You Won’t Rain on Our Parade

TV Rain general director Natalia Sindeeva, courtesy of her Facebook page. The slogan on her t-shirt – Ne dozhdyotes’ – means “fat chance,” “hold your breath,” that ain’t going to happen,” “in your dreams” – but here it’s also a play on the channel’s name in Russian, dozhd‘.

Natalia Sindeeva
Facebook
August 26, 2021

I have just gathered my thoughts and reflected on what has happened to us. I have written a letter to our viewers that I have also posted below.

[ _________ ]

I am Natasha Sindeeva, general director of TV Rain. And I’m not a foreign agent.

I am a patriot. I live in Russia, I love my country, I’m not going to leave and I’ve never had plans to leave.

Nor is Rain a foreign agent. Rain is almost 200 people who, just like me, love their country, cheer for it and want Russia to become better — more humane, safer, fairer, more honest, richer, freer. All we want is to be happy, live in peace and be proud of our country. And I’m sure the approximately 20 million people who watch and read us on different platforms every month want the same thing as we do.

A lot has happened to Rain over eleven years. We were disconnected from cable networks. Attempts were made to kill our business. We broadcast from an apartment, not knowing what would happen next. But we always continued to engage in honest journalism and tell the truth to our viewers. And we will continue to do it, even if someone doesn’t like it.

Of course, you can joke as much as you like about the status of foreign agent and call it a “seal of excellence.” But, in fact, all this is terrible. It is quite awful when the state divides people into “friends” and “strangers.”

A foreign agent, in fact, is a person or organization that acts in the interests of another country. We don’t have another country. We live, work and earn enough to keep our business going only in Russia. We act in the interests of our fellow Russian citizens who, according to the Constitution, have freedom of speech.

Here’s what I think is important.

The law on foreign agents is not only a dirty trick that stigmatizes dissidents and free people, and sicks our country’s citizens on each other, it is also a completely absurd law. Because any media outlet whatsoever can become a foreign agent today. For this to happen to you, you need to meet only two criteria: quoting other “foreign agents”, such as Meduza, Radio Liberty or Lev Ponomarev, and receiving money from abroad.

Even before the law on foreign agents was passed, like all media outlets we reported any foreign financing we received to Roskomnadzor [the Russian media regulator]. Today we went to the Roskomnadzor website to see who else besides us was in this report. And lo and behold! In addition to Rain, the report lists several dozen different media outlets, from knitting magazines to state-owned Russian companies such as RT, TASS and others.

Each of these media outlets, if it quotes a “foreign agent” at least once, can also be labeled a “foreign agent media outlet.” Think about it. And moreover, they do quote “foreign agents,” but they have not been labeled “foreign agents” themselves.

Is this stupid? Of course it’s stupid. Does it surprise me that Rain was labeled a foreign agent? No, it doesn’t surprise me. But it does not cow me either.

TV Rain subscribers now see the following obligatory warning message when they turn on the channel’s livestream: “This message (content) was created and (or) distributed by a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent and (or) a Russian legal entity functioning as a foreign agent.”

We will defend the interests of Rain and other media outlets labeled foreign agents, and the interests of Russians. We will defend the right of our viewers to get information about what is really happening around them.

In an ideal world, I would dream of operating without ads that distract from our main content, without any funding other than the money paid by our subscribers.

Someday, I hope, that perfect time will come. But we are alive today, and we don’t live in an ideal world. In the current circumstances, the departure of any advertiser will be painful for us.

It is very expensive to make programs and run a TV channel . We have no curators, we have no state support, we aren’t owned by oligarchs or anyone else. We are a Russian independent media outlet, which the state once again wants to destroy simply because we are independent.

And we are also honest. First of all, to our viewers. We have never made compromises, even when physically threatened. We have never censored our work, either due to external pressure or out of our own fears. And we aren’t ashamed to look ourselves and you in the eye.

Thank you for your support and your faith in us. We will do everything in our power.

Rain is not a foreign agent, Rain is an agent of Russian citizens.

Rain is love!

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you speak Russian and have a PayPal account you can subscribe to TV Rain and/or make a donation to them. For more information and reflection on the Putin regime’s war on the country’s independent media and “foreign agents,” see “The Kremlin Is Coming for Media One By One — and Society Is Helpless to Stop It” (Moscow Times), and “Who Might Russia Declare A ‘Foreign Agent’ Journalist? Pretty Much Anyone, Really” (RFE/RL).

Yuma, Mila, Barcelona (The VkusVill Refugees)

Yuma’s Instagram “postcard” from Barcelona: “We are safe, we are resting. We cannot hide our happiness at being a family. Many THANKS to those who supported us, to those who dared to make themselves visible and express their support to us, and to those who supported us in person! Thanks to you, we have not given up! It was a difficult ordeal for all of us, we are all in rough psychological shape. But the sea, the sun and kindness are healing [us]) And we are still with you) and are ready to communicate. We are ready to tell you how it happened, what happened, and why) #wearenotamistake #vkusvill #familyequality

“We were left without work and without a home”: The young women from the deleted VkusVill ad have left Russia

ACCORDING TO ROSKOMNADZOR, UTOPIA IS A PROJECT OF THE NASILIU.NET [“NO TO VIOLENCE”] CENTER WHICH, ACCORDING TO THE JUSTICE MINISTRY, PERFORMS THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

Why is this not the case?

