“Red Darya” Polyudova Arrested Again

“Red Darya,” the fourth episode of Grani TV’s series “Extremists,” posted on October 30, 2017

Darya Polyudova Remanded in Custody in Terrorism and Separatism Case
Grani.ru
January 16, 2020

Judge Anna Sokova of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow has remanded in custody Darya Polyudova, leader of the Left Resistance movement, until March 13,  Moskva News Agency has reported. Polyudova has been charged with calling for separatism and vindicating terrorism.

According to the news agency, Polyudova has been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Articles 280.1.1 (public calls for separatism, punishable by up to four years in prison) and 205.2.2 (public vindication of terrorism via the internet, punishable by five to seven years in prison).

Polyudova pleaded innocent and informed the judge of a number of procedural violations. According to Polyudova, she has been charged with “calling for separatism and a referendum on the Kuril Islands, and vindicating terrorism on social networks.”

Earlier, civic activist Alla Naumcheva reported that the investigation of the case was focused on “two video clips of some kind.”

Kuban activist Viktor Chirikov has reported that Polyudova is represented by court-appointed lawyer Galina Timofeyeva.

The record of Polyudova’s case on the Meshchansky District Court’s website lists only one charge, the alleged violation of Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2.2.

The political prisoner’s mother, Tatyana Polyudova, wrote on Facebook that her daughter had been taken to Remand Prison No. 6 in Moscow’s Pechatniki District. According to her, FSB investigator Dmitry Lashchenov was handling the investigation.

Human rights activist Irina Yatsenko told MBKh Media that on Wednesday leftist activist Kirill Kotov had been detained and questioned in the same case. He signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The day before Polyudova’s arrest, the security forces searched her dormitory room, as well as the dwelling of Gradus TV reporter Olga Sapronova, in connection with the case. Sapronova was questioned at the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Regional Office on Bolshoi Kiselny Alley before being released. Her attorney, Olga Pelshe, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the case. Sapronova’s procedural status is currently unknown.

In 2015–2017, Polyudova served a two-year sentence at Work-Release Penal Settlement No. 10 in Novorossiysk after being convicted of publicly calling for extremism (Russian Criminal Code Article 280.1), publicly calling for extremism via the internet (Article 280.2), and publicly calling for separatism via the internet (Article 280.1.2). The opposition activist was convicted for organizing the March for the Federalization of  Kuban and solo-picketing against the war with Ukraine, and for posts she had published on the VK social network. Polyudova maintained her innocence.

After her release from prison, Polyudova moved to Moscow, where she had been organizing protest rallies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Totally Wired

Hackers Steal 7.5TB of Files From a Russian Spy Contractor

Russia’s FSB is an elite intelligence outfit, the successor to the KGB. (You’re familiar with their work.) A contractor of theirs called SyTech was hacked on July 13, with intruders apparently gaining access to the company’s IT network, including 7.5TB of files. This week, details of those files became public, outlining various FSB projects—including an apparent attempt to deanonymize traffic on the Tor network. Other undertakings found in the trove include efforts to monitor social media accounts, email contents, and peer-to-peer file-sharing services. None of these projects comes as a particular surprise, but it’s yet another embarrassment to Russia’s top spies—which have seen no shortage of them in recent years.

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Senate Intel Committee Explains the Full Scope of Russia’s Election Interference

The Senate Intel Committee this week released its (heavily redacted) report on Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 election. The takeaway that got the most attention was that Russian hackers probed targets in all 50 US states—but DHS has already confirmed that back in April. Still, no harm in getting the word out again, especially since it appears that not many people paid attention the first time around. You can read the full report for yourself, or at least the parts not hidden behind thick black lines, here. And remember, as Robert Mueller said this week, Russia’s still at it, and Mitch McConnell apparently has no interest in stopping it.

Sources: YouTube, Wired, goodreads

Russia and China: Together Forever!

china russia brothers forever“May the unbreakable friendship and cooperation of the Soviet and Chinese peoples flourish and strengthen!  // Always together!” Images courtesy of quora.com

If you are suffering from a post-National Unity Day hangover, the cure might be a little dose of Sino-Soviet friendship, as provided by Alexei Volin, Russia’s deputy communications minister.

