Updated Daily. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sprang two restrictive Internet decrees on providers and users this week, one requiring presentation of domestic passports to use public Internet cafes or wi-fi, and the other mandating operators of social media to collect more user data and make it available to Russian intelligence agencies. Mysteriously, a group calling itself the “Initiative Group of Moscow Students” gained access to the heavily-guarded area by the US Embassy in Moscow — and also got on the roof of the Kiev Station — to unfurl racist and obscene banners against President Obama and Ukrainian President Poroshenko. Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes installed two Russian businessmen as “honorary citizens” by a city council decree, sparking concerns of instability as Russian troops mass nearby on the border. A Moscow ultranationalist who tried to join the separatists in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” was jailed and tortured on suspicion that he was a spy, but still supports the cause. Aleksandr Prosyolkov, a long-time Russian ultranationalist activist from Rostov-on-Don was killed outside Krasnodon in Lugansk Region by separatists he was trying to help with a load of humanitarian aid. The roots of the pro-Russian separatist leaders fighting in southeastern Ukraine actually go back to ultranationalist groups in Russia active in the last 20 years, says Russian expert Vladimir Pribylovsky.
Stories in last week’s issue: A group seeking greater autonomy for Siberia found its web page, VKontakte community and Twitter account censored as well as an interview with its leader in slon.ru. A rally organized by Russian ultranationalists in support of the separatists fighting in southeastern Ukraine had a very low turnout. Young Russian men cheered a Russian tank convoy on its way to the Ukrainian border. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny expressed intolerance for Muslim labor migrants in Russia. Muslims in Russia celebrated the end of the holy fasting period Ramadan, with plenty of police in attendance. The British government announced the opening of a Public Inquiry 31 July into the poisoning death of defector Alexander Litvinenko.
For the previous week’s issue go here for these stories: Opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev in the long-running Bolotnaya Case were found guilty by a Moscow court of “inciting mass riots” in protests against President Vladimir Putin on 6 May 2012 and sentenced to 4.5 years forced labor. Russian and Ukrainian bloggers confirmed the sighting of the Buk anti-aircraft missile system. The Russian Justice Ministry has entered five leading human rights groups into the registry of “foreign agents” against their will. The Russian Defense Ministry held a press briefing to present their claims about MH17, but their geolocation of a video showing a Buk by a billboard issued has been debunked as false.
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The ultranationalist Russian provocateur Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and member of parliament is tearing up the wires this week. Millions have seen his TV broadcast and 112,000 have already viewed the clip on YouTube.
As Russian troops mass at the Ukrainian border, he has urged Putin to take strong action and if the West retaliates, has threatened Russia’s destruction of Poland and the Baltic states.
On the state-run Rossia 24 Pryamaya Lina [Direct Line] Show 8 August, Zhirinovsky said only one person would decide about the invasion of Ukraine regardless of any plans of NATO or the US, and that will be President Vladimir Putin.
Indeed he likely “already made the decision,” he said ominously. Just as Nicholas II was the one to make the final decision about entering World War I, and Stalin made the decision to enter World War II, says Zhirinovsky, so Putin will be the only one to decide whether to invade Ukraine. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
What will remain of the Baltics? Nothing will remain of
them. NATO airplanes are stationed there. There’s an anti-missile
defense system. In Poland — the Baltics — they are on the whole
doomed. They’ll be wiped out.
There will be nothing left. Let them
re-think this, these leaders of these little dwarf states. How they are
leaving themselves vulnerable.
threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern Europe countries will
place themselves under the threat of total annihilation. Only they
themselves will be to blame. Because we cannot allow missiles and planes
to be aimed at Russia from their territories. We have to destroy them
half an hour before they launch. And then we have to do carpet bombing
so that not a single launch pad remains or even one plane. So — no
Baltics, no Poland. Let NATO immediately ask for negotiations with our
Foreign Ministry. Then we’ll stop. Otherwise well have to teach them the lessons of May 1945.
Zhirinovsky alone is not in a position to make good on such threats. But the voice of extremists such as himself and others have been heeded by parliament, as they first authorized Putin to use force if need be on Ukraine in March, then approved (with one dissenting vote) the forcible annexation of the Crimea on March 18, then coyly withdrew the consent for the use of force in June — which of course is not really required for Putin to take action anyway.
On 3 August, Roskomnadzor, the state censor filed a complaint against Shaltai Boltai, a leakers’ site that had been divulging information on Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea and how the state media was forced to cover it, as well as the rewards journalists secretly received for their loyal work in promoting the state line.The complaint enabled the prosecutor then to shut down their site, Moscow News reported.
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications watchdog, sought the website’s closure last Wednesday. It was shut down on Sunday in accordance with a St. Petersburg court order tied to a civil lawsuit, according to Lenta.ru. The group’s Twitter account was also blocked.
The group, named for the Russian version of nursery rhyme character Humpty Dumpty, took the Russian blogosphere by storm last year after publishing the text of President Vladimir Putin’s annual New Year’s greeting to the nation before he had made it.
Sometimes calling itself Anonymous International (although unrelated to the Western group by the same name) Shaltai Boltai also has leaked some documents on government corruption, and in July, vowed to hack into parliamentary servers on 1 August, in order to embarrass the drafters of the legislation restricting the Internet in the State Duma.
Sure enough, the hackers made good on their word and published on their Blogspot account the correspondence of conservative deputy Robert Shlegel of the ruling United Russia party (The page now has a warning from Google that some complaints have been filed — likely by the Russian government — about some “objectionable” materials — but you can still view the site here.)