Women featured in an ad for the VkusVill supermarket chain, which was removed due to homophobic threats, have left Russia for Spain. Yuma, the head of the family, has written about this on Instagram.

“We are safe, we are resting. We cannot hide our happiness at being a family. […] It was a difficult ordeal for all of us, we are all in rough psychological shape. But the sea, the sun and kindness are healing [us],” she wrote.

Yuma’s daughter Mila has asked [her Instagram] followers for help in finding a job. She writes that she can only work remotely, and receive a salary in euros. “Unfortunately, due to this difficult situation with VkusVill, we were left without work and without a home. […] Now my family and I really need to get settled in Barcelona, we are having a difficult time and we need friends, and maybe your friends’ friends or their friends will help us start a new life in Barcelona,” the post says.

Mila’s Instagram appeal for help finding a job

In late June, the supermarket chain VkusVill published photos of families who are their customers and their favorite products on its website and social networks. Among the photos was a family consisting of a mother, two daughters, and the wife of one of them. After the photos were published on Instagram, users divided into two camps: some called for a boycott of the store and threatened the company and the women with violence, while others supported the campaign.

Four days later, VkusVill deleted the photos, and an apology appeared in their place: “This page contained an article that has hurt the feelings of a large number of our customers, employees, partners and suppliers. We regret that this happened, and we consider this publication our mistake, which manifested the unprofessionalism of individual employees.” The apology was signed by Andrey Krivenko, the chain’s founder, and eleven top managers.

VkusVill’s Instagram apology, along with their image of a “proper” Russian family

The removal of the ad caused an even more violent reaction — users most often called it a “disgrace” and “support for homophobia.” Utopia published different opinions on the incident.

Source: Utopia, 3 August 2021. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Halfway to Ashgabat

Blue dogs have been spotted on the road near the city of Dzerzhinsk. Photo: Twitter/Moscow Times

Kirill Martynov
Facebook
February 12, 2021

Here are two news items from the last few days.

Security forces officers were sent to the home of [Anastasia Proskurina], a Novosibirsk research institute employee who had told Putin [on February 8] about the low salaries she and her colleagues received to find out who had “coached” her.

[Natalia Yolgina], a schoolteacher who teaches in the class attended by the Sevastopol governor’s son complained about her salary: she was fired and questioned by “anti-extremism” police.

The ridiculous desire of officials and members of parliament to smash the “flashlight protests” on February 14 obscures much more important processes underway in the country.

After federal authorities outright declared Navalny a foreign spy and, without hesitation, tried him for thought crimes, local authorities were given carte blanche to search for spies throughout the country.

If you think that your salary is low and you dare to state your unfounded suspicions in public, then it is quite obvious that you work for NATO. Basically, any problem in the country is directly explained by foreign interference and requires intervention of the competent authorities. For example, if, from your point of view, there is a pothole in the road near your house, then this is cause for a GRU operation to unmask you.

This is the most ambitious project for ultra-politicizing garden-variety discontent in Russia’s modern history. Now it won’t be possible even to sneeze without provoking suspicious of “foreign interference” and triggering an expensive criminal investigation.

They say that similar things happen in Turkmenistan and North Korea, where if you wipe your butt with a piece of newspaper containing an image of the great leader, you are declared a traitor to the state, despite the fact that there is no toilet paper at all, just as there are no newspapers not emblazoned with the great leader’s face.

For now, however, it seems to me that we will end up halfway to Ashgabat. It is impossible to bamboozle a large country utterly and at length. If a small salary makes you a foreign spy, then all the “spies” should become friends.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Media Ordered To Delete Reports On Planned ‘Flashlight’ Protest
RFE/RL Russian Service
February 12, 2021

MOSCOW — Russia’s federal media regulator has ordered media outlets, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time TV, to delete all reports about a planned mobile-phone “flashlight” protest against the jailing of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The official order from Roskomnadzor was received by media groups on February 12. It says Russian authorities consider any reporting about the planned flashlight protest to be a call for people to take part in an unsanctioned public demonstration and mass disorder.

Roskomnadzor’s order also was sent to online newspapers Meduza and Open Media, and the TV-2 news agency in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Navalny’s team in Tomsk said they also were warned by the city prosecutor’s office on February 12 that they could be held liable for staging an unsanctioned protest.

Navalny’s team has called on people across Russia to switch on their mobile-phone flashlights for 15 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. on February 14 — shining the light into the sky from courtyards and posting pictures of the protest on social media.

Leonid Volkov, director of Navalny’s network of teams across Russia, announced the change of tactics on February 9 in response to police crackdowns against mass street demonstrations that have led to tens of thousands of arrests across Russia.

The “flashlight” protest is a tactic similar to what demonstrators have been doing in neighboring Belarus following brutal police crackdowns targeting rallies against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Volkov says it is a nonviolent way for Russians to show the extent of outrage across the country over Navalny’s treatment without subjecting themselves to arrests and police abuse.

The 44-year-old Navalny, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the poison attack against Navalny.

Navalny’s detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.

Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny’s political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more — sometimes violently — as they gathered on the streets.

A Russian court on February 2 ruled Navalny was guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated.