There are lots of funny things in Russian officialdom’s latest rant against the evil west, not the least of which is the revival of the perennial cognitive disorder known as Sino-Russian friendship. I could be wrong, but Russia has as many good reasons not to cooperate with China and slavishly emulate its “success” as it does to turn around and run hard in the other direction.

This is not to mention the withering hatred of the Chinese among a good number of ordinary Russians, a hatred you can witness up close by reading the horrifying things Petersburg tour guides say, and Petersburg magazines and newspapers write about the Chinese tourists on which the city’s tourist economy has become increasingly dependent.

Finally, there is the nonsense, touted by Deputy Minister Volin, about the alleged lack of “alternative” social networks in Russia. Could it be that the good deputy doesn’t know the Russian government stole VK from its founder, Pavel Durov, just so it could have a social network its secret services surveil at will? Is it any coincidence that almost all of the utterly ordinary people the Russian security forces have lately charged with posting or, more often, reposting, “extremist” online have been caught doing it on VK? Hence, Facebook’s stable popularity and Telegram’s growing popularity among social and political activists, and people who merely want a safe space to say to other people what they think. {TRR}

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Communications Ministry Says Creation of Alternative Social Networks and Instant Messaging Services Possible
Novaya Gazeta
November 4, 2018

Due to “unfair competition” faced by Russian and Chinese media, Russia could create alternative social networks and instant messaging services, said Alexei Volin, deputy minister of the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media.

“If Twitter, YouTube or Facebook continue down the path of throwing Russian and Chinese media out of their environment, we will have no choice but to create new distribution channels, and to think about alternative social networks and instant messaging services. Although we really hope it does not come to this, we certainly should be ready for it,” said Volin.

Volin made this statement during the Fourth China-Russia Media Forum, in Shangai. According to Volin, Russia and China should develop means aimed “not at discriminating against mass media from neighboring countries, but aimed at delivering our viewpoint and our content to other regions and other people.”

Earlier, Volin said the authorities would eventually have to give up banning information, since such methods were becoming ineffective.

“Sooner or later, they will have to be abandoned, because more and more people are getting around them without even noticing they are dealing with technology allowing them to bypass [sic] blocked content,” he said.

As examples of ineffective blocking, Volin cited the instant messaging services Telegram and WhatsApp, which operate in China despite being officially banned.

Telegram was banned in Russia in April 2018 by decision of the Tagansky District Court in Moscow. The ruling was based on Telegram’s refusal to hand over the [nonexistent] keys for decrypting correspondence among its users to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Despite the ban, most Russian users have continued to have access to Telegram.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This Is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod

gerasimovMikhail Gerasimov. Photo courtesy of his personal page on VK and OVD Info

This is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod. He is eighteen. Yesterday, FSB officers came to the young man’s house, took him in for questioning, and arrested him.

Mikhail photographed two pages from the investigator’s warrant and sent them to a friend. Mikhail also managed to call the Political Red Cross and tell them the FSB wants to level criminal charges against him for ten posts on social networks, all of them published prior to [sic] December 2016. It was then, according to Mikhail, that he learned about [Alexei] Navalny and changed his views.

One of the two pages of the warrant refers to a forensic examination of an entry from Mikhal’s personal social media page.

The entry opens with the phrase, “Are you tried of this Moskaland?” It ends with the phrase, “There those Rus[expletive deleted] got what was coming.”

The forensic examination concluded the phrase contained an incitement to physically destroy the legal authorities and justified destructive actions that the author [sic] attributed to ISIS: the crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 [Russian Defense Ministry] jetliner [in 2016] and the murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey.

A criminal investigation has been opened into whether Gerasimov made public calls for terrorist attacks or justified terrorism on the internet [punishable by up to seven years in prison under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code].

Today at 2:00 p.m., the Moscow District Court in Nizhny Novgorod will decide whether to remand Gerasimov in custody.

Source: OVD Info’s Facebook page. Read their full story here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Guerillas Gone Mental: Why the Russian Secret Services Forced Kristina Snopp and Her Husband to Leave Russia

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB and Pictures of Putin: The Story of a Couple Seeking Political Asylum in Georgia
Sofia Rusova
OVD Info
August 22, 2018

Kristina Snopp and her husband, Denis. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

A young married couple from Krasnodar Territory have applied for political asylum in Georgia. So far, they have had two interviews with the immigration service. The couple are certain that if they weresent back to Russia they would face criminal charges and prison sentences. Sofia Rusova discovered how a reporter at a municipal newspaper and her bike mechanic husband attracted the notice of local FSB agents and the police.

