Russia This Week: Will the Internet Survive? (12-16 May)

May 17, 2014
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on his i-Pad. Photo by Sergei Guneyev/RIA Novosti

Updated Daily. Soccer fans angry at the murder of their fellow fan, joined by anti-migrant nationalists, rampaged in a Moscow suburb. Russian state propaganda has grown more aggressive and pompous, magnifying Russian imperialism and whipping up hatred of foreigners and dissidents. What are we measuring when we poll public opinion when people are mainly dependent on heavily-controlled and now increasingly propagandistic state TV?

For last week’s issue on May Day surge of patriotism; Pussy Riot’s trip to Washington to lobby for additions to the Magnitsky List of sanctions; detentions of demonstrators marking second anniversary of 6 May Bolotnaya Square demonstrations; Putin’s Presidential Human Rights Council critical report on Crimea; and support for a Soviet Re-Union go here.

For the previous week’s issue on divergent Russian media coverage of the Odessa tragedy; attacks on Moscow’s LGBT parade, hate signs, and neo-Nazis marching on May Day; corruption, profit loss, and cuts in service at Russian Railways; and connections between fascist groups in Russia and eastern Ukraine, go here:

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May 15, 2014

1732 GMT: Anton Nossik, one of the early pioneers of the Russian Internet, the first Russian blogger and editor and CEO of various news sites such as, and, has a foreboding article published at The New Republic.

Back when President Putin first came to power in 2000, he pledged to keep the Internet free and improve service and access. He seemed to perceive it as not a big threat, and concentrated on controlling federal TV channels, where most Russians get their news. In fact, Putin’s administration batted away attempts by other officials to regulate the Internet from 2000-2012, says Nossik, and this allowed the RUnet, as it is known, to flourish:

“As a result, the Internet developed into Russia’s only competitive industry. Companies like Yandex and VKontakte easily outperformed international competition (Google and Facebook, respectively) in Russian-speaking markets. These Russian start-ups did not copy successful American models, but rather the other way round: Almost every Yandex service (maps, payments, webmail, contextual advertising, etc.) was launched several years ahead of its Google-based analog. The VKontakte social network has many services and features that Facebook badly lacks, such as social music and video hosting and an advertising exchange, allowing any popular page or group to monetize its traffic almost automatically.”

This situation led to a seemingly counterintuitive state of affairs where opposition leaders like Alexey Navalny were getting millions of followers on social media while TV blocked them. Nossik theorizes:

“Several explanations have been offered for this strange phenomenon of Putin acting as the guardian angel of Internet freedom while curbing free speech in all other types of mass media. Either the president was convinced that the Russian Internet (known as RuNet) would always remain too small to be important, or he just didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of other G8 members by acting too Chinese. Or maybe he was truly confident in his advisors’ strategy of creating pro-government websites instead of shutting down anti-government ones. (That strategy, it should be added, served the advisors’ own financial interests to embezzle tons of government cash on phony online propaganda projects.”)

So why is Putin presiding over a drastic Internet crackdown now, ordering opposition sites to be blocked or removed, passing restrictive new legislation mandating foreign companies to place servers with Russian user data on Russian soil or face closure?

Nossik says it is less likely to be related to the world’s “Twitter revolutions” in the “Arab Spring” or even in nearby Moldova, where a pro-Russian communist government was toppled. Rather, Russia’s own street protests from 2011-2012 are what galvanized him.

When he decided to move, it was absolutely ruthless. Nossik notes that when Putin announced that the Internet was “created as a special CIA project” and commented that Yandex, Russia’s largest and most successful start-up, was too dependent on the West, its stock value plunged by nearly $6 billion and is only slowly now recovering.

Nossik points out that the requirement about Russian co-location of servers with Russian user data in fact applies to any foreigners who access or interact with Russian content and users. “Twitter should also prepare to move all of Obama’s personal data to Russia and hand it over to the FSB, since both Putin and Medvedev are his followers on Twitter,” he joked.

The worst may be coming, but Nossik himself pointed out in March that even orders to close dissident web sites didn’t get full compliance from Russian ISPs, and site owners developed automatic circumvention scripts and users used circumvention software. Just as the Great Chinese Firewall has many breaches, so the early forms of the Russian Electronic Curtain are already undermined.

One factor that mitigates against the laws is the lucrative Internet industry itself, in which officials are enmeshed, and not eager to allow further business losses. And the government is not unmindful of the need to placate this industry as a lobby. While some architects of the Russian internet are happy to see the government muzzle bloggers they find too annoying, others understand that their whole customer base suffers when high-profile bloggers are removed; Ekho Moskvy lost tens of millions of visitors to Navalny’s pages when it blocked him to prevent overall blockage itself, and forced him to move elsewhere — which he has done, spawning a half-dozen mirror sites.

Recently First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov formed a working group with Russian Internet professionals within the Ministry for Communications and Mass Media, Moscow Times reported.

“It still remains to be seen what the working group will achieve, but the fact that it was created at all, and particularly on the order of the first deputy prime minister, is significant, said Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of radio station Ekho Moskvy and chairman of the commission for Internet media at The Russian Association for Electronic Communications, or RAEC.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, a representative from the Economic Development Ministry, and representatives of major Internet companies such as Afisha Rambler, Google, Yandex and Gazprom Media were in attendance.”

1715 GMT: Judging from the statement of an official from Roskomnadzor, the state censor today, it seems as if Russian authorities do not know about — or believe in the effectiveness of — Twitter’s policy to censor by country. Maksim Ksenzor complained to journalists that unlike Facebook, which had constructive relations with the Russian government and removed “extremist” material such as statements from Ukraine’s ultranationalist group Right Sector, Twitter didn’t cooperate and remove tweets on request.

In January 2012, in response to complaints from the Turkish, British, and other governments of countries where mass unrest had occurred in 2011, Twitter developed a policy of agreeing to comply with local laws restricting speech and censor individual tweets so that viewers in that country could not see the tweet, but then pledged to record the censorship and publicize it regularly.

Twitter now issues a semi-annual “transparency report” on take-down notices and responses. In fact, as the report indicates, the company did take action on Russia, removing 64% of content requested in 14 requests for removal, and withholding one account and 9 tweets (far less than for France, which had 133 tweets withheld.)

Implicit in this censorship-by-country policy was also the understanding that for those outside a given country, that tweet would be visible, thus essentially defeating local censorship.


The policy was criticized at the time and justified by some Internet scholars as a way of keeping social media viable in oppressive situations.

Here is what TV Rain learned further, as The Interpreter has translated:

“Roskomnadzor explained to Rain that Ksenzov’s opinion was not the agency’s position. Furthermore, Roskomnadzor stated that the blocking of any tweet with unlawful information, in Roskomnadzor’s opinon, ‘will inevitably lead to non-access of the entire service of microblogs in Russia’ for technical reasons. For now this is not happening, despite the ‘unconstructive position’ of the company regarding the removal of the unlawful information.”

This suggests that at least Roskomnadzor officials believe they cannot effectively censor individual tweets or users, but conceive only of having to shut down the whole service. We need to hear more about why they think this, what their precise complaints are, and what Russian Internet technologists are saying in response.

1635 GMT: and numerous other Russian and Ukrainian news sites carried the news this morning that Maksim Ksenzov, deputy head of Romkomnadzor, the state media monitoring agency that serves as censor, threatened to close foreign social networks that would not comply with new Internet laws. He singled out Twitter as “the biggest problem for the agency.” The Interpreter has translated an excerpt from the news story:

“Roskomnadzor’s main reason for unhappiness is the general legal problem regarding interaction between Russian law-enforcers and foreign companies. If Facebook is making contact with the agency (in particular, regularly blocking groups, related to the banning on Russian Federation territory of Right Sector), Twitter, which is a strictly American company and does not have representative offices abroad, according to Ksenzov, ‘is using users as an instrument of politics’ and ‘advancing the interests of the state under whose jurisdiction is exists’ — the USA.

