The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Screen grab of Sergei Kurganyan speaking in the 13 July episode of Essence of Time about BUKs.

Russia This Week: Kurginyan Brags About Sending Repairman for Buks (14-19 July)

Updated Daily. Ultranationalist Sergei Kurginyan bragged that an electronics specialist was sent to repair a Buk anti-aircraft system for the separatists in Donetsk. The citizen reporter at the lake in Gukovo who filmed Grad rockets launching from Russian territory in Ukraine has had his VKontakte page removed. July 15 marks the fifth anniversary of the murder of Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. In the worst accident in the Moscow metro’s history, at least 21 had died and 160 were injured. Opposition candidates hear their private conversations aired on LifeNews, then find a bug in a campaign worker’s car. Russian state TV has reached a new low in its broadcasting of lurid war propaganda against Ukraine. Facebook executive’s secret trip to Moscow leaves open the question of how social media companies will comply with a new regulation requiring all Russian customer data to be located on servers on Russian territory.

For last week’s issue on the return of “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) prime minister Aleksandr Boroday to Donetsk with claims of fresh military support to come from Russia; the retreat of Col. Igor Strelkov from Slavyansk and the regrouping of separatist forces in Donetsk has causing some of his supporters among Moscow’s ultranationalists to denounce him; on various hypotheses regarding the role of Kremlin “grey cardinal” Vyacheslav Surkov in brokering a peace deal with Ukrainian oligarchs eager to preserve their properties and investments from war, possibly involving a a “Donetsk Transdniestria”; and on the continued exaggeration by the Russian government of refugee numbers, with claims of “verification” by “the UNHCR,” even as journalists are denied access to border towns under a state of emergency; go here.

For the previous week’s issue on the Russian government’s exaggerated numbers of “110,000″ refugees from Ukraine; the addition of Chechen strongman Adam Delimkhanov, a close associate of President Ramzan Kadyrov, to the US sanctions list; the beating of a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council tasked with monitoring human rights in Ukraine; the staging by DPR separatists of a propaganda bus tour for Russian journalists to a Ukrainian army base they claimed was surrendering, which ended in the killing of a journalist; and the confirmation of the dismissal of ultranationalist and Eurasianist ideologue Alexander Dugin from Moscow State University, go here.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.


July 21, 2014


1753GMT: The Russian Defense Ministry gave a briefing today for the press in which they claimed that information released by the Ukrainian government on Friday about Russian-backed separatists’ possession of the Buk anti-aircraft missile system likely used in the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner was a hoax.

Among the items addressed at the briefing was a short video released by the Ukrainians showing what appears to be a Buk anti-aircraft system on a truck escaping for the Russian border. As we reported on our Ukraine Liveblog, the Buk was spotted before the shoot-down of the Malaysian airplane and ultimately geolocated to the town of Torez, near the location of the crash in Grabovo. Then the video, taken early the next morning on 18 July, showed a scene in Krasnodon, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post 18 July:

Since then, there has been a massive effort online to geolocate the billboard/Buk video. And soon enough, the Kremlin troll brigade came up with a counter-narrative which they injected into thousands of web site discussions, social media, news comments, and so on, as we reported this weekend.

They claimed that in fact the billboard/Buk scene was in Krasnoarmeysk, and the proof of that was the ad on the billboard, which is for the Bogdan auto dealer which has a showroom at No. 34 Dnepropetrovskaya St. in Krasnoarmeysk. To be sure, there is a Bogdan showroom in Krasnoarmeysk, but that address is in fact not visible on the billboard in the video; it’s covered by trees. The Russian Defense Ministry briefing interpolates this address in its notation to the screenshot of the video, but in fact it’s not visible at all in the video — it’s speculation. The Russian state media and legions of social media posters have also claimed that the vantage point of the videographer looked on to a shopping mall where there was a StroiDom store.

There were a number of things wrong with the claim that the scene was in Krasnoarmeysk:

1. Krasnoarmeysk has power lines but no trolleybus system; Krasnodon has a trolleybus system; the billboard/Buk video clearly shows trolleybus lines.
2. The Bogdan dealerships are all over Ukraine, and can be found also in Lugansk, 45 minutes’ drive from Krasnodon, where a billboard might be reasonably placed.
3. The StroiDom in Krasnoarmeysk is indeed listed at No. 49 Gorky Street, but the building doesn’t match the scene in the video. [Note: previously we erroneously noted the StroiDom on Lermontov St, but that's the location in the Russian city of Krasnoarmeysk -- it's a chain of stores with multiple locations.]

Since then, Kremlin propagandists have furthered the claim by showing the location of No. 49 Gorky St. on Google maps, purporting to be a vantage point on to the shopping mall matching the camera perspective of the videographer who made the billboard/Buk video — red and white buildings seem to match.