The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said Navalny must serve another 2 years and 8 months behind bars.

That prompted fresh street protests across the country. But Volkov called for a pause in street rallies until the spring — saying weekly demonstrations would only result in more mass arrests.

Authorities have criticized Volkov’s call for flashlight protests.

Kremlin-friendly political observer Aleksei Martynov accused Navalny’s team of stealing the idea from commemorations of Soviet war veterans.

Push the Red Button

 

red button-2 “Red Button—human rights protection is always at hand. Red Button protects you from abuses of power by the authorities and quickly informs your friends, relatives, and human rights organizations about what happened. √We automatically locate the police station where you were taken. √We report the incident to the friends and relatives you selected. √We inform human rights organizations about what happened to you.” Screenshot of the Red Button website.

Yekaterinburg Police Suspect Creator of App for Detainees at Protest Rallies of Buying Drugs
Takie Dela
February 23, 2020

Police in Yekaterinburg have detained Alexander Litvreev, an IT specialist, founder of the cyber security firm Vee Security, and creator of an app for people detained at protest rallies. Litvreev’s lawyer Alexei Bushmakov reported the incident to Takie Dela.

According to Bushmakov, his client was detained on February 23 at the entrance to a hotel. Litvreev had come to Yekaterinburg on a visit, but he resides in St. Petersburg, where he was scheduled to speak at a conference in the evening. When police searched Litvreev, they allegedly found less than a gram of ecstasy.

Bushmakov refrained from drawing connections between the arrest and Litvreev’s political activism, but he did stress that the police officers who questioned Litvreev at the police station were aware of his activities and knew who he was.

“Alexander had arrived at the hotel in a car-sharing car. When he and his girlfriend got out, police officers surrounded them. His girlfriend was later questioned as a witness,” Bushmakov said.

Litvreev has been charged with violating Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition of drugs) and sent to a temporary detention center until February 24, when his bail hearing will be held. According to Bushmakov, since Litvreev is not registered to live in Yekaterinburg, it is likely that he will be remanded in custody, something the defense attorney would like to avoid.

Thanks to Litvreev’s app Red Button, people detained at protest rallies can inform human rights defenders of their whereabouts.

“Red Button is the first button you’ll want to push when you’ve been illegally thrown into a paddy wagon. Human rights activists will find out immediately and try to help you,” Litvreev told Takie Dela in April 2017.

Vee Security offered users a proxy for bypassing the official blocking of the Telegram messenger service in April 2018. In 2017, Roskomnadzor requested that the Interior Ministry conduct an inquiry into whether Litvreev had organized the “simulated blocking” of websites.

Translated by the Russian Reader

What Does the FSB Want from Russian Academics?

russland-fsb

What the FSB Wants from Russian Education and Science
Either Professors and Students Defend the Autonomy of Scholarship, or the Only Thing Left Will Be the “Science” of Russia’s Security in a Global World
Konstantin Gaaze
Vedomosti
November 28, 2019

On the evening of November 27, the FSB’s Border Service barred the well-known French sociologist Carine Clément from entering Russia. She was stopped at passport control in Sheremtyevo Airport and later informed that, as a “threat” to “national security,” she had been banned from entering Russia for ten years. Clément was slated to chair a panel on social stratification and the subjectivation of social status at a conference marking the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of the late sociologist Vladimir Yadov.

It is pointless to attempt to interpret the travel ban on Clement in the light of her planned lecture on resemblances between the so-called Yellow Vests [Gilets jaunes] and the so-called Quilted Jackets [vatniki]. The trouble is not with parallels, but with the fact that the FSB, the supreme authority on the life of the mind in Russia, has long ago decided that castrating the Runet is not enough to set people’s brains straight. It is time to strike—and strike hard—at the bourgeoning social sciences and the humanities.

We often forget that FSB has not one sword at its disposal—the Russian federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor—but two swords: Roskomnadzor and Rosobrnadzor, the Russian federal education watchdog. When my own university, the so-called Shaninka, was stripped of its accreditation in the summer of 2018, the only rumor that explained the absurdity and inconsistencies of the inspection procedure and the accreditation commission’s final report was that Lieutenant General Alexei Sedov, head of the FSB’s constitutional security service, had personally made the decision not to extend our accreditation.

The legendary spook realized back then, apparently, that the real enemies were not professional opposition activists, but young men and women with books by Bourdieu and Arendt tucked under their arms. One day you read the structuralists, the next day you record a video and post it on YouTube, and the day after that you take to the streets to show you exist and are still capable of acting. Who needs scholarship that has such a dangerous effect on people’s minds?

Especially since there is a different kind of scholarship, which churns out piles of monographs dealing with Russia’s “special path,” the country’s security in a global world, and the degradation of the west’s “spiritual culture,” and which dominates the universities where students are marked down for reading primary sources: they have to read the textbooks written by their professors, not the works of “foreign agents.” Such universities hold an endless stream of events celebrating the founders of allegedly original schools of thought who, in fact, are plagiarists and fools who have not bothered to crack open a new book since 1991, if not since 1980. They organize online conferences where 18-year-old bachelors of sociology have to discuss such burning topics as whether women can serve in the police and in what capacity with students from Interior Ministry academies in neighboring regions.