‘Twitter in the majority of cases categorically refuses to remove illegal information. Much extremist content is disseminated in fact through this network. One of the few accounts whose removal we managed to achieve was publishing monstrous things. It was in the Russian language, and there was information about Syria with photographs of executed people, with calls for the overthrow of the existing political regime and the destruction of capitalism as a system. Sometimes those things which universally are qualified by the international community as something absolutely unacceptable, for example, the propaganda of terrorism, is freely disseminated by American Internet companies. That is not possible to explain from the position of freedom of speech,’ Ksenzov is convinced.

By consistently refusing to comply with Roskomnadzor’s commands, Twitter “especially creates conditions in which the blocking of this resource on the territory of our country becomes practically inevitable,’ he warned.”

Maksim Ksenzov. Photo by

Maksim Ksenzov. Photo by

While Ksenzov said Russian authorities would carefully balance the needs of ordinary law-abiding users of Twitter with the need to block illegal activity, many Russian Internet users saw this comment as proof that closure of Twitter and Facebook access in Russia, which they had been fearing for months, could be imminent.

Opposition figure Boris Nemtsov posted a comment to Facebook warning of what he saw as an inevitable closure. Here is a translation from The Interpreter:

“That they will soon block Twitter and FB is understandable and logical. Everyone should watch [pro-government commentators] Kulistikova, Dobrodeyev and Ernst. Information is a psychotropic weapon, used to incite hatred, for keeping in power and robbing the country unhindered. It must be in only one hands. That is the doctrine of Putinism. What should we do — that is the question. The main thing is not to despair, prepare for mass actions of protest and create alternatives to the bans. I am confident that there will be found thousands of opportunities for preserving access to Twitter and FB, despite the impending decision. Moreover, it is necessary to return to Samizdat [self-publishing as in the Soviet era] on paper and in electronic form.”

Then none other than Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev himself, who was associated with modernization and Internet reforms during his presidency, appeared with a reassuring notice on his Facebook page and a thinly-veiled reference to Ksenzov, Ekho Moskvy reported:

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on his i-Pad. Photo by Sergei Guneyev/RIA Novosti

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on his i-Pad. Photo by Sergei Guneyev/RIA Novosti

“As an active user of social networks I believe that everyone is obliged to observe Russian law — the networks themselves and the users. But certain bureaucrats responsible for developing the industry should turn on their brains. And not give interviews announcing the closure of social networks.”

Nemtsov then came back with a PS on his Facebook:

“There are those who naively suppose that if Medvedev has come out against closure, then the social networks are not under threat. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Information according to Putin is a weapon of war. And the Supreme Commander in Russia is the president. So Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] may go on punching his fingers at his i-Phone.”

1546 GMT: According to reports by Izvestiya and Interfax, a new Russian law requiring bloggers with more than 3,000 readers to register as media and subject themselves to government restrictions does not involve creating a special service at Roskomnadzor, the state media monitoring agency, says Maksim Ksenzov, deputy head of the agency.

“The law does not provide for allocation of additional financial means and specialists for the realization of this law. We will operate within the limits of available resources, which at the present time we are re-grouping organizationally and trying to adapt to the new tasks to the maximum extent.”

Like a lot of vaguely-worded Russian laws, the “sub-legal acts” or regulations spelling out how the law is to be enforced by the state agency is what really matters in Russia’s civil law system. Before the law goes into effect 1 August, says Kzenzov, 13 draft regulations must be prepared, 10 of which are government regulations defining which bodies are to have jurisdiction – in part Roskomnadzor, but in part the Federal Security Service or FSB, given that the law is part of a larger set of anti-terror legislation. An order from the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media and two orders from Roskomnadzor on enforcement will also be drafted.

Ksenzov said he had already held some working meetings with “not the largest, but significant Internet platforms and plans to meet with Yandex, Google, LiveJournal, and others “soon.”

The announcement might be good news for controversial bloggers if the government will not have the capacity to create a special agency to chase after them. But after all, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry and other agencies already do this. Ksenzov warned that Russian bloggers who live abroad but “post on our sites” will also fall under the law.

“The law’s application is not tied to a registration permit in a passport. If a person writes in the Russian language or the languages of the peoples of Russia, counts on attracting the attention of a Russian audience and uses the capacity of Russian platforms for this, they he must absolutely fulfill the requirements stipulated by law.”

0411 GMT: Although the riot in Pushkino yesterday was quickly dispersed, detainees released, and the area soon restored to order, social media continued to roil with debate about the incident, fueling anti-migrant sentiment on local forums such as Pushkino.TV, where ethnic Russians have vented hatred of people from Central Asian and the Caucasus as well as Russia’s North Caucasus who come to Moscow to sell them fruits and vegetables.

From the moment the first cell phone pictures came of OMON [riot police] making arrests, there were immediately whipped up some associations among both Russians and Ukrainians on Twitter with the clashes in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have taken over towns in the south-east of Ukraine. Some saw it as the start of some kind of “Russian Spring” (as the armed separatists’ movement in Ukraine is dubbed) at home; the same chant of Ukrainian soccer fans in Odessa and other towns was picked up:

Translation: @tvrain Reports that in reply to the calls of the OMON to disperse, the fans in Pushkino began to chant, “Putin is a [censored]! Putin is a [censored]!

Others saw it as only a caricature of events in Ukraine — which themselves often have the feeling of provocations staged by forces close to or in the Kremlin.

Translation: @Mars_FM13 #Пушкино a People’s Republic of Pushkin Scholars has arisen spontaneously. They have side-whiskers, carry canes, and recite the poet’s classics as they beat everyone.

Translation: @thisisandrej @YevhenS The green men mixed up Pushkino with Crimea, GLONASS [geo-locator] lagged by 1,000 km.

But there are plenty of people who would like to see in this suburban riot — the kind of riot that has actually been going on for decades first in the Soviet era with gangs and mafia members and in recent years with anti-migrant nationalists — the beginnings of a EuroMaidan-style revolution, only in reverse, and more like the Russian separatists’ take-over of towns in the south-east of Ukraine:

Everyone is wondering how Putin will respond to what seems like both a pre-existing challenge of increasingly xenophobic Russians and new problem of a “blow-back” from the kind of thuggishness he has supported in Ukraine among separatists.

A picture is being widely disseminated through social media and fora of a truck convoy of OMON said to be headed to the Pushkino area early yesterday morning. But it could not be confirmed that the picture is related to yesterday’s events, as there is an OMON base nearby that troops would come in and out of at other times.

Translation: @mynameisphilipp Police have deployed a helicopter.

Yet a video uploaded 15 May to YouTube seems to confirm that the large police force was deployed to Pushkino in connection with the riot, as the conversation of two men narrating the dash-cam footage say that the trucks are the response of authorities to the murder of a soccer fan and his funeral yesterday which was leading to an influx of fans coming into the area.

As often happens in Russia when people don’t trust state news or simply don’t get the news, there were misconceptions of what was going on:

Translation: Police can’t detain the murderer of the fan in hot pursuit but they can disperse a spontaneous protest action on the spot.

In fact, Jahongir Akhmetov, the Uzbek accused of the murder fled to Uzbekistan, was arrested quickly by Uzbek authorities and extradited to Russia for prosecution, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. He arrived last night in Moscow accompanied by his parents, and was promptly arrested.

Pushkino has been undergoing a painful administrative reform recently, where some officials are losing their jobs or autonomy and some residents are protesting the district changes, Novyye Izvestiya reports. Given the sentiments of some Russians blaming migrants for their own economic dislocations, despite the huge display of police force today, protesters are likely to be back here and in similar distressed towns:

Translation: @alex_beykin The city administration tries to calm the crowd. It’s not working. #Пушкино [Leaflet: Murder at Pushkino Station]


A LiveJournal blogger Filip Kirkeyev has numerous photos from the incident showing interactions between the crowd and officials and police. He got a shot of the leaflet used to organize the memorial service, which shows the use of social media — a VKontakte group with information, and a QR code. The leaflet recounts the details of the murder, a biography of the victim who worked in a computer company and also studied at a college, and the determination of his friends to clear the area of all illegal migrants:

Leaflet about memorial rally for murder victim Leonid Safyannikov. Photo by Filip Kirkeyev.