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB
“I am Kristina Snopp,  and I am afraid to return to Russia.”

This was how the 32-year-old reporter from Tuapse prefaced her asylum request to the Georgian authorities. Snopp and her husband, Denis Snopp, are currently living in a refugee center in Georgia. Snopp made the decision to leave Russia after she learned her posts on the social media network VK had been examined for “extremism” and “insulting religious believers.”

Snopp never wanted to be involved in politics. She was never a member of a political party, permitting herself to have opinions only on a few issues like religion, the environment, and Russia’s foreign policy. If she did attend protest rallies,  they mainly had to do with ecological issues. Like many residents of Tuapse she protested construction of a bulk shipping terminal by the company EuroChem in 2011.

Back in 2014, Snopp received a call on her mobile phone from an FSB officer who introduced himself as Denis. He wanted to talk with her.

“For around two hours, he grilled me about the people with whom I interacted. Moreover, he asked personal questions about my beliefs, what organizations I was involved with, and why,” Snopp recounts.

“I’m a very inquisitive person. I’m really interested in world religions and, at the time, I was hanging out with people from different confessions, with the Hindus (yogis),  Muslims, Protestants, and pagans in our area. FSB agent Denis was really interested in information about people who practiced religions other than Russian Orthodoxy. He suggested I cooperate with the FSB in combating ‘cults.’ I turned him down. Denis copied down my details and said we should stay in touch, and I should contact him if I found out something new. He told me people in Russia should be religious believers, moreover they had better be Russian Orthodox Christians, since it was the ‘state religion and the most correct religion,’ as he put it. Denis also asked me questions about my political views. I replied I was basically uninterested in politics.”

As the saying goes, if you are not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Roughly a month after the first informal meeting, the FSB agent came to the offices of the newspaper Chernomorye segodnya [Black Sea Today], where Snopp worked, and tried to make contact with her coworkers.

Chernomorye segodnya
In 2012, Snopp officially began working at Chernomorye segodnya, the local newspaper. After Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the editorial policies of national media outlets changed radically. This change also affected the tiny newspaper in Tuapse. When she publicly criticized Putin’s foreign policies on social networks, local internet forums, and in discussions with friends, Snopp attracted the close scrutiny of her editors and once again came to the attention of Tuapse’s intelligence services.

“I was concerned about it, since I believed Russia’s actions were mean and unfair to Ukraine. Moreover, I had friends in Ukraine, who wrote to me on social networks about the real state of affairs there, about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbass, and the lawlessness they were perpetrating even as President Putin denied it was happening. I published posts on my page on VK in which Putin was compared with Hitler,” Snopp says.

Her editors at Chernomorye segodnya knew about Snopp’s stance on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. When she labeled it annexation outright, her editor, Alexei Chamchev, said, “Then, what are you doing here? Leave the country.”

According to Snopp,  her job became more and more emotionally complicated. The newspaper published numerous commissioned articles meant to defame specific people, as well as articles that openly encouraged hatred of Ukrainians and praised Russian politicians. Snopp would refuse to work on these articles. She mainly wrote about daily news, and cultural and religious events.

Devastated Tuapse 
In 2015, under a pseudonym, Snopp published articles about environmental conditions in Tuapse on the website Proza.ru and VK. She wrote about environmentally harmful industrial facilities, the increase in incidences of cancer and high levels of unemployment in the city, and how city hall hushed up the problems.

“At press conferences, I would post straight, tough questions to regional ecologists who argued that all the indicators were well within the norms. My boss knew about it, of course. When I arrived in Tuapse as a student in 2001, the city was still beautiful and thriving. Lots of tourists visited the city. Gradually, the industrial estates expanded so much they literally consumed all the beauty of those places. The ugly oil tanks, the industrial buildings, the fumes, steam, and chemical dust produced by the factories, and the oil waste pouring into the river and the sea have disfigured and poisoned my beloved city. There is a lot to say about the harm caused to the locals,” says Snopp.