Here’s a screenshot provided by @AricToler of the Google maps version of the site claimed by the Russian government. This is the location mentioned by the Russian Defense Ministry in their explanation starting at 10:18 on the video above:

So our problem with that claim is as follows:

1. The videographer’s perspective in the billboard/Buk video is on an elevation, looking down on the buildings into the next street; Krasnoarmeysk has no such elevation.
2. The red rectangle in the billboard/Buk video appears to be a fence, with a white pole in it, not the red roof of the shopping mall as in Krasnoarmeysk. And the trees disappear behind this building in the billboard video.
3. The small, triangular building in the billboard/Buk video in the background, below the cameraman’s position is small with a sharply sloped roof like other homes in Krasnodon and appears to have a smoke stack; the Krasnoarmeysk shopping mall is two storys and has a flatter roof without a smoke stack.
4. The scene in the billboard/Buk video has trolleybus lines; Krasnoyarsk doesn’t have such a trolleybus system and the area shows power lines which look different.

Here’s a photo of the Krasnoarmeysk mall on Panoramio/Google maps.

Krasnoarmeysk Univermag (shopping mall)
Krasnoarmeysk Univermag (shopping mall)

In short, we don’t see anything at all to match the billboard/Buk video. The Russian government claim is that the Ukrainian government has perpetrated a hoax, and supposedly released footage of their own Buk in a location nowhere near the area of the shoot-down of the Malaysian plane, the town of Krasnoarmeysk in area controlled by Kiev. But in fact the Russian claims cannot be verified.

A user named evgenriv has happened to take a photo uploaded to Google maps which is right next to the scene at No. 49 Gorky Street in Krasnoarmeysk claimed by the Russian Defense Ministry to be identical to the scene in the billboard/Buk video.

Near ul. Gorkogo, d. 49, Krasnoarmeysk. Google maps.
Near ul. Gorkogo, d. 49, Krasnoarmeysk. Google maps.

Again, there are a number of things that in fact aren’t a match — 1) the area is flat, not on an elevation; 2) there are power lines, not trolleybus lines; 3) the painted telegraph poles aren’t quite the same at the base.

We’re continuing to look at this information, and also at a Panoramio photo taken by Evdokima taken a few meters south of the Gorky Street shopping mall that looks like in fact it does have a StroiDom store, which has a distinctive bright red/yellow/green sign. Directories can be outdated, or show offices, not all branches. But even so, this building is two storeys and doesn’t have a sloping roof like the much smaller building in the billboard/Buk video.

Store on Gorky Street, Krasnoarmeysk. Evdokimov Jeka
Store on Gorky Street, Krasnoarmeysk. Evdokimov Jeka

But at this point we don’t think the Russian Defense Ministry and the legion of Kremlin trolls who paved the wave for their briefing in thousands of social media sites have a match.

That leaves open the question of just where that photo of the Buk said to be rushed out of Ukraine to Russian by the separatists is in fact geolocated. Given that the shoot-down happened at 17:30 local time, it was already getting dark. If the separatists began driving the Buk away soon after they realized they had the wrong plane, they might get as far as Krasnodon or one of the other small towns in the Lugansk Region on the way to the Russian border, but time of departure and driving speeds, etc. are all uncertain and roads can be poor.

Keep looking.


July 20, 2014


0925GMT: Ever since a video of the pro-Russian separatists anti-aircraft Buk system was uploaded to YouTube, legions of Russians and Ukrainians on social media have been trying to locate this scene.

As we reported on our Ukrainian LiveBlog, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook the Buk had been taken through Krasnodon and was headed to the Russian border. A Russian convoy had been spotted in Krasnodon on 15 July.

Given the short snippet of film, it seemed nearly impossible to find anything to confirm the scene, but when Hive Mind got to work, eventually people figured out that the billboard in the scene was from an autodealer named Bogdan, which had its showroom in Krasnoarmeysk, another town, and evidently no stores in Krasnodon but one in Lugansk. Then people speculated on the location of other buildings and painted telegraph poles and then debated whether the area could possibly be in Krasnoarmeysk at all, given that this town has no trolleybus lines (as clearly visible in the video), but Krasnodon does. Some maintained that the lines visible in the picture could be power lines, but trolleybus lines are unmistakeable as this old photo of Krasnodan’s trolleybus illustrates.

Still other social media commenters at Avva’s LifeJournal concluded that the short video was in fact taken when the Buk was still in Torez, where the Buk has been earlier confirmed as parked behind a gas station and some stores. User Alexey Bobkov bolstered his claim by producing a dash cam footage, much like the one used by Aric Toler to confirm the original parked Buk, only driving from the other direction, and said the curb, meridian and poles — and even the billboard — were visible near the clearly-identifiable StroiDom store with the yellow, red and green sign and the five-story striped-edged brown building with the video ad. The problem is that Torez doesn’t have trolleybus lines, either.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that Kremlin propagandists have now gotten into the geolocation game, seeing how much it has fascinated Westerners and been used by them to debunk Kremlin propaganda. On Friday and Saturday, we noticed as did Russian bloggers an identical post appeared on hundreds of sites — such as social media, news portals, news media comments sections, and blogs — claiming that the scene had been geolocated in Krasnoarmeysk — but that this proved that the Buks belong to the Ukrainian military, which had control of Krasnoarmeysk “since May 11″ and therefore the Buk sighting video was Ukrainian disinformation. The post has the feeling of engineered propaganda not only because of its massive appearance everywhere simultaneously with either no name or various authors, but because it quickly appeared on Rossiya 24, Russian state TV, where Konstantin Knyrik coordinator of the South Eastern Front Information Center, a pro-separatist activist, repeated it almost word-for-word.