Leaflet about memorial rally for murder victim Leonid Safyannikov. Photo by Filip Kirkeyev.

0334 GMT: News continues to become available about riots outside of Moscow when a memorial service for slain soccer fan Leonid Safyannikov in the suburb of Pushkino yesterday afternoon turned into a melee where 43 were arrested after attacks were made on a marketplace. Police told Komsomolskaya Pravda, based on video surveillance tapes of the area, that on 13 May, Safyannikov, 23, drove up to the marketplace by the railroad station in his car, stopped and blocked the entrance.

Two migrants attempted to drive out, and one of them tried to convince Safyannikov to move his car, but he asked him to wait and headed towards a tent. Then an Uzbek migrant, Jahongir Akhmetov, 26, lunged at Safyannikov and began beating him with his fists, whereupon he fell to the ground unconscious. Then a group of migrant vendors put Safyannikov into his car, and drove it into a pole to try to simulate a crash scene. They locked the dying man in the car, then gave the key to a shawarma vendor. No passersby intervened, and by the time he was found and the ambulance arrived, it was too late, and he later died at the hospital.

Flowers placed before a photo of Leonid Safyannikov

Flowers placed before a photo of Leonid Safyannikov

Local soccer fans and anti-migrant nationalists demanded retribution, not only to prosecute all those guilty of the murder but to remove the tents and stalls from the area around the railroad station and expel all illegal migrants from the city. The memory of a similar murder of a Russian by an Uzbek last year which sparked riots in Biryulevo was still fresh, along with other murders, such as a more recent murder 6 March in the Mytishchinsky District where Bayzak Tilekov, 24, an intoxicated Kyrgyz man, stabbed to death Galina Nikitina, 28, ultimately causing her husband to commit suicide in his grief.

The original rally involved 500 people who assembled peacefully at first to pay their respects to Safyannikov, but ultimately the numbers swelled to at least 1,000, according to as the news spread and the evening wore on. One group broke away and began rampaging in a nearby marketplace, overturning the stalls and trucks of people thought to be non-ethnic Russians, and beating some. Another group went to an administration building where they began shouting demands as several local officials tried to speak with them.

Photo by Igor Kazakov, Pushkino Administration Building, 15 May 2014

Photo by Igor Kazakov, Pushkino Administration Building, 15 May 2014

Translation: @mynameisphilipp A man was beaten. #Пушкино

Translation: @alex_beykin They went to the marketplace and tore down the tents.

A photo widely circulated earlier showing a bruised man near a tent being pulled down was likely a vendor beaten by the nationalist soccer fans, not a participant in the rally. reported that police blocked some of the fans from trying to enter a construction site, but were ineffective in preventing their destruction of some tents and vegetable stalls at a marketplace. Some of the marchers called for heading to the Alyans dormitory where there were said to be a lot of migrants; when they got there, OMON were already guarding it, said a Ridus correspondent. The soccer fans then began to pick up various objects, including stones, and throw them at police, and in an imitation of Ukraine, calling on them to put down their arms and come over to their side.

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

Photo by Igor Kazakov

0324 GMT: The account under the name of opposition politician and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny, which is said to be managed by his colleagues and wife as he is banned from Internet access under house arrest, sent out a sarcastic tweet expressing outrage at the behavior of OMON, or riot police today. Navalny has been criticized for welcoming the nationalist Russian March, many of whose members go to the extreme of xenophobia and antisemitism.

Translation: @navalny Glory to BERKUT! [Ukrainin riot police] They have captured the benderovtsi [Bandera followers]…oh, wait…that’s the OMON in Pushkino carrying away a Russian.

Navalny’s critics were quick to accuse him of seeming to support nationalist violence. Yet Navalny’s ironic quip hardly rises to such endorsement because it’s more about police behavior, and it is unclear if either the person shown in the photo committed any violent acts. All 43 of those detained were quickly released by police although some were charged.

OMON at marketplace in Pushkino, 15 May 2014. Photo by Igor Kazakov.

OMON at marketplace in Pushkino, 15 May 2014. Photo by Igor Kazakov.

Ilya Shepelin of was quick to point out what seemed unfair favoritism by police of a pro-government TV station, attaching a tweet from LifeNews chief Ashot Gabrelyanov:

Translation: @ilya_shepelin How great the police work when it’s a question of beating the reporters of LifeNews and of beating of the cops themselves.


Igor Kazakov, the citizen photojournalist who took many of the photos shown here, said he was attacked by a police official:

Translation: @kazakov_igor This man gave the order to clear the area and knocked my phone out of my hands. If someone recognizes him, report the first and last name.

Another reporter then said the police official appeared to be Viktor Paukov, head of the Moscow Suburban Interior Ministry Main Directorate.

0234 GMT: Speaking of that list of journalists who got awards from Putin for their coverage of the conflict with Ukraine, there has been enormous speculation about who is on it, since Putin issued the award by secret decree, reported. There were no pictures at as there often are of presentations of medals — just the scant information that 300 people were on the list was available.

But even in a media environment heavily controlled by the Kremlin, the news got out. Eventually, Vedomosti reported some of the names from a source who said he saw the list, in a story dated 5 May, although the decree was issued 22 April. At least 90 went to correspondents; about 100 were given to employees of the state television company VGTRK; 60 went to Channel 1; and several dozen went to NTV, Russia Today, and LifeNews. Awards also went to technicians and drivers. Neither TV Dozhd [TV Rain] or Ekho Moskvi had any correspondents in the list. The commendation was much larger in scale than the awards for coverage of the war in South Ossetia; at that time then-President Dmitry Medvedev issued only 11. Here are some of the names:

Vladimir Kulistikov
, general director of NTV, received the highest award For Services to the Fatherland II Degree

Aleksandr Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, the state censor; Andrei Romanchenko, head of the Russia TV and Radio Network, both received awards For Service to the Fatherland, IV Degree as did Anton Zlatopolsky, deputy general director of VGTRK; Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today; Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Vladimir Solovyov, TV anchor, received the Aleksandr Nevsky Award.

Aram Gabrelyanov, general director of LifeNews, received an Award of Honor as did Mikhail Gusman, deputy general director of ITAR-TASS and NTV’s editor-in-chief of the news service, Tatyana Mitkova.

Andrei Kondrashov and Ernest Matskyavichus, TV anchors, received the Friendship Award

Others to receive awards:

Irada Zeynalova, Channel One
Arkady Mamontov and Boris Korchevnikov, Rossiya
Alexey Kondulukov and Roman Sobol, NTV
Aleksandr Samokhvanov, REN TV
Mikhail Frolov, deputy general director, REN TV
Kirill Braynin, Channel 1, for bravery
Yevgeny Rozhkov, Rossiya, for bravery

As we previously noted, Putin also made an award to Dmitry Steshin, the former editor of a neo-Nazi magzine, Russkiy Obraz [Russian Image].

Winners of such awards as “For Service to the Fatherland” don’t just get a medal; they get various perks like a 330-415% addition to their pensions.

0307 GMT: Rossiya Segodnya [Russia Today], the reorganized Russian state media corporation has a new project — an anti-Maidan web site,, Ilya Shepelin reports at

Contrary to rumors in the Ukrainian press that he had suffered a heart attack after Russia’s loss in EuroVision, Dmitry Kiselyev, the Kremlin’s main propagandist, announced the new web site at a press briefing yesterday. The correspondent noticed Kiselyev was sporting a St. George ribbon, worn by both Russian nationalists in Russia and separatists in Ukraine; he also seemed to have a St. George watch band, although this turned out to be a product called Nato Strap.