It turns out Shlegel, the very author of the amendment to the law “On Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information” which now mandates blogger registration as “mass media,” was also involved in the “information war” against Ukraine, kasparov.ru reports.
Shlegel, who wields influence over the Russian Internet as the chair of the Expert Council of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications, organized an “international information battle group” and planned strategies with other parliamentarians and government officials on how to oppose Western media coverage of the Russian-instigated armed conflict in Ukraine.
The leaked email correspondence shows Shlegel on 23 March 2014 reacting to an effort by the US-funded Radio Liberty to expose the fallacy that the freedom movement in Ukraine is made up only of “fascists” by showing the neo-Nazi graffiti visible in the Russian provinces.
“Look at these and other materials and tweets. We should kick them immediately the f**k out of Russia,” he wrote.
Screenshot of leaked email from Shlegel about RFE/RL.
RFE/RL was forced to close its broadcasting operation in Moscow but maintains a studio and some stringers.
On 13 April, Shlegel’s correspondence with Evgeny Mashkarin, a Duma member from Krasnodar, reveals his discussions of how to effectively seed Anti-Maidan propaganda materials into the Western press and social media.
Screenshot of Shlegel’s correspondence on how to influence debate on Ukraine.
There’s also more leaks on how Shlegel helped recruit “troll brigades” and sent them instructions where to post, how to lead discussions, how to get independent bloggers banned and other “measures of influence.” Shlegel was hoping to get a ban on Western films, software, and navigational systems.
Isn’t this all within the realm of freedom of expression and shouldn’t parliamentarians the world over be able to organize to get their message across?
But not when they are essentially weaponizing information to shut down the free debate of others — and they have the power to pass legislation to block bloggers at home.
On 16 April, Shegel outlined his plan for reining in bloggers by equating them to journalists — which in the Russian context means more restrictions.
While he concedes that most bloggers use their accounts for “peaceful” purposes and “don’t violate the law,” if a blogger uses his account to “disinform his audience” then his activity has to be stopped, and such bloggers must be de-anonymized so that they can’t commit “libel, distribution of inaccurate information, extremism, etc.” — all overbroad concepts under Russian law.
Surprisingly, when Shlegel contacts an FSB official through a colleague — disturbing in itself – in the process of developing his legislation, they were told even by that intelligence officer that he was going too far. In an email discussion with Timur Rakhmatullin headed “Re: FSB Reply on Evaluation of the Changes to 149-F3,” Rakhmatullin is quoted:
“Their [FSB] main criticism to our proposals is that the information which may be prohibited for dissemination must be unlawful in and of itself. But if the information comes from a terrorist and it is lawful, then it cannot be restricted as that would be unconstitutional.”
Shaltai Boltai previously received a ban order from Roskomnadzor for leaking the correspondence of Vice Premier Arkady Dvorkovich ad other members of the presidential administration.
In conjunction with the review of Snowden’s residence status and an
unusual extension of three years in a country that very seldom grants
foreigners long stays, two strange things have happened that may be
related and are certainly part of the larger context of the Snowden narrative.
First, several documents appeared from past leakers of Snowden files, but they turned out not to be from Snowden. At least one was dated August 2013,
and according to the narrative maintained about Snowden by Glenn Greenwald and Laura
Poitras, the journalists who met him in Hong Kong in June 2013, he
turned over to them all the stolen files he had in his possession at that time.
if there is a document dated after June 2013, that means either he is
lying and in fact continued to hold and leak documents — and there has been some investigation of that prospect
( as he himself contradicted this and said he held back some highly sensitive documents)
— or else there’s a possibility of a second leaker — which the US has now announced.
second leaker may or may not be a Russian mole — and one of the
theories of the Snowden affair is that he was used, knowingly or not, as
a cover to hide the products of a Russian mole who also burrowed into
the NSA to steal documents.
Second, curiously on the eve of granting the extension to Snowden, the Russian government announced a $110,000 bounty for the coder who could crack Tor,
the US Navy-developed circumvention software which is used both to get around government Internet site blockages as well as to anonymize users from prying state eyes. It is deployed by people
ranging from law-enforcement to law-breakers but most importantly, by
Snowden himself, particularly in conjunction with other encryption
programs called Tails and TrueCrypt, recently shut down amid problems of vulnerability.
At the same time as the Russian bounty was announced, several articles appeared exposing Tor’s continued relationship to the Navy and Department of Defense to discredit it for activists — but without much examination of the paradox of Snowden and other hackers continuing to use such a system, nor the deeper ethical issues involved in the US essentially taking human shields in cyberspace — lots and lots of people as camouflage — to perform counter-intelligence work.
While all Internet communications in Russia are under surveillance,
Snowden has continued to chat with his supporting journalists and
lawyers daily, seemingly free of snooping.
Snowden himself ran Tor nodes — devices or servers through which
message traffic passes — as was discovered when one of the Tor
developers, Rina Sandvik, admitted meeting him December 2012 in Hawaii, when he worked for Booz, Allen Hamilton as an NSA contractor. He has also said he thought Tor was a great program and that strong encryption, if used properly, was effective.
Among the documents he leaked to emphasize this point was one entitled “Tor Stinks” by the NSA, which seemed to imply it was invincible against most attacks — and that only a small fraction of users were de-anonymized.
But recently, Tor has run into a lot of problems as various researchers have found some nodes corrupted inside Russia and likely re-routing social media posts to government agencies) as well as vulnerabilities in the code exposing users. Strangely, a presentation on these developments was just cancelled at the BlackHat conference of hackers for reasons unknown.