The Interpreter has translated the mass-produced post:

“A video is being disseminated in Ukrainian communities where supposedly the militia are hauling the shooting Buk toward the RF. But the city of Krasnoarmeysk is in the video, the billboard with the advertisement for the car dealership at 31 Dnepropetrovskaya St. Since 11 May and until now, the city has been under control of the junta’s forces, conducting the ATO! [anti-terrorist operation].

The Buk is missing one missile. In the photo and video with the trailer (the same one) there is a StroiDom [construction material] store. Address: Krasnoarmeysk, 49 Gorky Street. That is, the shooting Buk was located on a territory under the control of the junta and is still there. What questions are there? Everything is as clear as day — the Boeing was shot down by Ukrainian military by this very Buk, and now, in order for the video which leaked on to the web not to become compromising material, they decided to stupidly lay the blame on the militia, that they are hauling it. Remaining true to their lying nature (the Odessians burned themselves, the Luganskites blew up their own air conditioner, the DPR itself shells towns and so on). Mongrels.”

The propaganda technique here relies on a certain factology, playing on the fascination people have for geolocation. There are two things wrong with the story, however; one is that the StroiDom store isn’t at that location in Krasnoarmeysk, but on Lermontov St. The other is, of course, a lack of explanation for the trolleybus wires.

So it’s back to work looking through all the billboard companies in Krasnodon and their locations, and all the billboard companies in Krasnoarmeysk. Good luck!


July 19, 2014


2137GMT: Many Russians on Twitter have now turned their attention to an account made by fans of Crimean Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya, which contains a tweet dated 29 June bragging about the Buks which has not been removed:

Translation: Kupol Anti-Aircraft weapon - detection radius 150 km. ZRK Buk - target kill radius 20 km. Some excellent cookies have appeared with the militiamen for the Ukrainian Air Force.

This account is labelled as "informal" and "not for the media" but has statements consistent with Poklonskaya's views and "the Moscow line." Most likely, as we reported at the time on our Ukrainian Liveblog, it was posted as part of the Kremlin propaganda campaign 29 June which pre-seeded the story of the stealing of the Buks from Ukraine to account for their use of the system in shooting down Ukrainian planes subsequently.

In recent days, @npoklonskaya has carried other statements that the Ukrainian Air Force is supposedly responsible for the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, and linked to a blog with this theory based on the usual YouTube arguments about time-stamping.


Translation: The planned downing by the Ukes of the Boeing

Poklonskaya became a cult hero when Russian forcibly annexed Crimea, and even has a wildly viral autotune of her press conference at the start of the Crimean conflict with 12 million views. Kremlin propagandists either helped this phenomenon to come into being, or invaded it once it got started to seed pro-Moscow propaganda.

Some Russian speakers have now begun replying to "Poklonskaya's" tweet in the last few days and implying that the real Poklonskaya herself might now get into trouble -- although she has said she doesn't maintain social media accounts and has not commented on the separatists' arsenals in reality.


Translation: Natasha honey, looks like you've been caught.

And they believe this is an admission that the separatists' possess the Buks:


Translation: It's exactly these cookies the militia have that have turned the Malaysian plane into ash. Now you can't wriggle out of it.

Like other social media accounts broadcasting the Moscow line, @noklonnskaya didn't go back to delete the previous line of past weeks when the Moscow line changes -- and that's how we can trace it. This tweet is interesting because it doesn't claim the Buks were stolen from the Ukrainians as the TV Zvezda story did, it just says they "appeared" in their possession.


2030GMT: A Russian ultranationalist leader has been caught on tape speaking about an anti-aircraft Buk system in the possession of pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine.

In the July 13 episode for his Essence of Time's YouTube channel, theater director Sergei Kurginyan, an outspoken supporter of the separatists fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, has a recording of his speech at a summer school on the situation in Donetsk. He takes the occasion to explain that Russian civil society is providing military aid to the separatists -- a theme he accentuated in his scandalous press conferences with separatist leaders recently.

In the talk, he reiterates his support for the Kremlin and says he "does not reproach it but values and protects" the Russia government, which has been chastised for not helping the separatists enough. He says that civil society has been supplying armored vehicles and weapons to pro-Russian separatists in Donbass in Ukraine, but "very modestly":

Then starting at 3:42 on the video he mentions the Buks, which many see now as an admission of possession of the Buks by the separatists. Kurginyan recent spent some weeks in Donetsk region travelling under armed guard among the separatist leaders.

The Interpreter has translated the relevant excerpt:

"Everyone has seen that civil society, on a private basis, have been supplying a large amount of armored vehicles and other forms of military technology. Civil society of Russia, I say this with responsibility, will never cross the line and will always be aimed at supplying the most modest technology of what is considered needed. Civil society will not supply to the southeast of Ukraine Iskanders, or S-300 or other ambitious systems. Because it's not within the capacity of civil society, and we also consider it not necessary.

