KREMLIN LEAKS: how the Kremlin plans to fix the presidential elections

KREMLIN LEAKS: how the Kremlin plans to fix the presidential elections
Leaked Kremlin papers reveal in detail just how Putin intends to fix the elections. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin February 27, 2024

Leaked documents from the Kremlin revealed details of President Vladimir Putin's meticulous plans for securing his re-election in March, VS Square reported on February 26.

The Kremlin plans to spend north of a billion dollars orchestrating a vast propaganda network, and bolstering internet censorship measures to wage information warfare and win over the hearts and minds of the Russian population.

These leaks came from the offices of Sergei Kiriyenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, and lay out the details of programmes, plans and just how spending large amounts of money can manipulate public opinion to ensure Putin is returned to office for at least another six years.

The Kremlin routinely fixes elections, something that is easily demonstrated by statistical studies of the voting patterns. In a free and fair election votes tallies should be distributed at random. However, when election officials step in and add or supress votes they destroy the random distribution, something that is easily highlighted by statistical studies. And the evidence can be even simpler than that: regional officials counting the ballots and fixing the numbers have a human tendnacy to round up numbers to their client’s advantage, but this then produces extremely visible spikes around any number ending with a 5 or a zero on what should be an otherwise smooth line generated from a random distribution. Supermarket owners use similar statistical tricks to catch staff stealing small change out of checkout tills.

The voting patterns in Russia’s Duma election in 2021, that was nominally won by the Communist Party (KPRF) but official won by the Kremlin-backed United Russia ruling party, showed a “comet effect” and a “Moscow blob” that clear indicates massive falsification. A study by election statistician Sergei Shpilkin strongly suggest that half the votes in the final tally were fake.

Likewise, in the last presidential election in 2018 similar Shpilkin statistical study suggest that between 1.5mn and 10mn extra votes stuffed into ballot boxes to ensure Putin a landslide victory.

Fixing the elections

"I will not hide that at different times I've had different ideas, but now you are right. Now is the time when decisions have to be made," Putin declared last December, confirming his candidacy for re-election from the hallowed halls of the Kremlin.” That’s how Putin announced his candidacy for the presidential election, speaking to a war veteran during a ceremony last December.

The former prime minister who oversaw Russia’s economic collapse in 1998 and known then as “Kinder Surprise” for his youth and unpredictability, Kiriyenko has been Putin’s eminence grise for many years, the man with the daily hands-on control of the Kremlin’s efforts to run the country. He has since been given a new moniker, "the Viceroy of Donbas," for overseeing administration and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine's occupied territories, amongst other duties.

Russia analyst and bne IntelliNews columnist Mark Galeotti, upon reviewing the leaked documents, said: "These documents are important for two reasons. First, they confirm exactly how [the Kremlin is trying] to reshape the entire ideology of the Russian state. But secondly, they show how it is carried out on a micro level."

Galeotti also notes the documents highlight just how tenuous Putin believes his grip on power is, owing to the efforts the Kremlin is going to in order to bring in the vote, given that if Russia were to hold free and fair elections on Sunday, Putin would most likely win.

The level of trust and confidence in Putin rose by 0.3 percentage points (pp) in February to reach 79.4%, according to a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) on February 16.

The leaked cache includes extensive Excel files, meeting minutes, presentations and reports from the Kremlin's domestic policy agenda. The documents outline the Russian Federation's budget for the current year, detailing financial allocations and key decision-makers for various projects. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Putin himself are among those named as arbiters of funding for specific endeavours.

The budget for the domestic policy bloc is broken into three main chapters: presidential elections, informational-ideological warfare and initiatives concerning Russia’s "new regions", the four Ukrainian regions annexed last September in a rigged referendum. The total budget for these projects stands at nearly RUB110bn, or €1.1bn.


TV celebrities and other high-profile apparatchiks play an important role in swaying public opinion to make sure the population is on board with a Putin victory.

TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov was budgeted to receive RUB1.5bn (€15mn) in 2023, but according to the report, he has asked for twice as much this year, an election year.

Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights, is also well paid. She has been sanctioned for facilitating the abduction and deportation of children from Ukraine, a crime that led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Putin that has prevented him from travelling to other countries. Lvova-Belova is budgeted to receive €420,000 this year, specifically "for the removal of children from the Special Military Occupation Zone. "


A network of 15 NGOs (AGOs in Russian) have been set up with over 4,000 employees that act as an unofficial ministry of propaganda for the Kremlin and has a budget of €600mn this year.