Snowden has touted Tor, and presumably has continued to use it in his
external communications, perhaps the Russian government has developed a
keener interest in cracking it. Of course, with the increase of blocked
sites, Russian citizens’ usage of Tor has increased because people mainly want to access sites they can’t normally reach, and that explains
official motivation as well.
In appealing for asylum to Brazil and Germany,
Snowden promised to give those governments files useful to battling
their surveillance by the NSA. Has he promised anything like this to the
Russian government? He and his lawyers claim not, but we have only
From the beginning the (rather threadbare) fiction Putin put out for accepting Snowden was that he was “not allowed to damage US interests.” This pledge may have long ago been abandoned, given the worsening in US-Russian relations since Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
Edward Snowden, the fugitive former NSA contractor, has extended his residence in Russia for three more years, his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said at a press conferece yesterday 7 August, RIA Novosti reported.
The Federal Migration Service had no comment about the arrangement for Snowden, saying they don’t comment on applications.
Kucherena, who sits on a “civil society” advisory board of the Federal Secrurity Service (FSB) and other law-enforcement related councils, had several interesting things to say about his client that weren’t covered in Western media about the extension.
First, he took pains to say that his client wasn’t getting “political asylum.” He had spent time getting the one-year “temporary asylum” permit for Snowden, but both he and Snowden wanted to avoid having to collect documents and make the time-consuming appeal for the renewal of that status once every year.
“Therefore the decision was made to appeal for a residence permit,” Kucherena explained — a different status.
He mentioned “total surveillance” and this was a “the most egregious violation of the law,” likely a reference to Snowden’s theories and not a complaint of his surveillance in Moscow, adding that the government wouldn’t provide housing for Snowden, that his rent had to come from private donations.
The Interpreter has provided a translation:
“…there is total surveillance over all of us and this is the most egregious violation of the law. So… such information appeared, such information, so to speak. It is not surprising, because there will be more Snowdens like this in the near future. As what material means he lives on, and concerning his housing. Naturally, as for his expense money, he has a salary. As for some other possibilities…You know that a fund has been opened, money comes into the fund, money comes from private persons, from non-governmental organizations. As for his future housing, for now, that problem remains relevant. For now…it’s hard to say anything because it’s not known how his affairs will be arranged regarding the provision of material assistance for him.
The government has nothing to do with this. The government cannot allocate to him — despite the fact that he has a residence permit — the government cannot allocate him any housing. The question will be resolved only in the private sector.
I’d also like to draw your attention…there has been a fair amount of confusion in the mass media. It’s not your fault. The problem is that someone said something, and the information instantly…somebody re-told it to someone else. This is not a question of political asylum. It is a question of a temporary stay on the territory of Russia. In this case, since a decision has been taken about his form of residence, as I’ve said, he has a permit given for three years. Then that permit may be extended another three years, that is, the law allows for it. But it’s not a question of political asylum. Political asylum is understood, but it’s not a question of political asylum. Political asylum means a decree from the president of Russia. So it is a completely different legal procedure.”
Kucherina didn’t say whether Snowden had been given a job in Russia; in the past Snowden has explained that he has had earnings from lectures or op-ed pieces, although he said in the case of at least one such piece in the Guardian that he was donating the proceeds to Human Rights Watch.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the leadership of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been raising funds first for WikiLeaks, then to support Snowden. The journalists who first leaked his stolen classified documents — Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — as well as Snowden’s technical helpers Jacob Appelbaum, Runa Sandvik and others — and later even Snowden himself have all been made members of either the board or the technical advisory committee of the Foundation.
It seems hard to believe that a figure as valuable to Russia and as wanted by the US would merely be in a home-stay or house-sit, or that private security guards had to be hired to protect him.Russian propagandists have pretended from the moment of Snowden’s landing in Moscow that he is being cared for only by civil-society groups and is not cooperating with the government.
It’s far more likely that Snowden is kept in a safe house by Russian intelligence agencies. Given given the photo of Snowden at the supermarket, published by LifeNews, which is close to Russian intelligence agencies, appeared to be near Yasenovo, the stronghold of the GRU offices and residences, it’s possible that’s where he is kept. While the two photos of him were constantly contested, later he said that the photo of him on the boat on the Volga with two women companions was him, and said the supermarket was also likely of him.
Everyone was prepared for the Bloggers’ Law to go into effect 1 August and figured other unpleasant Internet controls will be coming (such as the requirement of foreign social media to put servers on Russian soil). Russian authorities also seemed to take the opportunity of 1 August rolling around to close down some Ukrainian and Siberian web sites that had long bothered them.
But people were less prepared for the decree on an additional level of surveillance that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suddenly sprang on providers — or a new regulation that came out today 8 August
requiring presentation of ID at public Internet cafes and other wi-fi
hot-spots in order to go online — also issued by Medvedev.
In fact, Maxim Ksenzov, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, the state censor, had warned back in May
that various other enabling regulations would have to be passed along
with the blogger’s law involving his agency and the FSB. There was no
indication it would be this intrusive, however.
then-new President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power in 2007,
foreign observers were first impressed that he allowed Internet cafes,
then dismayed that Turkmen authorities required people to present their
passports to be able to use them.
Now Russia has adopted the same practice. Russian and Central Asia analyst Ilya Zaslavsky commented on his Facebook:
Now it has come to pass! Eight years ago I went to Ekho
Moskvy and said that that there’s a lot of terrible things, but Russia
at least hasn’t slid down to the level of Turkmenistan, for example. And
now it has slid, they thought up this measure [of passports at Internet
cafes] in sunny Turkmenistan 10 years ago. Roissya Vperdye! [A play on
words from the phrase “Russia Forward!, something like this-–The Interpreter.]
