On the 26th of April 2021, a completely unknown person burst onto the Russian political scene. Armed with a seemingly unlimited advertising budget, breathless praises from Kremlin mouthpieces, and an army of volunteers hired to spread his face everywhere they could, Alexander Rumyantsev, affectionately called “Doctor Rumyantsev” by his own agitprop, won the ruling party’s primaries in Moscow’s 209th election precinct by a massive 14,828 votes. Who really is the good doctor, and what can Western observers learn from his guerilla marketing campaign?
From Medicine To Politics
Alexander Rumyantsev was a liquidator at Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor meltdown, is currently a pediatrician and the director of an children’s oncologic hospital, and is also a member of the Presidium of the RAS (Russian Academy of Sciences), an extremely prestigious organization.1 He has, undoubtedly, done a lot of good for the medical community and for the tens of thousands of children that he has cured. Despite that, every Russian knows that, in Russia, being a selfless Samaritan is not enough to get the government to bankroll the construction of your hospital. Federal funding is incredibly hard to come by without the right connections, and there are plenty of doctors who have done far more for the Russian people at large without even having a chance to work at one of the nation’s prestigious medical centers.
Therefore, Rumyantsev must have some sort of link with the ruling party (United Russia), or at least had one when he successfully petitioned Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to construct his hospital. This link can be found with a quick Google search: he was one of the three leaders of Putin’s 2018 campaign.2 Rumyantsev’s connection with the government most likely played a role in his decision to run for office, although no outside observer can tell who wanted the doctor to replace his incumbent in the 209th district – the Kremlin or Rumyantsev himself.
A little about the senator the doctor is replacing: Dmitry Morozov was elected in 2016 to the Russian parliament with the minimum percentage of votes required (21,07%), where he became head of the committee of health. He was also the co-author of 16 bills. including the highly controversial bill 4411399-7, “Measures to influence (counteract) unfriendly actions by the United States of America and other foreign States”, which imposed an embargo on medicine manufactured in the US and other states (the bill passed without conflict in the Russian parliament). By looking into Morozov’s voting history, we can gain an insight into what Rumyantsev will most likely vote for in parliament.
United Russia has a well-documented history of aggressively pushing their pawns in local elections. For starters, let’s look at Rumyantsev’s marketing campaign. It is unknown who exactly bankrolls it (the Kremlin, an oligarch, or United Russia), since Rumyantsev does not publish his financial statements. However, we can prove the money for his campaign doesn’t come out of his bank account.
The range for a clinic director’s earnings in Moscow is 20,000 – 600,000 RUB (~267 – 8,034 USD) per month. Taking the maximum amount possible into account, Rumyantsev earned a gross salary of 7,200,000 RUB (~93,372 USD) in 2020. According to my calculations, his campaign spent a minimum of 10 million roubles (~133,850 USD) printing newspapers, flyers, advertising banners and paying to have them installed in apartment buildings, billboards, and on bus stops. Even if we pretend that he doesn’t pay taxes, he still has to pay his campaign staff somehow. Given that the advertising budget was practically unlimited during his campaign period, as more and more posters were printed as old ones were torn down, it’s safe to say that these expenses weren’t being funded from his personal savings account.
One way Alexander Rumyantsev saved some money was by not having a campaign office. Of course, there were people overseeing his campaign behind the scenes, but he has no public point of contact or even a legal address. For a 74-year-old parliamentary representative, he seems awfully progressive – no phone number, no email address. The only way to contact him is via Instagram or VK.3 Even finding his social media pages is no small feat, let alone trying to get him to respond to a message. I attempted to contact him directly three times: once through VK and twice through Instagram. He posts on all social media sites daily, but somehow my messages always end up being left on read. His supporters exhibit the exact same pattern of communication (radio silence). I attempted to contact three of his supporters, and they never got back to me.
Digging a little deeper, we can see that his supporters are either members of the medical community or ambassadors for United Russia’s youth division. I attempted to contact United Russia’s youth division directly, pretending to be a teenager interested in becoming a volunteer for Rumyantsev, and received this response: “Send your full name, phone number, email address, and passport number to this number, and we’ll get back to you.” Rumyantsev’s call center, which is staffed exclusively by a single mother with incredibly loud kids, offers the same response. Unwilling to dox myself, I left random details I found on the internet. No one got back to me. Some of Rumyantsev’s agitators in the streets offered similarly vague explanations for how they got their job. One lady, who was handing out leaflets near my metro station, said: “I don’t know how to get in touch with them. They call me, I go to work.”
In the end, I never got past the human wall guarding Doctor Rumyantsev’s staff. To this day, we’ll never know who exactly manages his social media accounts, or makes large targeted ad buys online and offline. My bets are on the campaign office of United Russia in my district, though. That being said, I don’t think I have to say how unusual it is for a representative to not have a direct line of contact with his constituents. I guess that’s what happens when you’re accountable to the Kremlin instead of the people you supposedly serve.
Doctor Rumyantsev’s connection with the Kremlin has yielded another important tool in the Kremlin’s propaganda machine: positive coverage from government media agencies. From the day his campaign started, media outlets of all sizes started churning out articles about what a good person Rumyantsev is en masse. Massive federal outlets like Konsomolskaya Pravda joined small regional newspapers to spam up Google’s results with nearly identical articles.4 The main point of this campaign, along with the endless barrage of posters in apartment buildings, is to:
- Make the voter aware of all the good deeds Rumyantsev has done.
- Use celebrities to manipulate voters into voting for him (“Doctor Rumyantsev is my choice!” )
- Make sure the voter is constantly exposed to Rumyantsev wherever he goes, so he’s the only person a voter can think about when they get to the ballot box.
The Kremlin’s tradition of using the media for their own personal goals goes back to the Soviet Union, and Rumyantsev’s propaganda is no exception. Any time he farts, he is surrounded by government press who immediately report on it. Every article about him is the same: a quick introduction, a mind numbingly boring description of his righteous deed, and a conclusion that reminds the reader to vote for him.
The press also covers “events” attended by the doctor. The funny thing is, these events are always premeditated by Rumyantsev’s team. No public announcement is made, and yet the press magically shows up wherever the doctor goes. No mortal can get anywhere close to him, neither to relay any legitimate concerns to their potential senator, nor to participate in his political campaign. His staff keep him away from the common folk at arms’ length, under no circumstances letting him communicate with anyone. It is unknown if this is a PR strategy or a way to keep Rumyantsev from giving away the fact that he’s not a real politician, but the real reason is probably a mix of both.
After all the effort made and tens of millions of roubles spent to prop him up, Doctor Rumyantsev earned a measly 23,193 votes at the primaries5, putting him on track to be the district’s United Russia candidate. He will be another useful idiot for United Russia spouting populist slogans like “We should double our healthcare spending”6 and he’ll break his promises one after another just like the candidates before him. He supports Putin’s unconstitutional fifth term and will back whatever bill his overlords tell him to. It’s a shame that such a noble doctor has been reduced to a political prostitute for the very same party that has slashed healthcare spending year after year and is the world leader in corruption and oppression. I guess everyone has their price, especially if you’re pro-mass healthcare spending and you have a hospital in the very district you’re going to serve.
https://tap.link/doc_rumyantsev - Note the lack of official website or “contact me” link, only social media websites and links to articles.
No citation needed. Just Google “Доктор Румянцев” and pick your poison.