The most important to these NGOs is the Internet Development Institute (IRI), tasked with producing patriotic mobile games, TV series and films aligning with the Kremlin's agenda, and has a budget of €180mn for the current year as a key channel for disseminating government-approved content.

According to the documents, the IRI’s tasks are to “reinforce civic identity and spiritual and moral values” and to “support and disseminate governmental content along new thematic lines.”

Another NGO, ANO Dialog, spearheads the dissemination of Kremlin-sanctioned narratives across Russia by harnessing the internet and a budget of close to €68mn, especially focusing on the occupied Ukrainian territories. The Kremlin's tools allocate significant resources towards initiatives targeting youth engagement, international exhibitions, educational programmes and patriotic camps.

“They are for raising and indoctrinating the new elite. Whether we are talking about children’s patriotic camps or courses on how to be a better mayor, their goal is, among other things, to find talent suitable for higher positions. [The Kremlin understands] that Russia is turning into a gerontocracy and they need to build a new elite that is ideologically on the same page as the regime,” Galeotti explained.


Ever since the days of the foundation of the Soviet icons of the film industry, Mosfilm and Lenfilm, movies have played an important role in propaganda – a lesson that has not been lost on today’s Kremlin.

IRI is the overseer of movie production and unveiled its strategic blueprint for shaping public opinion ahead of Russia's presidential elections with movies that produce emotive content designed to resonate with voters.

A presentation titled "Creative Content for Elections," authored by IRI general director Alexei Goreslavsky and Sergei Novikov of the Kremlin's domestic political bloc, outlines the thematic framework for films, theatre productions and other projects aimed at influencing public sentiment during the electoral period.

IRI is already releasing at least two films a month since October, the presentation identifies four key themes intended to evoke specific emotions among viewers:

·       Defence of national interests and traditional values;

·       Positive changes in Russian society;

·       Celebrating contemporary Russian heroes and achievements; and

·       Unity and solidarity, particularly among residents of newly annexed territories.

Recent releases emphasise Russia's role in defending its interests and showcases national heroes. One upcoming film, "Callsign: Passenger," portrays a young artist who joins the conflict in Ukraine, highlighting the heroism of Russian soldiers and the impact of war on individual identity.

Another project, a 12-part series titled "GDR" (German Democratic Republic), centres on a Soviet spy embroiled in global espionage, drawing parallels with Russian leadership and emphasising themes of national sovereignty and security.

Each project is meticulously planned, with specific targets for audience engagement and reach. Notably, IRI executives are using the Kremlin’s leverage to bully Russian social media and internet platforms into promoting these projects for free, ensuring widespread exposure among the electorate.

Secret polls

You can’t manipulate public opinion unless you know what the public really thinks: the Kremlin has invested heavily into secret polls and focus groups that are more extensive and go into greater depth than public polls, to better direct its resources to fixing public opinion in those cities and regions that have divergent views.

The Kremlin has earmarked significant funds for conducting exit polls and sociological research ahead of the presidential elections, with allocations reaching millions of euros, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

Putin has personally approved (those items marked "Согласен" (Agreed) in the documents) an allocation of €3.6mn for exit polls, aimed at gauging voter sentiment and trends on election day. An additional €5.8mn has been directed towards covering the costs of sociological research and polling activities in occupied Ukrainian territories.

In total, nearly €28mn has been allocated for sociological studies related to the presidential elections, underscoring the Kremlin's concerted efforts to gauge public opinion and assess regional dynamics.

"These studies are crucial for the Kremlin to gauge the true sentiment within society and respond accordingly," sources familiar with these studies told VS Square. "By understanding public perceptions and regional dynamics, the Kremlin can effectively manage potential challenges and manipulate outcomes to align with its objectives."

Internet censorship

The flip side of winning over hearts and minds with patriotic movies and focus-group honed messages is to block any content that criticises the powers that be. Part of the plan is to block content from the West and especially from Ukraine in the occupied territories of the Donbas.

The Kremlin has made substantial investments in censorship mechanisms and information flow control, as detailed by bne IntelliNews in a feature on the Kremlin’s creeping control of the internet. The Kremlin set up the National Domain Name System (NDNS) in 2019 that brings control of the .rf domain onshore and in January RuNet, as the Cyrillic version of the internet is known, was knocked out for a week, in what analysts believe was a test run for cutting Russia’s connection to the world wide web off completely.

