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Officers in Siberia were ordered to guard over billboards displaying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign bid ahead of the country’s elections in March 2018, in order to keep them from getting vandalized.

Although officers tasked with guarding the billboards were not so open up to reporters in general, one of the officers spoke to RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity.

“They told us to protect them so that they were not damaged by the protest-oriented population,” the sergeant said.

“They told us that we need to be near the billboards, ‘within eyesight.’ They told us we can run the engine and the heater. After all, it is really cold,” he said.

The officer added that various police units were assigned to guard the Putin’s billboards 24/7, put up all across the country. Although the grunt work is the most ideal use of their time, the officer said no one dares to complain because “upsetting the bosses is a good way to get fired.”

In this photo, people pass by a billboard with an image of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and lettering ‘Strong president – Strong Russia’ in Saint Petersburg, Jan., 12, 2018. Photo: Getty Images/ OLGA MALTSEVA

Police officers were also expected to use their own personal vehicles to accomplish the job, despite the fact that the department did not reimburse them for gas consumption.

“They picked people precisely because they have their own cars,” he said. “And they paired them with others who don’t.”

The billboards were not given the same level of security in any of the previous election cycles.

When asked whether the officer planned to vote for Putin in the upcoming elections, he said: “Of course not. I’m not going to vote.”

Putin’s billboards in Novokuznetsk were assigned police protection after a vandal painted the word “liar” on a billboard there. This was one of the many instances in the recent times where Putin billboards were attacked with hate messages.

Two campaign banners featuring the Russian president were smeared with paintballs in the Siberian city of Tomsk last week. One of the banners was left with red paint dripping between Putin’s eyes. In another instance, a woman was caught on camera painting the word “Liar” on Putin’s billboard in St. Petersburg.

A few days back, billboards in Vladivostok, Orenburg and Serov were pelted with eggs.

However, the operation to keep “the protest-oriented population” from destroying the billboards was extended only to the sitting president and not to the other seven candidates who will attempt to snatch Putin’s fourth term away from him.

To keep the public from coming to know of the fact that state resources were used to keep the billboards and banners from getting vandalized, the officers refuse to let journalists take photos of the scene.

When a RFE/RL reporter tried to get a picture, in order to document the scene at Novokuznetsk, officers objected.

“What are you photographing? Putin?” a police officer asked the reporter, ordering him to delete the photos. “Please do not photograph the president or our car. Show me your photos.”