Dmitry Kiselyev, general manager of Rossiya Segodnya

Dmitry Kiselyev, general manager of Rossiya Segodnya

Kiselyev greeted some Russian journalists who had formerly worked in Ukraine, but then fled to Moscow; one, Aleksandr Chalenko, gushed over him with gratitude, claiming that supporters of Maidan were allowed on Russian talk shows and weren’t persecuted the way opponents of Maidan supposedly are in Kiev. And immediately as if to contradict him, another attendant at the press conference, Kirill Frolov, head of the Association of Orthodox Experts, pointed at Shepelin and said, “That’s, our fifth column! They should be closed, I’ve been saying that for a long time.”

Most of the event was devoted to praising a new film with the same title as the web site, “” by a young journalist, Alyona Berezovksaya, said to be a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych (although she strenuously denied being his mistress). The movie, to be aired on the TV channel Rossiya 24, is based on a fabricated quote by Otto von Bismarck, says Shepelin, to the effect that Russia’s might may only be destroyed by separating it from Ukraine. The description at develops the theory of Austrian and German intrigue. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

Alyona Berezovskaya with Viktor Yanukovych

Alyona Berezovskaya with Viktor Yanukovych

“The Kiev Maidan has roots older than a century. After all, it’s true purpose is to split a united people. That was precisely the strategy maintained by Austria-Hungary back in World War I, inciting nationalist sentiments in Ukrainians. Fascist Germany also relied on traitors from among the Ukrainian nationalists. The West achieved its purpose in 2014 when people raised their hands against their own brothers in Ukraine in 2014. The film reveals the historical premises for the coup d’etat in Ukraine.”

There was one awkward moment when a middle-aged journalist asked if wasn’t the same site that had once been registered by former Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovsky, known for his ideological intrigues in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution. There wasn’t a clear answer.

Shepelin asked Kiselyev if he had any comment on the fact that among the awards recent given to journalists for their coverage in Ukraine was one that went to Dmitry Steshin, former editor of the neo-Nazi journal Russiy Obraz [Russian Image]. Kiseleyev replied, “Putin has the right to give awards to whomever he wants.

Some participants questioned whether the premise of the film — that Ukraine was a fiction created by Germans — was historically accurate, but Kiselyev waved them away, saying “It’s an author’s film. It is not an encyclopedia. The author has the right to place the accents. There are lots of films on Ukraine – and this is one of them.”

But next Kiselyev answered a question from another reporter, about how negotiations over water supply to the Crimea could be held with Kiev if Moscow didn’t recognize the government, he replied curtly:

“There is no Ukraine. That is only a virtual concept, a virtual country. If you want to live in a virtual world, please do…But is a real portal. Not about the country, but about that territory which was under the rule of that country. Now it is a failed state.”

May 14, 2014

2235 GMT: An article at the ultranationalist and antisemitic Sputnik & Pogrom — a site that tries to make Russian fascism look hipsterish like a for Russian neo-Nazis — is getting wide discussion: Nationalization of the Creative Class (An Important Text). The article illustrates how themes and images from the Russian-backed separatists’ guerilla warfare in Ukraine have inspired more timid nationalists in Russia itself. The Interpreter has translated some excerpts:

Photo from Sputnik & Pogrom

Photo from Sputnik & Pogrom

“If you mentally tear yourself away from the tragic events and great hopes of the South-East of what is still Ukraine, and look at the Ukrainian crisis abstractly, an abundance of powerful types and images draw your attention, which this crisis has bred and which are a real contribution for contemporary mass culture.

Natalya “Nyash-Myash” Poklonskaya — sexy female prosecutor with a facial defect earned, according to rumors, in a conflict with a gang. A fearless prosecutor, into whose paws nevertheless any criminal secretly hopes to wind up.

Polite People — the personification of the confident ‘force without aggression,’ super-modern professional soldiers, locked and loaded and armed to the teeth.

Cossack Babay – bearded Russian exotic in the most fashionable glasses, crazy Russian, who goes to fight for Russian lands out of homesickness, knocking helicopters out of the sky practically with a sling-shot and decorously dancing at a city festival in Kramatorsk, which took place against a backdrop of combat action. In fact, to some extent the folklore song about the Cossacks practically amidst war references the performances, for example, of Lidiya Ruslanova for soldiers in World War II.

Col. Strelkov – the handsome man with the slightly pre-revolutionary exterior, the ideal Russian monarchist and White Guardsman, nostalgic for glorious Imperial times, fearless, but not crazy-smart commander, with a calm smile looking into the face of death.

People’s Mayor Ponomaryov – a husky, simple, cursing guy in a baseball cap, with semi-criminal mannerisms (and likely, biography), gold teeth, totally out of bounds, and experiencing, obviously, the culmination of his terribly and unhappy life.

Alexey Chaliy – Mayor of Sevastpol, intellectual, and at first glance, soft adult man, open, kind, in a sweater, a typical thoughtful head of a family. Also a zealous nationalist and patriot and in addition a successful businessman who has created a giant corporation.

Berkut – a collective imagine of police, deceived by the government, humiliated and angry, the personification of steadfastness and loyalty, ending up unwanted and leading these people to a decision to change sides in the conflict.

Lavrov and Churkin – two experienced, cold-blooded diplomats. One, a half-breed, who “came and lit a cigarette,” a clever and cunning manipulator. The second is a sturdy, gray-haired Russian, for 40 years straight surviving a multi-hour diplomatic crush of menopausal American women and other people who look like mutants.

Yanukovych – the legitimate president.

Titushka – the lowest chain in the hierarchy, a dull provocateur in an Adidas track suit made in China, organizing nasty tricks at street actions of opponents with the purpose of discrediting them, doing a dirty job and signing up in advance for possible humiliation on the part of the crowd of opponents.”

The “collect ’em all” graphic of ribbons with the types’ faces accompanying the article:

“seem to come from a team of super-heroes in a Russian block-buster movie, cartoon, serial or some kind of computer game. They fight again a “beastly, hateful country for their freedom and reunification of the Motherland, they wear black and orange St. George ribbons as a sacred symbol, for which their enemies in helpless rage call them ‘Colorado beetles. Any child in Russia and in general the world must respect and at a minimum KNOW them.”

To be sure, the grotesque hipsters at Sputnik & Pogrom find there aren’t enough female characters in this block-buster — Nelya Shtepa, the hapless former mayor of Slavyansk who was “a colorful Soviet battle-axe” type “removed herself from history” when first she befriended the separatists, and then was kidnapped by them; Yekterina Gubareva, wife of separatist leader Pavel Gubachev “is too ordinary and doesn’t rise to the level of a full-fledged heroine” and the babushkas [grandmothers] carrying the icons are too nice — more pictures of wild old women are needed “with a shovel in hand and an icon on their breast, as if they materialized out of Russian horror stories.”

Nelya Shtepa, former mayor of Slavyansk

Nelya Shtepa, former mayor of Slavyansk

The figures from Maidan pale by contrast, says Sputnik & Pogrom. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, interim prime minister and Turchynov, the acting president “are super-comic figures of the mice type like the cartoon about Leopold the Cat”; Tymoshenko in a wheelchair with her braid has “lost her charm and turned into an ordinary hag”; [oligarch Igor] Kolomoysky almost makes it as a “bad boy” but he is too unambiguously bad, just like [boxing champ Vitali] Klitschko is “too unambigiously stupid and [linguist] Farion too unambigiously evil”; they are “too two-dimensional, without depth”; “[chocolate tycoon Petro] Poroshenko doesn’t have even two dimensions; he’s a typical Soviet bureaucrat.”

