The administration of St. Petersburg will lay out a billion rubles for self-praise in social networks and federal media. This money should correct the image of the governor of the city Alexander Beglov, which is bursting at the seams. However, the answer to the question of whether these expenses will benefit the mayor is not at all obvious, since the previous multimillion-dollar injections did not help Beglov’s rating in any way. Citizens judge the work of local authorities not by bravura reports in the press, but by what they see with their own eyes.
In early March, a draft resolution on the allocation of 980 million rubles for media and social networks appeared on the official website of the St. Petersburg administration. This money should be received by a new structure – the association of journalists “Petrocenter” created last year. But don’t be fooled by the name. This is not at all about the fact that Smolny suddenly became preoccupied with the fate of independent media and decided to support freedom of speech in Russia with the ruble. “Petrocenter” is headed by the editor-in-chief of the official resources of Smolny – the newspaper “Petersburg Diary” and the corresponding website – Kirill Smirnov. It is curious that Smirnov, judging by his official biography, has recently been receiving various awards from the city authorities for achievements in the media field almost every year. For example, in 2021 he received a special prize from the Governor of St. Petersburg for a series of interviews with city leaders. That is, the work of Smirnov is appreciated in Smolny, so they decided to entrust him with a new, responsible direction for whitening the image of Alexander Beglov.
Glory to the ruler of the city!
A billion rubles, for the distribution of which Smirnov is responsible, is supposed to be spent in four areas. Firstly, part of the funds will go to support the Vecherny St. Petersburg newspaper – the chronically unprofitable daily city publication was closed several years ago, but since the fall of 2022 Smolny has resumed printing the newspaper, which is distributed free of charge at metro stations and in government bodies. The publication’s budget, according to Fontanka, is about 90 million a year. Secondly, about another 150 million will go to the production and distribution of regional printed periodicals – these newspapers, filled with press releases from various departments, photographs of the governor and various everyday tips, are especially popular with St. Petersburg summer residents. On them, for example, you can sprinkle onions to dry or use them to light the stove.
The third direction deserves much more attention – ensuring the popularity of city authorities in social networks. According to the draft resolution, the structure led by Kirill Smirnov will have to publish 3.5 thousand posts on the Internet every month with a total coverage of 10 million views. Petrocenter also intends to “form a pool of bloggers and public opinion leaders to post at least 1,000 publications with a total coverage of at least 2 million views over the entire period.” Another 1.5 thousand posts will have to be advertised using targeted advertising. It is assumed that thanks to advertising and the work of bloggers, posts with the topics necessary for the city government will gain at least
9 million views. It is clear that this is just a gigantic amount of work, therefore, according to rumors, the recruitment of new employees has already begun at Petrocenter. About a hundred users will have to prepare posts daily within the framework of the theses approved from above. Thus, Smolny seems to acquire its own “troll factory”. It is curious that in this case the new structure will partly duplicate the functions of the already existing SDG (Regional Management Center). The SDGs created in all regions of the country should also work in social networks, monitoring the dissatisfaction of citizens, giving them specific advice and recommendations, as well as forwarding requests and wishes to the responsible officials. Either the St. Petersburg SDG does not cope well enough with this work, or the volume of propaganda needs to be increased.
The fourth direction will be work with the federal media. At the expense of the allocated funds, it is planned to ensure the publication of 100 news items on “socially significant topics of the development of St. Petersburg” per year. So that not only Petersburgers, but the whole of Russia, learn about how vigorously and dynamically the Northern capital is developing under the leadership of Alexander Beglov.
It is enough to turn off Nevsky Prospekt to see the crumbling stucco molding of the next palace or marvel at the filthiness of the next yard-well. Yes, and on Nevsky Prospect itself, you can get injured if you don’t look carefully at your feet.
What to brag about?
By the way, it is possible that it is the fourth area of work that will also turn out to be the most effective, because from Vladivostok, Krasnodar or Moscow you can’t see the daily difficulties that the inhabitants of St. Petersburg face and which the city authorities could solve (but do not solve). From the household mess in the sleeping areas of the metropolis to the crumbling historical center. It is enough to turn off Nevsky Prospekt onto any parallel street to see the crumbling stucco molding of the next palace or marvel at the filthiness of the next yard-well. Yes, and on Nevsky itself, you can get injured if you don’t look carefully at your feet, bypassing the next dips in granite tiles along the perimeter. What can we say about more significant projects. Alexander Beglov is sincerely proud that the revenue part of the budget of the Northern capital has grown to 1 trillion rubles. In this, of course, there is no personal merit of the governor, because it was not Beglov who convinced Gazprom to move to St. Petersburg, but Smolny could at least effectively dispose of the easy money he received. Alas, the average city dweller does not feel any preferences from a trillion – new metro stations (unlike Moscow) are not being built in St. Petersburg, they promise to resettle communal apartments by the middle of the century, and you can get into social support programs only if certain conditions are met and after collecting a pile documents. On the other hand, businessmen who receive more and more fat state orders for the strangest projects are doing well, such as the demolition of hundreds of residential buildings for scandalous renovation in the Narva Zastava area or the allocation of billions for the overhaul of the Music Hall guest theater building, which functioned properly and, in the opinion of an outside observer, it did not need urgent repairs.
In addition, it should be noted that this is not the first time that the city authorities have been throwing hundreds of millions of budget money to improve Beglov’s image: they even made a movie about the governor of St. Petersburg, putting him on a par with his glorious predecessors, starting with Menshikov (although in this case, partly ) and ending with Matvienko. Also memorable are the sensational stories when Beglov in smart boots personally went out to remove the snow with a shovel and when Smolny banned the concerts of Shnurov, who angrily ridiculed the current leadership of the city. Therefore, the creation of a new structure looks like an attempt to once again reset the reputation of the St. Petersburg mayor, who next year, 2024, has yet to campaign for a candidate from the authorities in the presidential elections in the Russian Federation.
The task, however, looks unrealizable. At the end of 2021, the Social Information Agency of St. Petersburg published a rating of approval by St. Petersburg residents of various city leaders, according to which 29% of respondents named the current speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, as the best mayor. In second place with 14% was the first and only mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak. The incumbent governor, Alexander Beglov, took only third place, with the support of only 12% of respondents. In 2022, according to the National Rating project, Beglov dropped to 20th place in the ranking of heads of Russian regions – a year earlier he was 10th.
For the governor of the second most important city in the country, and even with a trillion-dollar budget, the result is unique. What can we say about various informal ratings in popular public and TG channels in which a politicized audience participates – here Beglov does not gain even 5% approval.
With all this, at the end of 2022, the governor of St. Petersburg took first place among his colleagues in the media rating in the North-West – he was most often mentioned in the media. Apparently, this result will be repeated in 2023. After all, there is no doubt that the media controlled by Smolny will use a billion (and two, and three, and ten) to praise Beglov. Whether here only the real authority of the governor among townspeople will grow at the same time?