But, our very talented and even brilliant electronics experts will of course repair -- I think they've even already repaired, it seems to me -- the Buk system seized from the Ukrainian bandits -- the Banderaites [supporters of Ukrainian war hero Stepan Bandera]-- I don't want to say 'the Ukrainian people' but the bandits and the Banderaites and in the very near future, I simply know a brilliant electronics expert who has flown there -- precisely as a representative of civil society who will help the fraternal people. In very short time it will get it back working. It will be fixed, yes? It might even turn out there are even several systems."

This talk was given before the downing by Ukrainian airplanes by separatists the next day, 14 July, and then the downing of the Malaysian airliner 17 July, believed to have been perpetrated by separatists as well. Since then as we have reported on our Ukrainian Liveblog, the Buks have been reported to be removed from the area on trailers and were last seen heading toward the Russian border.

The admission of the existence of the Buks in the separatists' arsenal is at odds with other groups of supporters of the separatists such as Ikorp.ru which has denied they ever had them.

Snippets of this revelatory claim by Kurginyan have now been widely re-posted by Russian and Ukrainian social media users. Evidently Essence of Time has done DMCA take-down notices on them citing copyright considerations, because now they have been removed, as some are reporting:


Translation: Kurginyan is taking down fom the web the video in which he announced the repair of the Buk by specialists from Russia.


Translation: KURGINYAN FANTASIZES ABOUT THE REPAIR OF THE BUK SYSTEM. VIDEO. This video was removed from YouTube at the request of Essence of Time.

It also led some to suspect darkly that Kurginyan was lying or is actually an anti-Russian agent as he would be seen to harming the separatists' cause now by claiming they had Buks

But this doesn't mean that Kurginyan's organization has removed his original speech -- that's still there of this writing on his YouTube channel (see 13 July episode).

Meanwhile, on Friday, ITAR-TASS and other Russian state outlets quoted Ukrainian Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarem as follows:

"After the passenger plane was shot down, the military reported to the president that they terrorists do not have our Buk and S-300 missile systems. There was no seizure of these armaments."

Russian media and blogs have spun this report accentuating that separatists don't have Ukrainian Buks stolen from Ukrainian arsenals into a claim that they don't have the Buks at all.

The self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" quickly deleted their tweet bragging about possession of the Buks and showing a picture.

It appears likely that the Buks were supplied from Russia, and as we reported on our Ukrainian Liveblog, that the Russian Defense Ministry TV Zvezda planted the story of the seizure in advance, in order to have an alibi -- a technique that we've seen before in this conflict.


July 17, 2014


1430GMT: The citizen reporter in Gukovo who filmed Grad rockets taking off from Russia and flying into Ukraine has had his page removed from VKontakte, Russia's most popular social network.

Dmitry Tlustangelov was relaxing at the lake in Gukovo with his family yesterday when he caught sight of smoke across the water and videotaped it with his camera phone. A little boy's voice is heard saying, "What is that?" And he replies, "It's a Grad."

Dmitry then uploaded it to his VKontakte page and word spread rapidly about the scene: it appeared to confirm reports that Russia had been shooting at Ukrainian positions from inside its own territory. (See our Ukraine Liveblog for stories here, here , here, here and here on this and other citizens' videos from Gukovo which we have geolocated).

Soon other videos were added and people were consulting Google maps and Google Street View; yes, surprisingly, Google's trucks have reached even this border town in Russia and local people have uploaded their own photographs to Google maps which then helps to locate videos.

Gukovo Street View
Gukovo Street View


Proposed camera view of video in Gukovo
Proposed camera view of video in Gukovo


Possibly concerned about repercussions for publicizing such a momentous report, Tlustangelov then apparently removed the video and said he couldn't confirm that the missiles were fired from inside Russia.

But by that time, dozens and then hundreds of people had copied and studied the video on VKontakte, reddit/r/ukraina, LiveJournal and Twitter -- new videos were appearing and the story could not be suppressed.


Translation: Yes, now it isn't like it was 70 years ago -- everyone has a telephone with a video camera in his pocket. To shoot from Grads and say 'that's not us' won't work.

People kept working the information:

Marked Image

They were driven by a sense that they couldn't allow untruths to remain; as one reddit user named "rainydio" from Dneptropetrovsk Region, who suggested this position for the video, "This is a violation, welcome to the information age. Sanctions are being discussed. They have to force khuylo ["dickhead," pejorative name for Putin] to say 'this Grad was bought at the army depot, we don't know where it is from, it shoots itself. So the bastard's leg twitches."

But by the end of the day it turned out that Tlustangelov's page was completely removed, with the familiar "sad dog" that stands for a "404" at VKontakte.

Of course numerous people had both his page and his video in Google cache, and many were praising him as the "man of the day" and urging Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to give him an award.

VKontakte profile of Dmitry Tlyustoangelov
VKontakte profile of Dmitry Tlyustoangelov


From his profile, we can see that Tlustangelov, age 20, who studied at the police academy, makes an unlikely hero for Maidan. His entries show him proudly wearing the black-and-orange St. George ribbon of Russia nationalists and pro-Russian separatists, and his VK entries are filled with the things typical of his age and views -- Russian nationalist inspirational sayings, anti-Ukrainian jokes and memes, and a crude, racist joke about Obama.