Dismissal from the Newspaper
There were no actual reasons to fire Snopp from her  job at the newspaper, but immediately after the 2016 New Year’s holiday, she was urged to quit her job on her own, as it were.

kristina_d.rThe photograph that supposedly led to Kristina Snopp’s dismissal from her job. Courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

The ostensible cause for her dismissal was a playful, artsy photo shoot in which Snopp and her husband, dressed in black leather, portrayed Satanist metalheads, an inverted pentagram hanging in the background.

“The editor told me privately the real reason I was fired was something else. People in city hall had long been advising him to get rid of such a politically unreliable reporter,” says Snopp.

Krasnodar
After her dismissal from the newspaper in Tuapse, Snopp and her husband moved to Krasnodar. Snopp thought she would have no trouble finding work in the big city. At first, she looked for jobs in journalism. She had dozens of interviews and completed various assignments, but she was constantly turned down.

Snopp decided to write for her own pleasure while earning money another way. She got a job as a shop clerk at a tobacco chain store. Soon, however, the proprietor got a phone call from an anonymous caller who informed him Snopp was a member of an “extremist” organization. She was fired.

In February 2018, police officers telephoned Snopp’s relatives and her husband’s relatives, demanding they provide them with the couple’s exact address.

“On February 14, police showed up at Denis’s workplace. They wanted to see me as well. Denis called, and I went there. We were not given an official written summons. Nothing was explained to us. We were told we would have to go to the Interior Ministry’s main office for Krasnodar Territory.  Police Captain Denis Polyantsev assured us both it was no big deal. He just needed information from us. However, Polyantsev joked I could have been as famous as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, meaning my amateur punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental, which I founded in 2012. According to Polyantsev, it was the group that had provoked suspicions of ‘extremism,'” says Snopp.

guerillas gone mentalA photo of Kristina Snopp’s punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental. Courtesy of the band’s VK page

The couple were delivered to the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), whose officers asked about posts Snopp had published three years earlier on a social media page that had been deleted. Among the posts was a demotivator in which Putin was compared with Hitler, and parallels were drawn between Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Questions were also asked about post critical of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), for example, a demotivator in which an ROC priest blesses a missile dubbed Satan.

“I regarded these posts and cartoons more as political satire, the reaction of a concerned citizen to events in Russia. I had no intention of insulting anyone. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry’s forensic examiners decided that by posting the cartoons I had incited hatred toward the president, Russian patriots, and Russian Orthodox Christians. I was shown a thick folder containing screenshots of my posts from various years and forensic findings I was not allowed to read,” says Snopp.

foto_s_cherepomA photo of Kristina Snopp holding what looks to be a skull. According to a police forensic examination, the skull was real. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info 

A photograph of Snopp holding a skull, taken in a cemetery during an amateur goth style photo shoot she published on her VK page, also caused suspicion among police officers. Polyantsev told Snopp forensic experts who examined the photos determined it was a real human skull. However, the online album containing the photos was captioned, and the captions clearly explained the skull was a fake. To be more precise, it was a piggy bank, purchased for 500 rubles at a souvenir stand in the railway station market in Tuapse.

Snopp says Polyantsev constantly put pressure on the couple during their questioning. He cited facts from her life and the lives of her relatives, suggesting he knew everything about them.

“Alas, my husband and I were so out of it that we went to the meeting without lawyers. We didn’t think about it from a legal viewpoint. We did not ask for copies of the summons, the forensic examinations or our own testimony. Basically, we had no written proof of what happened to us. However, the Russian police operate this way quite often, aware most people are illiterate when it comes to the law and lose their cool in these circumstances. Besides, we did not have the money to pay the fee the lawyer initially requested,” recounts Snopp.

Almost a month later, Polyantsev telephoned Snopp again. He informed her that the case file, containing her posts on VK, had been sent to Tuapse. She would need to go meet a police investigator on March 20, 2018, a meeting at which she would be given an official summons. Snopp realized if she signed for receipt of the summons, she would also be made to sign a form releasing her on her own recognizance and would probably be charged with several crimes, including “extremism.”

Snopp left Russia on March 18, the day of the last presidential election. Soon afterwards, her husband,  who had stayed on in Krasnodar to work, got a call from Polyantsev, who told him that if he did not tell investigators where his wife was, he would be accused of harboring a criminal. Several days later, Denis Snopp left Russia as well.

