The stars of Kremlin propaganda. Kings of lies and hate

One wearing a jacket with a stand-up collar fashions himself into a type of Stalin or a Jesuit preacher. The other, due to her metallic voice, has earned herself a nickname of the “iron doll”. The third one uses street slang and tells jokes in a language straight from the gutter. Still another, a six-time divorcee, is ostentatiously religious and appears in the company of Patriarch Cyril.

The TV stars of Kremlin propaganda are paid millions for disinformation, mockery, nonsense, cynicism, praising crimes, spreading hatred, aggression, fear and absurd conspiracy theories. Such names as Solovyov, Skabeyeva, Popov, Sheinin, Kiselyov or Simonyan have just become a contradiction of all, even the most elementary, standards of honest journalism.

It is because today, Vladimir Putin, who is now at his own request degrading the status of Russia to the level of a bandit state and a world pariah, the most important rule seems to be the one on which Joseph Goebbels once built the propaganda of the “thousand-year-old” Third Reich - a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth.

Ukrainian soldiers take drugs…

When in 2000 Putin became president of Russia for the first time, the only change he made in his Kremlin office inherited from Boris Yeltsin was to replace a pen on his desk with a TV remote control. And one of the first decisions made by the Kremlin was to take control over all TV stations, especially over the independent at that time NTV (Russian: HTB) station, which was taken over by Gazprom. And it wasn’t really for the fact that NTV openly criticized Putin’s election for president. The new tsar simply couldn’t stand that in the extremely popular satirical program “Puppets”(“Куклы”) broadcast on that television, the puppet personifying Putin was a malicious, cruel and ugly gnome.

After more than two decades, Putin himself has turned into the arch-director of the puppet theatre, controlling practically all Russian TV stations, not to mention the radio and newspapers. To make them dance to Putin’s tune, only last year the state budget pumped over 103 billion roubles (approximately 7.2 billion zlotys) of subsidies into the First Channel (Первый канал), Russia-1 (Россия-1), Russia Today(Россия Сегодня), NTV (Телеко мнВани) WGTRK (Всеросси́йская госуда́рственная телевизио́нная и радиовеща́тельная компа́ния ВГТРК). It’s about 40 percent more than a year before, and this year this stream of money will surely be even greater.

And it’s no longer even a secret that all the news and political programs hosts in these stations receive instructions (методички) directly from the Kremlin. The guests invited to those programs are instructed in advance what they are allowed to say so that the message is in tune with the authorities’ stance. The pattern is always the same - the host presents a view which is in line with the Kremlin’s propaganda and the guests must refer to it and, of course, the more enthusiastic they are the better.

But, as a rule, there is always also a “whipping boy” who somehow tries to argue and is naturally being thundered, mocked and insulted. The presenter always makes sure that the discussion does not get dangerously derailed and that the Kremlin’s view always prevails in the summary.

The favourite strategy is a lie and disinformation, sometimes blown up into absurd, even comic dimensions. It usually starts with a brief TASS “information” release that is rubbish in itself. Recently, for example, TASS reported that “a Ukrainian prisoner of war spoke about the drug use among Ukrainian soldiers before the fight.” “I used this drug myself, as it was delivered by the volunteers, and it’s called Theofidrin. It makes you feel no fear before the fight” - the prisoner was said to testify.
Annual press conference of President Vladimir Putin in December 2020. Photo: Lev Vlasov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
The very next day, the main news program "News" ("Вести") made huge material out of it, claiming that the defenders of Azovstal "stay on drugs that relieve pain and cause the maximum aggression." And the deputy chairman of the Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States in the State Duma, Viktor Vodolatsky (Виктор Петрович Водолацкий) himself argued that the defenders of Azovstal will surrender “as soon as they run out of drugs”.

Other TV stations pick up the topic and the story now starts to live its own life. Of course, no one is bothered by the fact that this terrible drug is an ordinary medicine for bronchial asthma, available in all Ukrainian or Russian pharmacies. And that the theophylline contained in it, and also found in cocoa and tea, dilates blood vessels, accelerates the heart rate and has a diuretic effect, which in combat conditions would be highly inadvisable.

Zelensky, I curse you! You are simply a devil…

Anyway, does it matter that until recently the biggest star among Putin’s television propagandists said: “There will never be any war with Ukraine. Because anyone who seriously tries to do something like this will be a criminal. It’s even hard to imagine how big a criminal.” Never mind, that there has appeared such a big criminal, named Putin, and it is now hard to believe that these words were uttered by Vladimir Solovyov himself (Владимир Рудольфович Соловьёв), who hosts the Russia-1 political program “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov" ("Вечер с Владимиром Соловьёвым »).

