Vladimir Putin has secret team to protect him from ‘crab’ and ‘Hitler’ memes

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Russia’s federal media watchdog tasks its spooks with protecting Vladimir Putin from¬†memes that portray him as a ‘bald dwarf’, ‘a crab’, or ‘a Hitler wannabe’.

That is according to reports on a leak out of Roskomnadzor, the main agency behind online censorship in Moscow that is responsible for blocking material about the on-going invasion of Ukraine and any disparaging posts about the Russian president.

Analysis of the leaks found that the agency compiles reports on all ‘negative publications’, and sends them ‘upstairs’ to the Kremlin and Russia’s security services to brief them on all of the despot’s critics via an internal messaging system.

Putin’s online image is monitored at almost all times, according to independent Russian outlets that have delved into the leaks.¬†Roskomnadzor employs thousands of people, many of whom are expected to work over the weekend or holidays.

In particular, it is understood that they are on the look out for anything that questions Putin’s macho image, his health, or his mental acumen.¬†

Russia’s federal media watchdog tasks its spooks with protecting Vladimir Putin from memes that portray him as a ‘bald dwarf’, ‘a crab’, or ‘a Hitler wannabe’. Pictured: A photoshopped image showing a shrunken-down Putin meeting officials in Russia

One meme format that is keeping Roskomnadzor busy, the leaked documents suggest, is that of calling Putin a crab. His face is often superimposed over the body of a crab, or text on an image declares: 'Putin is a crab.' This is reference to when Putin once said he worked 'like a slave' as president from 2000 to 2008. The words 'slave' and 'crab' sound similar in Russian

One meme format that is keeping Roskomnadzor busy, the leaked documents suggest, is that of calling Putin a crab. His face is often superimposed over the body of a crab, or text on an image declares: ‘Putin is a crab.’¬†This is reference to when Putin once said he worked ‘like a slave’ as president from 2000 to 2008. The words ‘slave’ and ‘crab’ sound similar in Russian

Thousands of pages of documents about the agency were leaked by a group of Belarusian hackers, who said in late 2022 that they had been able to breach an internal Roskomnadzor network and copy a vast collection of internal data. 

This data was then handed to independent Russian journalists, as well as German newspaper S√ľddeutsche Zeitung and other western news organisation, who have released their findings this week.

According to¬†iStories¬†– an independent Russian news site –¬†Roskomnadzor staffers sign on at 8.30am every morning to scour the internet for any activity that could pose a threat to Putin and his image – including memes.¬†

One meme format that is keeping¬†Roskomnadzor workers busy, the leaked documents suggest, is one which calls Putin a crab. His face is often superimposed over the body of a crab, or text on an image declares: ‘Putin is a crab.’

This is reference to when Putin once said he worked ‘like a slave’ as president from 2000 to 2008. The words ‘slave’ and ‘crab’ sound similar in Russian, which led to the appearance of the internet nickname for the Russian leader.

Other banned memes include those that liken Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (and call him ‘Putler’), and those that call him a ‘bald dwarf’ (Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller).¬†

A Google search of ‘dwarf Putin’ will return several photoshopped images of a shrunken Russian despot as he meets with officials.

Roskomnadzor’s workers are also tasked with tracking down content that compares Putin to negative figures (other than Hitler) such as¬†pedophiles and serial killers, as well as depictions of him in pornographic scenes or as a ‘homosexual’.

Russia has previously banned depictions of Putin as a ‘gay clown’ (a cartoon of Putin in makeup imposed onto a rainbow, which was popularised by activists in response to Russia’s homophobic policies). The image is considered ‘extremism’ in Russia.

Memes - such as those that liken Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (and call him 'Putler'), and those that call him a 'bald dwarf' (Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller) - are reported to officials in the Kremlin by Roskomnadzor

Memes - such as those that liken Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (and call him 'Putler'), and those that call him a 'bald dwarf' (Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller) - are reported to officials in the Kremlin by Roskomnadzor

Memes – such as those that liken Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (and call him ‘Putler’), and those that call him a ‘bald dwarf’ (Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller) – are reported to officials in the Kremlin by Roskomnadzor¬†

Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller. This picture, which is not photoshopped, shows him about to shake hands with former US president Donald Trump, who along with other world leaders is standing on a raised platform. Russian news agency TASS reportedly removed this image from their coverage in 2018

Putin is 5ft 7in, and is widely believed to use platforms in his shoes to make him appear taller. This picture, which is not photoshopped, shows him about to shake hands with former US president Donald Trump, who along with other world leaders is standing on a raised platform. Russian news agency TASS reportedly removed this image from their coverage in 2018

Images likening Putin to unfavourable characters, such as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (pictured) are also reported by Moscow's censorship agency Roskomnadzor

Images likening Putin to unfavourable characters, such as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (pictured) are also reported by Moscow’s censorship agency¬†Roskomnadzor

The spooks are also working to crack down on suggestions that Putin’s health is in a ‘critical condition’. In one report detailing¬†Roskomnadzor’s efforts to halt the ‘destabilisation of Russian society,’ staffers gave a few examples of their findings.