The state propaganda seems successful because it appears to morph into popular culture memes, like the Internet-famous Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya — although one wonders if she had some help from Kremlin social engineers. Now she has not only been given the anime treatment but is the heroine of an auto-tune video created by popular Russian video artist Enjoykin, in which snippets of her press conferences are spliced to make her seem to say “Nyash-Myash, Krym Nash”. “Nyash-Myash” is rhyming nonsense and “Krym Nash,” “Crimea is Ours” is a ubiquitous slogan now, often used ironically to sum up the mentality of the aggressive patriot approving Putin’s forcible annexation.

Sputnik & Pogrom thinks that these caricatures are going to be more popular than, say, Pussy Riot:

“Have you seen even one girl, even the most bold and punk, dressed ‘like Tolokno’? One party in the Pussy style? Have colored tights, a balaclava, and a neon shirt become a certain attribute of the Russian ‘bad girl’? Nothing of the sort.”

Andrei Nikitin made a video portraying the violent separatists fighting in southeastern Ukraine as heroic, claiming “they don’t want war” and are “only protecting their own people” against Ukrainian “fascists” — which Sputnik & Pogrom is disseminating with the hope of inspiring Russian youth.

Ominously, Sputnik & Pogrom conclude that they will succeed despite their many detractors among liberal intelligentsia:

“We will create Russian reality somehow ourselves, without you, with only God’s help. Why? Because we are Russian intellectuals and we like the Russian people. And you don’t.”

1918 GMT: The independent web site has some more background on the demonstration broken up by police today in Pushkino. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

“About 500 people gathered the evening of 15 May at the rail station Pushkino for a rally in memory of Leonid Safyannikov, a citizen of Uzbekistan who was murdered. Several dozen fans began to shout slogans and organize a procession through the streets of the city, as a result of which the riot police, which was present at the action, detained some of the activists, RIA Novosti reported,citing a representative of the Interior Ministry regional command.

‘Administrative warrants for 43 persons have been issued for petty hooliganism and drinking of alcoholic beverages in a public place, after which those detained were released,’ a source told the agency.

This past Tuesday, Leonid Safyannikov, a 22-year-old Spartak fan, was brutally beaten in Pushkino as a result of a street fight with a citizen of Uzbekistan, Jahongir Akhmedov and one other man. After the beating, Akhmedov put Safyannikov in his BMW and ran the car into a pole, in order to simulate a traffic accident. After that, he and a taxi driver took Safyannikov to a hospital, where he died.

On Thursday, it was reported that Akhmedov had managed to leave Russia and flown back to his homeland. Later Oleg Toldonov, a representative of the Interior Ministry of Moscow Region reported that the fugitive had been detained in Uzbekistan.”

Translation: @FastSlon A fairly large rally/memorial service gathered for a murdered Spartak fan. 43 people have been detained.

1850 GMT: Reports are coming in from the demonstration in Pushkino, a town 30 miles outside of Moscow, that already has a Twitter hashtag. It appears there have been some injuries from both police and protester beatings and reportedly at least 40 detained. We are checking the stories.

Translation: @bulbashov #Пушкино Reprisals.

Translation: OMON [riot police] have begun dispersing those assembled. More than 40 people have been detained. Compiled by EK Slavyanskoye Radio @radio_EK.

1850 GMT: A large gathering of people in a “people’s assembly” protesting about the murder of a Russian soccer fan by an Uzbek citizen is being broken up now by police in the suburb of Pushkino.

Translation: @mynameisphilipp Now it looks like there will be a dispersal.

Translation: Breaking OMON [riot police] have begun to disperse.

1729 GMT: Slava Taroshchina, writing for Novaya Gazeta, has a good round-up of all the recent aggressive elements of state ideology, purveyed on state TV and through other media. “Paranoia is becoming a part of state ideology,” she says, and it is definitely taking a turn for the worse. She cites the shows by popular host Boris Korchevnikov, “Live,” which we reported before and after EuroVision, where Russian idealogues used the venue of EuroVision to inject ideas of the “purity and innocence of Russia” (blonde twin sisters) versus the “decadence and vice of Europe” (Conchita Wurst, a transvestite singer from Austria, was the winner). Mass, hysterical intolerance of gays is at its height, with only a few critics pointing out that Russia itself played the gay card several years ago at EuroVision by sending a pseudo-lesbian act TaTu, and has its own gay entertainers.

From TV show "Live". Vladimir Zhirinovsky in red suit.

From TV show “Live”. Vladimir Zhirinovsky in red suit.

Taroshchina writes of an encounter on Pushkin Square on Victory Day with a woman selling hot-dogs. Her cart was decorated with posters of Putin and t-shirts depicting Putin all in black with the phrase “Army of Russia.” Another showed a group of “Polite People,” the term state TV has used for the Russian soldiers who descended on Crimea without insignia (there’s a popular anthem with this title now).

When the woman proudly showed her own t-shirt with pictures of both Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu in colonial helmets, the journalist asked to get one, but was told they had sold out. When the vendor demands to know why she won’t buy the shirt with just Putin, Taroshchina replies, “In those impenetrable sunglasses, he looks like an American spy,” infuriating the hot-dog seller.

Putin T

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

“At the ‘Live,’ studio, music critics who dared to not extol the Tolmachevy Sisters were ridiculed to the point of foaming at the mouth. Korchevnikov immediately found the critics to be unpatriotic. On the whole, it is hard to over-estimate the contribution of a third-rate song contest in the formation of the national self-consciousness of Russians. EuroVision even from the days when Alla Pugacheva [a patriotic singer] took part in them in 1997 has become a renewed test of Russia for love of the Motherland. This huge country got to its feet when Primadonna took only 15th place. And the opposite — the victory of Dima Bilan was equated with Gagarin’s flight in space. The triumphant masses poured out on to the streets. They carried posters saying ‘Slavs, Forward!’ and knocked over old woman who, on the eve of 9 May, were generously handing out wilted carnations.

Thirteen years ago, under the leadership of its great leaders, Russia was raring to go to Europe. Participation in the competition was interpreted then as an attempt to rid ourselves of an inherent sense of marginality. Now the concept has changed. Russia is no longer Europe, but a separate civilization. So why do Korchevnikov and his guests swell with patriotism so? If in the feverish delirium of ‘Live’ some magisterial themes can be picked out, here they are: These days, Putin and the Tolmachevy Sisters are at the forefront. The environmentally-pure girls infect Europe with their chastity. The bearded winner of EuroVision, Conchita Wurst from Austria signifies the end of the Old World.”

Filip Kirkoyev and Tolmachevy Sisters

Filip Kirkoyev and Tolmachevy Sisters

Figures like Zhirinovsky and Milonov are deployed on these patriotic shows to stoke up the hysteria, and the patriotic hysteria dove-tailed with the huge display of military force on Victory Day, 9 May:

“It was intended as a double Victory Day — a common one and a personal one, Putin’s. The popular cheering overshadowed the stern and restrained victory effectively. And inside the box, the same pop music singers in soldiers’ tunics with fake medals. A concert on the occasion of the presence of the indistinguishable Putin and Shoigu contained one innovation — an inspired performance by the military choir of the song, “Artillery Gunners, Stalin Has Given the Order.” Yelena Vayenga also added her note to the festivities. Her solo concert [8 May] began ominously. Across the wide screen was stretched the banner, ‘The Motherland Calls You!’ And on the stage was that Motherland, only in the person of Vayenga. Eyes wide, fists clenched, fierce nobility bursting out in a wave. The hushed veterans were frightened into stillness. They were long spellbound by such a ‘Holy War’ [song title].

The banner of victory is in reliable hands. There remains only one question: how did it happen that paranoia became a part of state ideology? The bearded woman aroused the studio guests to a state of insanity. Korchevnikov, star of the state channel, announced: Conchita’s victory is a requiem for the European Union, as the flame of the Apocalypse now bursts from it. Zhirinovsky, leader of a parliamentary party, regretted that Soviet troops saved Austria instead of destroying it. And unexpectedly even for himself, he added, ‘Donbass will be Russian.’

