Updated Daily. A professor who compared Putin’s forcible annexation of the Crimea was fired from his position, but then later re-instated after protests. But for how long? Meanwhile, bloggers face new challenges as conservative legislators seek to equate bloggers with media outlets under the restrictive Russian press law.
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.
April 11, 2014
2044 GMT: A large banner appeared on a building in Moscow depicting opposition figures such as anti-corruption blogger and former first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov as “fifth columnists,” Moscow Times reported. The image is one that has been used in a number of hate campaigns against Putin’s critics.
— Рустем Адагамов (@adagamov) April 11, 2014
Translation: @adagamov Shocking. RT @aavst At Dom Knigi [House of Books] a huge banner was hung regarding the fifth column.
Twitter user @lenaswan said the banner was already removed by the end of the day, however. Others depicted on the banner included Ilya Ponomarev, the sole MP to vote against the Crimean annexation, and musicians Andrei Makarevich and Yuri Shevchuk, also critics of the Crimean take-over — as well as two extra-terrestrial aliens. An art group called glavplakat.ru took responsibility for the action, said Moscow Times.
@adagamov уже сняли и увезли )
— Lena Lebedeva-Hooft (@LenaSwan) April 11, 2014
Navalny was also in court today trying to appeal the block of his web sites.
— Pavel Chikov (@pchikov) April 11, 2014
Translation: @pchikov In 5 minutes in Lyublinsky Court the hearing will start on the complaint against Roskomnadzor [state media control agency] against the @Genproc [Prosecutor General] for blocking the blog for lawlessness.
2034 GMT: Google Maps is now displaying the Crimea as part of the Russian Federation and not Ukraine, the Russian propaganda site RT.com reported. In keeping with expectations that Google might side-step this controversy, if you log on to google.ru/maps, you will see the display:
But if you log on to google.maps you will find Crimea is shown as part of Ukraine.
Interestingly, even on google.ru, search still shows “Crimea, Ukraine” as does “directions.”
The feature is ostensibly in keeping with a policy Google started on Twitter’s example whereby the search giant will comply with local law and requests to censor, but only for viewers in that country.
Google draws the line at countries’ attempts to annex their service on national servers, however, and pulled out of China when state hackers breached their machines. Russian politicians have demanded that the data of users in Russia be housed on servers on Russian territory, but so far Google has not conceded this request as it has not yet been enforced by law.
0734 GMT: Prof. Andrei Zubov, dismissed last month for his critical article on the Crimean annexation, has been restored to his position at Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), gazeta.ru reported.
After protests from many intellectuals and resignation of another lecturer, ultimately the prestigious university reviewed the dismissal, and found a reason to reverse it; Zubov has the status of a member of his district election commission with voting rights — which means by law he cannot be fired while in office. Zubov himself called this a “palliative” decision and said likely the institution would only retain him until his contract expires on 30 June.
The presidential human rights commission issued a statement yesterday calling the dismissal of Prof. Zubov a violation of the constitution, education law and labor law.
A notice appeared on MGIMO’s website today announcing the decision.
April 10, 2014
0734 GMT: A startling article in the Free Beacon this week by Bill Gertz detailing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged corrupt dealings has received little attention — although it is sourced from US government officials who requested anonymity. It contains new information that has surfaced following US sanctions put in place after the Crimean annexation.
Gertz says that Putin has “amassed a fortune worth at least an estimated $28 billion” through projects like the Sochi Olympics, real estate and energy conglomerates and has indulged in the purchase of his own luxury residences and yachts. Some of the information has been known from Russian opposition reports which The Interpreter has translated and published in full, particularly regarding the Sochi Olympics and the figures in the “Ozera Dacha Cooperation” or has been previously published by Western researchers like Anders Aslund who wrote about the 70% “value destruction” of Gazprom:
“Putin controls the largest energy company in the world, Gazprom, which was set up in 1989 when all assets of the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Gas Industry were converted to a “private” concern. Through Gazprom, Putin has siphoned off cash from the company’s capital expenditures that in 2011 were estimated to be worth $52 billion. Corruption through Gazprom is known by the euphemism, according to the Russian opposition study, as “value detraction” and was estimated to be 70 percent of the capital expenditure.”
But Gertz’s sources go further in linking state corporate corruption directly to Putin, and in more explicitly implicating the Russian president with some of the information that has previously appeared on sites like the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, related to the Russian-German firm Saint Petersburg Real Estate Holding Co. known as SPAG:
“Putin is believed to have benefitted from another deal involving Vladimir Smirnov, who heads a nuclear export company called Techsnabexport that was linked by U.S. officials to the illicit export of polonium—the poison used by Russian intelligence to kill KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Smirnov, a SPAG director, was the beneficiary of a Putin decree in 1996 that gave his company, Petersburg Fuel Co., a monopoly over retail gasoline sales in the St. Petersburg, allowing him to amass a fortune. Smirnov’s partner in the gasoline business was Vladimir Kumarin, head of the Tambov Gang organized crime group.”
While last week JP Morgan Chase stopped a transaction related to Bank Rossiya, the only business in the sanction list, it then reversed its blockage after objection from the Russian government.
0711 GMT: Russian ultranationalist leader Alexander Dugin continues to call for uprisings in south-east Ukraine — and Russia itself — illustrating his manifestos with game screenshots.
In a Facebook post referencing Ukraine titled “South-East: Sacrificial Awakening of Russia,” Dugin says that what is happening now in Ukraine is “a magnificent uprising of the Russian soul” — and gives the insights into the sense of inferiority that drives extreme nationalism:
“The petty, crude nationalism of Galichina [Western Ukraine] has awoken the deep great patriotism of Great Russia. People who are fighting for the Donetsk Republic now have not ceased before the punitive mercenaries in Kharkov, defending the building of the SBU in Lugansk, and fighting to the death in Nikolayev, rising to battle in Dnepropetrovsk, and forming units of defense in Odessa — they do not simply reflect the deadly threat hanging over us but awaken Russia and return to us a feeling of our own worth, belief in Russians, in our power, in our will, in our capacity to rise up and win.”