‘Putin 100% has dementia! The old man has lost his mind!’ and ‘Will a sane Russian support a president with mental illnesses?’ were listed in the report that was sent to the higher-ups in the Kremlin.

Censors also quoted messages from Telegram channels. ‘Putin has cancer […], but he will live,’ another example listed in a report said.

In order to track down criticism of Putin online, iStories said Roskomnadzor agents use Brand Analytics Рsoftware that monitors media and social media. 

They also manually enter search times, such as ‘bald dwarf’, ‘puilo’, ‘PutinVor’, ‘Little Tsakhes’, ‘chief corrupt official’, ‘Putler’ and ‘Pynya’, the outlet says.

Analysis of the leaks by iStories shows that Putin was most criticised online towards the end of September, in connection to his partial mobilisation for the invasion of Ukraine in which he called upon another 300,000 soldiers to fight in his war.

There were also spikes in criticism around his 70th birthday and when an explosion hit the Crimean bridge, the bridge linking the peninsula to Russia.

Reports about Putin’s health peaked in June 2022.

The outlet also reports that Roskomnadzor monitors western media outlets, such as CNN, Fox News and the Financial Times, as well as anonymous Telegram channels critical of the Putin regime, such as General SVR.

The channel has long claimed Putin is dying, and on one occasion claimed that that Russian President fell down the stairs and soiled himself.

The leaks also suggest that Russia’s top search engine and Google alternative Yandex was filtering out unflattering search results about Putin and the Kremlin.

A spokesperson for the company told independent Russian news outlet Meduza that the engine does not remove results on its own, denying the accusation.   

Russia has previously banned depictions of Putin as a 'gay clown' (a cartoon of Putin in makeup imposed onto a rainbow, which was popularised by activists in response to Russia's homophobic policies). The image is considered 'extremism' by Russian authorities

Russia has previously banned depictions of Putin as a ‘gay clown’ (a cartoon of Putin in makeup imposed onto a rainbow, which was popularised by activists in response to Russia’s homophobic policies). The image is considered ‘extremism’ by Russian authorities

The cartoonist behind these puppets from 2000, depicting Putin as a poison dwarf in Russia's version of 'Spitting Images' fled the country in fear of his safety towards the end of 2022

The cartoonist behind these puppets from 2000, depicting Putin as a poison dwarf in Russia’s version of ‘Spitting Images’ fled the country in fear of his safety towards the end of 2022

Roskomnadzor agents are also tasked with cracking down on memes critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: A meme making it clear that despite Putin's claim that it is part of Russian territory, Ukraine is 'not Russia'

Roskomnadzor agents are also tasked with cracking down on memes critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: A meme making it clear that despite Putin’s claim that it is part of Russian territory, Ukraine is ‘not Russia’

Speaking to iStories,¬†Abbas Gallyamov – a former speechwriter for Putin – said the goal of monitoring activity online was to ‘quash unrest’.¬†

‘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,’ he said.

‘Popularity is of great importance for the leader [of the country], including for Putin. Any regime can be sustainable only if it relies on the support of a significant group of voters,’¬†Gallyamov continued.¬†

As a leader, ‘you see an information threat, and you make a decision how to stop it, how to deal with it. Either with the help of technological tools, creating an alternative agenda, or with the help of an administrative scenario,’ he added.

Since the outbreak of the war, Roskomnadzor has also been cracking down on any instances of dissent against the invasion. Those who protest the war in public face up to 15 years in prison.

iStories said since Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine, the war has been the main target of criticism in relation to the Russian leader.

Agents search for mentions of ‘unleashing a war’, ‘illegally invading’ and sending Russian soldiers to their deaths.

To this day, Putin and Kremlin officials still call the invasion a ‘special military operation,’ and avoid using the term ‘war’ when speaking to the Russian public.