What is at stake for the FSB in this case is not isolating Clément from her Russian audience, but ensuring the victory of one type of education and scholarly production over another—the victory of textbooks over primary sources, the victory of rote phrases over real knowledge, the victory of articles chockablock with references to the president’s annual state of the union address over articles that quote Foucault and Judith Butler.

This decision has been ripening for a long time, but it was hampered by other players in the bureaucracy, including major universities, officials, and Kremlin-backed pollsters, who understood that Russia’s current model of governance could not countenance the total ideologization of the social sciences. But all these nuances lost their significance after the protests in Moscow this past summer. The enemy must be defeated. So, beginning this autumn, the Kremlin and the capital’s universities have been hotly discussing whether there are too many students studying sociology and political science. Wouldn’t it be better to send them all to culinary school?

It is time we understood that it is not a matter of who reads the classics correctly and who doesn’t. It is a matter of the very opportunity to read—not in a closed reading group, but in an open lecture hall; not under a blanket, but at the university, in the company of students. We cannot hide behind the walls of our oases—the Higher School of Economics, RANEPA, the European University in St. Petersburg, and the Shaninka, among others. Either faculty and students will join together and defend scholarly autonomy, or, ten years from now there will be nothing left except the indigenous “science” of national security.  It is clear we could all emigrate. It is equally clear this would be a betrayal not only of future students but also of scholarship itself.

Konstantin Gaaze is a sociologist who lectures in the Fundamental Sociology program at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (the Shaninka).

Photo courtesy of Stern. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva
Republic
October 1, 2019

Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva faces up to seven years in prison for her published comments. In November of last year—first, in a broadcast on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov, then on the website Pskov Newswire—she discussed the reasons why a 17-year-old man blew himself up at the FSB office in Arkhangelsk. She has now been charged with publicly “condoning” terrorism, as punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On October 1, Echo Moscow, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, Takie Dela, Snob, MBKh Media, 7×7, Pskovskaya Guberniya, MOKH, Wonderzine, and Meduza published an open letter by Prokopieva. We have joined them in this act of solidarity.

***********

My name (our name?) is Svetlana Prokopyeva. I am a journalist, and I could be sent to prison for seven years for “condoning” terrorism.

Nearly a year ago, there was a bomb blast in Arkhangelsk. It was unexpected and stunning: 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up in the entrance to the FSB office there. Before he did this, he wrote he was blowing himself up because the FSB had become “brazen,” framing and torturing people.

The suicide bombing was the subject of my regular commentary on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. “Acting intentionally,” I wrote a text entitled “Crackdowns for the State.” My commentary was aired on November 7 and then was published on the website Pskov Newswire.

Nearly a month passed before Pskov Newswire and Echo of Moscow received warnings from Roskomnadzor: Russia’s quasi-censor saw evidence I had “condoned” terrorism in my comments. In early December, administrative charges were filed against the two media outlets, costing them 350,000 rubles in fines when a justice of the peace found them guilty of the charges. Simultaneously, the Pskov office of the Russian Investigative Committee launched an inquiry into whether I had personally violated Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Criminal prosecution loomed as a distinct possibility, but we laughed, thinking they must be crazy. What could they mean by “condoning” terrorism? In its warnings, Roskomnadzor failed to point to a single phrase or even word that would qualify as evidence that I had condoned terrorism. Nor could it point them out because they were not there. As it soon transpired, however, that did not matter.

On February 6, my doorbell rang. When I opened it, a dozen armed, helmeted men rushed in, pinning me to the wall in the far room with their shields. This was how I found out the authorities had, in fact, decided to file charges against me.

A police search is a disgusting, humiliating procedure. One group of strangers roots through your things while another group of strangers looks on indifferently. Old notes, receipts, and letters sent from other countries take on a suspicious, criminal tinge, demanding an explanation. The things you need the most, including your laptop and telephone, are turned into “physical evidence.” Your colleagues and family members are now liable to becoming “accomplices” without even trying.

I was robbed that day: the authorities confiscated three laptops, two telephones, a dictaphone, and flash drives. When they blocked my bank accounts six months later, they robbed me again: I was only a “suspect” when I was placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and “terrorists.” I am now unable to get a bank card in my own name, open a savings account or apply for a mortgage. The Russian state has made it impossible for me to exist financially.

All that remained for the authorities was to rob me of the last thing I had: my freedom. On September 20, I was officially charged with violating Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code: condoning terrorism via the mass media. If convicted, I could be fined up to one million rubles or sent to prison for up to seven years.

I deny any wrongdoing. I consider the charges against me petty revenge on the part of security services officers offended by my remarks. I claimed they were responsible for the blast in Arkhangelsk. I wrote that the state’s crackdowns had generated a backlash: brutal law enforcement policies had embittered people. Since legal means of protesting had been blocked, the desire to protest had been pushed into such socially dangerous channels.

Publish this quotation from my text if you are not afraid.

“A strong state. A strong president, a strong governor. A country in which power belongs to strongmen.

“The Arkhangelsk suicide bomber’s generation has grown up in this atmosphere. They know it is forbidden to attend protest rallies: police can break up rallies or, worse, they can beat up protesters and then convict them of crimes. This generation knows that solo pickets are a punishable offense. They see that you can belong only to certain political parties without suffering for it and that you can voice only a certain range of opinions without fearing for your safety. This generation has been taught that you cannot find justice in court: judges will return the verdicts the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors want them to return.

