his security team in disguise.
Apart from the war against Ukraine, federal censors are said to have also relentlessly focused on messages about Putin’s health being in “critical condition.” In a report detailing their efforts to thwart the “destabilization of Russian society,” the censors included a few gems found online, including: “Putin 100% has dementia! The old man has lost his mind!” and “Will a sane Russian support a president with mental illnesses?”
Staffers at the federal agency are reportedly required to seek out “negative, discrediting” information about the Russian president using some of the most famous slurs against him as search terms, including “Putin’s a thief,” “Putler,”’ “bald dwarf,” and a reference to Putin as Zaches, a freakish little boy from an 1819 German fairytale.
They are also expected to track down content comparing Putin to “negative figures” like pedophiles or serial killers, as well as depictions of the president as a “homosexual,” in pornographic scenes, in a trash can, or shown alongside human excrement, iStories reports.
The leak also reportedly made mention of Russia’s top search engine, Yandex, filtering out certain search results for terms that are unflattering to the Kremlin—a trend first spotted by Russian journalists late last month.
A spokesperson for the company told Meduza this week that the search engine does not “remove any links from search results on its own,” but that a link may vanish if it is added to a database of blocked sites by federal monitors or a court decision.
Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin, told iStories the ultimate goal of the monitoring effort is clearly to “squash unrest,” adding that: “If you are hated by your own people, then at some point the security forces will simply get rid of you, you will be unnecessary to them.”