A street artist paints a portrait of a woman next to an image of a Russian serviceman and words, "The Motherland we defend," at a street exhibition of military photos, in central St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

We want you: Russia, Ukraine and US run ads targeting Russians

In recent months, Russia, Ukraine and the US have been running online ad campaigns all targeting Russian citizens. Russia wants more men to join its military. Ukraine wants them to lay down their arms. And the US is looking to recruit spies.

The World

In the spring, Russia launched a recruitment ad encouraging Russian men to join the military. 

The ad appeals to a sense of masculine duty — and enticing salaries.

“Monthly payments starting at 204,000 rubles,” it states. That’s about $2,000 a month. 

But Russia is not the only country using ad campaigns targeting Russian citizens. Ukraine is using advertising to encourage Russians to lay down their arms. And the US is looking to recruit spies.

Irina Borogan, an expert on Russia’s security services, said that the messages about manliness, heroism and service are present — but the promise of a good salary is the primary draw. 

“I don’t think that these simple videos on Instagram and on TikTok can really have a serious psychological effect on people. Money has psychological effects on people, poverty has psychological effects on people,” Borogan said.

According to Borogan, military advertisements are seen everywhere, from highways to bus stops, especially in places outside of big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. 

And it’s always a simple message: Sign a military contract and get paid.

On the other side, Ukraine is trying to counteract that message with its own ads targeting men who have already joined the Russian Armed Forces.

One recent ad in Ukraine warns Russian soldiers that their lives are in danger.

The ad ends with this slogan: “Are you willing to die for Putin? Or will you live for yourself?”

Then a number appears on the screen, where Russian soldiers can reach out, using an encrypted messenger app. The ad campaign is part of a project run by Ukraine’s military intelligence called: “I Want to Live.” 

Vitaliy Matvienko, a spokesperson for the project, said that the campaign is aimed at Russians who understand what’s going on, “those who are rational thinkers,” he said. “They’re the ones who reach out.”

Matvienko said that about 216 have used the program to hand themselves over to Ukraine. 

Once in Ukrainian custody, the Russian soldiers become prisoners of war.

Matvienko said part of their ad campaign is to show Russians that prisoners of war are treated well and have nothing to fear.

The US is also trying to reach out to Russians with its own ad campaign.

One ad, produced by the CIA, depicts a well-off Russian government employee and family man who stands for strong values. 

The voiceover says: “I want to tell the truth, I want to believe again that the truth has value.”

At the end of the video the caption says: “Those around you may not want to hear the truth. But we do.”

Then the CIA logo appears followed by details of secure ways to get in touch.

James Olson is the former chief of counterintelligence at the CIA. 

“They are correctly assuming that there are some good Russians out there, including intelligence officers, who are secretly opposed to [Vladimir] Putin, who are ashamed and angered at what their country is doing in Ukraine and would like to find a way to strike back as a matter of conscience,” Olson said, adding that the timing right now is perfect. 

Former CIA Senior Operations Officer Marc Polymeropoulos agreed. 

“When you conduct recruitment operations, you’re not telling them what they’re doing is against their country, what you’re telling them to do is actually against their corrupt and rotten government and in essence, by helping the United States, you’re actually helping your country, you’re helping Russia,” he said.

Polymeropoulos said that when the CIA videos get shared widely in Russian social networks, it helps the US recruit more people. 

“This is what we’re supposed to do, it’s the nation’s first line of defense, our job is to steal secrets from our adversaries,” Polymeropoulos said. 

Olson, the former CIA chief, said he has reason to believe that the ads are already yielding results.

Will you keep The World spinning?

Donations from listeners like you are absolutely crucial in funding the great music and human-centered global news you hear on The World. Recurring gifts provide predictable, sustainable support — letting our team focus on telling the stories you don’t hear anywhere else. If you make a gift of $100 or pledge $10/month we’ll send you a curated playlist highlighting some of the team's favorite music from the show Donate today to keep The World spinning.