When they arrived in Georgia, Kristina and Denis Snopp applied for political asylum. They have had their second interview with immigration officials.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Mind What You Post Online, or You’ll Be Sent to the Loony Bin

watchingThey’re watching your every word.

Police Investigators Request Compulsory Psychiatry Treatment for Joke on VK Social Network
OVD Info
20 August 2018

Police investigators in Petersburg have asked a court to commit Eduard Nikitin, a disabled man charged with arousing enmity by posting a joke on the VK social network, to compulsory psychiatric treatment, writes Interfax news agency.

Petersburg’s Nevsky District Court is currently hearing the case in closed chambers.

The charges against Nikitin were filed in 2017. He was accused of violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code for posting a caricature and joke on his personal page on the VK (Vkontakte) social network in 2015.

“He was given a psychiatric evaluation. Police investigators have asked the court not to criminally prosecute him, but to have him committed to compulsory treatment,” Maxim Kamakin, the accused man’s attorney, explained to Interfax.

Forensic examiners discovered “extremism” in a joke in which a character doubts the positive changes after an election, as well as in the use of the word vatnik in a caricature.

“This is the first time I have heard of charges like this being filed for a joke, albeit not the most decent joke and a political one to boot,” Kamakin added.

Nikitin said he was summoned by police investigators as part of an enquiry in 2016. Subsequently, the investigators did not contact him for over a year. In late 2017, however, Nikitin received notification of criminal proceedings.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

quora-life in russia

Screenshot from quora.com, taken January 21, 2018

What’s the difference between a baldfaced lie told by a politican and a baldfaced lie told by a “real person”? The “real person” is more likely to be believed by actual real people, especially if they are gullible, not curious, don’t know how to weigh the relative worth of competing truth claims or don’t have the time or desire to do it.

The claims made about life in Russia by Russian hasbara troll “Katya Huster” on the faux populist Q&A forum Quora, which does a heavy sideline in whitewashing dictatorships like Putin’s and Assad’s, will make people who live in the actual Russia sigh, laugh or punch the wall, but they could sound plausible to the millions of North Americans and Europeans whose shallow notion of thinking “politically” involves automatically disbelieving all politicians, the allegedly perpetually evil and mendacious MSM, and anyone else who sounds too smart.

If the Quora bean counter is to be believed, Katya’s well-timed lie, posted on July 1, 2017, has been been viewed by 64,600 real people, 1,145 of whom “upvoted” her answer.

By the way, that is about 4,000 more people than viewed my website all last year. I really don’t know why I bother doing what I do. Real people don’t want contradictory messy reality, as reported and described by real, smart, brave Russians, with the occasional editorial comment by someone who has lived half his life in Russia and been involved in all sorts of things here, i.e., me.

They want “Katya Huster,” her baldfaced lies, and her half-truths. TRR

P.S. Here is another of the numerous pro-Putinist, pro-Assadist posts that pop up constantly on Quora. Although it is much less coherently fashioned than virtual Katya’s big lie, it has garnered 5,600 views since Saturday and 58 “upvotes,” suggesting it will have a similarly successful career on Quora.

By way of comparison, I am lucky to have over 5,000 views on this website in a month, although I post between fifteen and thirty items—translations of articles by the quality Russian press, translations of analyses and reflections by Russian scholars and activists, and my own occasional riffs on particular issues—in a typical month.

 

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Sixteen Blue

“Putin Has Been in Power My Whole Life”
On the occasion of International Children’s Defense Day, The Village spoke with 16-year-olds about Vladimir Putin, social networks, and future plans
Lena Vereshchagina
The Village
June 1, 2016

Vladimir Putin has been in power, as president and prime minister, for over sixteen years. During this long period, a whole generation of people has come of age who never lived in the “pre-tandem” era and have a faint idea of what political succession is and why it is necessary. On the occasion of International Children’s Defense Day, the Village met with four 16-year-old schoolchildren and talked with them not only about politics and the permanent leader but also about social networks, the Soviet Union, and their priorities in life.

Vasya, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin
Vasya, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I am in the tenth grade at a French-language magnet school. I studied for six months in the US in the ninth grade. Things are definitely different there. I wound up at a private school where everything revolves around providing a full-fledged education. There was virtually no free time, and the schedule was quite hard. Under those circumstances, it is probably easier to find yourself. I remember I was invited to attend charcoal drawing lessons. They had everything to make them happen: a wonderful studio with huge windows and an unlimited supply of charcoal pencils. The atmosphere at my school in Russia is less creative.