Dugin sees the pro-Russian violent movements in Ukraine as the herald of a Russian revolution; what is happening in the south-east is like a mirror for Russia.
But in order to endure the test which faces us, Russia itself must cleanse itself, enlighten itself internally, boost its spirit, remember its Russian essence, it’s Russian kernel. The era of Russia, Inc., PR and management has past, never to return.” […]
“It is shameful and base to live as we have lived until just recently. The 23 years of darkening of the consciousness are coming to an end. This is OUR war. And OUR blood will flow in it. You do not yet know the secrets of the Russian Slavic blood. It is a great and terrible secret.”
Dugin, one of the leading organizers of the National Bolshevik Party is Head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations of Moscow State University and serves as an advisor to Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of parliament and a leading figure in the ruling United Russia party.
0645 GMT: A crude Russian anti-American propaganda film is making the rounds of social media, titled “Who Drove Michael McFaul Out of Russia?”.
It’s not clear who produced the clumsy concoction of false charges reviving Soviet-era memes, but the five-minute cartoon doesn’t have the production values of RT.com. A sketchy web site called politrussia.ru formed in April 2014 posted the video to Youtube, but it was on VKontakte in March. The creator cut out various figures from photographs and then made the mouths move — the message is that America’s former ambassador tried and failed to stir up revolution against Putin.
America had an evil plan, you see, to spark “color revolutions” around the world — and in this rendition, not only the classic Eurasian democracy revolutions in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are invoked as “American plots,” but the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria are curiously booked to the “color” list. The US first buys out oppositions and demonstrators, then moves in for the kill with bombers, goes the story which revives Soviet-era memes like America as “world gendarme”:
First, they’re given cookies…
Mass demonstrations follow like clockwork — except they fail. Then Obama becomes concerned that his cunning plan isn’t working — and there’s a vague inference that he was recalled for this “failure” — and then we never learn who “drove” him out. Clearly, McFaul’s characterization of Putin as “a paranoid leader who needs external enemies as a means to create internal legitimacy” hit the mark:
We can’t vouch for the cookies, but even Russian prosecutors have not actually opened cases against opposition leaders regarding foreign funding under the “foreign agents” law — they’ve only done that with NGOs. This video, like so many pieces of Russian propaganda these days, makes the false claim that the US Foreign Agents Registration Act is “more strict” than Russia’s law and that the US wants to suppress this fact — which is untrue. If it were, propaganda operations such as RT.com and Migranyan’s Institute for Democracy and Cooperation would not be able to function as they do in the US.
McFaul’s own response to the propaganda video was “wow”. The former ambassador has kept up a steady stream of criticism of Putin since leaving Russia.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) April 9, 2014
Russia annexes Crimea and its our fault for "failing to communicate"? @Steven_McCallum
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) April 9, 2014
0610 GMT: The web page of Nikolai Kharitonov, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee on Regional Policy and Problems of the North and Far East appears to have been hacked, Russian blogger Andrey Pivovarov reports.
— Andrey Pivovarov (@brewerov) April 10, 2014
Translation: Oh! This is 2 or 3 articles of the RF Criminal Code in pure form.
On Kharitonov’s page on the official State Duma site, there is a message that sounds like it is from jihadists — or else he’s gone mad. Here’s a translation by The Interpreter:
I am glad to welcome you to the site of the Committee on Regional Policy and Problems of the North and Far East.
The people will be on our side, because we have truth on our side. We have already won. We have won the victory in our souls, because there is no longer fear and cowardice in them, and you will never prevail over us.
All that you can do is terrorize our people, helpless and obedient, accustomed to humiliation. The entire might of the empire called the Russian Federation is completely based on alcoholism, fear and cowardice. One fine day it will collapse, and you will be buried under its ruins. You can fool simple people who by virtue of their slave-like nature are not capable of understanding the difference between truth and a lie, but you cannot fool the Almighty, because He sees all.
We will kill you from out of the bushes, shoot you in the back of the head, because you deserve this. Yes, that’s how it will be. And you will not be able to avoid this. Let everyone who served the FSB (former KGB) in the courts and in similar gangs know: nothing will save you.
We do not recognize either federal or local laws. We deny all the laws of the Russian Federation and welcome any who resist you in the North Caucasus and other worthy, honorable and noble people. We will use our weapons to destroy your Russian Constitution, and we will shoot right at the cockards of your military caps with the Russian state symbol. Know that, and tremble.
The country is in ruins. Society is in ruins. Look around you. Everyone drinks. The country is heading for the abyss and we will help hasten this movement, killing and creating chaos. Those who have eyes must take up arms and shoot and kill, helping us with this or another means of destroying the homes of these bastards.
To arms! Save your souls! Before it is too late.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Kharitonov
Chairman of the Committee”
Kharitonov, born in 1948, is a member of the Agrarian Party, and a member of the Duma faction of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Until now, his life has been fairly free of controversy, although there was that time he advocated restoring the statue of the KGB’s founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, pulled down after the failed coup in 1991. At his committee’s last session on 2 April, the members spoke about the problems of agribusiness development and rural territories in the Far East and Siberia — and that’s about as exciting as things get. He drives a Honda CR-V or even an old UAZik, we’re told by Russian press scrupulous about ferreting out the wealth of MPs.
Twitter user @front_popular said it had to be a fake, as Kharitonov would never have written about the “former KGB.”
UPDATE: After a few hours of unavailability early this morning, the site was restored with its usual text by noon.
0558 GMT: Dmitry Kisilyev, the Kremlin’s main state TV propagandist, has been banned from entry to Norway, regional press reported. Kisilyev was included in the EU’s list of Russian officials to be sanctioned in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Naturally, he is complaining about his missed fishing trip:
“We have rented a lodge in the northern Viking settlement of Gjesvær with only 150 inhabitants, to show the children the midnight sun, cliffs full of birds, and seals. We have already sent advance payment,” he told the newspaper.