"We're Ukrainians. America is with us." "We're Russians. God is with us."
"We're Ukrainians. America is with us."
"We're Russians. God is with us."

It's not clear whether his page was removed by VKontakte management (which is certainly more cautious about anti-state activity since the departure of founder Pavel Durov), or whether he himself removed it to avoid the glare of publicity.

In any event, the story has raced far ahead of him now, and his sunny afternoon at the lake with the tilted camera and the smoke in the sky has been immortalized on thousands of media sites.


July 16, 2014


1430GMT: At a press conference 14 July reported by Lenta Novostei and liga.net, Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Anton Gershchenko called for sanctions against Konstantin Ernst, general director of Russia's state TV Channel 1, for broadcasting a lurid hoax claiming that Ukrainian forces crucified a toddler and dragged his mother to her death with a tank. The claim has been debunked by independent Russian and Ukrainian journalists. Various versions of the story were discovered in social media preceding the TV broadcast, as we reported.

Galina and Konstantin Pyshnyak. Photo via liga.net
Galina and Konstantin Pyshnyak. Photo via liga.net


Ukrainian police confirmed the identity of the refugee woman, Galina Pyshnyak, who had resided in Nikolayevka outside Slavyansk, until she fled with her children to Russia and told the false story on camera to Channel 1, broadcast 12 July. The Interior Ministry spokesman also disclosed the family's police records, noting that Galina had reported her own teen-age daughter for stealing 1,000 hryvnias [$85] from her, and also reported her husband, Konstantin Pyshnyak for assault and confiscating her passport. (Her husband, formerly with the Berkut riot police, was said to join the separatist fighters and his whereabouts are not known.)

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry plans to work through the Foreign Ministry to appeal to the European Union to introduce sanctions against Ernst, as Russia's top domestic news station has been responsible for this and other falsehoods that have incited ethnic hatred and spurred more Russian volunteers to come to Ukraine to fight. The spokesman added that he believed Russia was having difficulty finding new recruits after the highly-publicized deaths of some Russian fighters, and was resorting to such crude propaganda.

Ernst, who gained world fame as the choreographer of the Sochi Olympics show, was himself the subject of a story claimed to be false about his alleged suicide attempt after a conversation with President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. The report was denied on Ernst's own web site and by some other outlets, but meanwhile, he has not seem to have appeared in public, except for a possible appearance at the 1 May parade on Red Square.

The Ukrainian government has also called for travel bans on some 300 Russian journalists who were given awards in secret by Putin for their role in covering his campaign to forcibly annex the Crimea. The list leaked out later and contains many of the reports from state media who continue to cover the conflict in Ukraine in a biased manner, and also contribute disinformation and propaganda.

The Interior Minister spokesman read out the names and case information from the International Tribunal on Rwanda, noting that a newspaper editor and radio journalist were tried for crimes against humanity because they incited mass hatred and killing. While the UN and OSCE have condemned Russia's use of propaganda and disinformation, an effort to start a case against the Russian government in any international court would likely have trouble establishing the correlation between incitement and imminent violence, and there would be concerns about impacting freedom of expression.

Russian opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Boris Nemtsov denounced the fake story on their blogs.

July 15, 2014


2305GMT: Today marks five years since Natalya Estimirova, a Chechen human rights advocate and journalist, was found dead in Ingushetia, after being abducted the previous day from Chechnya.

Amnesty International in Moscow held an event to commemorate her death, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

State Department spokesperson Jen Ptaki delivered a statement on the anniversary:

"Nataliya Estemirova bravely and tirelessly sought to expose horrible human rights violations in Chechnya. Five years ago on July 15, she was kidnapped and brutally murdered in the North Caucasus region of Russia. Her killers remain unnamed and unpunished. We call on the Russian Government to step up efforts to find those responsible for the murder of Ms. Estemirova, as well as in the cases of other human rights activists and journalists whose murders remain unsolved.

Ms. Estemirova’s courage and dedication continues to serve as an inspiration for those who have carried on her work in Russia and elsewhere. Sadly, many of her colleagues in Russia continue to face harassment for their work. We call on the Russian Government to ensure that human rights defenders can safely and freely pursue their work, which is so vital to a healthy, democratic society."

Although five men have been convicted of carrying out the murder, the figure who ordered her assassination, believed to be in the security forces of the Chechen Republic, has not been found. A petition is still ongoing seeking justice.


2202GMT:

Russia's Channel 1 has called the derailment in the Moscow metro today "the largest technogenic catastrophe [industrial accident] in the history of the underground."

As of 21:00 Moscow time, emergency workers were still working to free people alive in the metro tunnel, Gazeta.ru reported.

"Ten hours after the tragedy in the Moscow metro, there are still people alive in the damaged train. One of them was reached by rescuers. 'One victim was unblocked. We have to still unblock another victim in the first car,' Yury Akimov, deputy head of the Emergencies Ministry said at a meeting at the ministry's situation center. Then an hour later at the next meeting, it was announced that all passengers had been freed. The status of the last woman to be dragged out from the metro was not known."