Now I am in the physics and mathematics stream. Mom influenced my choice of specialization. She said the hard sciences were a good occupation for men. I am interested in programming. I would like my job to jibe wholly with my personal interests, for my profession to be my mission in life. At the same time, Mom has advised me to seek work abroad. Russia is going to stay put, after all, and working abroad can be a very rewarding experience.

We have not had a TV at home since 2006. When wired Internet became available, we immediately began using it alone. I try and spend as little time on the web as possible. I am aware that the flow of information from the social networks is unlimited. You read one thing, you get distracted by another thing, and you look through something else. You can fritter away your whole life like that. I try and be on the Internet for short periods of times. Sometimes, when I am riding the subway to practice, I get on the web and look at something.

I read voraciously. When I have free time and want to read a book, I read it without stopping. I can not pick up a book for two weeks, but then come home from school and blaze through the entire second volume of War and Peace in three hours. It took me two or three hours to read it. I read fairly quickly. I read it when I was ill, and then I immediately grabbed the third volume. Besides what is in the school curriculum, I read books Mom recommends. She gave me, for example, Yuri Lotman’s Conversations on Russian Culture and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature.

I imagine the Soviet Union as a strict regime. I know that people could not just go abroad in those days. You could not just pick up and go to England or France. People had fewer opportunities.

The main principle I saw abroad was that power must change hands. But we have had the same president for sixteen years. Vladimir Putin has personally done nothing bad to me, and I wish him all the best.  But I realize it is beneficial for him to hold this office, and profitable for his friends. Power does not change hands, and accordingly society makes no progress in any direction. I think it is good when there is at least elementary competition. Some people in my class do not care about this. They are happy about the annexation of Crimea and believe it was legal. Some have never been abroad, but think the US and Europe have been behaving aggressively towards Russia, and now we are going to get up off our knees and show them all. Due to this, I have no desire to socialize a lot with my classmates.

My grandmother and grandfather live in Smolensk. They watch a lot of TV, and everything shown on TV is the unquestionable truth to them. It is really hard to talk with them about politics, so we have agreed not to touch the topic. Mom and I do not discuss politics, because we get home late and try and talk about peaceful topics.

Nika, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I am a pupil in the Higher School of Economic’s magnet school in the liberal arts stream. I study literature, philosophy, cognition theory, and subjects related to philology. In the future, I plan on applying to the HSE and majoring in philology.

I read everything I can get my hands on, because for now I am only learning to distinguish good literature from bad. For example, I read the stories for teenagers Mom buys me, the things on the reading list at school, and beyond that. Right now, I am reading Leo Tolstoy’s novella Family Happiness. I also love Iain Banks and Richard Bach. I read about four books a month.

In my free time, I hang out and watch movies. What kind of movies? Everything under the sun. I like something simple. I watch a lot of TV series, even more than movies. They are somehow easier to process. My favorites include The Big Bang Theory, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Game of Thrones. I never watch TV. Only occasionally do I watch morning cartoons with my little brother.

My friends and I often discuss plans for the future, important world events, life at school, and other kids. I think the life of modern schoolchildren would be impossible without social networks. Many of our teachers also have accounts on them, and they often put our homework assignments on VKontakte to simplify things. I don’t spend more time on the social networks than anyone else: a few hours a day.

Some of the classes in my school are taught by teachers who are only twenty-five or so. In fact, we are not so different from them. They also spend time on social networks and socialize with their friends in a similar way.

I imagine the Soviet Union the way it is shown in old movies, meaning there are jolly schoolchildren and ice cream, it is always a beautiful time of year, and there are lots of tyrannical adults who tell the young people what to do. The 1990s, in my opinion, were really cool. You could easily get what you wanted without hassle. Without making any effort, you could make a fortune.

I don’t understand anything about Russian politics. I just know that Vladimir Putin runs the country, and some reforms should be implemented, but they are not being implemented. Or they are being implemented, but not in the way many people would like. But I cannot make heads or tails of it. At home, we do not touch on the topic, because my mom is not interested in politics. At school, if someone talks about it, I just listen and draw my own conclusions.