As is appropriate for paranoics, everyone concluded together: Conchita beat the Russians out of spite. The orgy of patriots opened with the pride of the Great Russians — the lesbian group Tatu with their hit ‘Not Gonna Get Us’ and closed with a video clip of Sergei Zverev, sitting silently in the corner. The domestic pale shadow of Conchita [the Tolmachevy sisters] batted their little eyes in surprise.”

1419 GMT: published a critical article by Vladimir Dergachev and Irina Reznik on the informal “primaries” for elections to the Moscow City Duma, the municipal legislature. Tomorrow is the deadline for registration of candidates for the “My Moscow Primaries” — a procedure organized ostensibly to help highlight the strongest candidates from the opposition for fall elections, but which suspected was a pro-government manipulation:

“When a group of functionaries from the civic chamber of Moscow informed journalists of the idea of preliminary elections at a press conference especially convened for this purpose on 24 March, they emphasized in every way that they were independent from the mayor’s office. Furthermore, it was stated that the government was not informed of this initiative — it was first being announced to journalists. But this all looked very unconvincing. The doubts only increased when the idea began to be implemented and the entire city was hung with advertisements for the ‘primaries,’ and deputies from the Moscow City Duma and pro-government civic activists were taking part in it.”

Confusing city-produced "primaries" sign urging everyone to go to "8 June Elections" and "vote for the best".

Confusing city-produced “primaries” sign urging everyone to go to “8 June Elections” and “vote for the best”.

The authors cited a source in the mayor’s office that said the “primaries” idea was a failure, and confirmed that the “civic activists” were backed by Anastasiya Rakova, deputy of Sergei Sobyanin, and a team of pro-government “political technicians,” the term Russians use to describe campaign consultants. Essentially, they say, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is using the “My Moscow campaign to advance his own list of 7 current deputies from the ruling party of United Russia. reported on Victory Day 9 May that all of Red Square decorations were used to advance the campaign.

The source in the mayor’s office said that the phony “civic initiative” was supposed to reveal those opposition candidates who might pose a real threat to the pro-government candidates, in order to use “administrative resources,” i.e. the power of office, to claim they had fake or invalid nomination signatures and even threaten them with criminal prosecution.

But what happened was that most opposition candidates simply didn’t show up for the “primaries” which were not an official procedure. Now the mayor will be forced to find other ways to keep opposition candidates from passing through the “signatures’ filter.”

Even so, the “primaries” gave the mayor’s office an early, state-funded start to the fall elections. One member of the municipal legislature, Yelena Rusakova, from the Gagarin District, told that “the chief purpose of the ‘primaries’ was to display opposition members as failures who are unpopular among the people and will lose the main elections.” Another municipal deputy, Aleksandr Parushin of the Khamovniki District said all the “civic initiative” activities were violations of the election law, and was “a dishonest game by the mayor’s office.” The Interpreter has translated his comment:

“Attempts are being made to exhaust with play-pretend elections the people who are preparing for serious forthcoming electoral campaigns. We can’t organize an election campaign twice. The people who really are doing work in the district are terribly burdened. Everywhere there are endless illegal constructions ruining the green ‘well-being.’ Every day, people tell me about several new problems. Moreover, this is a spoiler that is harmful in itself — people are thrown off balance, they think the elections are already taking place. Why register ‘selectors,’ under what principle are they being filtered out? It is understood that they are not the main voters.”

Not all opposition candidates were critical; Mariya Gaidar said she would use the “primaries” to gather support and signatures. But she acknowledged that the organizational meetings for the “primaries” were closed to outsiders.

A discussion between Ilya Azar, a former correspondent of covering the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and Max Katz, a popular Live Journal and Twitter blogger and politician, highlights the problem of trying to get recognized in the rigged “primaries” and the hurdle under election law requiring candidates to obtain 3% of the registered voters in their district to get nominated:

Translation: @AZAR What are the candidates of the opposition counting on in the elections to the Moscow City Duma, if even I don’t know them all? What’s the point of a game without chances to win?

Translation: @max_katz They are counting on mobilization of Navalny’s electorate, sudden appearance of volunteers, and in general, that they will run a hard campaign.

Translation: @AZAR @max_katz But you decided not to run?

Translation: @max_katz @AZAR I intend to, but only if Yabloko will nominate me. It is impossible to collect signatures. I am in talks with Yabloko.

Translation: @itrepykhalin @max_katz If Max Katz cannot collect signatures…What does that say about others! 3% killed the desire of many to give 250-500 thousand for collection.

1347 GMT: Once relegated to the margins of the intelligentsia, today ultranationalist writer Aleksandr Prokhanov is increasingly being brought mainstream, and his ideas sound like an eerie draft of Putin’s military campaigns in Ukraine and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statements.

In the West, ultranationalists are often associated with right-wing conservatives associated with free-market ideologies. In Russia, nationalists are just as often associated with extreme leftism, Bolshevism (there are several parties titled “national-bolshevist”) and communism; Prokhanov supported Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in presidential elections.

Today’s ultranationalist thinkers inspiring President Vladimir Putin come from the ranks of President Boris Yeltsin’s enemies. Prokhanov also supported the Soviet Union and the August 1991 coup plotters and Gen. Albert Makashov, the ultranationalist parliamentarian who organized a “people’s army” in the 1993 takeover of the Russian White house by communists and fascists which were often called “the red-brown coalition” in those days. (Makashov served his sentence and returned to the Russian parliament where he is in the communist faction currently).

While at one time Prokhanov published mainly in his own newspaper Den’ [Day], which was even banned by the prosecutor (he simply had his son open another one, Zavtra [Tomorrow]), today he can be found in more mainstream pro-government newspapers like Izvestiya and as a regular commentator on the Kremlin TV station


In his mind, his ideology, while it is pro-authoritarian, anti-Western, and antisemitic (as we have reported), is anti-fascist. Here is how he conceives of it, as outlined in an article promoting “a new state,” titled “Novorossiya: Born in Fire” published this week in Izvestiya. The Interpreter has translated excerpts:

"Republic of Novorossiya". A map of the concept of a new republic made out of Ukrainian and Moldovan territories that would join the Russian Federation.

“Republic of Novorossiya”. A map of the concept of a new republic made out of Ukrainian and Moldovan territories that would join the Russian Federation.

Amidst the thunder of shells and burning cities, to the shrieks of the Odessian martyrs, to the groans of the wounded in Mariupol and Slavyansk, a new young state, Novorossiya, is being born. It is illuminated by the referendum validating the uncompromising leaders, and nourished by the powerful forces of the victory of 1945.

Fascism, fed by the liberal West, coddled by the bankers of America and Europe, was victorious in Kiev, seized Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk and attacked the cities of the Left Bank [of the Dnieper]. The war which Donetsk and Lugansk, Odessa and Nikolayev, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkiv are fighting is a war with fascism. Fascism, despite the Nuremberg Trial, the fall of Berlin, the battle for the Dnieper, once again has been born and has headed east, raising its arm in a fascist salute, arranging crematoria and gas chambers in Ukrainian cities.

The new state, born in the clash with the fascist beast, is fulfilling a grand mission. Without outside support, without the Red Army and Siberian divisions, it is defending the world from fascism. Not only itself, but all of humankind, and Russia, which, as if under a spell, with riveted eyes is watching as the militias of Slavyansk and Mariupol are perishing under machine-gun fire.

The war in south east of Ukraine is a second Spain, where fascist is testing humankind. Only this battle is being waged without Soviet tankers, pilots and volunteers swimming to Spain across the Mediterranean Sea.

Prokhanov goes on to mine Russian history to imbue “Novorossiya” with the mysteries of ancient Slavdom, Greek and Scythian culture, and conceives of the culture of Novorossiya as “Homer and Lev Gumilyov, Babel and Pushkin, Skovoroda and Vernadsky”.