All together, 21 people were reported killed, some dying of their wounds after being taken to the hospital. About 160 people were injured, mainly Muscovites but also visitors from Krasnodar Territory, Kirov Region and Orenburg. Eleven foreigners were also injured from Moldavia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China and also possibly from Armenia. With 43 people listed in critical condition, the death toll is likely to rise. Mayor Anatoly Sobyanin has declared tomorrow, 16 July as a day of mourning.

Twitter (where the #метро [metro] hashtag was trending) and other social media were filled with reports of the accident, which took place between the stations Slavyansky Blvd. and Park Pobedy (Victory).


Translation: People being brought out of the metro Park Pobedy on stretchers.

Authorities have ruled out terrorism as an explanation for the tragedy, and a criminal investigation has been opened regarding technical negligence.


2152GMT: The deadline for submission of signatures to get on the ballot in the fall Moscow municipal elections was 11 July, and with the considerable advantage in the primaries by the party in power, United Russia, and various difficulties for opposition candidates, there was concern that they would be unable to participate.

If you thought New York City's ballot process was a labyrinth, this Rube Goldberg machine drawn by candidate Max Katz shows the many hurdles and offices that must be cleared in Moscow.


Translation: A diagram has been drawn for the work of the signature collection headquarters here.

He decided to solve the problem of both transparency and bureaucratic second-guessing with a map app:


Translation: They refreshed the site, and input all the signatures on a map. Come and see : )

In the end, Katz's signatures were approved:


Translation: Candidate Max Kate and his signatures, and also 25 days without a day off.

Ekho Moskvy
's editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktor announced that besides Katz, Mariya Gaidar and Lyubov' Sobol had also been accepted, as were others:

Yopolis.ru published a story 14 July about a campaign worker for an opposition candidate discovering a bug in his car, and others finding signs they were under surveillance.

"These prove the presence of 'political surveillance' in today's Russia," says Yopolis.ru journalist Albert Khabibrakhimov. Opposition members haven't had to work hard to convince anyone that they are under surveillance -- state media is constantly leaking their telephone conversations and making clandestine videotapes of their meetings, then airing them in tendentious propaganda shows.

Last week LifeNews, a tabloid TV station with close ties to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, published the conversations of Maksim Katz, the Yabloko candidate and Nikolai Lyaskin from Aleksey Navalny's Party of Progress where they supposedly "admitted they purchased signatures." But the candidates denied the false claim. Lyaskin said that what had happened is that strangers called them on their office telephones offering to sell signatures and they rejected them.

That show tipped them off to the likely existence of bugs, however, and they began looking for them. They searched all over their offices and couldn't find them until they thought to look in their cars, and a device was found in a campaign volunteer's car. It was manufactured by Avtofon.ru and contained a SIM card, a built-in microphone and a GPS antenna and worked on regular lithium batteries. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of the article:

Bug found in opposition campaign worker's car July 2014. Photo by Nilolai Lyaskov via Yupolis.ru
Bug found in opposition campaign worker's car July 2014. Photo by Nilolai Lyaskov via Yupolis.ru

"'It's an ordinary tracker which tracks location, but it can also be used as a bugging device,' said Lyaskin. We got inside the personal account of this SIM. And it turns out that if you call a certain number, which is authorized just for that SIM, an audiotape is turned on. In fact, this device doesn't record the sound, but transmits it to an outside server. The device had been activated for two days already when we discovered it. Naturally, they didn't manage to record anything on it."

Avtofon makes devices that are able to locate objects and transmit the information to the owner; the device they found is called a D-Mayak [beacon]. The gadget is advertised as follows: "the presence of the built-in microphone enables you to listen to the room where it is located from any distance." It is intended to be used for security and guardian expensive freight. But at 6,000 rubles, it could be used by anyone. Lyaskin doesn't know who planted the bug but urged the Investigative Committee to open an investigation.

Another opposition candidate, Mariya Gaidar says she hasn't had the experience of having her conversations bugged, but "anyone who gets involved in politics in Russia is not protected from surveillance."

Olga Romanova, who already experienced a death threat during this campaign aired from state television, said that LifeNews seemed to turn up at places where she had scheduled meetings over the telephone. "Aram Ashotovich [Gabrelyanov, head of News Media, the company that owns LifeNews) is listening to all of us. Aram Ashotovich is working like the intelligence agencies, Aram Ashotovich is great!" she quipped.

To foil spies and saboteurs, Romanova announced that she wsan't going to get enough signatures to get on the ballot, but then quietly turned in the necessary amount on the deadline.

Lyubov Sobol is convinced her office was bugged because she came in one morning to find sawdust on the floor near the wall -- she thinks in fact the bug was removed because she couldn't find it.

In 2011, LifeNews published the cell phone conversations of Boris Nemtsov in violation of the Russian Constitution. Then Vladimir Ryzhkov, as well as Gennady Gudkov former deputy of the State Duma from Just Russia were also bugged in 2012; Komsomolskaya Pravda published a conversation purporting to be the voice of Sergei Udaltsov.