Thick volumes could be written about the propaganda achievements of this 59-year-old “Putin’s media soldier”. At times he demanded a nuclear attack on NATO, at other times he cast a curse on Volodymyr Zelensky (“I curse you! You are simply a devil and evil incarnate, not a Jew!”), And he blamed British agents for the slaughter in Bucha, etc.

Solovyov is a metallurgist by training, he holds a PhD in economics, once worked as a teacher of physics and mathematics, and then founded a company that traded in discotheque equipment. He got to the media by accident, as a substitution for a radio broadcast, but his eloquence, expressiveness, and even charisma quickly attracted the attention of the decision-makers, and in 1999, Solovyov began to shine in television stations, specializing mainly in aggressive interviews. Dressed up in black jackets with a stand-up collar and no lapels, ordered from Austria, Solovyov fashions himself into a type of Stalin or a Jesuit preacher and stands out in criticizing the West for exactly what the West criticizes Russia.

On February 23, 2022, the European Union imposed sanctions on Solovyov for supporting actions that undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. As a consequence, the Italian financial police confiscated his two villas on Lake Como, the valued at EUR 8 million.

“For each transaction, I presented documents confirming my official salary and income. I bought it, paid crazy taxes, did everything right. And suddenly someone decides that you are now on the sanctions list. And it immediately affects your property. Why? Because you are Russian. Is it the Iron Curtain? - he complained on air. Solovyov is of Jewish origin, so it was easy for him to explain that this is how "the fascist European Union persecutes the Jews."

Anyhow, European sanctions will not make Solovyov a pauper. His official annual income amounts to 52.6 million roubles (about 3.7 million zlotys), which includes fees from television and radio as well as profits from his private consulting company SW Consulting (СВ Консалтинг), earning millions from its main client, the Sberbank (Сбербанк), the largest state-owned Russian bank.

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We have weapons that can destroy the planet …

Olga Skabeyeva (Ольга Владимировна Скабеева), the “iron doll of Putin’s television”, who announced the beginning of World War III, competes very effectively with Solovyov for primacy in Putin’s propaganda theatre. Skabeyeva hosts a political talk show “60 minutes” ("60 минут") on the Russia-1 state television (Россия-1). The show deals, of course, with replicating and publicizing the lies of Kremlin propaganda, insulting the West, and preaching pyramidal conspiracy theories.

After the Ukrainians sunk the Moscow cruiser, Skabeyeva’s exalted claim that the Russians found themselves “in the middle of World War III” echoed throughout the world. As is known, the TV presenter receives the main leads for her statements directly from the Kremlin. That’s why, Western analysts began to seriously wonder whether it was just Skabeyeva’s slip of the tongue (calling the “special operation” in Ukraine a "war" is strictly forbidden in Russia,) or whether it was a deliberate signal to the world that Putin could escalate the conflict further not excluding nuclear and global war.

Skabeyeva, 38, is one of the most controversial figures in the Russian media, often compared to Tucker Carlson of the American Fox News Channel, who is accused by opponents of making antagonistic, cynical, provocative and sexist statements. But, how does Carlson compare to Skabeyeva? She created the “60 minutes” program in 2016 with her husband, Evgeny Popov (Fkande), also a well-known political commentator and propagandist. They both previously worked on the Vesti.doc (Вести.doc) program and got married in 2013. Before that, Popov had been a correspondent of TV Russia-1 in Kiev.

It were Popov’s extremely biased accounts of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution and the Maidan that earned him “publicity” in Russia as well as the favour of the Kremlin. He later paid back by constantly discrediting the oppositionist Alexei Navalny. Recently, Popov has made himself famous by saying that the Russian military “has a weapon that can destroy an entire planet. The planet!”.

Popov, 44, is also part of the Russian political elite which greatly helped him to marry his first wife, Anastasia Churkin, a daughter of Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin (Вита́лий Ива́нович Чу́ркин). His secret marriage to Skabeyeva in New York, was not publicly announced until three years later.

Popov has recently become a deputy of the Russian State Duma, and thanks to the asset declarations of the deputies published by the Duma, it is known that he and his current wife earned a total of 33.5 million roubles (i.e., approximately 2.3 million zlotys) in 2021. For comparison - according to the official data of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin earned 10.2 million roubles (the equivalent of 725 thousand zlotys) last year, the average salary in Russia is about 57 thousand roubles (about 4,000 zlotys), and the average pension is 14 thousand roubles (about PLN1 thousand zlotys).