Now when Russians go to use public Wi-Fi, they will have to
give their passport information and also a unique number from the device
(a hardware hash) they use to go online will be recorded.
wi-fi operators will have to keep user information for six years and be
able to present a list of all persons using the Internet at their
locations by first and last name and patronymic, place of residence and
number of identification document.
Matvei Alekseyev, director of government liaison with Rambler&Co. said he found the decree strange:
“Identification of a user in accessing the Web through
Wi-Fi in public spaces is not feasible. In Moscow alone, the coverage of
open Wi-Fi extends to parks and places of public access. I don’t think
that someone will walk into Gorky Park and show their passport.”
It also seems under this regulation that every cafe or park
that happens to have wi-fi will have to get a license from Roskomnadzor,
the state censor, as an operator with personal data. Violation of the
rules can lead to a fine of 10,000 rubles ($275).
first deputy chair of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy,
Information Technologies and Communications supported the decree.
“It’s a question of security. There is an information
war. Anonymous log-on on the Internet in public places enables the
committing of unlawful actions with impunity. It will be very difficult
to find violators. Americans fear wars, they are fighting in the
information space best of all. They have strengthened their holding
Voice of America. Those who have an interest in destabilization try to
fill up the Web with swindlers, fascists and extremists. Everything that
is connected to the Internet should be identified.”
Currently, there is free Internet in Moscow at McDonald’s,
Kofemaniya, Shokoladnitsya, Yakitoriya and other cafes and at Gorky
Park, Krasnaya Presnya and the VDNKh [All-State National Achievements]
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — reportedly the first iPhone user in Russia and first Russian presidential tweeter — signed a decree to place web sites under greater surveillance by Russian intelligence, RBC.ru reported.
Despite his years of being characterized as a great friend to Internet freedom, ever since swapping places with Putin, Medvedev has had to implement the president’s crackdown on citizens’ communications.
According to therunet.com, the new regulation was drafted to implement the “Bloggers’ Law” which went into force 1 August, mandating all bloggers with more than 3,000 viewers to register as “mass media” or face blockage.
Decree no. 73 of 31 July 2014 requires that “organizers of dissemination of information” must cooperate with state agencies “exercising investigatory activity or ensuring the security of the RF”.
The decree states that sites “must turn on devices that will enable intelligence agencies and law-enforcement agencies to conduct operational and investigative activity.” The Federal State Security Service (FSB) is in charge of organizing the technical aspects of the surveillance. Site administrators are also forbidden from “disclosing the organizational and technical means of conducting the operational and investigative activities.”
Likely these references are to software programs that will able Russian intelligence to extend the already-existing SORM, the Russian acronym for “system of technical means to ensure functions of operational-investigative activities.”
Therunet.com also reported that a notice on regulation.gov.ru 28 July concerning a draft order from the Ministry of Communications about requirements of equipment and software for interaction with intelligence agencies. The text of the order is missing.
By having SORM installed with domestic Internet providers, the Russian intelligence agencies has already been capturing information from users. But since there is a huge volume of information going through these operators, it can be hard to track users. If they can have social media platforms install the SORM programs, this will make it easier to search for people or texts, says therunet.com.
ISPs were blindsided by the announcement of this new decree. Yandex told RBC that they had not discussed the draft or seen it published in its initial form. Mail.ru Group also said they had no discussion of the measure. Lawyer Anton Malgin said there were questions about the company’s obligations and its compensation for this cooperation.
Under the “Bloggers’ Law,” any blogger can be asked to turn over information about his traffic and his contacts and must keep on Russian territory the information about readers for six months in order to make them available at any time. It is not clear how this requirement will be coordinated with this additional surveillance requirement.
So far 83 people have registered under the law, but it may turn out as with the “foreign agents’ act,” that government officials will notify bloggers that they must register if they don’t or face the consequences.
On 4 August, a group calling itself “Initiative Group of Moscow Students” took responsibility for a racist laser light show on the US Embassy in Moscow on President Barack Obama’s birthday depicting him with a banana.
We thought it was strange that despite what is known to be a heavy Russian police and intelligence presence around the US Embassy, somehow this group was able to get into the area and run the animated show for some minutes and then upload their performance to YouTube.
On 4 and 5 August, Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices raised the question of another banner unfurled from buildings by the same group, evidently before seeing the laser show:
Photographs of the Obama sign amused
many in Russia, where Washington’s support for the new government in
Kyiv has made the United States more unpopular than ever. The online
conversation seems to have changed when your humble RuNet Echo editor
started a debate about whether the banner was in fact a racist attack
on the first African-American U.S. President. Indeed, Russian Twitter
users are no strangers to jokes comparing President Obama to monkeys,
such as Duma deputy Irina Rodnina’s infamous retweet of a doctored photo of the Obamas looking hungrily at a banana.
Tweets about the banner being racist attracted reposts from dozens of people, including the Guardian’s Shaun Walker, the Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Weiss, and even Estonian President Toomas Ilves.
Dozens more, usually writing from Russia, contested the idea that the
sign is racist, arguing that jokes about the “three wise monkeys” are common in political satire.
Of course the laser show that night left no question about the racist intents of the “Initiative Group of Moscow Students.”
But curiously, the debate on the content of these “pranks” seemed to take at face value that some boisterous group of “students” were involved, merely expressing “popular sentiment.”
More questions should be asked about the group. Its community on VKontakte, the popular Russian social media, was created only on 30 June, and it has made only 15 posts and has only 464 subscribers — despite supposedly tapping into sentiment that “the US is more unpopular than ever.”