“The long-term restriction of political and civic freedoms has given rise in Russia to a state that is not only devoid of liberty but oppressive, a state with which it is unsafe and scary to deal.”

This is what I still think. Moreover, in my opinion, the Russian state has only confirmed my arguments by charging me with a crime.

“Their only task is to punish, to prove someone’s guilt and convict them. The merest formal excuse is enough to drag someone into the grindstone of the legal system,” I wrote.

I did not condone terrorism. I analyzed the causes of the attack. I tried to understand why a young man who had his whole life ahead of him decided to commit a crime and kill himself. Perhaps my reconstruction of his motives was mistaken. I would be glad to be mistaken, but no one has proven I was. It is rather primitive and crude to charge someone with a crime rather than engaging in a discussion. It is like punching someone in the face for something theyon said.

It is a punch in the face of every journalist in our country.

It is impossible to know in advance what words in what order will tick off the strongmen. They have labeled the opinion I voiced a crime. They have turned someone who was just doing her job into a criminal.

Using the same rationale, you can cook up a criminal case based on any more or less critical text. You merely need to find so-called experts who will sign an “expert opinion” for police investigators. If you know this can happen, will you tackle thorny subjects as a journalist? Will you ask questions that are certain to irritate the authorities? Will you accuse high-ranking officials of crimes?

The criminal case against me is an attempt to murder free speech. Remembering how the authorities made an example of me, dozens and hundreds of other journalists will not dare tell the truth when it needs to be told.

Post updated on July 3, 2020.; Translated by the Russian Reader

330ade17-0507-47f8-9211-3ab9b96f7809_w1023_r1_s.jpgSvetlana Prokopyeva outside the Pskov Regional Court in July 2020 by Ludmila Savitskaya (RFE/RL)

The Safe Internet League

runet turtle.jpg

Miracles of OSINT
Telegram
August 12, 2019

“Senator” Andrei Klimov’s attack on YouTube—he claimed the video hosting service had been used to provide protesters on Sakharov Avenue with far-out guns and tell them to storm the Kremlin—might not have been mere psychosis on the part of yet another Russian elder in high places.

Through his so-called Interdisciplinary Institute for Regional Studies, Klimov is an official partner of Russian Orthodox businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, founder of the Safe Internet League.

Klimov’s institute and Malofeyev’s think thank Katehon are co-founders of Eurasian Dialogue.

“Today we have arrived at the law ‘On the Sovereign Internet’ in Russia precisely because the United States did not let us take part in regulating [the internet]. We have been forced to incur financial losses in order to create a parallel, mobilizing Runet,” Malofeyev has said, for example.

But Malofeyev, who fancies flashy, expensive suits with handkerchiefs sticking out of the pockets, is also not just obsessed with conservatism for nothing. He is close to former communication minister Igor Shchegolev, who has always been regarded as the FSB’s voice regarding internet regulation.

No wonder Roskomnadzor immediately launched an inquiry into whether Klimov’s cyberpunk dreams were true.

Image courtesy of Cropas. Translated by the Russian Reader

_____________________________________

Safe Internet League to attend China’s Internet Security Conference
Safe Internet League
August 15, 2016

[The] Internet Security Conference, due to open on August 16, 2016, in Beijing, China, is set to welcome head of [the] Safe Internet League Denis Davydov as one of its keynote speakers.

[The] ISC is one of the largest and most representative Asian-Pacific industry conferences on cybersecurity. First held in 2013 by the Cybersecurity Association of China and the 360 Internet Security Centre, the event enjoys the support of the nation’s Cyberspace Administration, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and Ministry of Public Security. The 2016 conference will discuss [the] trends and prospects of the international cybersecurity industry. Expected to attend the event are more than 30 000 specialists from all over the globe and 150 representatives of cybersecurity firms. Delivering keynote speeches will be John McAfee, founder of the company behind McAfee AntiVirus and a 2016 US presidential candidate; Wu Hequan, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering; Zhou Hongyi, founder of Qihoo 360, the world’s largest antivirus company; John Davis, vice president of the network security solutions company Palo Alto Networks (USA); and Chu Chengyun, Director of Cyber Security Strategy at Microsoft (USA), and others.

“It is a great honor to be representing Russia at an event of such importance. The international community is currently in search of a new model of Internet governance, one based on a civilized approach, transparency, respect for and preservation of the sovereignty of nation-states, and the inadmissibility of unilateral control by any single country (which is, in fact, [has] continu[ed] to be the case). I am sure the Beijing meeting [will] help us make progress on this issue,” Mr. Davydov said prior to the conference.

Always Open for You

always for you

It is important, I guess, to make note of the Putin regime’s now innumerable crimes at home and abroad, although it is practically pointless.

At home, in Russia, the progressive intelligentsia is more interested in debating meaningless “issues” like the virtues or, alternately, the vices of Greta Thunberg than it is in doing much of anything about the regime that has happily trampled all of its real and imagined opponents and enemies scot-free for twenty years while also destroying the rule of law, the welfare state, the education system, medical care, the environment, etc., and, just for fun, has also brutally put down a rebellion in Russia’s hinterlands (Chechnya), invaded three countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Syria), assassinated numerous “enemies” on foreign soil, and recklessly meddled in the domestic affairs and elections of numerous other countries all over the world.