Skabeyeva's media career is an endless series of propaganda lies. Her first appearance on television began with “investigating” members of the Pussy Riot group who were protesting against Putin. After that, she dealt with discrediting the British investigation into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia using a combat agent from Russia. According to Skabeyeva, the case was a British conspiracy. And in the “report” on same-sex marriages in the West, she announced that “40 percent of children raised by such couples have venereal diseases”.
Yevgeny Popov (on the right), journalist and deputy to the Russian Duma with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the unveiling of the monument to Prince Alexander Nevsky near the church at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University). Photo: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / TASS / Forum
So, no one is surprised by her claims that “Ukraine as a state does not exist” or that the slaughter in Bucha was perpetrated by Ukrainians. Not to mention using the Ukrainian flag as a tablecloth. With her strong, metallic, intolerant voice, Skabeyeva earned herself a nickname of an “iron doll” and she was an obvious choice to host the “Concert of Support for a World Without Nazism” gala participated by President of Russia in Luzhniki. The European Union imposed sanctions on her and Popov, banning them from entering the West and freezing their accounts there. “I can do without this Union of yours. You speak poor Russian there" – she commented Skabeyeva.

Mind your words or you won't live to see the end of the program …

Solovyov and Skabeyeva, however, can just the shoe cleaners of Artyom Sheinin (Артём Григорьевич Шейнин), who runs a journalistic program called "Time will show" ("Вре́мя пока́жет") on Channel One of the state TV. The Channel has the largest reach in Russia, and Sheinin’s program has a record audience, so its earnings are also record-breaking - annually it is about 100 million roubles (about 7.1 million zlotys).

Compared to other propagandists, the 56-year-old Sheinin stands out for his bully-bum (гопник) style, aggressive bandit tone, the street slang and boorish jokes taken straight from the gutter. In his youth, he served in the army and fought in Afghanistan with the rank of a sergeant, hence he still considers himself “a propaganda soldier whose work is as hard as the fight in Donbass.”

But even before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Sheinin who has been hosting his program since 2016, gained enormous publicity for his statement that Russia "can show America that it also carries something in its pants" – what he meant was "an adequate response" to the bombing of an airfield in Syria by Americans. "Just be careful, mind your words, or you won’t live to see the end of the program" or "shut up if you still want to hold Russian citizenship" - these are Sheinin’s typical lines, when he snubs his guests. He calls others no better than "jerks", "morons", "scums", "crabs", etc.

Sheinin reached the peak of rudeness when, during one of his programs, he was running around the studio with a bucket filled with faeces, with which he wanted to "feed" a controversial Ukrainian blogger and political scientist Sergey Zaporozhsky (Сергией Запорожский). Now he claims that he would like to go to fight the Ukrainians "but his age does not allow him to do so anymore" and openly admits that he was killing in Afghanistan. "Well, so what. A lot of people don't hold it against me.

In order to support and promote a policy that threatens the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, the British authorities froze Sheinin’s deposits in British banks in March. In turn, the Lithuanian authorities, on the same grounds, confiscated his 100-square-meter luxury apartment in the seaside resort of Palanga in April.

Poland was the predatory initiator of World War II …

Sheinin is a media pupil of the veteran propagandists Dimitry Kiselyov (Дми́трий Константи́нович Киселёв), who runs a weekly journalistic program "News of the week" ("Вести недели") on TV Russia-1. The 68-year-old Kiselyov `began his career in the Soviet Union, working, among others, in the radio editorial office broadcasting programs in Polish. In the 1990s, he hosted a television program "Window to Europe" ("Окно в Европу"), which was financed by grants from the European Commission and was aimed at promoting democracy in Russia.

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At that time, Kiselyov was very pro-Western, he often collaborated with Western TV stations and was recognized as a reliable commentator. A radical metamorphosis of this today’s Kremlin’s court spin-doctor of propaganda took place after Putin was elected president in 2000 and Kiselyov himself left for work in Ukraine at the same time.

There, as he himself says, he “opened his eyes and realized that no media was objective and that one had to take one of the sides." This "side", and one needs to remember Kiselyov’s Ukrainian roots, obviously turned out to be Russia. Putin personally appreciated this "metamorphosis" and in 2008 appointed Kiselyov the deputy general director of the state television and radio colossus WGTRK, and in 2013 also the general director of the Russia Today (Россия Сегодня), the Kremlin's main propaganda machine in the world.

After the Russian annexation of Crimea which Kiselyov, now spouting anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western hatred, enthusiastically supported became famous for his words that "Russia is the only country in the world that can turn the United States into radioactive dust." This forced Putin to comment publicly saying that the journalist's statement was a "harmful rhetoric". But now, on May 1, 2022, Kiselyov openly turned back to that rhetoric and threatened that Russia could, with one nuclear submarine attack, "turn Britain and Ireland into a nuclear desert".

