Coining lies. Kremlin spends 1.5 Billion per year to spread disinformation and propaganda

In democratic countries, media is referred to as “the fourth estate”. However, this term does not apply to Russia, where the media is subordinated to the only power - the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin. Tripled spending on from the budget on mass media in the first quarter of 2022 signals that Kremlin’s efforts to support its narratives against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine are only growing. Therefore, in this article we dissect which outlets are the main cogs in Russian state propaganda machine and how much money has been poured into them.


This article was written by DebunkEU.org analysts Aleksandra Michałowska-Kubś and Jakub Kubś.

 

Summary

  • More than 1.5 billion USD (115 billion RUB) were allocated from the Russian state budget on mass media in 2021.

  • In January - March 2022, spending on mass media from the Russian state budget has tripled (compared to the same period last year).

  • Funding of Rossiya Segodnia, information agency owned by Russian government, significantly grew after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, and started the war in Donbas in 2014.

  • Two of the most funded outlets are the externally oriented RT and the domestically oriented VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company). Together with Rossiya Segodnia, they receive more than half of the annual funds provided for mass media in Russia.

  • The current trend indicates that spending on mass media from the Russian state budget this year will significantly exceed the planned.

 

Since 2014, the Kremlin has been building a powerful structure to monitor and produce content creating the desired image of the Russian president and his regime. Contemporary Russian propaganda uses techniques from the Cold War era, adapted to the new reality and exploiting the potential of technology and mass media in ways that would have been unthinkable in Soviet times [1]. Propaganda machine is formed by an extensive network of media channels, financed both by the federal and regional budgets. Thus, one of the most important measures of Russia's propaganda effort are the funds allocated by the Kremlin for the operation of mass media, including individual news agencies.


Lack of fiscal transparency makes it difficult to track budgets and expenditures of main Russian propaganda media channels, which leads to the fact that some data vary widely.[2] The information for this report was obtained from official channels of the Russian government, press releases, and sites collecting statistical data.


When writing about Russian propaganda, it is important to note that it has two main objectives: external and internal. For domestic use, media is intended to sustain support for Putin’s regime, general acceptance for war and mental preparation for the hit of Western sanctions. The external use is to follow the Russian propaganda playbook of four D’s: dismissing, distorting, distracting, dismaying for foreign audiences the real image about the war and atrocities committed by the Russian army in Ukraine.[3]


General funding


Over the past ten years, there has been a steady increase in media funding in Russia from the state budget. In 2011 mass media became a separate sector financed from the state budget (previously they were part of the 'Culture, cinematography and media' sector). The data in the graphs are presented both in rubles and US dollars, to show a more quantifiable picture of mass media funding.[4] The exchange rate of the ruble against the dollar was converted for January 1st of a given year using the OANDA currency calculator.[5] It is worth noting that the funding of mass media in Russia is a small part of the federal budget, on average about 0.5% per year. Although the percentage of funds allocated to mass media is relatively small, it should be emphasized that these are still very large sums of money.


At the outset, it should be noted that finding reliable information on the funding of individual media outlets in Russia is a challenging task. Detailed information about the allocation of money to individual entities is withheld, which was the subject of objections from independent journalists as early as 2000.[6] Moreover, as a rule, the appropriations reported in the draft budgets for subsequent years are significantly lower from those actually allocated.[7] The graph below showcases Russia’s state budget allocations to mass media in general since 2011 [8].


General funding (RUB)

General funding (USD)

There is a noticeable steady increase in spending from the state budget on mass media. From 2011 to 2022, it was almost 30%, at its peak - almost doubling. State expenditures on the mass media constitute around two per cent of the total federal budget. It should be noticed, that the growing level of the expenditures since 2018 was justified by the promotion of a major international sports event that took place in Russia and transition to digital broadcast.[9]


The key state program, “Information Society”, according to which the money was distributed to media holding, was designed for the period 2011–2020, which explains the reduction of the means from state after this year. The state continues its donations to media agencies either in the open form or bypassing the officially stated budget to keep the same level of production, when the demand for advertising decreases and the audience’s expectation grows.

The increased need in manipulating public opinion due to the war in Ukraine has been reflected in the resources allocated by the federal government to the mass media. In the period from January to March 2022, spending from the budget on mass media was more than tripled compared to the same period a year earlier. In March, when hostilities were taking place, the budget allocated 11.9 billion rubles for mass media – twice as much as the funds allocated in January and February combined (5.5. billion rubles).[10]

Although the federal budget proposal for 2022 prognosed a 4.1% increase in rubles in media spending over the previous year,[11] the current trend indicates that spending on mass media this year will significantly exceed the planned.


Rossiya Segodnya


Rossiya Segodnya (Россия сегодня) is an information agency owned by Russian government and founded on 9th of December 2013 by Putin's decree on “increasing the level of efficiency of state mass media”.[12] The agency was created to replace RIA Novosti and the Voice of Russia radio station (in existence since 1941), which were both closed down by the same decree. Although according to the statement of the head of the Administration of the President of Russia Sergei Ivanov, “the decision to close the news service was part of an effort to reduce costs and make the state news media more efficient”,[13] a report published by RIA Novosti commenting on the decision suggested that it was part of a series of changes in the Russian media landscape that “appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector”.[14]


According to the secretary of the Russian Journalists' Union, the reorganization of RIA Novosti was influenced by the course of events of the Ukrainian Maidan, which were unfavorable for the Kremlin, and was aimed at consolidating the propaganda machine.