The VK page contains a few posts of the group’s actions, all in the same vein. In an action 30 June, the group made a wooden effigy of a figure painted with stars and stripes, holding dollars in its hand and having oil poured in its ear. As two young men attempted to place it by the US Embassy, two guards race out to stop them, and a Moscow policeman then carts the effigy away, but it does not appear as if the young men were arrested.
The banner used the Russian idiom “Your tongue will take you to Kiev” meaning “you can get anywhere if you talk your way through” — and showed the Ukrainian leader “kissing ass.”
How did they get on the roof to make a public display of obscenity in a city known for its crackdowns on any manifestation of “homosexual propaganda”?
They also managed – again, with no interference from any security guards — to get on top of a building right across from the Embassy to unfurl the banner reported by Rothrock with Obama in a party hat saying “I don’t see, I don’t hear, I don’t speak the truth to anyone” (which is the Russian variation of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil).
They did yet another action — before the “birthday laser show for Obama” in which they shone a laser slogan “Save Kids from Ukraine” on a building across from the US Embassy.
So given that these young men did multiple actions in and around the US Embassy in the days before Obama’s birthday show, one naturally has to wonder how they could get away with this prank without any repercussions. Yet no Russian state media or US media were asking questions about this.
Interestingly, in a LiveJournal post 6 August, prominent blogger and Internet entrepreneur Anton Nossik didn’t hesitate to claim that these actions — which involved expensive laser equipment, training in animation and close access — had to have been done with the consent, involvement and even payment of Russian intelligence agencies. The Interpreter has provided a translation:
This is all rather funny in itself: in the 14 years of Putin’s rule, we have not seen a single public pro-government performance which wasn’t coordinated in advance and properly paid from budget or near-budget (fur storage) funds. The correspondence of Kristina Potupchik provides a good indication of the channels and sums of payments. [A reference to leaks about organized paid Kremlin troll brigades--The Interpreter.] She is the same person from whom we learned that for every shit-comment on LiveJournal, which costs 11 rubles, 80 kopecks, the contractor Yakemenko pays the St. Petersburg sub-contractor 85 rubles. The correspondence is silent about how much sticks to his own hands but that’s not the point.
In this specific case, we see not some Pioneers’ prank on California’ servers on the World Wide Web. The main building of the US consulate on Sadovoye Ring Road in Moscow is a facility that is thoroughly guarded round the clock, with checks, gates and barriers and which is patrolled by people in uniform and plainclothes at any time of the day or night. Half of these people guard the embassy, the other half are spying on its employees.
Without preliminary agreement with all of these agencies, to which these state sleuths and prison guards are attached, the “patriotic students” with their laser ray proudly aimed at the facade of the US embassy, would not last their half a minute, because the area where they were targeting the windows of the diplomatic mission has been the permanent post of Russian intelligence agencies for the last 80 years. They have even moved into the apartments there so as to equip observation posts…
Therefore without consent at the highest level, the “Initiative Group of Moscow Students” which took responsibility for this action, would be in the toilet before this action even got off the ground — and for many years ahead. Meanwhile, they’ve spent a few years hanging at the Seliger camp [famous for gatherings of the Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi].
Nossik’s guess that these people are related to Seliger, which is a camp famous for gatherings of the Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi, comes from seeing an upload of a Seliger promotional video on the YouTube account of the “Initiative Group of Moscow Students” — another sparse social media account with only a few posts. Nashi was abandoned by Kremlin democracy-managers and now they are using the All-Russian Popular Front and other groups to get across their pro-Putin message.
A pro-Russian gesture taken by Gennady Kernes, mayor of Kharkiv, has local observers worried about its implications for any kind of Kremlin move on Ukraine and how instability could be sparked in this town where Russian troops are reportedly amassed north of the Ukrainian-Russian border.
Yesterday August 6, reportedly under pressure and orders from Kernes, the Kharkiv City Council made two Russian Federation citizens “honorary citizens of the city,” lb.ua reported.
One Russian citizen, Pavel Fuks is said to be a long-time business partner of Kernes operating in Russia, and rumored to be involved in the same corrupt business as Kernes has been, for which he was prosecuted in 1992.
The other is Aleksandr Shishkin a Russian senator from the ruling United Russia party, is a member of the Federation Council of Russia (the upper chamber of parliament) who voted for annexation of the Crimea.
The move has sparked both concern and ridicule in Ukrainian social
media. Alexey Korotayev, a veteran Russian human rights advocate now
residing in Kharkiv, commented on his Facebook page that
the move could indicate a possible maneuver whereby the Kharkiv city
council could be disbanded and new elections called — with accompanying instability exploited by the Kremlin. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
“They take this idiotic decision, there is universal outrage in Ukraine and the Rada could intervene and demand the disbanding of the Kharkiv Gepa [underworld nick-name of Kernes–The Interpreter] City Council and new elections — and prepare the soil for noise and demonstrations in Kharkiv in defense of our sovereign views and against the abuse of the Kiev junta…It
is very suspicious; is Gepa cooking up some new kasha, once again
orienting himself toward Russia? Or is he just reinforcing his shaky
position — to raise a ruckus in Kharkiv again, and then stop it and
show Kiev how necessary and irreplaceable he is…However, in a situation
of de-facto war with Russia, such games in a border region, oh, are
Sure enough, as predicted,Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov made an emotional call for the disbanding of the Kharkiv City Council on his Facebook.
The Interpreter has provided a translation:
“Betrayal and baseness! This City Council does not have the right to continual working. Zero moral right! Have Gepa and his comrades-at-arms totally lost their minds?! As a native of Kharkiv, I demand that the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada take the appropriatre legal decision!
Is the City Council of Kharkiv representatives of Kharkivites or creatures, reptiles before those who kill Ukrainians and seize our land?!
Only those 14 out of 100 who voted against this are people of worthiness for me. Are the rest reptiles?
It is impossible to reconcile ourselves with this!”
(The vote was actually reported to be 79 out of 92, as not all of the 100 were in attendance, lb.ua reported. Members of the Party of Regions supported the action).
Kernes was injured in an assassination attempt in April, and taken to Israel for treatment. He recovered and came back to work June 17. Various conspiracy theories have been floated about which forces could be behind the attempted murder, one of the more compelling ones
suggesting that it was related to Russian organized crime in which the
two new “honorary citizens” were involved.
Fuks and Shishkin reportedly financed Kernes’ election campaign in 2010, and their goal was to work through Kernes and the regional governor Mykhailo Dobkin to declare some kind of independent separatist republic of Eastern Ukraine. But supposedly under pressure from oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, Kernes refused to cooperate. This story naturally contains the names of Ramazan Kadyrov and Vyacheslav Surkov as Russian interlocutors who were supposedly working on this “lighter version” of a separatist movement in Ukraine — and of course a supposed joint bank account in Germany and Switzerland is involved.
In this version, the “honorary citizenship” is evidence that Kernes is now cooperating again with his business partners who were ostensibly behind the attempt on his life.
The two Russian businessmen now awarded this honor have been active in sponsoring charities and the building of cathedrals, perhaps “to expiate their sins,” some have commented.
Shishkin contributed to the construction of the Cathedral of the Myrrh-Bearing Women on Victory Square in the center of Kharkiv, and Fuks helped build the Cathedral of St. Blessed Queen Tamara the Great, lb.ua reported. Kernes said the initiative to make the Russian men “honorary citizens” was brought to the city council by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The large, ostentatious and expensive construction on Victory Square sparked protests from locals but Kernes was able to assuage them, 057.ua reported.
Andrei Morozov (nick-name “Murza”), is an ultranationalist activist from Moscow who heads a small Russian neo-Stalinist nationalist group called “Red Blitzkrieg,” among the groups supporting the pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine as we reported.
Morozov travelled to the region and tried to join the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” but was arrested and tortured by the “militia” for his trouble. Ultimately he was released, and wrote an account on 21 May of his ordeal.
Pro-Russian separatists took over the Antratsit Administrative Building on 7 May 2014, the week before Morozov arrived. He was jailed and tortured in this building. Photo by antratsit.net
The Interpreter has provided a translation:
“My right arm is slowly recovering, the swelling just isn’t going down, and I’ve had a lot of work and other business. Therefore I’ll simply describe in brief this whole story with my trip to the Donbass.
I left on 9 May by train from Rostov, and on the night of 10-11 May, successfully crossed the border through an open field. On 11 May in the morning, I arrived by taxi to the city of Antratsit. I went there, because as is known, the city had been held since early May by forces allied with the Strelkov group in Slavyansk, providing Slavyansk the rear guard and communications. I went to the building of the city administration, introduced myself, and asked to sign up with the militia in Slavyansk, where it was most difficult of all.
The ‘couch warriors’ from Moscow itself were met by the rank-and-file fighters with unfeigned enthusiasm. I was received at the command, all my questions were gladly answered, and I provided the telephone numbers of people who could confirm that I was who I said I was. I was told to wait, and spent the whole day in the hallway of the first floor of the administration building among the fighters.
On the night of 12th May, without any commentary, I was taken to the dead end of the corridor behind an armory, where there was a room for interrogations. They searched all my clothing unsuccessfully for any ‘inserts,” then nevertheless forced me to change into camouflage pants and a telnyashka from the militia stock.
After this, they chained me in handcuffs to the window bars, leaning me against the wall. They had only one question for me: ‘Who came along with you?’ Naturally I replied that I was alone. They didn’t ask me any more questions. Since threats and simple beatings didn’t give them any results — I wasn’t a spy and had nothing to confess — they decided to torture me in the following manner.
They put something like a pillow case over my head and wrapped it with tape, then taped and roped me, handcuffed, by my wrists and the knee of my left leg to the bars, so that I was placed on the wall at an angle, so that my joints were turned out at the most uncomfortable position possible, and the whole weight of my body fell on my wrists and knee. They tied my right leg for that purpose to the knee of my left leg in such a way that I couldn’t put my weight on anything normally.
For some time I had to stay like that, then my strength gave way and I simply hung by my wrists and knee. I asked them to give me the opportunity to speak to the command. In reply, they told me I’d “be in a coffin in white slippers” before that would happen. I began to get delirious from the pain in my wrists, then lost consciousness.
Naturally, I didn’t confess to anything, as I wasn’t a spy for the Right Sector [Ukrainian ultranationalist paramilitary group] fighters. I was removed from this ‘crucifixion’ only when it became clear that in just a little while, necrosis would set in, and the fingers of my hand would have to be amputated.
That night, in the administration building in Antratsit, they tortured a local resident who was also accused of espionage — I heard his cries. After beating him, he was ‘packed into’ a wooden trunk, and then they screwed on the lid (they looked around for a screw-driver for a long time), and carried him away. Judging from the following unfavorable commentaries from the ‘counter-intelligence agents,’ the guy, having decided that they were going to bury him alive, didn’t withstand the nervous stress and soiled himself in their favorite torture box.
The simple ‘spies,’ who, as it turned out later, were four in number, were kept in the basement. As apparently the most dangerous, I was left chained to the window bars for several days, under constant watch of an armed guard. A limping man, taken out to the bathroom under armed guard, looks especially funny when he is unable even to undo the button on his trousers because of his damaged hands.
Several days later, once again without any commentary, I was bound up with tape, ‘packed’ into some sort of sheet and then driven away. Then, after crossing some streams, I was handed over to someone along with another ‘spy.’ He was a young man of liberal convictions of about 25, named Anton or Denis, whose fate shed some light on these events. He was also a Muscovite, and had gone to Euromaidan in the winter, and taken part in one of the self-defense groups.
After the ‘Victory of Maidan,’ he had guarded Mezhigorye and as a result wound up in Donetsk where, according to him, he was seized after he said, in an ordinary conversation with someone, that there were no drugs on the Maidan. He was seized on the 7th, beat purely cosmetically, confessed who he was and where he had come from and then was imprisoned in the basement. Apparently they thought I was his comrade-in-arms because I was also a Muscovite.
We did not know to whom and why we were transferred. We were interrogated about who we were and where we came from, after which for a day or two we were kept in neighboring cells in some jail without rules of procedure on the wall, and without institutional stamps on the sheets.
After that, we were once again tied up, the pillow-cases were put on our heads, we were wound up with tape and driven off somewhere. First the two of us, then just me alone. I was unloaded from the car, dragged across the stream and then put on the banks “with a hello from Pan Jarosz” [Right Sector leader], with my passport in my pocket.
At that moment I realized that my silence during interrogations had so convinced the militia men that I was a spy for Right Sector that they had give me, along with Anton/Denis, to the Ukrainians in exchange for some of their own. And those people politely returned me as unnecessary.
Russian border guards found me on 17 May on the bank, in the pose of a thinker, in camouflage and a telnyashka with the pillow-case on my head. They fed me, took me to the hospital, questioned me, and fined me 2,000 rubles for unlawful crossing of the border.”
Morozov wrotes that he didn’t hold any grudge against the people who tortured him, and if they had put a gun in his hand, would have fought on their side. He didn’t mind having his belongings confiscated, including an expensive bullet-proof vest, computer and radio telephone, as they went to the good of the cause.
“Great states, great armies and great intelligence agencies don’t come from nowhere and their path from non-existence to greatness is always full of mistakes and defeats,” he philosophized.
Even so, “Murz” had a message for Strelkov to explain why he seemed to get so few recruits (Strelkov recently complained about how few people in Donetsk, with its population of about 2 million, were signing up with the separatists.)
‘Dear Igor Ivanovich!
Possibly if your rear guards stop ‘re-enacting’ the White counter-intelligence of the times of the civil war in Antratsit, and stop torturing local workers on the slightest suspicion of ‘espionage,’ people will be drawn to you more willingly. Otherwise, you will get instead of massive help and support, a ‘re-enactment’ of a workers’ rebellion at your own rear.”
Last week, a long-time Russian ultranationalist activist from Rostov-on-Don was killed outside Krasnodon in Lugansk Region by separatists he was trying to help with a load of humanitarian aid.
Fighters in the Army of South-East under the leadership of Valery Bolotov, head of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LPR) shot dead Aleksandr Prosyolkov, the “deputy minister of foreign affairs of the Donetsk People’s Republic” and advisor to “people’s governor” Gubarev, grani.ru reported, citing Ukrainian National News (UNN).
Aleksandr Prosyolkov, VKontakte
UNN in turn cited a source at the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Center who said that Prosyolkov was accompanying a humanitarian aid convoy and was attacked by LPR fighters in what appeared to be a case of “friendly fire.”
Several other people were killed in the firefight, which did not involve any Ukrainian forces, said the source. The ATO source said such mistaken attacks occurred frequently as the separatists’ communications were disrupted by the ATO and they were also prone to robbing and in-fighting.
Gubarev told the pro-Kremlin newspaper Vzglyad that Prosyolkov was bringing him some “important information.” He said the shooting occurred after Prosyolkov had stopped his car and went a ways off to the side from it; he characterized him as getting five bullets to the heart, and that there were no other persons killed, in contrast to what the ATO said.
Gubarev rejected the idea that the shooting occurred as a mistake by Lugansk separatists. “I think this was done by professional Ukrainian mercenaries,” he said.
Prosyolkov was long active in supporting Gubarev, arranging a public rally in his support in Rostov-on-Don in March 2014 at which Cossacks were in attendance. At that time, Gubarev was involved in the Russian take-over of Crimea.
In May, he announced that Gubarev had taken up arms “to defend Donbass” and actively recruited people on VKontakte to join the separatists. He had 403 friends and 103 subscribers on VKontakte.
Prosyolkov also headed the Rostov-on-Don chapter of the Eurasian Union of Youth (ESM), which is the organization run by Eurasianist scholar Aleksandr Dugin.
Dugin wrote a Facebook post about Proselkov’s killing, and in his version of the story, said he was killed in a hail of five bullets — with just one to the heart — on 31 July at 7:00 a.m.
He described Prosyolkov, 32, as “a Eurasianist from the first call” who had “stood at the source of the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic], visited Slavyansk and served Novorossiya and Great Russia in faith and truth.”