Kiselyov, perhaps due to his former work in the Polish editorial office of the Soviet radio, considers himself an expert in Poland and often speaks on Polish topics. “Today, Poland is aspiring to the role of the main victim of World War II. But wasn’t it its predatory initiator? Now the Poles are begging for money (from the Germans). However, if you count correctly, they should still have something left there that does not belong to them" he explained to viewers on September 17, 2017, on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. He is also constantly provoking the public by his claims that Poland intends to take Lviv from Ukraine, and Vilnius from Lithuania, and that it is notoriously extorting money from Germany or that it should pay the Czechs compensation for the occupation of Trans-Olza.

Kiselyov has been subject to sanctions in the European Union, Switzerland and Canada since 2014, and is also pursued by the Ukrainian judiciary. Hence, he spends his luxurious holidays, for example, in Dubai, which irritates many Russians who are dumbfounded by the image of Kiselyov as "concerned about the fate of Russian boys fighting in the Donbas."

Kiselyov is also ostentatiously religious and likes to appear in the company of the Moscow Patriarch Cyril, the latter being completely unimpeded by the fact of his being a notorious divorcee. He married for the first time at the age of 18 and was divorced three times in the next five years. His sixth wife was a British journalist, and the current seventh wife, 22 years his junior, hosts the "Other Side" ("Альтера Парс") radio program on FM News (Вести ФМ), the state-owned propaganda station. For the mere appearance in his weekly television program, Kiselyov charges annually about 4.6 million roubles (about 320 thousand zlotys).

Nobody is bombing peaceful Ukrainian cities …

Among Putin's leading propagandists, one cannot miss Margarita Simonyan (Маргарита Симоновна Симоньян), who is the editor-in-chief of Russia Today (Россия Сегодня) and who shines with her commentaries in all TV stations. This 43-year-old Armenian once fell in love with America and was there on a scholarship, but with time she became so radically anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian that she was nicknamed "the queen of hate and disinformation."
2009. Margarita Simonyan (on the left) the Russia Today editor-in-chief with Tina Kandelaki, a Georgian journalist. The Georgian woman worked in Tbilisi until 1995, then left for Moscow, where she started working in the media. In 2007, she condemned the policy of Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia, and in 2022 supported Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Since March 2012, she has been the ambassador of the cosmetics company Oriflame in the CIS countries (her salary reportedly amounts to USD 2 milli
Simonyan called Russia's attack on Ukraine on February 24 this year “a dress rehearsal for this year's parade in Kiev". “Nobody is fighting the Ukrainians! Nobody is bombing peaceful Ukrainian cities! We are liberating Ukraine,” she said during a Vladimir Solovyov’s program. In another program, she even stated that Ukrainian doctors are supposed to castrate Russian prisoners of war, and Ukrainian "Nazis" are supposed to gouge out the eyes of children, if they are not Ukrainian.

In turn, in Solovyov’s program on April 26, she stated that Russia was already at war with NATO, and then shocked the public by saying: "Personally, I think that the perspective of World War III is most realistic, because knowing us and our leader Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, knowing how everything works here, it's impossible for us to give up. We will all die someday, anyway." According to Simonyan, Russians would, obviously, use their nuclear arsenal, while Ukraine "could be dealt with within a few hours if we only wanted to." For proclaiming such "truths" Simonian annually collects a salary of about 60 million roubles (4.2 million zlotys).

Now, it's your turn to lie …

The list of Putin's puppets in the Russian media is obviously very long - from the most prominent ones on major TV and radio stations up to an army of propagandists at every local level. Apparently, there is a "professional joke" said among them before they appear on air - "Now, it's your turn to lie." And they would probably all support the recent misleading postulate of Margarita Simonyan that it is high time to remove from the Russian constitution of 1993 a provision that formally prohibits official censorship because "freedom of speech will eventually lead to the fall of Russia."

And it is clearly obvious even to every Russian child what "freedom of speech" really means in this country. “We know they are lying. They know they are lying. We know they know we know they are lying. Nevertheless, they are still lying,” wrote a Russian Nobel Prize winner, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And his words are, unfortunately, still relevant. And even more relevant than ever.

- Krzysztof Darewicz

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

- Translated by Ewa Sawicka
Main photo: Dmitry Kiselyov, Director General of the Russia Today TV station with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2016 Moscow conference "New Era of Journalism: Farewell to the Mainstream". Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
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