The ban has predictably sparked a debate about human rights and the Helsinki Accords’ pledges for freedom of movement — the kind of debate that never got the same attention when the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s staff or other human rights advocates were placed on the CIS visa blacklist.
Amund Trellevik, a board member of Barents Press Norway, part of an informal network of Barents’ countries Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden, the host of an annual journalists’ meeting, is protesting his government’s ban on Kisilyev:
“‘Kiselyov is controversial because he has a view of how a democracy should work – a view not shared by the West. Exactly, Kiselyov is invited to Barents Press International conference to speak about the conditions for freedom of speech in Russia and in the West. …. Barents Press would therefore strongly urge the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian authorities to consider this matter once more,’ the letter reads.”
Meanwhile, Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, supports the placement of Kisilyev on the EU’s and Norway’s blacklist, as he told the Barents Press:
“‘Barents Press fails to mention that Kiselyov is not only ‘controversial’, but has been added to the EU sanctions list for his role as a central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine. Norway has joined these sanctions,’ says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland to BarentsObserver.
‘Dmitry Kisleyov is a propagandist for president Putin and well known for his anti-Semitism and hate speech,’ he says.
Pictures of Kisilyev in Amsterdam have been circulating widely, and the story has been put out that somehow he slipped through the EU ban. But in fact, the pictures are from a trip he took in early March, before the Crimean annexation and subsequent sanctions.
April 9, 2014
2108 GMT: The grandson of Soviet politburo leader Vyacheslav Molotov, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of parliament from United Russia, has highlighted the origin of the Russian people in the Aryan race:
The State Duma, or parliament of Russia has published this news story on its official web site with the headline, “Vyacheslav Nikonov: Attitude Toward Country Largely Depends on What Will be Written in History Textbook.”
“On 8 April the Committee for Education will conduct a round table on the theme, ‘Russian Historical Tradition: Content of History Textbooks’
In the discussion, deputies and members of the Federation Council will take part as well as Russian academic historians, representatives of federal ministries and agencies, legislative and executive bodies of the subjects of the Federation, rectors of universities and principles of schools, teachers, museum workers, clergy and civic figures.
According to Vyacheslav Nikonov, chairman of the Committee, the topic of the forthcoming discussion is important not only for the educational system, but for all of Russian society:
‘What will be written in textbooks, and how convincing and attractively this will be written depends the attitude of a whole generation of youth toward the history of our country. It is always important to remember in which country you live and work and remember its traditions. Our Fatherland has a great past. A branch of the Aryan tribe descended from the Carpathian mountains, peacefully settled the Great Russian plain, Siberia, the coldest part of the planet, reached the Pacific Ocean, founded Fort Ross, and absorbed the juices of the richest cultures of Byzantium, Europe and Asia, and destroyed the most ancient enemy of humankind, Nazism, then built a road to outer space. But there are few places where people so poorly know and do not fully appreciate their past and present,” said Nikonov.'”
Since Hitler believed the Slavs were an “inferior race,” the issue of whether Slavs can be considered “Aryan” is hotly debated. Russian archeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old Aryan city which bolstered claims that Russia is the heir of Aryan civilization.
Nikonov recently penned an article in response to an op-ed piece by former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, full of disinformation.
1920 GMT: Russian ultranationalist Alexander Dugin continues to post incendiary calls, this time on his VKontakte page. While the Ukranian ultranationalist group Right Sector had posts calling for armed struggle removed last month, Dugin’s posts remain. Here’s our translation of one of the latest:
“The paradox of the situation in the South East [of Ukraine] is that in order to receive the maximum (annexation to Russia) and the minimum (status for the Russian language, it is necessary to spend THE VERY SAME efforts: form a political force, seize power and defend it with weapons in hand. Euromaidan was not staged at all in order to gradually return the whole situation to the model Kuchma-Yushchenko-Yanukovich. The junta seriously intended to repress the South-East. To cut everyone off at the root. And it constantly openly declares this. In such a situation, one can only rely on oneself and on Russia. Aksyonov correctly said: It is hard for Putin to make a decision fraught with world war. But by force of circumstances, he is compelled to do this. Russia will not abandon its own.”
His post is accompanied by a photo of armed members of the “Army of the South East”
1615 GMT: We’ve seen protesters arrested for holding up blank sheets of paper — now the Russian cops have gone one better and detained people for holding up invisible posters, Rights in Russia reports.
“On 6 April 2014, protesters demonstrating on Manezhnaya Square in support of the prisoners in the Bolotnaya Square case were themselves detained.
According to the news website Grani.ru, which quoted OVD-Info.org, the NGO monitoring police activities, six activists had their hands in the air as if holding placards, even though there were no placards. They were arrested nonetheless.”
The ten detainees were Vladimir Roslov, Irina Kalmykova, Mikhail Udimov, Vladimir Ionov, Pavel Kuznetsov, Martk Galperin, Daniil Kogtev, Maria Goncharova, Reida Linn and Ilya Mishchenko. They were released the same day.
The independent news site Grani.ru, which posted a video of the action, has itself become invisible to some readers as Roskomnadzor, the state agency controlling media, has ordered Internet service providers to block the site for “extremist” content.
1605 GMT: The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief Michael Weiss has turned down an invitation to speak on RT.com — on principle. See our Ukraine Liveblog.
1515 GMT: There’s been a lot of speculation about the provenance of the well-organized instigators of violence in Ukraine’s south-east, and whether they are paid by the Russian government or occur spontaneously. White House spokesman Jay Carney spoke about the paid agitators yesterday and this is taken for granted by many observers because of a long-established pattern of Russian intelligence manipulation of civic groups in this region. Buses of demonstrators with clearly-marked Russian Federation license-plates and Russians speaking with the accents of cities in Russia have been clearly sighted in previous weeks, and some agency has to be covering their travel, food and lodging expenses. Journalists also report demonstrators who seem unfamiliar with the localities where they are protesting.