We could add that Navalny and his staff have also been put under surveillance and exposed by NTV. and the recorded conversations of Navalny and his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov were also used in the Krivoles trial


2000GMT: "Truthseekers," a sensational program by RT.com, the Kremlin's major propaganda outlet for the West, ran an outrageous program today falsely claiming a "genocide" by Ukrainian forces of ethnic Russians in southeastern Ukraine. It's typical of the lurid anti-Ukraine war propaganda we've been monitoring which Russian state media is using to fuel public hatred of the Kiev government.

But after getting some protests, RT.com took another look and removed the feature:

RT.com even apologized in a tweet to Julia Davis News:

Not before some copies were made that can still be viewed (this one with Hungarian sub-titles):

That means hundreds of thousands of people already saw it, and the damage is done.

Screengrab from RT.com anti-Ukraine "Truthseekers" Episode
Screengrab from RT.com anti-Ukraine "Truthseekers" Episode

July 14, 2014


1503GMT: Unlike Twitter executive Colin Crowell, whose trip to Russia was publicized in advance and openly debated, Facebook's regional executive Thomas Myrup Kristensen kept his negotiations with Russian officials secret in a visit to Moscow last week, Izvestiya reported.

Under a new law that has passed in the final reading by the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament on 4 July, foreign Internet service providers and social media platforms will be required to place servers on Russian soil with Russian customer data . The law is certain to be passed by the Federation Council or upper house and signed by President Putin, as it was his idea in the first place. Russians are avid users of Twitter and Facebook, especially opposition figures who have been blocked on domestic sites.

The Russian state media spun the Twitter trip as a concession to Roskomnadzor, the state censor, but later Crowell denied the claims that Twitter had blocked all the accounts Moscow finds "extremist." To be sure, even before the trip, Twitter had blocked Ukraine's ultranationalist Right Sector.

Izvestiya reports that it has three sources describing the visit to Moscow by Facebook's Thomas Myrup Kristensen, director for public policy for Nordics, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, previously employed by Microsoft and the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation as an adviser, and previously in the news for defending Facebook's policy on nudity in debates in Denmark.

Kristensen reportedly met with the head of Roskomnadzor and discussed Russia's legislative regulation of the Internet. Facebook declined to comment for Izvestiya, and Roskomnadzor could neither confirm nor deny the meeting. But domestic Russian providers were watching closely to see how Facebook would behave.

"'The question of regulation of the internet is one of the most urgent now. Most likely they [Facebook] wanted to learn from Roskomnadzor what sanctions they may be threatened with in connection with the law on bloggers (which was part of a package of anti-terrorist amendments) and the law on personal data,' said Matvei Alekseyev, director for government liaison of Rambler & Co, one of the domestic Russian providers."

Under the new draft law on server data, ISPs will be required to ensure "the recording, storage, systematization, accumulation, preservation, and correction" of Russians' personal data on Russian territory. A special "register of violators of the rights of subjects of personal data" will be created in Russia, and sites that are found by courts to violate the law will be placed on the register, and blocked.

"'The data of citizens of Russia, their electronic mail, information which we input during registration for various sites or social networks, in most cases is abroad. This data can be used against the country, and against a specific individual," Vadim Dengin, one of the drafters of the amendments to the law on personal data told Izvestiya. We want large Internet corporations -- search enginees, email services, social networks and others to retain the data of Russians in data centers on the territory of our country.'"

Foreign providers will be forced to rent Russian server space -- leaving customer data thus open to the FSB and other state agencies to access under Russian law. Ivan Zasursky, President of the Russian Association of Internet Publishers believes Facebook was interested to learn how these new demands will have to be fulfilled in terms of compliance and notifications, and that they were looking for a compromise.

Izvestiya noted that Facebook has already gotten into trouble with users for privacy violations such as with the Beacon advertising system in 2007, and when Facebook went public in 2012, the problem of personal data protection was listed among the company's chief risks.

A new law will go into effect 1 August under which bloggers with more than 3,000 viewers will be required to register as state media or face blockage. ISPs will also be required to retain user information for 6 months.

Earlier Maksim Ksenzov, deputy head of Roskomnadzor had threatened to get Twitter blocked "in a day," a threat that was discounted by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an avid i-Phone and Twitter user.


0544GMT: We've all grown accustomed to the lurid claims of the Kremlin's many state media properties, which we cover frequently and which were most notably rounded up in an Examiner article about "60 Lies," some of which we've debunked.

But on 12 July, Channel 1 reached new lows with a claim that the Ukrainian army committed atrocities when liberating Slavyansk. "How could this happen in the center of Europe?" intones the narrator. In the processing of debunking the claim, we can trace the close connection among ultranationalist ideologues in Russia, the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, and Russian state TV programs.

One week after pro-Russian separatists retreated from Slavyansk, on 12 July Channel 1 interviewed a woman refugee in a camp in Rostov Region, giving her name as "Galina Pyshnyak." She said she was originally from TransCarpathia, and her relatives in Western Ukraine were unhappy that her husband had gone to fight with the separatists.