Interestingly, Prokhanov conceives of Novorossiya as a new pro-Russian state, not as territory that the Russian Federation annexes through invasion with its own army. “It has its own people’s militia, people’s journalists, people’s leaders. These are not oligarchs which world government delegates to power. These are not immoral rich people plundering their own people. These are the children of a people’s war which is fighting for justice. Social justice, where there are no hierarchies, rich and poor.”

May 13, 2014

1449 GMT: The US has removed a ban on delivery of Russian RD-180 and NK-33 rocket engines, and report, citing a representative of RosKosmos, the Russian space program. Despite a judge’s temporary injunction obtained by Elon Musk of SpaceX against the purchase by his competitor United Launch Alliance of the RD-180 for American Atlas-5 missile carriers, US officials concluded that the purchase did not violate existing sanctions against Russia. The list of companies and individuals sanctioned in connection with Putin’s forcible annexation of the Crimea do not include the state space and rocket companies.

The removal comes even as Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin announced today that Russia would not sell the engines to the US “if they will not be used for civilians purposes, and if we cannot continue the scheduled work on maintenance of the engines already delivered to the US.”

Oleg Ostapenko, head of Roskosmos made another announcement today that Russia may halt the delivery to the US of NK-33 rocket engines produced by the Kuznetsov Samara Scientific Technical Complex

1440 GMT: Russia is threatening to stop the functioning of GPS stations on Russian territory starting 1 June if the US does not permit the placement of GLONASS stations — the Russian version of a global positioning system — in the US, Ekho Moskvy reports, citing a statement from hard-line Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin, whos is responsible for the Russian space and defense programs.

The US has place 11 GPS stations on the territory of 10 Russian regions under agreements of 1993 and 2011, says Rogozin. Since then, Russia has made great progress with GLONASS, its own version of a satellite system of navigation. This year, RosKosmos, the Russian space program, said that GLONASS was now accurate within one meter, and now approximated the accuracy of GPS.

Russia sent a request in May 2012 to place GLONASS in the US, and in October 2013, announced that it planned to place 8 stations in the US, given that there were 19 GPS stations on Russian territory. It is not known why Rogozin is giving a different figure than RosKosmos, added Ekho Moskvy.

1410 GMT: Russian media continue to be roiled by the loss of Russia’s Tolmachevy twin sisters in EuroVision, and the victory of Conchita Wurst, a transvestite. Vesti reported that the Belarusian Slavic Committee called for the banning of Belarusian singers from participation in EuroVision.

But there have been some protests. Maksim Galkin, writing in Komsomolskaya Pravda and speaking of past Russian acts sent to Eurovision and entertainers on Russian TV, said:

“The victory of an artist from Austria on the European stage unleashed a wave of righteous anger from Puritan Russia, but after all, Russia sent to the competition some underage pseudo-lesbian duet Tatu, applauded Verka Serdyuchka and liked to look at the stream of consciousness of Sergei Zveryev. And it was Verka Serdyuchka and Sergei Zveryev who discussed the finale of Eurovision live. To be sure Sergei Zveryev, outwardly painfully looking like Conchita, only a blonde version, maintained a prudent silence, which in principle isn’t typical of him, because he understand: as soon as he opens his mouth everyone will notice the outwardly similar appearance and nail him to that same pillar of shame under the affected howling of Serge Sosedov and hoarse shout of Zhirinovsky in his red suit jacket and red bow tie.

In our country it’s very popular to cure near and far neighbours, finding a bouquet of moral and spiritual illnesses in them, leaving our own health for later. People in our country who have the opportunity to speak out publicly are increasingly generalizing the results of one musical contest to a moral diagnosis of an entire nation, but besides contests there are still education, medicine, faimly upbringing, and I think according to those indicators, we are not yet in the first three. But in art, they will not catch up to us in denouncing.”

0710 GMT: Voice of Russia, the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet on radio and the Internet, has decided to wheel out the “American mercenaries in Ukraine” story once again. We traced the last round of this story here, and pointed out that the numbers had morphed from 1,000 to 300 to 150 mercenaries, and been sourced variously in the Russian ambassador and the Russian Foreign Ministry — but was never found to have any substance whatsoever. There was not a single eye-witness report, citizen’s YouTube, Instagram photo or tweet proving the existence of anything remotely like such persons.

Along the way, the earlier version made crude mistakes, like giving the outdated name of the firm as “Blackwater” and not explaining the actual relationship between Academi and the spin-off, Greystone.

So now, the propagandists are trying to clean the story up — they’ve decided to go with “400” — 150 or 300 probably sounded too meager (although the more they inflate the number, the more we’re going to ask why ordinary townspeople haven’t noticed these Americans). They also decided to give the story a more “credible” source than the Russian Foreign Ministry, which is likely to be biased on this subject — and have made the source be a German newspaper quoting German intelligence — although of course, no such claim has been made by the real German authorities:

“About 400 elite commandos from a notorious US private security firm, Greystone Limited, the latest renaming of the former private CIA army Blackwater/Academi, are involved in a punitive operation mounted by Ukraine’s junta government against federalization supporters in eastern Ukraine, the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday.

On April 29, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) informed the Angela Merkel government about Academi commandos’ involvement in Kiev’s military operations in eastern Ukraine.”

To bolster what was a thread-bare story in the past, there’s even a picture that is labelled misleadingly as follows: “Checkpoint at Slowjansk (7 May 2014): Reports on the use of U.S. mercenaries” in German. Except that Reuters itself labelled the picture “Ukrainian soldiers walk near armoured personnel carriers at a checkpoint in near the town of Slaviansk, in eastern Ukraine May 7, 2014” — and didn’t have any reports of American mercenaries in its 7 May wire story. (The original English-language caption identifying the soldiers as Ukrainian is even still contained in the metadata of the German copy of the Reuters photo.)

Ukrainian soldiers walk near armoured personnel carriers at a checkpoint in near the town of Slaviansk, in eastern Ukraine

As VOA correspondent Fatima Tlisova reported, given the demand for pictures, Russian TV has obliged by supplying one still that they touched up a little by removing a tell-tale “Wendy’s” restaurant and some other English-language signs. They claimed the photo showed American mercenaries in Ukraine. In fact, it’s a photo from New Orleans in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina:

American mercenaries

So what’s the source for the story in Bild am Sonntag? Oh, it’s a story in the German version of RIA Novosti that takes us back to the same 7 April story we started with last month. It’s illustrated with a photo with the caption, “Kiev sends Blackwater mercenaries to suppress the protests in eastern Ukraine. But multiple other sources identify the fighters in battered old helmets as separatists in Slavyansk.

Back to the drawing board.

May 12, 2014

2129 GMT: Russian nationalist politicians — and many ordinary Russians — were very sore losers over Russia’s defeat in the regional popular song contest, Eurovision. The victory of Conchita Wurst, a transgendered woman from Austria seemed like a slap in the face to the Russian contestants, the Tolmachevy sisters, sedate blonde twins who had been featured widely on state television as a symbol of the “pure Russian soul” facing the decadent evils of Europe. They only came in 7th.

ITAR-TASS, the state news agency, reported the story more or less accurately, but chose to illustrate the story with a picture where the Austrian contestant, Conchita Wurst, had her hand over her face so that her beard was not visible:

Photo by Frank Austein/AP

Photo by Frank Austein/AP

Some Russians suspected treachery from their allies or unfairness led to their country’s loss (Eurovision has a complicated voting system where countries award each other points). The Interpreter has provided translations:

Translation: @vamp_tatyasha When our girls got higher points, these pedo lovers whistled nastily at them. How can Europe speak of tolerance?

Some Russians on Twitter expressed shock:

Translation: @koffboy Eurovision 2014.

Others joked nervously about their manhood:

Translation: This morning I up and shaved for the first time in a week. And Eurovision has nothing to do with it!