Putin has been in power my whole life. It is funny. I just don’t how it could be otherwise. I think everything is okay, and there have been no visible changes in my life over the past ten years. I think Putin has done a good job as president: no wonder he has been in power for such a long time. Meaning he has experience and knowledge that he can draw on. He is fairly influential, and the whole nation listens to him, so I think he is okay.  The other politicians whose names come to mind are Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Shoigu, and Vitali Klitschko.

Arina, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin
Arina, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I go to an English-language magnet school and am in the engineering stream. My favorite subjects are English, Russian, mathematics, and probably physics.

In the second grade, we went on a tour, and the guide asked us, “Who wants to be president?” No one replied, but I thought, “Why not?” I said out loud I wanted to be president. Since then the idea has stuck in my head. Now I am involved in youth politics and am a member of the Young Guard of United Russia. I have learned a lot of things about politics there. I have been growing personally, and meeting and socializing with lots of interesting people from this area. I don’t know what way life will turn, but maybe in the future I will be able to join the party, and if I don’t become president, I can simply be involved in politics. Politics attracts me, because I feel I can change things. I like situations in which there are business-like relationships, turns of events, excitement and competition, socializing with interesting people, and the possibility of taking responsibility and making important decisions.

I communicate with people on social networks, but I cannot say I hang out there. Sometimes, I make a point of not going on Vkontakte to read the news so I can get more done in real life, not in virtual life. I think life was more interesting before the advent of the Internet. Children were more focused, more interesting in learning and growing. But now the Internet does everything for them.

I don’t have much time to read. We are assigned a lot in school, so mainly I have to study the literature in the curriculum. My favorite Russian writer is Alexander Pushkin.

We are different from the generation of 25-year-olds. We have more technology, information, and stress. I look at children younger than me, remember what I was like at their age, and realize I didn’t know the words they know and couldn’t do the things they are able to do. I think 25-year-olds think the same thing about us.

It is a pity the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a good time. I cannot say that people lived very badly then. After all, the country was developing its industries, and the factories were working. But now, when practically none of it is left, it is hard to recover.

If you believe the stories, films, and history lessons, the 1990s were a time of bandits. Money and connections reigned then, and there were many murders. I have nothing more to add.

My classmates and I mainly take about our classes at school and the events we have there. I discuss politics with Dad. He enjoys talking about it.

I am fine with the fact that Vladimir Putin has been in power so long. After all, for anything to change, something like fifteen to twenty years have to pass. If any reforms are taking place, they include plans for the future. Such reforms are taking place right now. Of course, there are downsides to Vladimir Vladimirovich’s policies, but they are not overwhelming.

Putin is a strong and worthy president for our country. In the current circumstances, another leader would have done worse or would have been crushed. But not Vladimir Vladimirovich. I respect him.

Masha, 16. Photography by Ivan Vanyutin
Masha, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I go to the Physical and Mathematical Lyceum, but I am in the socio-economic stream. I love social studies, history, and English, and mathematics, too. I hate physics and computer science.

I have also been studying German so that in the future I can go to university in Germany, a plan my parents have really been encouraging. I would not even think about leaving Russia were it not for them. I think students suffer in our country, and lecturers are not at all amenable to them. In Europe, on the contrary, they try to help and support students, and if they don’t get something, they explain it to them. I would like to work in the social sphere, for example, as a psychologist in some company, but for the time being it is just a dream.

My classmates and I often discuss the news, but not political news. Rather, we gab about what is happening in the world. And of course we gossip.

Throughout the day, I periodically log onto the social networks to reply to messages and read what friends have posted.  But now I have been conducting an experiment. I deleted my page on VKontakte, and I try to use the phone only in cases of real need. Then I started reading a book, and real life became more dynamic.

I read a lot, but I am rarely manage to read what I want. I spend a lot of time reading what is in the school curriculum. I have very little free time: every day there are tutoring sessions, extra classes, and evening courses. But when I get a free minute, I spend time with friends or alone, read, watch movies or play the guitar.

My parents and I have a tradition: we often watch TV series in the evening together, sometimes Russian series, sometimes American. But I don’t watch TV at all. There is simply no time for it.

I think people who lived in the Soviet Union had it very hard, simply because there was no freedom of choice. There were things you had to do, and things you could not do. Joseph Stalin was a very controversial person. Although maybe he was doing the best he could. I can believe this was what he thought.