But who cares? My experience of writing about these things for twelve years is that most people (including most people in Russia itself, bizarrely) are keen to give the Putin regime a free pass whenever possible, meaning it has only gained more confidence in the “justice” of its perverted cause over the years.

What is this cause? Ensuring that Putin and his circle remain in power in perpetuity and thus, in control, of the country’s vast wealth, which they dispense of as if it were their personal property.

Public indifference has been most depressingly on display when it comes to Russia’s decisive and murderous military intervention, launched four years ago, in defense of Bashar Assad’s criminal regime in Syria.

Frankly, I have no clue why Russians would need unfettered access to the World Wide Web when they signally have failed to make any noise or, as far as I can tell, even find out anything about their government’s baleful role in the world today.

In fact, if they think about it at all, I imagine they kind of like it. It makes them feel important. [TRR]

Thanks to Harald Etzbach and Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up. Thanks also to Sheen Gleeson for her abiding support. Photo by the Russian Reader

_____________________________

Putin Begins Installing Equipment To Cut Russia’s Access To World Wide Web
Zak Doffman
Forbes
September 24, 2019

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Russian Internet (Runet) [sic] into law to protect the country’s communications infrastructure in case it was disconnected from the World Wide Web—or so he said. Critics argued it was opening a door to a Chinese-style firewall disconnecting Russia from the outside world.

Now, Alexander Zharov, the head of the federal communications regulator Roskomnadzor, has confirmed to reporters that “equipment is being installed on the networks of major telecom operators,” and Runet [sic] would begin testing by early October. Such testing, reporters were told, is known as “combat mode.”

When the legislation was introduced there was some debate as to whether it would work in practice. The government claimed its objective was to deal with “threats to the stable, safe and integral operation of the Russian Internet on Russian territory,” by centralizing “the general communications network.” This would work by deploying an alternative domain name system (DNS) for Russia to steer its web traffic away from international servers. ISPs are mandated to comply.

The Moscow Times reported at the time that “Russia carried out drills in mid-2014 to test the country’s response to the possibility of its internet being disconnected from the web—the secret tests reportedly showed that isolating the Russian internet is possible, but that ‘everything’ would go back online within 30 minutes.”

As for this “combat testing,” Zharov has assured [sic] that everything would be done “carefully,” according to local media reports, explaining that “we will first conduct a technical check—affects traffic, does not affect traffic, do all services work.” The plan is for all of this testing to be completed by the end of October.

Although the regulator has been keen to emphasize that Runet [sic] is only for deployment when the system is perceived to be “in danger,” there is a clear question as to where and how such a decision would be taken. Such threats have been classified as “impacts to the integrity of networks, the stability of networks, natural or man-made impacts, or security threats,” all pretty wide-ranging classifiers.

Russia’s recent moves to shut down cellular data traffic to stymie anti-Putin protesters and government warnings that social media access may be curtailed have not brought much confidence to its tech-savvy citizens.

Runet [sic] is due to go live in November. According to Freedom On The Net, “Russian internet freedom has declined for the sixth year in a row, following government efforts to block the popular messaging app Telegram and numerous legislative proposals aimed at restricting online anonymity and increasing censorship.”

And there are no signs of that getting any better any time soon.

NB. “Runet” is a term that has long been used to denote the Russian or Russian-language segment of the Internet. Why Mr. Doffman thought it was something that would go online only in November or was “signed into law” is beyond me. But then I also do not understand why a respectable magazine like Forbes would not only fail to fact-check his article but also neglect to proofread it. I had to do the proofreading for them. [TRR]

Denis Sokolov: Police Feudalism in Russia

medievalA scene from a protest against the government’s raising the pension age, September 9, 2018, Saint Petersburg. Photo by Anton Vaganov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

Police Feudalism
Denis Sokolov
Republic
July 15, 2019

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, former head of Ingushetia, was “upmoted” to the Defense Ministry, but Russia’s police machine has continued to persecute protesters in Ingushetia. On July 12, Rashid Maysigov, a correspondent with the website Fortanga, was arrested. When police searched his house, they found, allegedly, the now-obligatory “package containing a white substance” and—apparently, to make the image of Maysigov as a troublemaker complete—leaflets calling for Ingushetia’s annexation by Georgia lying on a coffee table. In the wee hours of July 13, Zarifa Sautiyeva, deputy director of the Memorial for the Victims of Repressions in Nazran, was arrested. Sautiyeva has risen to prominence as one of the female leaders at the protest rallies in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, in 2018–2019. Sautiyeva was charged with complicity in violence against the authorities. This is the first case when a woman has been sent to the remand prison in Nalchik, in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, as part of the continuing investigation of the Ingushetian protests. On July 14, Russia’s federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked Fortanga, the main source of news about the protests.

zarifa sautiyevaZarifa Sautiyeva. Courtesy of Caucasian Knot

What’s Good for Jupiter
There is one thing the arrests of Ingush and Circassian activists, the searches in the homes of people who protested construction of a church in a Yekaterinburg park, the fines meted out to people who marched in solidarity with Ivan Golunov on June 12, the New Greatness case, the arrests for “extremist” posts on the VK social network, and the harsh arrests of protesters outside the Moscow City Elections Committee on Sunday have in common.