Dugin put a conspiratorial spin on the killing, accusing Sergei Kurginyan, his rival for dominance among ultranationalists in Moscow, of involvement (translation by The Interpreter):
“[Prosyolkov] was bringing a convoy of humanitarian aid to Donetsk. The convoy was attacked, and Sasha was killed. But he was precisely the target, the murderers had tracked him and eliminated him on purpose. The Eurasian patriotic line in part was upheld by him at the DPR. […]
He was the initiator of a chapter of the Izborsky Club in Donetsk, and prepared the agenda for its meetings. It is now being clarified who killed Aleksandr. But there is a very unpleasant detail: the demoniac followers of the traitor Kurginyan who is working, as it turns out, for the oligarchs, YUKOS and Israel, declared Sasha Proselkov as their “main enemy,” after he and Gubarev did not allow the blacking of the name of the hero Igor Strelkov to go unpunished. Kurginyan has gone over to the devil: ideological polemics is one thing, but physical annihilation of Russian patriots is another.
Someone is bothered by the Russian heroes of Novorossiya, unable to be bought out, high-principled, fearless, ready to give their lives for Great Russia and giving it their young lives full of strength. […] And the enemies, wherever they are — among the henchmen of the National Guard or, which is far worse, among ‘our own’ will be exposed and estroyed. Under the laws of war-time.
Ideas only have meaning when people are prepared to die for them.”
Grani.ru further reported that Proselkov had gained notoriety by staging a number of ESM flash-mobs, for example when he dressed up as an officer of the NKVD (the KGB’s predecessor in the 1930s) and took part in an anti-liberal opposition action in Rostov-on-Don 6 May 2013, the anniversary of the Bolotnaya demonstration.He shot balloons from a toy pistol at “enemies of the people,” with names on them of opposition leaders such as “Gudkov,” “Nemtsov,” “Navalny” and “Gorbachev.”
Prosyolkov in May 2013 in an NKVD costume.
Novorossiya movement supporters announced that Prosyolkov’s funeral will take place 5 August in Rostov Region.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, a well-known Russian researcher of extremist movements in Eurasia, co-author with Yuri Felshtinsky of The Putin Corporation: The Story of Russia’s Secret Takeover has documented the relationship between the separatist leaders fighting in the southeast of Ukraine and ultranationalist groups in Russia.
Svetlana Pavlova of Svoboda.org (the Russian-language service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) published an interview with Pribylovskky about these connections in June and Pribylovsky added some details in a recent Facebook post.
March in Odessa. Stalinism and extremism have come to Ukraine with separatists, often from Russia. Photo by AFP
The rally this past weekend organized by several dozen ultranationalist groups — which didn’t attract more than 1,000 people — provided an opportunity again to see which organizations were allying with the separatists.
The Interpreter has provided a summary translation of the pieces:
Aleksandr Boroday, the “prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic” is an associate of Konstantin Malofeyev, an Orthodox businessman and supporter of nationalist causes. He wrote for the ultranationalist newspaper Zavtra, published by Aleksandr Prokhanov.
Pavel Gubarev, “people’s governor of Donetsk” is a member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity (RNE), founded by Aleksandr Barkashov, a karate trainer and bodyguard, in the 1990s. There is a photo of him at an RNE training wearing the group’s uniform with its swastika-like insignia. Gubarev has not denied his membership in the RNE, but is said not to have held a leadership post in it. Gubarev was also involved in the Ukrainian Progressive Socialist Party led by Nataliya Vitrenko and ran in local elections. RNE is waning in Russia, but appears to have members fighting in southeastern Ukraine.
Gubarev, third from left, front row, at RNE training camp.
Igor Strelkov (Girkin), the commander of the Donetsk Militia and the “defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic” is a re-enacted White Guardist, and wears the chevron of the Krasnov and Vlasov Cossacks who fought on the side of Hitler; Malofeyev wears it as well. An avid participant in historical re-enactments, said to be popular among monarchists and nationalists. He is close to circles that believe themselves to be the heirs of the Whites’ movement.
Andrei Morozov (nick-name “Murza”) headed a Russian neo-Stalinist nationalist group called “Red Blitzkrieg.” He was infamous for throwing tomatoes at the liberal journalist Yuliya Latynina and politician Ilya Yashin, and was arrested and jailed for a time for cutting down the banner of the United Russia party. Morozov travelled to southeastern Ukraine to try to join the separatists, but then was arrested and tortured instead. After his release, he wrote a harrowing account of his experiences on his LiveJournal blog.
Aleksandr Prosyolkov, the aide to Pavel Gubarev killed last week in Krasnodon reportedly by fellow separatists from the “Lugansk People’s Republic” in an ambush of his convoy was a follower of Aleksandr Dugin, the Eurasianist recently fired from Moscow State University for extremism. Proselkov was also the leader of the Rostov branch of the pro-Putin All-Russian National Front.
Anton Rayevsky, now a separatist activist in Odessa, was a member of the St. Petersburg “Black Hundreds” and is covered in swastika tatoos (see LiveJournal blogger’s expose with photos).
Pribylovsky comments that a state of affairs where the ultra-nationalists of Russia are drawing on the Nazi collaborationist past in Russia for inspiration has led Pavel Pryanikov, editor of Svobodnaya Pressa to quip “The Vlasovites are fighting the Banderovites” — the name that Russian propagandists give to the Ukrainians. Stepan Bandera collaborated with the Nazis at first and participated in the killing of Jews, then fought both Nazis and Soviets until he was jailed by the Germans, then was later released and assassinated by the KGB.
Other ties between Moscow groups and the separatists have been found by Western journalists.
Some of the leaders of Just Russia, part of the “loyal opposition” in the State Duma or parliament, such as Moscow mayoral candidate Nikolai Levichev have been noted for xenophobia and anti-semitic remarks.
There’s also a report that the nationalist group Other Russia raised money for separatists with a stand by the metro this past weekend.