But some of the protesters themselves have denied to journalists that they are paid, and there’s no doubt that the sentiments in the eastern part of Ukraine are authentic. There’s also no question there are forces in Russia stirring up trouble.
In an interview with Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio published yesterday, Andrei Porgin, a leader of a pro-Russian activist organization called “Donetsk Republic” described the movement in Donetsk as spontaneous and driven by the failure of the Kiev government:
“But he admitted to some Russian influence over the referendum push, saying he had received ‘intellectual’ support from ‘civil’ contacts inside Russia that he had developed over more than a decade as an activist. ‘Intellectual help I do receive,’ he said. ‘I speak on Skype with [Russian] political scientists and experts. I receive advice. That is all.’
The advice, he said, had included help with drafting the political statements surrounding the push for a referendum and guidelines on how to carry the process out. ‘We speak at the moment about international law,’ he said.
There had also been assistance from Russian “civil society” groups, he said, ‘in terms of social networks that helped to assemble some of the young [local] activists here.’
He added: ‘More than this they can not do.'”
That’s already quite a lot, however, and given that the Russian government has spent millions funding nationalist youth groups and supporting nationalists in office in Russia, it’s not trivial. Alexander Dugin, the Russian ultra-nationalist had a call for violent uprising on his Facebook (where he has more than 11,000 followers) after observing Ukrainian law-enforcement put down protests yesterday:
“We view these actions as a military annexation against the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic and call on all our supporters and militia to come to the assembly place at the National Council building for a general mobilization and readiness to defend our positions. EVERYONE TO THE NATIONAL COUNCIL BUILDING! EVERYONE TO THE DEFENSE OF THE DONETSK NATIONAL REPUBLIC!”
Dugin attached to it the game screenshot below and post from Pavel Gubarev, a Donetsk activist, who warned this morning that Ukrainian tanks were nearing Donetsk and that reportedly civilians trying to block them had “suffered heavy losses.”
1510 GMT: A court in St. Petersburg yesterday ruled against Memorial’s Anti-Discrimination Center, ordering it to close unless it registers as a foreign agent, Voice of America reported. But Memorial’s Human Rights Center is still open and awaiting a court decision on its status 15 April, the organization reported on its website. A report on VOA’s web site yesterday describing the Memorial Human Rights Center as closed was mistaken, and confused the two separate organizations.
The Memorial Society, Russia’s largest human rights organization, has offices in dozens of Russia’s cities, and a number of divisions of its work, which explains how the confusion occurred. The branches are registered as separate legal entities in different locations and have had different histories with the Ministry of Justice regarding application of the “foreign agents” law. VOA also reported mistakenly that Oleg Orlov, the head of the Human Rights Center was a member of the ADC; he is the head of the Human Rights Center.
On 8 April, Memorial’s Anti-Discrimination Center lost its appeal of the government’s designation as a “foreign agent” under a law passed in 2012 requiring groups that engage in “political activities” and receive funding from abroad to register as a “foreign agent.” Last year, an election monitoring group Golos [Voice] was suspended under the law, and others are under investigation.
The charges stem from ADC’s presentation in Geneva of a report “Roma, Migrants, Activists: Victims of Police Abuse” to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the treaty body that monitors member states’ compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture. The CAT protested to Russian authorities in December 2013 about the intimidation of the group for its work:
“CAT is concerned with any measure that undermines the independence and activities of non-governmental organisations. The actions by the Russian prosecutors against Memorial reflect a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information,” said Committee Chairperson Claudio Grossman.
“The trial was not objective. Our attorneys were constantly interrupted, but the prosecution could act freely,” Stefaniya Kulayeva, head of the ADC told Voice of America.
The decision about the ADC occurred on the same day as the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the “foreign agents” law does not contradict the Russian Constitution. A number of organizations and former Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin had protested the law as an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech and assembly.
Sergei Nikitin, representative of Amnesty International in Moscow told VOA, “It is becoming more and more obvious that the Russian authorities with diabolical persistence are trying to crush civil society at any price.”
— fidh (@fidh_fr) April 8, 2014
Translation: @fidh_fr #Russia Hearing of the Appeal of @adcmemorial qualified as a “foreign agent” by the authorities is now in session [8 April].
April 8, 2014
2010 GMT: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is debating whether to strip Russia of its voting privileges for its aggression in Ukraine. This morning, the assembly adopted a draft resolution on Ukraine’s democratic institutions, supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and objecting to the annexation of the Crimea. Then a second resolution was drafted to freeze Russia’s voting privileges, which will be voted on in plenary 10 April. The Russian delegation to PACE has protested against the draft resolution on Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reports.
“Deputy head of Russian delegation, chairman of the CIS affairs committee at the State Duma lower house of parliament Leonid Slutsky told reporters: “The meeting of the monitoring commission on considering the PACE draft resolution on Ukraine in an expected way turned into rabid defamation of Russia, its actions in Crimea, absolutely inadmissible fantasies were supported. The report cannot be corrected at all. It should be just totally removed, because it has no place to put a patch on.”
Sergey Kovalev, a former Russian parliamentarian, human rights ombudsman and Soviet-era political prisoner, issued an appeal today to PACE:
“The civilized world is facing now an unavoidable choice. After the anschluss of Crimea by Russia, a new threat is growing every day — the threat of occupation of the eastern regions of Ukraine. Ten years ago I was a member of PACE. I urge my former colleagues in voting on the resolution of the dangers posed by Russia today: remember Munich and Yalta, and the tragic consequences of both of these conferences. I urge the international community to exert pressure on their governments to stop Russian expansion.”
