On July 29, the Russian Embassy in Spain promoted an English language video under the headline, “Time to move to Russia.”
The next day, the Russian House in Chennai (Madras), India, published the same video, praising it for “good sense of humor” and for promoting “delights of life in Russia despite sanctions.”
Narrated in English by a male with an American accent, the one-minute video presents a series of professionally beautified images that put Russia in glowing light. The video went viral on Twitter, receiving millions of views – but also plenty of ridicule given the omission of death, destruction and allegations of rape, executions, torture by Russian forces that have invaded Ukraine.
In fact, the video presents a false portrait of Russia’s ailing economy. It does so while working in mocking jabs at Ukraine and echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s narcissistic complaints that Western “cancel culture” is unfairly victimizing Russians (as opposed to innocent Ukrainians who are dying by the thousands and being swept from their homes and loved ones by the millions).
The video starts with the narrator saying, “This is Russia,” accompanied by a close-up shot of the coat of arms of “Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic” – yes, the one from when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.
The narration goes on to tick off a laundry list of things that living in Russia has to offer – cheap electricity, clean water, vodka, hospitality, etc. At the words “Beautiful Women,” the video shows an aerial shot of two girls running in a field followed immediately by a close-up of a Ukrainian model Sonya Kapitonova, who preformed for a video clip of the song "Vrazhe" by Angy Kreyda. “Vrazhe” (“The Enemy”) muses about Ukrainian witches cursing at Russian troops.
At the words “Fertile Soil,” the video shows a field of yellow grain meeting a blue sky at the horizon – a reference to Ukraine’s national colors. Then, at the words “World Famous Literature,” the video shows pictures of Nikolay Gogol, a famed the 19th century Ukrainian-Russian writer, and Alexander Pushkin, the 19th century Russian poet of African descent.
Based on those references, many Twitter users wondered if the video was a Ukrainian or Western spoof rather than Russian propaganda effort. However, Polygraph.info has confirmed that a pro-Russian Telegram channel called Signal took credit for producing the video. Signal first published it July 25 on YouTube with the hashtags “Russia,” “gas,” “sanctions” and linked to its 700,000-subscriber Telegram channel. Signal later described how the embassy posts boosted views.
The Signal channel is anonymous; its “About” page only provides contact information for a generic administrator and ad buys. The administrator did not respond to Polygraph.info’s questions about ownership of the channel.
Review of Signal’s content shows that it wholly supports Russia and its proxy forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. One such indicator is that Signal solicits donations for military and medical equipment for the Russian troops and allied forces.
A video the channel published on July 26 on Telegram and YouTube showed a representative of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Militia,” Eduard Basurin, delivering packages to a military truck. Captions said the packages contained a drone and medical supplies for the “Russian artillerists in the Donbas,” purchased using donations from Signal subscribers.
Basurin thanked Signal for helping “to kill off and cleanse Ukraine from all the dirt that gathered in here.” A man in military uniform next to Basurin is introduced as “Steve, deputy commander of the special artillery brigade Kalmius.” The brigade has been operating in Donbas since 2014 and has become infamous for indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas.
“Steve” expressed thanks for “the gift” to the “team at Signal and Nikita Tomilin,” a Russian who’s worked with past Kremlin projects to boost Putin’s popularity among young people. From 2018 to 2019, Tomilin also contributed as a political analyst to state-owned RT and the national-socialist website Svobodnya Pressa, writing critically about Ukraine and the United States.
On July 13, Tomilin was interviewed on “Utro Z” (Morning Z), a TV show hosted by U.S.-sanctioned Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Soloviev. In the interview, Tomilin used degrading slang to refer to Ukrainians and called for more “filtration” camps to “re-educate” them.
Signal did not respond to a question about its affiliation with Tomilin.
The “move to” video plays off grievances Putin aired in March, when he declared during an event attended by Russian musicians and other artists that the West was “trying to cancel a whole 1,000-year culture, our people” with the wide-ranging economic and cultural backlash against the war.
“They’re now engaging in the cancel culture, even removing Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov from posters. Russian writers and books are now cancelled,” Putin said.
In fact, some of that did occur. But Putin had made similar claims before February’s all-out invasion. In an October 2021 speech at a Russian conference on "The Individual, Values and the State," he also brought up cancel culture, warning others “to steer clear of our home.”
As the "move to" narration continues, it adds “Traditional Values” and “Christianity” to the list of Russian plusses. In his October speech, Putin also lashed out at transgender rights, The Washington Post reported. Following Putin, Russia is considered hostile to LGBTQ rights, and in the speech, he sought to turn the tables by ridiculing Western liberalism for reverting to “Soviet-era newspeak”:
“Anyone who dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact, risk being ostracized. ‘Parent number one’ and ‘parent number two,’ ‘birthing parent’ instead of ‘mother,’ and ‘human milk’ replacing ‘breast milk’ because it might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender.”
The “move to” video’s assertion that there is no cancel culture in Russia is in fact false, as Twitter users were quick to point out. They posted memes and links to notorious anti-gay pogroms in Russia, to Russian laws stripping the LGBTQ community of basic rights and to stories about the poisoning and jailing of Putin's political opponents.
Cancel culture is very real in Russia when it comes to the Ukraine war.
Scores of popular public figures have been canceled for criticizing Putin’s war and calling for peace. They include rock stars, pop groups, artists, actors, athletes, journalists, TV hosts and others. Russia has gone so far as to criminalize use of the word “war” to describe its attack on Ukraine, rather than Putin’s preferred euphemism – a “special military operation.” More than 15,000 anti-war protesters were arrested in more than 150 cities in the immediate aftermath of February invasion.
Regarding the video’s reference to Russia’s economy and claim that it has withstood thousands of sanctions, a Yale University study last month concluded that U.S. and European Union sanctions have caused extensive damage, despite Russia’s ability to use its vast energy supplies as a lifeline.
The study’s authors found that more than 1,000 companies, representing 40 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, had pulled out of the country. They argued that Putin has tried to put the best face on a dire situation by cherry-picking the data.
“From our analysis, it becomes clear: business retreats and sanctions are catastrophically crippling the Russian economy ... Despite Putin’s delusions of self-sufficiency and import substitution, Russian domestic production has come to a complete standstill with no capacity to replace lost businesses, products and talent; the hollowing out of Russia’s domestic innovation and production base has led to soaring prices and consumer angst.
“Looking ahead, there is no path out of economic oblivion for Russia as long as the allied countries remain unified in maintaining and increasing sanctions pressure against Russia.”
In June, Russia defaulted on some of its international debt after being frozen out of the international financial transactions system by sanctions. Analysts said the country’s isolation and financial hardship could last for years after the war ends.
The video ends ominously: “Don’t Delay … Winter is Coming,” the narrator says over footage of a pine forest sprinkled with snow.
Many on Twitter interpreted the passage as a threat that Russia might cut off natural gas supplies to Europe; already Gazprom, the state-majority owned energy company, has substantially reduced flows under the pretext of technical problems. Europe formerly obtained about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Now, European Union members are scrambling for new sources and looking toward rationing this winter.