Corruption in Russia is an issue the opposition uses to bash the authorities.
But now the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) -- President Vladimir Putin's personal, national support organization -- is trying to take control of the issue and portray him as tough on corruption.
Over the last year, it has quietly released a series of cartoon videos showing Putin listening silently as various regional officials accused of corruption try to justify themselves. Each cartoon ends with Putin pushing a button and the allegedly corrupt official meeting a gruesome end, such as being flushed down a toilet, zapped with a laser, or devoured by piranhas.
Perhaps the most affecting ending comes to the timber-producing Karelia region's natural resources minister, Viktor Chikalyuk, who is ground into sawdust by a circular saw. (In reality, Chikalyuk is still on the job in Karelia).
Russian journalist Alisa Ivanitskaya has underscored the ruthlessness of the cartoons by splicing together all the endings. The result is a cartoon in which a merciless Putin kills one supplicant after another.
The montage comes at an unusual moment in Russian political life, when the country has been rocked by detailed corruption allegations against high-profile figures like Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika.
The BBC's Panorama program on January 26 ran a lengthy report alleging that Putin himself has amassed enormous wealth over his 16 years in power, and a U.S. official described Putin's conduct as a "picture of corruption." Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has built his national reputation on his corruption exposes.
At the same time, Russia has been rocked in recent weeks by a spate of statements by a key Putin ally, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, calling everyone who opposes Putin a "traitor" and an "enemy of the people." This week, Kadyrov posted on Instagram a video showing former Prime Minister and opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov and opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza being viewed through the scope of a sniper's rifle.
In May 2015, Kara-Murza himself was the victim of a mysterious illness that he believes was an attempt to poison him because of his political activity. A British judge's January report linking Putin to the 2006 murder in London of former Federal Security Service agent Aleksandr Litvinenko has also colored the political atmosphere.
Unlike the opposition's corruption allegations, which focus on leading figures of the governing and economic elites, the ONF cartoons put the spotlight on relatively obscure cases involving little-known officials.
For instance, one involves former Rostov-on-Don airport board director Gennady Yevstafyev (beaten to death by an airport bus that turns into a transformer). Although Yevstafyev has been quietly removed from his post, there is no indication he was ever charged with corruption or tried.
Another video, from November 2015, features Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city official Ivan Fyodorov (crushed to death by an enormous artificial tulip). According to a local media report in December 2015, Fyodorov was still at his post.
A third video features former Sakhalin Governor Aleksandr Khoroshavin (falls into a pit hidden under his chair in Putin's office as the sound of a flushing toilet plays). Khoroshavin was removed in April 2014 on suspicion of major corruption. His case is still under investigation.
The cartoons come as Russia prepares for national, regional, and local legislative elections in September, ahead of a March 2018 presidential vote in which Putin could seek a fourth term.
In the run-up to the previous presidential election, a wax museum in St. Petersburg set up an exhibition showing Putin in a military tunic about to execute a "corrupt official" with an ax. Another exhibit showed Putin and then-President Dmitry Medvedev astride a rearing horse and trampling a "snake of corruption," in an image based on the famous equestrian statue of Peter the Great that was immortalized in Aleksandr Pushkin's classic poem The Bronze Horseman.
According to Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, Russia ranked 119th, in a tie with Azerbaijan, Guyana, and Sierra Leone.