I know that there was perestroika in the 1990s. According to Dad, things were very hard, because there lots of bandits.

I know quite a lot about current politics. My parents are ardently in the opposition. Since I was little, I have been hearing from them how bad Vladimir Putin is and how horrible Russia is.  Of course, I discount half of what they say, and I keep track of events in the country myself. I don’t like everything, of course, but I try to be nonjudgemental.

The accession of Crimea is one of the most significant political changes of recent times, of course. I think everything in Russia changed dramatically in the aftermath. Those two viewpoints: Crimea is ours or Crimea is not ours; I think everything went wrong then. One also immediately recalls Nemtsov’s murder. It is unclear why a leader of the Russian opposition was murdered on the street.

I have lots of thoughts about Putin. I said that Stalin, perhaps, had good intentions, but for some reason I am certain that Putin doesn’t have them. He says one thing, and then does the complete opposite, at least when it comes to fighting corruption. Corruption is well developed in Russia, but Putin tries not to do anything about it. There have also been reports (I don’t know whether they have been confirmed or not) that he has bought houses in Italy and Spain.

It is hard to imagine anyone else in Putin’s place, because he has been president my whole life. I even get a bit scared that he will never resign. Things are also complicated by the fact that I don’t see any other candidates for the job.

I am not sure that things will be better if someone takes his place. I think it depends not on the government, but on society itself. He has not just been sitting there for so many years. People have voted for him.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of The Village. See my previous posts in this occasional series on young people in Russia today and the moral panics generated around them by the media, politicians, and the public.

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Be Kind, Don’t Repost

Andrei Bubeyev (right) in the defendant's cage at his trial
Andrei Bubeyev (right) in the defendant’s cage at his trial

Tver Resident Sentenced to Two Years in Work-Release Penal Colony for Two Reposts on VKontakte
Takie Dela
May 5, 2016

The Zavolzhsky District Court in Tver has sentenced mechanical engineer Andrei Bubeyev to two years and three months in a work-release penal colony for extremism and separatism, writes Kommersant.

The defendant’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, said the court delivered its verdict “on all the charges summarily and taking into account the verdict in the first criminal case.” In addition, the time Bubeyev has served in a pre-trial detention facility since May 24, 2015, will count toward completion of his sentence. According to Sidorkina, the verdict will be appealed.

The basis for the charges were two reposts Bubeyev made on the VKontakte social network. He posted the article “Crimea Is Ukraine” by writer and political activist Boris Stomakhin on his personal page and a picture of a tube of toothpaste captioned “Squeeze Russia out of you.”

The prosecution argued this was a violation of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280.2 (public calls for extremist activities) and Article 280.1.2 (public calls for actions aimed at violating the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity) and requested that Bubeyev be sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Bubeyev pleaded not guilty.

In August 2015, the blogger was found guilty of extremism and sentenced to nine months in a work-release penal colony for reposting similar matter and pictures.

In February 2016, a court in Yekaterinburg ordered the laptop of single mother Ekaterina Vologzheninova destroyed because she had made certain likes and reposts. Investigators claimed that in 2014 Vologzheninova posted images deemed extremist by FSB officers on a social network. The investigators did not report exactly what was in the images. According to the woman’s attorney, one of the images was a caricature in which a person resembling Vladimir Putin was hunched over a map of Donbass with a knife.

Translated by My Left Foot. Image courtesy of openrussia.org

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Russian Jailed For Reposting ‘Extremist’ Article
RFE/RL
May 6, 2016

A court in the Russian city of Tver has sentenced a man to two years and three months in prison for reposting material about Crimea on a social media network.

The court on May 5 found that engineer Andrei Bubeyev reposted an article by publicist Boris Stomakhin that had earlier been deemed “extremist” and “threatening to Russia’s territorial integrity.”

The piece argued that the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea had been illegally annexed by Russia and should be returned to Ukraine.

In April 2015, a Moscow court sentenced Stomakhin to seven years in prison on charges of promoting terrorism and extremism.

Stomakhin says the charges against him were politically motivated.

In the region of Chuvashia, investigators have accused 62-year-old Nikolai Yegorov of inciting national enmity for reposting the same Stomakhin article.

Yegorov denies the accusation and his trial is pending.