But many Russians who were disappointed in the results tended to see the event as a spiritual contest where they had won anyway, because they had ventured into the enemy’s camp but remained true to their own Russian values in the face of “EuroSodom” as some Russians have taken to calling the European Union. The event from popular culture rapidly turned into a political symbol to fight Russia’s other wars. Russia’s hardline Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin was quick to denounce the results:

Translation: EuroVision showed the Euro-integrations their Euro-prospects — a bearded girl.

Some people then ridiculed the image of a bearded lady and applied it to politicians they didn’t like — such as Ilya Ponomarev, the sole member of the Russian parliament to vote against the annexation of the Crimea, who visited Kiev for talks:

Translation: @lady_Katz While the Austrian Conchita was tearing up EuroVision, the Russian Conchita traveled to Ukraine

Translation: @VeteranOMON Here’s Europe. [Image: We Are One Family] [L-R Oleksandr Turchynov, acting president of Ukraine; Yuliya Tymochenko, former prime minister; Arseniy Yatsenyuk, interim prime minister, with Conchita Wurst in foreground.]

The Russian Orthodox Church denounced the selection of Austria’s singer as the “institutionalization of vice,” but it was ridiculed by Ilya Shepelin, a correspondent for one of the few remaining independent news sites,

Translation: @ilya_shepelin Hurrah! The priests watch Eurovision. “The ROC considers the victor of Conchita Wurst as a step on the path of the cultural legitimization of vice.”

Full text:

“The Russian Orthodox Church is concerned with regard to the victory in the EuroVision of a travesty under the pseudonym of Conchita Wurst. Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Synodal Information Department of the ROCS told the news agency Interfax.

‘This is one more link in the chain of cultural legitimization of vice in the modern world, an attempt at strengthening new cultural norms,’ he believes.”

The Russian press may not have figured out the difference between the words “travesty” and “transvestite” — or maybe they have.

Boris Korchevnikov’s Pryamoi Efir [Live] followed up their boisterous patriotic show in the semi-finals with a post-loss rally for the Russian twin singers and rants about the decadence of Europe.

“It is the end of Europe. It is totally rotten,” said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultrarightist parliamentarian. “It’s not a victory. It’s a diagnosis,” said Korchevnikov.

“You shouldn’t try to be liked by that Europe,” said one man to the sisters, as they were beamed in by video conference. “You have amazed the hearts of all Russia and that is a much more of a significant event. Imagine, enormous Russia, and little, bearded Europe.”

“Let Russia stay with its beard,” hissed a woman. “A symbol of doom, of the Apocalypse, and loneliness”.

2022 GMT: What accounts for the discrepancy among recent polls on attitudes of Russians toward secession of constituent parts of the Russian Federation? If the numbers were higher against such secession in the past, we might blame a new law providing harsh penalities for any propaganda or public calls for separatism of up to a $9,000 fine, 300 hours of community service, or up to three years in prison. But the numbers are lower in this poll. Could there simply be brand confusion — Putin has talked so much about backing separatism in Ukraine, that people in Russia may now think the same concept is okay to apply at home?

The “good news” that 49% of Russians — at least in this Pew poll, in April — might tolerate secession at home is more than offset by all the other findings of the Pew poll — all of which tend to indicate that if any region like Dagestan or Tatarstan, let alone Vologda, were to try to break away, the majority would take their cue from Putin and opt for aggressive suppression of any break-away republic or region:

Banner: "We Trust Putin". Photo by AP

Banner: “We Trust Putin”. Photo by AP

o 83% have confidence in Putin, up from 69% in 2012
o 84% believe the referendum in Crimea was fair and Crimea should join Russia (89%)
o 43% of think Putin’s handling of the Ukrainian conflict has led people in other countries to have a more positive opinion of Russia; only 26% think it has led to a less favorable view.
o 51% have a more favorable opinion now of their country, as opposed to 29% in 2013.
o 57% think the government respects personal freedoms; 45% think it respects rights
o 78% of Russians think the military has a good influence on society
o 56% think the military is needed to maintain order in the world
o 71% of people age 50 and over think the collapse of the USSR was a great misfortune; 46% of those 30-49 and 40% of those under 30 do.
o 61% believe “there are parts of other countries that really belong to us”

In such a context of support for the vozhd’ (great leader) and increasing militarism, it is indeed hard to expect that this public will tolerate it if any constituent part of Russia “takes as much sovereignty as they can handle,” as President Boris Yeltsin once put it. More polling would have to be done to make sure there wasn’t confusion between separatists in Ukraine and Russia, and to understand whether Russians opt for this tolerance because, as nationalists put it, they don’t want to feed the Caucasus, and they envision that borders would be sealed and migrants expelled.

Attitudes toward the EU and the West in general have worsened as well.

At the end of the day, what is any opinion poll in Russia measuring these days? When Pew or even Levada, which would presumably have more local interpretation skills, does a poll, essentially what they are performing is audience research for state TV. They are seeing how effective federal channels are in propagandizing the Kremlin’s version of reality — given that most people rely solely on TV for their news, in a country in which a third of the population still has no Internet access.

With that constraint, it seems as if every poll done in Russian these days should add a question about where people are getting their news, and whether they have any alternative sources of news and views.

2018 GMT: As Paul Goble comments in his Windows on Eurasia column today, the latest Pew Research Center poll on attitudes in the Russian Federation at separatism in their own country surprised Russian pollsters. (We also discussed the poll in our Ukrainian Liveblog regarding Russia and Ukraine).

Pew found that 48% of Russians said they would support the independence of constituent republics “if they reflected popular will” and only 39% said they would not. Urban residents were somewhat more likely to think regions should be allowed to secede (52%).

But a Levada Center survey in November 2013 found that 79% of Russians oppose secession of republics in Russia and a Politeks poll last fall found that 66% of Russians were opposed to secessionism — although 26% said the North Caucasus “should be excluded.”

Banner: "Stop Feeding the Caucasus". Russian March in 2011. Photo by VOA.

Banner: “Stop Feeding the Caucasus”. Russian March in 2011. Photo by VOA.

83% of Russians Have Confidence in Putin; 43% Think Handling of Ukraine Improved Putin’s Image Abroad — How is That?
The other aspect of the poll that runs counter to today’s headlines of Russian-backed separatists triumphantly claiming a popular mandate in a rigged referendum is the finding of a majority of those in Ukraine who oppose separatism.

New Poll shows Separatists Are Wrong,” says a blog by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post, interpreting the Pew poll:

“Separatists in eastern Ukraine are pressing ahead with their plan to hold a referendum on secession from Kiev, despite even the stated wishes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move may signal a dangerous escalation of an already deadly conflict. On Thursday, Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic, insisted at a news conference that there was a popular will for the vote.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed in eastern Ukraine think the country’s regions should be allowed to secede — a statistic that serves as something of a rebuke to Pushilin and his fellow separatists.”

Yet as Tharoor cautions:

“It’s important to note one caveat: the field work was done in early to mid-April, before the recent violent clashes in Slovyansk and Odessa that left dozens dead — and could have deepened the country’s polarization.”

If polled today, we might see that deadly clashes in Odessa that led to 48 deaths could push the numbers in Ukraine higher for separatism, and even the numbers in Russia for domestic separatism, if they thought that allowing separatism might avoid bloodshed. Most Russian intellectuals, however, believe in federalism and perceive separatism in Russia as a recipe for mass deaths as in the Chechen wars.

Ukrainians, with more independent TV and radio in recent years, are better positioned to judge the realities of life in Russia if they were to join it. Freedom House’s annual report on press freedom ranks Russia towards the lowest end of its scale of 1-100 at 81; Ukraine is at 63.

On language — the very issue that is supposed to be the reason for wanting to separate — according to the Pew poll in Ukraine, 73% in the east want both Ukrainian and Russian to be recognized as official languages; 25% want only Ukrainian, 10% of which are Russian speakers.

The poll also found that Ukrainian want ties with the US amd EU more than with Russia — the opposite of trends in Russia.