None of them have anything to do with keeping the peace and administering justice. They are rituals meant to mark the territory of a class. Equipped with firearms and badges, Russia’s new service aristocracy enthusiastically shows unarmed civilians without badges their place.  The statistics for “ritual” criminal charges—drugs charges, “extremism” charges, and weapons possession charges—speak for themselves. The willingness of law enforcement officers to beat up arrestees harks back to hazing in army barracks and the prison practice of “registering” new inmates by ritually humiliating them.

Russia’s political elite—the siloviki, the officials who control financial flows, organized criminals, and insider businessmen—live by other rules. They are governed by other articles in the Russian criminal code and have other means of resolving conflicts. The fight against corruption and economic crimes is the political weapon that has replaced elections up and down Putin’s “power vertical.” The number of criminal cases against high-ranking officials and officers of the Interior Ministry, the FSB, and the GRU has risen exponentially.

Particularly touching are several cases that are interrelated, according to reporters who covered them. The first case involves the arrests of FSB Colonel Kirill Cherkalin and two of his accomplices on April 25, 2019. They were charged with fraud, i.e., they forced a businessman to hand over a share, worth 490 million rubles [approx. $7.8 million], in a company. Cherkalin was also charged with taking an $820,000 bribe for “protection.” The second case is the flight abroad of Valery Miroshnikov, deputy head of the Deposit Insurance Agency (ASV). Allegedly, he and Cherkalin had cooked up a scheme for making money from the restructuring of banks. Finally, there is the arrest of an entire gang of FSB special forces officers and K Directorate officers: they robbed a bank while on duty, so to speak. Several officers from Alpha, the FSB’s special forces unit, decided not to return from an assignment in the North Caucasus, going to ground instead.

Now that is the sporting life, the life of a medieval knight. A jail sentence for posting the “wrong” thing on social media or attending a peaceable protest rally cannot compare. What is good for Jupiter is bad for the bull. The new division of Russia into quasi-medieval estates is borne out by the fact that, unlike their victims, police officers get suspended sentences for cooking up “drugs” cases, not actual prison time.

The number of businessmen who have been “skimmed” by being charged with economic crimes has skyrocketed. In a report entitled “The Fortress Subsides,” Kirill Rogov recently cited data on the sharp increase in the number of economic crimes investigated by the FSB. We do not need statistics, however, to understand the implications of the attack on Sergei Petrov, the arrest of Michael Calvey, and similar cases.

The Siloviki Revolution
What we are talking about is not the ruling regime’s collapse but its logical evolution, the emergence of a new Russian state. The runaway growth of cases in which criminal prosecution has been used to combat competitors and extract feudal rent from various social groups, including grassroots activists, businessmen, and other siloviki and officials, could point to a qualitative transformation of the social order in Russia. Eliminating competitors for fiefs can, however, be regarded as a form of political competition, while squeezing rents from vanquished regions and sectors is something akin to the victor tasting the fruits of victory. This is borne out by Vladimir Vasilyev’s administration of Dagestan, where the new order entailed a complete purge of the regional bureaucracy and an invasion of officials from more advanced Tatarstan. In other regions, on the contrary, the siloviki revolution has come off more quietly.

The actions of the special services in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other regions of Russia enables us to make certain generalizations about the new political reality.

First, Russian law enforcement’s apparatus of violence has gradually turned into a ritual apparatus of violence. Planting drugs, “extremist” pamphlets, ammunition or (when a system insider has been targeted for arrest) marked bills on victims has nothing to do with real criminal investigations. They are parts of the arrest ritual, informal parts of the processual code. All that remains is for the State Duma to draft the relevant amendments and vote them into law. Aside from the main program, the arrest ritual contains supplementary messages for the civilian populace: “We will arrest your women,” “We will beat your children and send them to jail,” “All resistance to the punitive machine will be punished disproportionately,” “When a regional head is dismissed or a journalist is released, it does not mean protesters have won,” and so on.

Second, in recent years, the Russian state has been reduced to a police apparatus of violence. All other branches of government are its appendages and palace retinue. At the same time, the state has devised a completely modern media policy. Field officers arrest the regime’s undesirables, and the press services of the security forces voice the “official position” while anonymous Telegram channels, social media forums, and dubious websites leak the “real” reasons for the arrests to the hoi polloi.

For example, the Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko was arrested for possession of marijuana. The police who detained him rubbed his hands in the weed just in case, while the Telegram channels that get their information from law enforcement authorities told readers about Kochesoko’s links with foreign foundations and his dangerous love for federalism.

Third, the police machine is hierarchical, and it is organized on the principle of feudal vassalage. Each police unit has its own turf, its own sectors, its own fief, whether it is a bank, an oil company, the Deposit Insurance Agency, the war in Donbas or the Chinese markets in Moscow. This fief should automatically become a hereditary or corporate fiefdom. Ingush law enforcement officers cannot operate in Moscow or neighboring republics without getting special permission. Zarifa Sautieyva was arrested only when she showed up in her home region. Moscow avoids meddling in the affairs of vassals for no good reason. Ramzan Kadyrov wants jurisdiction over all Chechens, including Chechens in exile, and he gets it.