Another special internet blocking system, known as ASBI (Automated System of Internet Security), operates under the auspices of the Main Russian Radio Frequency Centre, tasked with blocking prohibited content and “resisting external threats.” Last year, ASBI received €10mn for equipment acquisition and technical upgrades to enhance its capabilities, bringing its total state funding to €89.6mn.

Funding was also allocated to the Centre for the Study of the Youth Environment and Monitoring of Networks (CISM), a national NGO charged with monitoring sentiments among younger generations in occupied Ukrainian territories. CISM's mandate includes monitoring at least 85% of social media profiles in these regions, employing advanced technology such as a multimodal neural network cognitive monitoring system to detect and monitor "destructive information" and user profiles.

The Kremlin plans to develop artificial intelligence-based systems to detect prohibited content on social media, including technologies capable of analysing images and maintaining a specific proportion of pro-Russian comments on designated channels and regular Russians are already being sent to jail for posting anti-government tweets and pictures on popular social media services.

Again, the occupied regions in Ukraine are singled out for special attention. The document outlines plans for the purchase of signal-jamming equipment to better control the flow of information in conflict zones.

Additional initiatives include auditing outdoor advertising spaces and preparing for their nationalisation to facilitate the dissemination of pro-government messaging during the election campaign. Aleksey Nikonorov, head of the administration of Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, has been tasked with overseeing these efforts.


The elections are in less than three weeks, but the massaging of public opinion is a long-term project. Putin is attempting to build a system that will keep him in power for the next decade and a half. As part of this effort the Kremlin intends to get them young and monitoring and controlling teachers to nurture a new generation of Kremlin-compliant voters is another detailed aspect of the plan.

The presentation references a classified decree, numbered 106 and dated February 2023, titled "On deputy heads responsible for social and political work of federal government agencies," in which Putin outlines plans to bolster voter engagement and support for favoured candidates. Highlighted in red for emphasis, the objectives include increasing voter turnout and garnering support for the Kremlin’s main candidates.

The Ministry of Education and Science plays a pivotal role in executing these directives, with outlined strategies focusing on identifying and targeting employees and opinion leaders within educational institutions overseen by the ministry. Initiatives include measures to enhance socio-political literacy among targeted individuals, monitoring their political attitudes and voting preferences, and organising contests and informational events aimed at stimulating participation in elections. That includes promoting "Open dialogue" clubs, providing a platform for opinion leaders and inviting experts to engage with students and teachers.

Galeotti called this "pre-rigging" of the election, designed to minimise the need for direct manipulation of ballots on election day by ensuring widespread support for favoured candidates well in advance.

“The Kremlin cannot even trust what mayors and governors tell them about the [political] situation in their region,” he said. According to Galeotti, this has made the Kremlin extremely risk-averse, so it need to control everything.

Russki Mir brigades

A key focus in the elections will be to bring in the votes in the four Ukrainian regions annexed last year that are now part of the Russian Federation; the Kremlin needs to assert its legitimacy to rule these latest acquisitions and Putin needs to win the election there to show he is boss.

A file dated December 2023 highlights allocations intended to bolster the regional branches of the ruling party, United Russia, with a budget of €2.4mn designated for this purpose. Notably, significant sums are earmarked for each region, including €730,000 for Donetsk, €609,000 for Kherson Oblast, and €530,000 for Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, underscoring the strategic importance of these areas.

Some 6,000 satellite TV sets have already been installed for residents of the Donetsk People's Republic, with a significant demand for additional installations. The technical brigades mobilised to do this work also have instructions to remove Ukrainian satellite TV equipment during installations where they find them. The circulation of local pro-Russian media is also being expanded and curtailing Ukrainian titles.

Pancakes and tulips

Finally, money will be poured into public events, national holidays and other events using a mechanism that is straight out of the Soviet playbook.

A total of RUB300mn (€3mn) has been allocated for “prazdniki”, or holidays, and educational events over a three-year period. These events are slated to celebrate patriotic occasions such as Defender of the Fatherland Day and National Unity Day that have been around since Soviet times and serve as vehicles for promoting pro-Russian sentiments and reinforcing allegiance to the Kremlin.

Another €13mn over three years has been allocated to Readovka, a media firm that has gained prominence during the war years. Half of this funding is earmarked for launching a new media network in occupied Ukrainian territories, with detailed plans for opening 20 social media channels and websites most of which are already operational.

"While the Kremlin's financial backing may bolster short-term propaganda efforts, it cannot secure long-term control over public opinion," Galeotti said. "In an era of evolving media landscapes and global connectivity, attempts to manipulate thought and perception are increasingly met with scepticism and resistance."