Russian Church secretly funds cartoonish anti-Western propaganda video

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times. An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.
Shanghai night field

Another image from the video.

Another image from the video.

Another image from the video.

The video was framed as a message to US President Barack Obama.

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.

London:  A slick, wildly popular Russian propaganda video that casts Russians as heroic invaders and warns the West “don’t mess with me” was secretly funded by the Russian Orthodox Church, its makers have claimed.

The church commissioned the video from a viral internet studio established as a kind of Russian “Funny or Die” – previous hits include a man groping 1000 women’s breasts then shaking hands with Vladimir Putin.

The same group is almost certainly behind a video released late last year that features Mr Putin riding a bear firing laser beams out of its eyes, and which blames Ukraine and the West for shooting down MH17 in an attempt to provoke a war.

“I – Russian Invader”, the latest video that went viral in the old Eastern bloc with over 5.5 million views in the three weeks since its release, unapologetically paints Russia as a nation of invaders and occupiers who improved every country they conquered.

“I once occupied Siberia. Now they produce oil, gas, aluminium and other useful stuff,” it says. “I invaded Central Asia. In bare steppes I built canals, factories, spaceports, hospitals and stadiums.

“I occupied Ukraine. Together with the Ukrainians I built aircraft engines, ships, tanks and cars. I was asked to leave them. Now they are destroying all that is left.

“Yes, I’m an occupant! And I’m tired of apologising for it! I’m an occupant by birthright, an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid!”

The video, which is framed as an email to Barack Obama, rejects “freedom”, “democracy” and “Western values”, which it portrays as a scrapbook of Pussy Riot, CIA renditions, Charlie Hebdo, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst and a book on gay parenting entitled Daddy, Papa and Me.

The Russian hero narrator is portrayed as a computer hacker with a machine gun resting by his keyboard.

“I politely warn you for the last time – don’t mess with me! I build peace, I love peace, but I know how to fight better than anybody else.

“Sincerely, your Russian occupant.”

The video provoked outrage in the West, in news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Times (which noted that the text had been adapted from a prose poem published last year by Russian writer Alexei Ivanov). US ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow called the video “astounding” and “imperialism for dummies”. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin tweeted a link to his followers.

At the time it appeared that the Invader video, and the MH17-themed one before it, had been created by ‘Evgeny Zhurov’, a Russian video blogger in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

However Russian website Medialeaks.ru saw a clear similarity to other videos produced by the Russian professional video studio My Duck’s Vision (MDV) – and a producer from the studio confessed it was their work.

The producer did not reveal who had funded the project, saying only their customers were “associated with the state” and “at the top”.

However when contacted by Fairfax, an MDV spokesman revealed their identity. “It was an order from [the] Russian Orthodox Church,” MDV spokesman Damian Degtyarev said in an email. “It was not our idea.”

“It was an order we’ve been paid, but still for us it’s just a stupid script, we’ve made [it] for fun.”

Many senior figures in the Russian Orthodox Church are strong supporters of the Putin regime. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow once famously called Mr Putin’s long rule “a miracle of God”.

The character of the Siberian blogger that hid the true identity of the video’s creators was “just part of a deal for a while”, Mr Degtyarev said.

The studio advertises itself as “professionals in video production, advertising, public relations and secret media operations”: “You need an advertising campaign? Virus? Then you’ve come to the right place.”

Mr Degtyarev said his favourite of the studio’s previous work was the man who touched 1000 breasts, “cause it went viral! And boobies,” he said.

But is the new video just outrageous propaganda or does it conceal a subtle satire on Russian patriotism and Western gullibility?

Back in 2009, MDV’s Yuri Degtyarev, in an interview with Radio Liberty, was asked about a viral video that pretended to be a job ad for undertakers at a funeral home in Jacksonville, USA – saying it would be the perfect job for Russians who hate America: “You will have the opportunity to personally bury more than 300 Americans in just one year.”

He said the basic idea had been to satirise the old Soviet habit of blaming everything on America, and to “make fun of the Russian patriots who do not make a damn thing, just go to marches . . . if anti-Americanism is used as a marketing joke it ceases to be radical”.

Asked about the studio’s previous work satirising the same attitudes expressed – apparently in earnest – in the new video, Damian Degtyarev told Fairfax: “Yeah, we like to confuse people :)”

“It was humour for sure, for trolling,” he said.

The entire message in the video came from the commission and “we didn’t agree at all” with the sentiments in the video, he said.

So was this propaganda? Or satire? Or just a massive exercise in trolling the internet? In modern, weird-turned-up-to-eleven Russia, is it even possible to tell?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.