The Kremlin’s domestic policy machinations often lead the Putin administration down some strange PR roads. For example, Meduza has written before about the authorities’ hopes to recruit Elizaveta Gyrdymova — aka “Monetochka” (Lil’ Coin) — as the country’s next pop star. That initiative hit a bump in the road earlier this summer when Gyrdymova bowed out of a concert linked to the Defense Ministry, but the Kremlin’s efforts to build inroads with popular musicians aren’t limited to one talent.
On September 7, the BBC Russian Service reported that the rapper Vyacheslav Mashnov (better known as “Gnoiny” and “Slava KPSS”) received nearly two million rubles (almost $30,000) from the Putin administration to release “Sobolev Diss Challenge” on YouTube this April. The BBC first learned of the deal from an anonymous source, and Stanislav Smolyaninov (the rapper’s concert director) later confirmed the claims.
Smolyaninov says Mashnov’s cooperation with the Kremlin was a one-time affair, complaining that the authorities shortchanged them. “We won’t make another deal because the government didn’t pay us the stipulated amount the first time,” he told the BBC.
Mashnov's April 18 video targets the video-blogger Nikolai Sobolev, saying that he “spreads info like a plague-sick rat.” The “diss” was likely a response to Sobolev's role in spreading conspiracy theories about the shopping mall fire in Kemerovo that killed 40 people on March 25. Two days after the tragedy, Sobolev shared a video on YouTube accusing the local authorities of hiding the true casualty count, which he said was “in the hundreds.” The video attracted five million views within a day, which is how long it took until Sobolev removed it, after the rumors proved to be untrue.
Mashnov and his friends in the “Antihype” rap group have denied taking any Kremlin money for the “Sobolev Diss Challenge.” The rapper “SD,” meanwhile, wrote on Twitter that the Putin administration offered 20 million rubles ($287,600) to the rapper Andrey Zamai for the music video “Porokh” (Gunpowder). But the money was never received, he says. On September 7, Mashnov tweeted cautiously: “They're buying park ads from Sobolev, and the diss here is aimed at him. The Kremlin is just keeping the party going online.” He also promised to share a new video on September 8, though it's unclear if he plans to address the allegations that he took government money.
Citing Kremlin sources, the BBC’s report names several other musicians and video-bloggers who have worked for the government, including YouTubers Amiran Sardarov, Nikolai Sobolev, Sasha Spilberg, and Yuri Khavansky, and rappers Ptakha and Egor Krid. Spokespeople for these entertainers either denied the allegations or refused to comment.
Ironically, Nikolai Sobolev has also collaborated with the Russian authorities. In early July, he shared a video praising the renovations to Gorky Park carried out during Mayor Sergey Sobyanin's tenure. Sobolev later claimed that he'd only agreed to promote the park, and not any political campaign. Sobyanin is up for reelection on September 9.