Fourth, Moscow can recall regional governors and replace one viceroy with another, but the Kremlin has no intention of stopping the punitive machine because there is nothing else left of the state. The inert, corrupt, and hierarchical police machine has become the caste of security forces (siloviki), a parody of medieval knights. Initially, it saw itself as owning all of Russia; later, it has divided the country into fiefdoms according to unwritten rules. It is not only the Kremlin that wants it this way. Russia’s punitive machine has an “on” switch, but no “off” switch. The only recent exception to this rule is the Ivan Golunov case. This case had many idiosyncrasies, however. His supporters were able to free the arrest reporter partly by following the special rules for the regime’s insiders.

Finally, police feudalism and the Russian state are the same things. When protesters appeal to the Russian constitution and the rule of law, the state regards this as an attack on its sovereignty. The constitution, the courts, and the laws belong to the state. The state or, rather, its beneficiaries will do as they like with these privatized institutions. This machine can be employed for private commercial ends or political goals, but it is forbidden to change the regime and disband the service aristocracy.

Feudal Zombies
If these generalizations are valid, we must thoroughly reexamine the strategies of ethnic and grassroots movements. It is naive and pointless to seek justice from the Leviathan.

Ethnic movements can never find support in the current system because a police state is unable to negotiate. It simply does not have the option of negotiating with unarmed people who are not endowed with the proper authority in the shape of badges. Therefore, the most reasonable demand made by the Ingush activists so far is the demand to release political prisoners. They must be freed from the punitive system’s jurisdiction.

We can say the same thing about grassroots movements, authentic local government, and democratic elections. They are possible only in the absence of police feudalism. Tackling Russia’s new service aristocracy is a separate, thorny issue that neither Putin nor the person who succeeds him can solve even if they wanted to solve it. The system is not amenable to reform. It can only shrink, gradually devouring itself.

Police feudalism is so obsolete, however, it is hard to imagine it will be able to maintain itself for long. We need to think about how to organize public life without these time travelers from the past; we must know what to do when this army of skeletons vanishes into thin air. As soon as we have a notion of what institutions and public organizations are needed, how much it would cost to build them, and who would be ready to invest in new political projects, this will happen spontaneously and inevitably.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

akimenkovVladimir Akimenkov collecting money for Russian political prisoners. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov

Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

We are once again raising money to support Russian political prisoners and their families. Since I was released from prison, we have raised around 12.7 million rubles for political prisoners. This is not a lot of money, but it has supported over a hundred political prisoners, who range from people who posted something “seditious” on the internet to those who stood up against the machine of oppression and gave it everything they could.

When you donate money to us, you’re supporting the sending of care packages to the prisoners, helping their loved ones go on extended visits to the prison camps on the far side of the country where they are doing time, and paying for lawyers to visit particularly rough prisons, and generally supporting the expenses their families while their loved ones are locked up.

These expenses are exhausting for families and friends, especially if the political prisoners were breadwinners, and especially in Russia’s regions, where people are generally poorer than in the two capitals.

The children of political prisoners should not cry themselves to sleep at night because they are hungry. This is not a figure of speech, but something that really happens.

The political crackdown in Russia has become more intense, and the current regime has targeted an ever-expanding list of political and social groups. In particular, the Putin regime has unleashed its full fury against anarchists in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Russian state’s propaganda machine has taken pains to stigmatize political prisoners, depicting good men and women as threats to society. The Russian state would like to deprive those people it victimizes of support.

Let’s show them our solidarity. It’s so easy.

You can send donations via:
1. PayPal https://paypal.me/vladimirakimenkov (vladimir.akimenkov@gmail.com). UPDATE: On April 11, 2019, Mr. Akimenkov informed his supporters on Facebook that PayPal had blocked his account, unjustly accusing him of engaging in “commercial” activity. This is not his first unpleasant encounter with PayPal, but he was able on previous occasions to persuade the money transfer company that he was using the account only for charitable purposes. Some of his supporters responded by writing that PayPal had made various promises to the Russian federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor in order to keep doing business in Russia. Those promises, allegedly, included shutting down customers who used their PayPal accounts to fund raise for opposition causes. If, like me, you find PayPal’s behavior towards Vladimir Akimenkov, a former political prisoner himself, despicable, please write them a letter. You may cite this blog post. For my part, I can say that Mr. Akimenkov is that rare thing: the real thing. Completely on his own, he has raised a considerable amount of money for Russia’s growing army of political prisoners and their loved ones. In short, Vladimir is one of the good guys. PayPal should not be trying to trip him up. {TRR}
2. Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680
3. Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433 Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov (Владимир Георгиевич Акименков)
4. Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies: SWIFT: SABRRUMM, Account: 40817810238050715588, Recipient: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich (Акименков Владимир Георгиевич)

Be sure to note you are making a “charitable donation” when you transfer funds by any of these means.

After the fundraising campaign wraps up, I will send a complete accounting of how much money was raised and how it was disbursed to everyone who donated and whose names and addresses are known to me.

If you are unable to make a donation, please repost this appeal. Make sure to disseminate this appeal on every platform you can think of, including Facebook, Telegram, etc.

Thanks!

P.S. There have been reports of glitches with Sberbank Online. Make sure the money you sent has been deducted from your accounts.

Translated by the Russian Reader