Galina then describes how in the center of town, allegedly at Lenin Square where the executive committee building is located -- the only square where a large number of people could be gathered -- women had been brought together because the men had all gone off to fight, to witness a scene right out of Game of Thrones (translation by The Interpreter)

"'It was called a show execution. They took a child, a 3-year-old boy, a little one, in shorts and a t-shirt. And like Jesus, they nailed him, one nailed him, two held him down. All of this in front of the mother. The mother was held, and watched. Blood flowed from the child, there were cries and screams, they took him like this, and cut him. The shock of the child was impossible. People fainted. Then after they tortured the child for an hour and a half and he died, where this was all happening, and then they took the mother, tied her to a tank, unconscious, and dragged her around the square. They made three circles. A circle around the square is a kilometer."

Ukrainian video blogger Anatoly Shariy immediately tried to take this wild story apart:

He said that several days before the Channel 1 story had aired, he had already seen a Facebook account of a story very similar to the refugee woman's story from a certain Alexei Smirnov who described himself as a person who "rescued children in ATO [anti-terrorist operation] zones." We couldn't locate this account, but there are literally thousands of people by this name on Facebook from Russia and Ukraine, and quite a few of them post pro-separatist propaganda. Shariy quotes Smirnov as follows:

"'Yesterday, the National Guard nailed a little child to an ad board and he hung there until his father, a militiaman, came out, then they shot him dead. You have aroused not horror, but ferocity in us...'"

"Now the story has been slightly 'modernized' for TV," Shariy wryly commented, wondering how Galina knew the child's age was three years old, but couldn't provide his name.

Novaya Gazeta journalist Evgeny Feldman went to the main square in Slavyansk and interviewed people there, mainly elderly women, none of who could confirm the story. They didn't believe it, although all but one said they had not been on the square that day. The one woman who was there to greet the Ukrainian army said nothing of the sort had occurred. Feldman also panned around the square, and we don't see anything that matches the description of a bulletin board.

There's also a discrepancy in Galina's story -- while there is a Lenin statue in Slavyansk, the square is called "October Revolution Square". During the separatists' occupation, there were posters pasted on the Lenin statue itself, and posters hung on the barricades the rebels themselves made at the government building, but nothing like the "bulletin board" or "ad board" described appears to be on the scene.

Julia Davis of the Examiner then investigated the story and declared it fake. She discovered that none other than Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist Eurasianist fired recently from Moscow State University, had given the story legs with his more than 16,000 followers on Facebook, in a post 9 July of an "anonymous civilian's" account 8 July, in which he reiterated his infamous call to kill Ukrainians. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

"Beasts have seized Slavyansk. There's an escalation of the genocide. And such creatures shouldn't be 'killed, killed, killed." Really, they shouldn't?

Urgent: The truth has broken out of Slavyansk about what is happening in the city. Genocide of the civilian population is under way. Here is the account of eyewitnesses.

Quote:

'Seryoz, this is from a girlfriend...she saw it personally...The Ukrainian forces entered the city, they had information about who is in the militia, they captured a woman, and tied a man to an armored transport vehicle by the legs and dragged him alive around the square, then threw him bloody into the vehicle and took him away somewhere. Then they came into an apartment, dragged a six-year-old child out on to the square and nailed him to a stand with a sign, well, an advertising stand, and he hung there until they brought in his father, a militiaman; when the father came running, they shot him in front of everyone, and Igor and his daughter saw this, the girl has such stress that she began to stutter, she speaks badly, and she is 12 years old. Igor took his daughter and wife and went to Belgorod in one second. Figure out what is happening. They go into apartments, homes, they go with dogs, they shoot men who are up to age 35, without trial and investigation. Without conversations, without interrogations as to whether they are for Ukraine or for Novorossiya, they don't...They just shoot them in front of their relatives. Igor says they're henchmen, he told me this and I was sobbing and he was sobbing into the phone. He was in shock. This all happened yesterday and the day before. It seems bombing is more humane than what is happening now in Slavyansk. Corpses are simply all over the streets and homes and apartments. No one is counting them or picking them up."

Dugin asks that the text be re-posted and also translated into foreign languages; it got 568 shares.

Then on July 11, separatist defense minister Col. Strelkov published the same claim from "an anonymous civilian"

"Now a refugee from Ukraine has said that she herself saw how Ukrainian henchmen crucified a boy in front of his mother, apparently, the mother was connected to a militiaman. And yesterday from Slavyansk a girl wrote that they had murdered the boy in Slavyansk, and sent a video of the murder to the militiaman father. I thought perhaps that was not true, but now first-hand this is confirmed, that these barbarians commit such things."

Another account called Donbass, Vstavay! [Donbass, Rise Up!] said they had "confirmed" it and added the further detail that the mother had been tied to a tank and dragged around the square until dead.

Is it worth even covering these crazy propaganda stunts that seem to self-discredit? It is when we realize how many millions of people believe it in Russia and southeastern Ukraine. A recent Levada poll in Russia indicating that 40% of those surveyed who want Putin to invade Ukraine also found that most of those polled get their news from state TV. Davis believes it's worth trying to debunk propaganda (so do we) -- she even got RT.com to retract one of their wild stories about a man named Skryabin who supposedly threw himself under a tank to save his comrades. It turned out he had actually died of cancer in 2011.