1630 GMT: The controversial satirist and radio host Viktor Shenderovich will have to pay one million rubles (US $28,138) to Putin’s man in the parliament for reportedly libelous statements, the Preobrazhensky District Court of Moscow ruled. According to grani.ru, Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the parliamentary faction of the ruling United Russia party sued Shenderovich for a post he wrote on 13 February published on Ekho Moskvy’s site, “Anti-Fascists and Bananas,” in which Shenderovich called Vasilyev “a former policeman who defended, along with the Zhirinovsky follower Abeltsev, a plagiarized dissertation.” Shenderovich had published the blog in response to harassment he had experienced from a prior post, “Putin and the Girl on Ice Skates,” published at Ezhednevny Zhurnal in which he had compared the Sochi Olympics to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
All of these websites have been blocked on orders by Roskomnadzor, the state censor, over controversial materials; to stay in business, Ekho Moskvy has removed some bloggers such as opposition figures Alexey Navalny and Boris Nemtsov, but Shenderovich’s post remains — minus the sentence about Vasilyev’s dissertation, which was evidently not validated. Earlier, blogger Serguei Parkhemenko had presented persuasive research on the similarities of the two dissertations. Vasilyev demanded at a State Duma session that both Shenderovich and Ekho Moskvy apologize to him, calling Shenderovich’s statements themselves as “fascistic.” Both the author and the radio station refused to apologize, so he filed the libel suit. Shenderovich countered that he had not offended any war veterans with his text; his own relatives had fought in World War II. With these cases, we are finding out how the rules work. If TV Rain runs a controversial poll on attitudes toward the Leningrad Blockade, it can lose cable operators and is now facing extinction. If an academic like Prof. Andrei Zubov compares Putin’s Crimean annexation with the Nazi’s Anschluss of Austria, he can lose his job. Shenderovich will be paying a handsome year’s salary for his Nazi comparisons. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s propagandist in the US, Andanik Migranyan can praise Hitler in 1938 for annexing territories, and Ulyana Skoibeda, another columnist can invoke Nazi lampshades made out of liberals and enjoy maximum government support.
1610 GMT: Are the US government’s sanctions against Russia over Putin’s forcible annexation of the Crimea having any effect? We’ve reported how some oil and gas majors are worried they could impact the West’s own business. Now Yahoo Finance reports that the sanctions might affect the New York City real estate market:
“Julie Satow, a contributor to The New York Times, took a closer look at the issue and told The Daily Ticker about a member of Russia’s parliament who “was looking for a $25 million-$52 million purchase and he sent [his realtor] an email after the invasion saying ‘I’m sorry. I’m pulling out.’” The unidentified rich Russian isn’t the only one. Satow notes that anti-American propaganda runs rampant in Moscow and it may not be the best time for Russian citizens to flaunt the fact that they are making a big splash in the New York real estate market.”
However, she noted that worsening relations between Russia and the US might eventually work to bring in more buyers — which presumably would be accompanied by more capital flight — and drive some wealthy Russians to the “safety of the American market” who would opt for “conservative” $2 million apartments.
1436 GMT: Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) gave a report yesterday in which he confirmed that Doku Umarov, the Chechen terrorist leader reported dead before many times, was “neutralized.” According to gazeta.ru, he didn’t provide the date but it appeared to have occurred in the first quarter of 2014. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had earlier reported his death on 18 January before the Olympics. The Caucasus Emirates, a terrorist group whose leader was included in the UN’s Al Qaeda sanctions list, reported that Umarov had been replaced by Ali Abu Muhammad (Kebekov). Bortnikov said that 33 counter-terrorist operations were conducted in the first quarter, in which 13 heads of terrorist gangs were killed, along with 65 members; in addition, 240 bandits and their assistants were detained, said Bortnikov.
According to gazeta.ru, citing a site supporting the Chechen insurgents, Umarov had come to inspect one of the terrorist group’s winter bases in Chechnya, and was ambushed and killed; his main group found his body and four of his fighters still alive. Umarov had taken responsibility for blowing up the Nevsky Express train in 2009, the metro explosion in 2010, and the bomb in Domodedovo Airport in 2011. On 3 April, 4 Russian soldiers were killed when their armored infantry vehicle hit a hidden explosive device in Yandi, some 40 kilometers outside of the Chechen capital of Grozny. No group took responsibility and police said they had no idea who set the bomb. Putin also spoke at the same FSB meeting, saying that 46 foreign intelligence agents and the 258 agents they controlled had been discovered.
0100 GMT: The Kremlin disinformation mill worked hard yesterday getting the “US mercenaries in Ukraine!” story out on its own state-controlled networks and sites of fellow travelers abroad — but in fact, it was recycling a story that had failed to gain traction a month ago and the second telling of the story didn’t stand up to scrutiny, either. In early March the “Blackwater” story surfaced on conspiracy sites from infowars.com to dailypaul.com; today it ended up on Daily Kos, which claimed a pedigree for the story going back to Phantom Report sourced from politikus.ru and only then ostensibly “being picked up” by RT.com and Daily Mail.
But politikus.ru links to another site, argumenty.ru with the “Blackwater” claim in a story by Aleksandr Grigoryev. In this likely original version dated 3 March, there were a “thousand” mercenaries in the western part of Ukraine, of which “300” were “from Greystone,” and had arrived by a chartered plane from London. The source for the story was “former SBU agents,” i.e. from the Ukrainian Ministry of State Security who also claimed there were Syrian and Chechen fighters now in Ukraine. Grigoryev’s stories generally hew to the Kremlin line, and he has filed dubious reports blaming the CIA for the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Kenya; accusing Jordan of a likely provocation with chemical weapons in Syria and claiming Russian soldiers were fighting in Syria. Then a month ago, the Daily Mail published a lurid story: “At least two videos published on YouTube earlier this week show burly, heavily armed soldiers with no insignia in the city, which has been gripped by pro-Moscow protests” — and embedded a video from “alexk” which has since disappeared, but which has been uploaded by a number of other users, the earliest apparently this one 3 March: The Daily Mail provided a further embellishment 8 March from a Russian diplomat who also invoked “300 mercenaries”:
“And a Russian diplomat in Kiev told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that 300 employees of private security companies had arrived there. “‘These are soldiers of fortune proficient in combat operations. Most of them had operated under private contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other states,’ the source said. Interfax reported that the diplomat did not disclose the nationalities of the mercenaries but said, ‘Most of them come from the United States’.”
The story was presented differently today again by RIA Novosti as a source “in Ukrainian law-enforcement,” implying someone currently employed. Once again, the story was extremely thin and followed a predictable trajectory — and 150 soldiers were gained — or actually lost — along the way. Russian blogger Alexander Vinokurov wrote on his Facebook that he was watching the 21:00 pm news on Channel 1 yesterday and saw the story about “the American mercenaries from Blackwater sent to Donetsk,” sourced to state news agency RIA Novosti — an outlet that recently was brought under tighter control in the reorganized Rossiya Segodnya state media empire. RIA Novosti had the story already posted on its site at 21:00; Channel 1 had it by 21:06 and then others within the hour. “How do you like that speed?” joked Vinokurov. “Even if it wasn’t there, it was already there.” Russian commentators of course noted that there was no longer any “Blackwater” as such, as the company was reorganized and renamed Academi.
We noticed the story around that time as well, only without reference to RIA Novosti at all but word-for-word on a site called “Evromaiden” — which does not appear to be affiliated with the real EuroMaidan movement. The RIA Novosti story, titled “Source: Three Combat Divisions Deployed to the East of Ukraine” had only a paragraph quoting “a source in the Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies” — stating that three divisions were deployed to Donetsk and Lugansk, site of pro-Russian demonstrations that had turned violent; the first division was from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry,the second was reported from the national guard, which now is claimed to consist of Right Sector, and the third was American. No numbers of fighters was given. Here are the scant two lines in our translation:
“‘The third are Blackwater mercenaries in the uniform of the Sokol spetsnaz unit of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Their job is to deal with the protesters as quickly and brutally as possible,” said the source.'”
Later in the day, as the story picked up steam, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted a notice about it on its Facebook page and embellished it with the detail that there were “150” such soldiers — a detail that was not in RIA Novosti’s original 7 April report (but remember, a month ago, there were originally 300 such mercenaries in argumenti.ru):
“According to available information,internal troop divisions in the national guard of Ukraine with participation of fighters of the unlawful armed formation Right Sector are drawing toward the south-eastern districts of Ukraine, including Donetsk. Their task is the forcible suppression of protests of residents of the South-East of the country against the policy of the current Kiev authorities. Particular alarm is caused by the fact that about 150 American specialists from Greystone, a private military organization, dressed in the uniform of Sokol division fighters, have been brought into this operation.”
What happened to 150 American mercenaries? Did they get lost? Perhaps having absorbed the point that there was no longer any “Blackwater,” the Foreign Minister made sure to switch to “Greystone” — which was formerly a corporate unit of Blackwater but now a standalone business. But they felt they had better add in some number.
But remember — the current RIA Novosti source was “a source in the Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies” — not the Russian government — and perhaps that was designed to make it seem more convincing. Only Channel 1 supplied unclear footage with its brief account of “mercenaries from the private USA military company Blackwater” dressed in the “uinform of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry Sokol spetsnaz” fighters; others did not supply any pictures or video of these supposed troops; the picture put with the Evromaiden2014 story was in fact one used for at least 7 years showing Blackwater personnel posing and the other videos existed before this fresh “Blackwater” claim today. In short, the story follows the pattern we’ve seen so many times before with stories emanating from Russia — an uncheckable kernel of a story with an anonymous source, embellishment throughout the day, synapse jumps to the pro-Kremlin networks and tabloids, and pretty soon even credible outlets are covering it.
April 7, 2014
2358 GMT: While the subject tends to get overlooked with the crackdown on the independent Russian media, US foreign broadcasting in Russia is also being squeezed out, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors:
“The Broadcasting Board of Governors has condemned a recent decision by Russian authorities to cut off all remaining radio transmissions by U.S. international media in Russia. In a one-sentence letter dated March 21, Dmitry Kiselev, the director of the information agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), stated that “we are not going to cooperate” with the BBG’s request to continue a long-standing contract for broadcasting on Russian soil. Effective at the end of March, this decision removes the last vestige of Voice of America programming – including news in Russian and English-language lessons – from a local frequency in Moscow (810 AM).”
Last month we reported that the American VOA chief in Moscow left his post, citing discouragement with Russia’s increasing censorship. It’s not clear what the BBG plans to now that they have been kicked off Russian airwaves, and whether they will broadcast on short-wave radio as in the Soviet era. They can still reach their audience via the Internet.
2357 GMT: The English-language magazine on Russia Calvert Journal has a matrix that helps identify the nature of Russia media, which has been changing a lot lately as the Kremlin takes over more of it. According to this chart, Colt.ru is the most independent and most high-brow of those included, and Rossiya-1 — where chief propagandist Dmitry Kiselyev often holds court — is the most dependent and low-brow. Those in the more independent and high brow quadrant also happen to be on the “hit-list” Russian conservatives have targeted for shut-down.
2343 GMT: Russia is surrounded by enemies — and they penetrated the Motherland as well. At a recent meeting with the FSB, Vladimir Putin said a high threat level of terrorism remains, but it is important to separate the lawful opposition from the extremists, that is, “those who want to destroy the country on Western funds,” Ekho Moskvy reported. According to Putin, “46 foreign intelligence agents have been discovered in Russia, along with the 258 agents they control” and “the activity of 400 terrorist and radical web sites have been intercepted.” And while much of the cyber-attacks in the world, especially directed at Europe come from Russia, Putin said “more than 9 million targeted actions against sites and information systems of state agencies had been discovered and halted.” He didn’t specify the source — whether from domestic or foreign sources. Other themes from Putin’s talk:
“o the terrorist underground, despite serious losses, still has the ability to commit terrorist attacks. This took place last year in Volgograd; o extremist and radical groups are trying to step up their activity not only in the North Caucasus but to shift it to other regions of our country — the Volga Region and Central Russia. (This is probably a reference to the burning of churches and the shoot-out at the oil and chemical plant in Tatarstan last fall–TV Rain.)”
Putin also spoke of the need to form territorial sub-divisions for Crimea and Sevastopol. He noted in particular the good work of Russian intelligence during international events such as the G20 in St. Petersburg and the Sochi Olympics.
1543 GMT: The New Yorker’s David Remnick has more on the notorious Ulyana Skoibeda (“Putin’s Nightingales“) who has published a column being widely discussed called “I No Longer Live in a Conquered Country,” described by Remnick as ” exercise in fevered nostalgia and nationalist revival.” Skoibeda drew outrage around the world with her invective that the Nazis “should have made lampshades out of the forefathers of today’s liberals” — a remark she later apologized for.
But her article remains in print with the remark, and her retrograde views:
“Confrontation with the whole world for the sake of our own truth and our interests—this is the U.S.S.R….To be ready to live in poverty—this is the U.S.S.R….When all the people are ready to wear peasant boots for the sake of saving the Crimea, when it is more important not to forsake our brothers than to have thirty different kinds of sausage in the refrigerator, when we have the disgrace of perestroika past us and the people are unafraid of the Iron Curtain…. It may be sad that Russia was expelled from the G8, but this is how—in isolation—the U.S.S.R. always lived.”
1538 GMT: Leonid Bershidsky has an article at Bloomberg View, “Putin’s Rejection of the West, in Writing”, in which he dissects a new Kremlin working paper, in progress since 2012, called “Foundations of State Cultural Policy” due to be rolled out for “public debate” soon.
“Russia must be viewed as a unique and original civilization that cannot be reduced to ‘East’ or ‘West,'” reads the document, signed by Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov. “A concise way of formulating this stand would be, ‘Russia is not Europe,’ and that is confirmed by the entire history of the country and the people.” Russia’s non-European path should be marked by “the rejection of such principles as multiculturalism and tolerance,” according to the draft. “No references to ‘creative freedom’ and ‘national originality’ can justify behavior considered unacceptable from the point of view of Russia’s traditional value system.” That, the document stresses, is not an infringement on basic freedoms but merely the withdrawal of government support from “projects imposing alien values on society.”
The policy seems as if it is already in practice without any debate, as in recent months, as Putin’s government has cracked down on demonstrators, arresting thousands and sentencing them to short-term jail terms or stiff fines. With the annexation of the Crimea, Putin has tried to capture the culture elite to set the tone for aggression, having the Ministry of Culture call up prominent people in the arts. The New York Times reported recently how some 500 prominent figures such the Bolshoi Ballet’s Valery Gergiev supported the government, but several others said their name was used without consent and some dead people were even found in the list. Conservatives in parliament have urged an investigation of the famous Taganka Theater for plays that featured “gays, pedophiles, suicides, and Maidan.” By contrast, 200 other artists and directors signed an appeal published in Novaya Gazeta on 13 March protesting the annexation. A prominent historian has been dismissed from his institute for criticism of the annexation as an “anschluss.”
0750 GMT: A group of Russian attorneys have issued an appeal against police and judicial abuse, Igor Kurlyandsky reports on his LiveJournal blog.
Fifteen lawyers have signed an appeal protesting the large number of detentions of protesters related to the Bolotnaya defendants’ trial and the annexation of the Crimea, saying that many are unlawful:
“Numerous witness testimonies enable us to state that the overwhelming majority of these detentions are of an unlawful nature and can be qualified under Art. 310 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“Unlawful detention, imprisonment under guard or placement under guards”). The courts — the only place where citizens can count on defense of their rights — are ‘legalizing’ these violations, issuing clearly unjust sentences on the basis of one-sided and at times even fabricated evidence. The number of such essentially anti-legal actions by courts falling under Art. 305 of the RF Criminal Code (“Issuing deliberately unlawful sentences, decisions or other judicial acts”) only in recent days number in the several hundreds and are continue to grow. Unfortunately, an appropriate reaction to this on the part of all the Constitutional institutions obliged to oversee the compliance with the law is missing.”
Among those who signed are A.V. Obolonsky, JD, a professor of the Higher Economics School; S.N. Stanskikh, head of the Center for Constitutional History, a specialist on Constitutional law; L.B. Volkov, a parliamentarian and member of the presidential human rights council; M.A. Krasnov, department head at the Higher Economics School, former presidential aide; A.V. Petrov, director for the Center of European Law in St. Petersburg, LL.M (McGeorge). A number of the others are also from the Higher Economics School.
0749 GMT: Russia’s chief propaganda Dmitry Kiselyev, head of Rossiya Segodnya state media empire, is hardly cowed by being included in the European Union’s sanctions list over the Kremlin’s forcible annexation of the Crimea, he is doubling down on some of his horrific themes. Kisilyev is probably most infamous for saying that the hearts of gay people who die in car crashes should be burned. Now he explains that it is not just an excess of homophobia that drives his belief, but unscientific concepts of medical — and demographic — exigencies:
“Meaning that other countries are held to a different standard. Can it be that they were annoyed by your statement about burning or burying the hearts of gay people killed in traffic accidents?
But this is a total betrayal of freedom of speech. As for gays, I have a very clear position on the issue. Gay culture certainly has the right to exist in Russia, and it does, de facto. Yet, it is a minority culture, and this is all it will ever be. A minority culture should not be imposed on the majority, especially not through aggressive propaganda. I do not believe this unconventional sexual orientation is an illness. I am not even saying it is outside physiological norms. But it is certainly outside accepted social practices, and for me this is a strongly held belief. Each country has the right to define its own social norms. In Russia, the norm is a traditional family. The Russian government is responsible for encouraging what is accepted as the social norm, because it is crucial for society. A family means children. Russia is experiencing a demographic crisis. Supporting the spread of gay culture in Russia amounts to self-elimination. Is this what they are proposing? And do we have to agree?”
Do you believe this is what is being imposed on use?
Yes. And something that is absolutely alien to us. There are numerous examples of this. For example, my line about burning gay people’s hearts is now being used as a hostile meme. Alright, let the critics keep it up. I will not take back on what I said, but let me clarify what I meant. My statement should not be taken out of context. I was trying to be provocative. It was a controlled flame that I used to ignite the discussion. A dramatic conflict of opinions was what I was after; it was part of the script. The discussion focused on plans to introduce fines for propagandizing unconventional sexual relations among teenagers – for molestation in effect. Since gay people cannot reproduce naturally, they have to recruit new members of the community. Gay parades are aimed at attracting new members – everyone marching in bright feathers and laughing to show how fun it is to be gay. But the reality of being gay is very different. There is research showing that gay people have a shorter lifespan and face more abuse and violence in their relationships. They apply for psychological assistance more often and have a higher suicide rate. Gay communities are well-known risk groups for AIDS and hepatitis.
Since even the most advanced medical technology cannot confirm with 100% accuracy that donated blood or organs are HIV free, gays are prohibited from donating under US, Canadian and EU law. In the US, it’s a lifetime ban that applies to anyone who has had sex with a gay man since 1977. In other countries they impose a moratorium on donating for people who have had homosexual intercourse. The rationale is provided on the FDA’s website. This is a highly respected health authority, the US equivalent of Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare).
There’s much more in this vein in the rest of the interview where Kiselyev rants about the “dominance of the Anglo-Saxon perspective” in the media and calls beleaguered opposition figures like Navalny “totalitarian.” Keep in mind that these are the opinions not of just one man, but the official line of Russia — the mind of not only Putin but the system.
Translation: Jim Carrey said that Putin just doesn’t have enough love — that’s why Putin is mean. So far Jim Carrey hasn’t said anything about Pussy Riot or Putin on his own Twitter timeline with 12.3 million followers.
0741 GMT: Anatoly Lokot, the Communist Party candidate who just won the mayor elections in Novosibirsk, said his first job will be to change the personnel in government, but that he doesn’t plan any “red terror” in his city, a town whose glory days as a Soviet science center are past, and which has struggled to provide employment and keep young people from leaving. His rival said he would cooperate:
Previous secretary of the General Council of the [United Russia] Party Sergei Neverov indicated the readiness of the United Russia members to cooperate with the new mayor. He noted that United Russia works at all levels of the government, therefore interaction is inevitable. ‘For the party which he (Anatoly Lokoto, CPRF party–ed ITAR-TASS) represents, this is a new level of responsibility, when people’s trust will be necessary to confirm with concrete deeds,’ concluded Neverov.
In other words, United Russia already runs things, as they do in most places, and the new communist mayor can serve as a lightning-rod for the public’s unhappiness with economic difficulties.
0709 GMT: A communist candidate has been declared the winner of mayoral elections in Novosibirsk, ITAR-TASS and observers report. Anatoly Lokot, candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), gathered 43.75% of the votes. In his victory speech, he credited strong supporters and turn-out for his success. His closest rival in a crowded field, Vladimir Znatkov, the candidate from the ruling United Russia party, got 39.57% of the vote. The victory of a communist produced some speculation that Vladimir Putin’s machine is not as popular as he is and that democracy still works in Russia.
Among those who quickly conceded Lokot’s victory was Igor Ponomarev, member of parliament from Just Russia who withdrew from the Novosibirsk race last week, concerned that his sole vote against the annexation of Crimea might harm the opposition’s chances.
Translation: @iponomarev I fulfilled the promise I gave. The head of Novosibirsk now is not a United Russian. The gubernatorial elections are in September….
Translation: Victory! We did it! From all my heart I congratulate Anatoly Lokot with the victory in the elections for mayor of Novosibirsk.
Ponomarev wrote of the difficulties of trying to run a united opposition candidate on his Live Journal blog
“The opposition was not allowed in the media, they were not given advertising space, there were attacks on campaigners, newspapers were cleaned out of mailboxes, leaflets were torn down or stolen. meanwhile, on the part of the government, there was an enormous administrative resource in favor of Znatkov. He was ahead of Putin and Sobyanin in television ratings, and the entire city was covered with his billboards. There were agitators on every corner, all the municipal agencies were covered with his posters. Even on election day, despite the law, the campaigning did not sto. But that did not help the candidate from United Russia. Even forced voting and driving people to the polls, which did took place didn’t help.”
But amid recent threats the conservatives might still push through legislation to end mayoral elections, and lack of power that some alternative mayoral candidates wound up with even when they won (Roizman in Yekaterinburg), it remains to be seen if revival of the communist platform is going to erode Putinism. The key to success seems to have been a unified candidate at least for some of the parties, but other small parties still splintered the vote.
For more analysis of the elections in Novosibirsk see Putin’s Man Loses to Candidate of United Opposition by Paul Goble.
0600 GMT: Writer Victor Davidoff, a Soviet-era political prisoner, has an article in Moscow News, Why Russians Long for the Soviet Union. An excerpt, which provides a good sense of how opposition in Russia very much taps into the Communist past, which supposedly collapsed in 1991 — and the Nazi movement, which was supposed to have been eradicated by the Soviet system:
“Left-wing leaders vociferously criticized the “oligarchic regime” one day and supported it wholeheartedly the next. Even Sergei Udaltsov, the Left Front leader on trial for charges that he organized riots in 2012, wrote an appeal to Ukrainians supporting the Kremlin plan for self-determination in eastern Ukraine.
“I was born in the Soviet Union,” wrote Udaltsov on his movement’s website, “and it will always be my homeland. Those who destroyed it and their supporters today will always be my political opponents. The rebirth of the Soviet Union in new forms is necessary, crucial and urgent.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist Ulyana Skoibeda, whose claim to fame is the scandal last year when she regretted that the ancestors of today’s Jewish opposition activists hadn’t been killed by the Nazis, was ecstatic over the Crimean annexation.”
“As I listened to Putin’s speech about Crimea, I hugged my child close and said, ‘Look, son. You will remember this for the rest of your life,'” Skoibeda wrote. “Entering a conflict with the whole world to defend your rights and interests — that is the U.S.S.R. And being willing to live in poverty — that is also the Soviet Union. So what if Russia has been kicked out of the Group of Eight? The Soviet Union always lived in isolation. My homeland is back.”