LIVE UPDATES: The National Anti-Terrorist Committee, a coordinating body of Russia’s law-enforcement and government chaired by the Federal Security Service (FSB) director Aleksandr Bortnikov, has created a working group to discuss regulation of encrypted Internet traffic accprdomg to Aleksandr Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, the state censor.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
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Slon reports, citing Interfax, that the local elections commission has called off elections in Barvikha, a prestigious suburb of Moscow where government leaders make their homes and the opposition took a stand to expose fraud.
But Ivan Zhdanov, an opposition lawyer who works for Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Found, active in exposing fraud in Barvikha, is now himself targeted by authorities as his home, his mother’s’ home and an apartment he rented in Barvikha were searched today, RBC and Novaya Gazeta reported.
Translation: Ahhh, my case is being investigated by five investigators from the Main Investigative Directorate [of the Interior Ministry]
Yesterday as we reported, some of the opposition candidates, associated with Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, withdrew their names from the ballot, citing “rubber home” fraud, a term used to indicate signing up multiple persons with registration permits at the same address in order to make them eligible for voting. As it happened, Zhdanov decided to remain on the ballot.
Candidates who can gather 10 support signatures in such town council elections may get on the ballot.
The opposition activists, including Georgy Alburov of the Anti-Corruption Fund’s investigative department and said that a local United Russia party businesswoman registered dozens of Tajik workers at her home and then bussed them to the polls for early voting.
Earlier this week, the activists met with Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Elections Commission, a liberal recently appointed by President Vladimir Putin to manage the September parliamentary elections, but her pledges to investigate seemed ineffective to the opposition group.
Today, the Territorial Elections Commission for Odintsovo, a district in the Moscow Region, said they were canceling elections and would likely reschedule them on the Unified Election Day in September. They claimed that the opposition exposes were not related to the decision; meanwhile 4 of 5 opposition candidates withdrew from the ballot, although some officials, including Pamfilova herself, said it was too late for that — a claim the opposition indicated exposed her lack of knowledge of the local regulations.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“We agreed that he would actively work in the experts’ council under the president and perhaps will be one of the deputies [head–Interfaxt] of the council.”
Putin said Kudrin “for a long time refused to work in administrative bodies” but “now I see his position has somewhat changed.”
Rumors of Kudrin’s possible offer of a job in the Kremlin have been circulating for months. As we reported, in December, Gazeta.ru said Kudrin might leave his position as the head of the Committee of Civic Initiatives which has been critical of the government and take some kind of advisory role on the economic crisis:
According to one scenario, he may be asked to serve as first deputy head of the administration along with long-time Kremlin official Aleksei Gromov who has served since the Soviet era, and Vyacheslav Volodin, who was apppointed deputy prime minister and government chief of staff in 2010.
Both Gromov and Volodin are said to be opposed to the alleged appointment of Kudrin.
According to another scenario, Kudrin will be made advisor to the president where he will be situated “between two fires” — conservative Sergei Glasyev and Andrei Belousov, another aide assigned to the economy. “He won’t go for that because then he can’t do anything,” said the sources.
Another option might be to create a “presidential center for reforms” where Kudrin will serve, although a similar body already exists, the Academy of Domestic Economics and Government Service headed by Vladimir Mau; there is also the Higher School of Economics which is now closer to the Kremlin and headed by Yaroslav Kuzmin since Sergei Guriev, a liberal critic left Russia.
Kudrin who was credited with a number of measures that stabilized the economy, some of them unpopular, then left the government in 2011 after a conflict with then-president Dmitry Medvedev over “redistribution of powers in the Finance Ministry,” said the Moscow Times at the time.
But the Wall Street Journal and some Russian media said he was fired after a public reprimand from Medvedev who complained that he was airing his grievances in public.
While some analysts will see this move as an indication of some “liberalization” of the Putin regime, possibly to help end sanctions or encourage Western investors, it’s important to see another aspect of it — making liberals and critics responsible for economic reform, so that public ire is aimed at them — as with Ella Pamfilova, who was made head of the Central Elections Commission and yesterday was asked to step down by prominent opposition figures over a flawed election in Barvikha — which led to cancellation of the poll.
Russia Ousts Finance Chief
News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media, news, education, and information services. Kremlin Veteran Kudrin Removed After Delivering Slapdown to Medvedev; Losing 'Pillar' of Economy MOSCOW-In a rare public dustup among Kremlin officials, Russia's president forced out the country's finance minister on Monday, dressing him down before state-run television for taking a stance against his policies.
Traffic and Services Such as Firechat
Zharov is chairing the working group which was also joined by heads of all the siloviki (force ministries), the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Communications and experts from the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEK).
The group has been in talks since February 2016 under the aegis of the Russian Security Council and is to present a report by July 1 of this year on its findings, said Vadim Ampelovsky, head of Roskomnadzor.
Karen Kazaryan, the chief analyst for RAEK, said encrypted traffic makes up between 30-50% of all Russian Internet traffic, much of it through the https protocol, used by sites ranging from banks to Facebook.
By contrast, Google experts say encrypted traffic worldwide is more than 75% and 81% in Russia. About 50% of the traffic through Russia’s leading long-distance telephone provider is encrypted, said a representative of the state company. Back in February, Zharov had given a figure of 15% of traffic encrypted in 2015, which may increase to 20%.
“The reference is to encrypted traffic whose role is growing, about traffic compression, both legal, which is applied in browsers and other programs [as well as illegal] in other home-made methods of circumventing blocks — proxy-servers, anonymizers and so on.”
In the US and Europe, privacy and rights campaigners as well as the court systems in some instances have contested law-enforcement demands citing privacy and freedom of speech concerns; in Russia, such activists are few in number and they don’t have IT professionals and industry associations like RAEK — which is in the working group — on their side.
Aleksandr Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, whose independence has increasingly been challenged, has organized meetings between Russian officials and Internet business people to make the point that a free and unrestricted Internet is good for business, not just democracy. But President Vladimir Putin meets personally with such figures as well, and they depend on him for their very survival. When Putin criticized Yandex, the Russian search engine, for having a foreign board member and implied the global Internet was “controlled by the CIA,” Yandex’s shares fell dramatically by the billions.
It will be interesting to see how Russia solves this problem both legally and technically, but it’s important to remember the Kremlin already has all ISPs required by law to submit to filtration by SORM, the FSB program to monitor Internet traffic, and to retain and turn over customer data on demand.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick