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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.
Recent Analysis and Translations:
– Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
– Getting The News From Chechnya â The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
– Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
News was published today that a major leak has been made by Boltai-Shaltai, Russia’s most infamous hackers named for the Russian version of the name for Humpty-Dumpty. Boltay (as they are known for short from their web site) are sometimes called “Anonymous International” although they do not appear to be related to the better-known “Anonymous.”
The mass leak, under the title “Narcissistic and Borderline Psychopathy” (a title of a scientific paper purchased by Kiselyev’s wife evidently to fake her dissertation) is said to consist of email correspondence and conversations on the messaging service Whatsapp. There, we have to wonder for the second time this month whether Russian hackers have cracked Whatsapp, said to have such a strong encryption that the FBI would likely encounter the same resistance getting into it as it has with Apple’s iPhone. Whatsapp was invented by a Soviet emigre and American and claims to have invincible encryption for their billion customers.
Earlier this month the site of the opposition party Parnas was hacked as part of an orchestrated state-campaign against Parnas leaders, and Natalya Pelevina, formerly of the Parnas federal council, saw her email and Whatsapp messages spilled on the Internet. How was that done? Is there some place where hackers are gaining access to clear text?
In fact, in addition to the Boltay hack, today we’ve seen major hacks of the ANNA news site by Ukrainian hackers; and a hack of two opposition activists associated with anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalany.
Translation: I’ve written about the peculiarities about the hacking of the Telegram accounts of Alburov and Kozlovsky.
Their lengthy blog post provides some highlights from this trove, which we have summarized, but for the files themselves you will have to participate in an auction — and pay in BitCoin, the Internet currency. The bid was set to open already at 33 BTK and doesn’t appear to have any takers yet — 33 BTK is valued at about $15,000.
One of Kiselev’s most frequent online friends is “Pranker Vovan,” whose numerical handle is blocked out in the leak although his name, Vladimir Kuznetsov and nickname are given.
A video link given about “the Crimean history” says “not available” now.
Boltai references correspondence with Pranker Vovan who speaks about a “prank with Erdogan” and the director of administrative work and regional liaison of the Ministry of Agriculture, Konstantin Likutov who congratulates him with landing in the EU’s “blacklist” i.e. sanctions and says this is even an honor to be congratulated.
Kiselyev is acidic: “I’m still under the impressions of your ‘speech’ yesterday; I hadn’t [thought] to see you in the role of Ham. As they say, thanks for not striking! Till we meet in the next world!
“Ham” is the Biblical character and a term Russians use to mean “crude.”
Likutov replies “Let’s meet…in this world even so at any time convenient to you. We’ll have a a shotglass toast in some tasty place : ))
Boltai indicates correspondence from scouts who found, for example, a Nazi-hunting judge in Belarus who tried the executioners from the Khatyn massacre — a story that the Soviets always amplified to distract attention from a much larger massacre in the Stalin era of Belarusians and Poles at Kuropaty, where mass graves were unearthed in the 1990s and made the subject of a prosecutors’ investigation which later stalled.
Boltay discovers that Kiselyev has academic helpers with his massive research and expose effort on state TV — a relationship that may be more of a shock to Russians who still hold ideals about Russian academia that Westerners may not.
One is Valentina Gavrilovna Fedotovna, head of the social philosophy section of the Institute for Philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences — “a piquant fact of Kiselyev’s ideological mentor is [her] teaching in the leading institutes of the US and Europe.”
She provides background research for the state effort to persecute the independent TV Rain for a public opinion survey they posted in 2014 about attitudes toward the Siege of Leningrad. But more interestingly, she expresses regret that “American criticism of Viktor Shenderovich,” a popular satirical radio host, wasn’t included in a citation of hers in a Kiselyev program (especially as such foreign criticism would “be a blow to him”). She then goes on to express very telling criticism of Putin, coming as it does from one of his faithful ideological workers. She praises a show with Putin meeting young scientists winning awards because she feels Putin “does not associate much with the scientific, philosophical and artistic elite.”
“Even Zhirinovsky has twice (twice I’ve heard) reproached him for orientation toward athletes and performers,” Fedotova complains. Meanwhile, “Putin never speaks about the sciences, about society, the Russian elites, not as those who hold high posts but about the best,” she says, and hopes he could be persuaded to do so.
Boltai highlights a memo from Fedotova dated April 3, 2013 about Ukraine, which is interesting in that it indicates how state propagandists were preparing even before the takeover of the Crimea in February 2014 to position the ideological underpinnings related to it.
Fedotova says it is “incorrect” to call the Russians of Ukraine “our fellow countrymen” (as hardliners Vladimir Solovyev, a popular TV and radio host and Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin do, she notes). “This has gone on since the 1990s. Fellow countrymen are people of one fatherland, living in one country with a common citizenship. What should be is: Russian residents of South-East Ukraine, Crimea, Kharkov, Odessa etc.”
Fedotova cites the well-known scholar of the Harriman Institute, Alexander Motyl who has “actively shown proof of common Ukrainian identity, anti-Russian sentiments and proof of the difference of Ukrainian identity from Russian.” She also cites Samuel Huntington, who included in his “clash of civilizations” idea a split in Ukraine between those connected to Russia and those “in the West who identify with Kiev and Ukrainian identity, the remnant of the Austrian-Hungarian empire which emerged after WWI due to the fall of that empire and the annexation apparently under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.”
She says “Huntington is incorrectly interpreted as an advocate of the conflicts of civilization. On the contrary, he tried to show the West that Russia, as a white Christian country is closer to it than other civilizations (Islam, Confucian, Latin-American, Japanese or African). “The late Huntington denies what Motyl is now saying,” she suggests helpfully.
“A lot is said in our country about the integrity of Ukraine, the federalization of Ukraine, making possible a south, an east of Ukraine, Crimea as independent or going into Russia, which our flags prove everywhere. In my view, by confusing this, a lot could be confused or one could embark on a split along the lines of Huntington, since the western part [of Ukraine] will be hostile forever.”
She also makes a direct hint about how her financial reserves are exhausted and asks for “an increase in my pay” because she needs a vacation after an illness, indicating that she is a paid consultant for Kiselyev.
She was also contacted about how to cover the death of Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of the French oil company Total, in an airport accident, and speaks of the “extension of her contract” further indicating she is a paid consultant. Fedotova comments:
“The death of Christophe [de Margerie] ruins our image. This person must be given a lot of attention and the accidental nature of his death must be stressed (rather than the obvious negligence) and the good memory Russia has of him.”
She mentions US Russian specialist Robert Legvold and his complaint that the “mechanisms of deterrence established during the cold war have been destroyed.” She proposes having a discussion with experts about whether the collapse of the USSR could have been avoided.
She also recommends “showing more foreigners who are in solidarity with us today.”
Advising Kiselyev how to take better aim at America, she claims “Obama has stressed his particular anger at Putin’s emphasis on the meaning of traditional values” but then notes that in Russia’s thousand-year history, lots of things have been called “traditional values” and it’s important to understand what is relevant for today, i.e.:
“a person’s self-respect, his confidence in the future, active life position, rules of the game that allow a person to plan his life, trust versus mistrust, light trust and superstition, that is the a type of secular religion in addition to the traditional religions, emphasizing victory in wars, patriotism (in order to attract liberals and undecided, you can use my definition of patriotism as identification by citizenship).”
She advised looking at Russian literature for inspiration.
Boltai says a number of the items in the collection reveal the “internal kitchen” or workings of the propaganda machine on certain hot topics, like the nanny who murdered the child in her care then parade with her severed head by the metro until she was arrested, and later said to be suffering from mental illness. This script for the narrator stressed her mental illness early by writing in all caps “CLEARLY DERANGED” and goes on to say that the story had gained “hypertrophied meaning” and that “all sorts of things have been OVERLAID on it that it is just A HORROR.” As a result “there is a general UPHEAVAL.”
Another script compares Russian “justice” for Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko to “local hooligans” vandalizing the Russian embassy WITH IMPUNITY and WITHOUT TRIAL as long as they cried “Glory to Ukraine.”
A manager named “Olya” whose last name is blacked out writes to Mariya Kiselyeva, Dmitry’s wife, with the topics she should cover on a Sunday program — and once again there is apparently revealed a “softness” on the issue of gays from Kiselyev (he appeared to approve gay marriage) that contrasts both with the official Kremlin position and Kiselyev’s own infamous rant about the need to “burn the hearts” of gays killed in auto crashes rather than to use their organs to help others.
– what do people get out of taking part in religious holidays
2. Criminal code article about homosexuality
– can you regulate personal lives with the help of the criminal code?
– if there was a referendum about this issue, would it be fair if the majority decided for the minority
3. Unified history textbook for school-children
– is it true as Naryshkin says that society has a high interest toward history? What does this say?
— How are history lessons influencing the formation of the individual?
4. Pension age
– The modern woman at age 50 is not like the woman of that age a century ago. How to men and women of pre-pension age feel?
5. Francis Hollande’s infidelity
– He was never married, all his relationships are civil. Why do men not want to marry? Why did Hollande’s rating drop after this story of infidelity? How does the public relate to stories from private lives?
Then we glimpse a bit of the old boy’s network as Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky asks his friend “Dima” Kiselyev to place a “comrade” who is “dying to work on your team.” “I never worked with him therefore I can’t vouch for him as I would for myself, you understand.”
Kirill Legat, a well-known Russian TV producer asks to place Aleksandr Sobolev, the son of an old friend Oganeza Soboleva, one of the founders of Video International.
One memo indicates there is jealousy and competitiveness between two notorious state propagandists, Nikolai Krichevsky and Ashot Gabrelyanov, owner of LifeNews. Nikita Krichevsky of bk.ru writes:
“What crap he’s writing! Slippery type.”
Kiselyev makes an inquiry to the Ukrainian SBU and gets back a curt reply from M. Glugovsky, head of the main directorate, who notes that internal documents from ministries in the Russian Federation should be studied to find out the organizers, inciters, and enablers of Savchenko’s kidnapping and to study whether this constituted an international crime; meanwhile Ukraine declined cooperating in investigating any cases for an “International War Tribunal” until Russia ceased its war against Ukraine.
Glugovsky cites a historical analogy: it would be strange for the NKVD of the USSR to reply to Germany’s requests for information after June 22, 1941 [Nazi invasion of Russia], by citing an agreement signed November 11, 1938 by Lavrenty Beriya and the Nazi Brigadenfuhrer G. Muller [before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact].
Boltai also comes up with bank documents and a real estate deed that show Kiselyev bought a deluxe apartment of 204 square meters in the centrally-located Tvetsnoy Blbd for 162 million rubles ($2.5 million) in February 2014.
Kiselyev also sought legal advice in a possible effort to challenge the sanctions against him imposed by the EU. John Linneker of Dentsons.com recommended Hugh Mercer, QC. Then another firm “acting against European sanctions” was noted, Michael Madden Winston & Strawn London LLP Wintson.com
In the end Kiselyev was represented by Tim Otty QC and Brian Kennelly of the Bar of England and Wales and by John Linneker, Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England Wales with Dentons.
Both Bell Pottinger and Edelman are recommended by James Marsden at Dentons as PR specialists. Bell Pottinger have handled PR for Central Asian and other world dictators, which human rights groups have criticized.
But then Linneker complained that “unfortunately we have not received settlement of our fee accounts” and was being “asked by Dentons’ management to stop work on the case.”
PR firms at the service of human rights abusers
On 28 February 2015, the night that leading Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was assassinated, Vladimir Putin's press spokesperson Dmitry Peskov deflected accusations that the Kremlin was involved by saying: "…in political terms he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin.
Bahrain government signs new $20m PR contract
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: April 16, 2014 Bahrain Watch expresses its serious concern about a new $20 million contract between the Economic Development Board and PR firms Bell Pottinger and Consulum, signed amid ongoing human rights abuses.
There is a memo about Ilya Voloshin, who seems to be the son of Alexander Voloshin, and reference to a video and an incident in Koktebel, a city on the Crimean peninsular where Kiselyev created an international jazz festival, and where he had himself rewarded with a prize for encouraging jazz. Police were involved in searching a business.
Kiselyev is also seen showing interest in buying a boat in the US in 2012 to travel along the Crimean cost – the estimate was $43,893. It’s not clear if he ultimately purchased the boat.
The hackers accuse Kiselyev’s wife, Mariya Kiselyeva of buying herself a degree as one email details plans for arranging payment for a dissertation (only 2,000 rubles or US $30 in Russia’s rampant black market in academic papers) about beliefs of patients who have suffered heart attacks, and others show her purchasing ready-made articles on psychiatry and placing them in specialized publications apparently under her name. The claim is also that she has made these payments at government expense from Rossiya Segodnya, the state TV holding company.
One set of materials on psychiatry including a paper on “narcissistic and borderline psychopathy” was ordered just when Kisilyev was releasing his infamous show about “reducing the US to nuclear ash.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Both the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Senator Yevgeny Serebrennikov have threatened Sweden with military escalation if the country joins NATO.
In an interview with Dagens Nyheter, published yesterday, Lavrov said that Russia would respond to Swedish membership of NATO with “military-technical measures” on Russia’s northern borders.
When asked what those measures would be, Lavrov replied:
“This is a matter for our military, the Ministry of Defense and our General Staff. When they see what sort of potential there is on the other side of the border – right on our border or a little further from the border, then they know what it is capable of of and what one can expect from it, should NATO suddenly decide to stop us in a ‘hot’ way.”
Earlier in the interview, Lavrov declared that NATO was “trying in every way to hold [Russia] back.”
When asked if Russia understood that, given Kremlin statements of ‘concern’ for the ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic states, those countries were fearful of their neighbour, Lavrov replied:
“When the Soviet Union disappeared they held their referendums and they got to go ‘go in peace,’ no one threatened them. There was no attempt to retain the Baltic states by force, even though there were differing opinions on the issue. For this we have not seen or heard any gratitude.”
Even were it the case, it seems perverse to expect gratitude from formerly occupied nations to the occupier for having collapsed to the extent that they could no longer exert their will.
Lavrov also presented a contrary interpretation of a more recent incident in the Baltic Sea.
While the United States says that Russian Sukhoi Su-24 strike bombers and a military helicopter performed multiple close fly-bys on two separate dates – with video and photographic evidence to back this up, Lavrov claims that only one fly-by took place.
The foreign minister set out his stall against not only NATO but also the European Union thus: Russia cannot work with Europe on the terms of the EU and NATO, because “normal, as interpreted [by those organisations] means only one thing: that we should become like them.”
“If the West’s approach to human rights is progressing towards general promiscuity, then it disregards the fact that it is contrary to the fundamental basics of our culture, which is based on orthodox religion – Christianity.
This is just one of many examples. They believe that we behave badly. They preach to us in the NATO-Russia council and in the EU that we must do this or that. But we will no longer accept that economic relations suffer for the sake of ideological or geopolitical considerations.”
Following Lavrov, Senator Yevgeny Srebrennikov said today that Russia would increase numbers of troops on its borders should Sweden join NATO.
“We are talking not only about some technical measures, we are talking numbers as well. Russia will increase the strength of its military forces on the northern and northwestern borders if Sweden becomes a NATO member, this also includes the North Sea Fleet,” RIA Novosti quoted Senator Evgeny Serebrennikov as saying on Friday.
He added that Russia might reply to NATO expansion by deploying to its northern regions the newest missiles that NATO systems cannot intercept.
Karin Enström, foreign policy spokeswoman for Sweden’s opposition Moderates party and a former defense minister, today called on the government to summon the Russian ambassador to explain Lavrov’s comments.
Swedes want answers from Russia after Nato warning
TT/The Local · 29 Apr 2016, 09:48 Published: 29 Apr 2016 09:48 GMT+02:00 Sweden's opposition Moderate Party has called for an explanation after Russia's foreign minister said his country would take action if Sweden joined Nato. Sergey Lavrov said Russia would feel compelled to act if Nato's military infrastructure stretched to Sweden.
The Local reports:
“This raises a lot of questions, which is why I think it’s important that the foreign minister summons the Russian ambassador to explain what Russia and the Russian foreign minster mean by this,” she told the TT newswire.
“In the same breath as he says every country has the right to decide, the reader is given to understand that there would be a very strong reaction on Russia’s part. It’s important then to speak directly with Russia and not to let this kind of dialogue take place primarily in the media,” the former Swedish defence minister added.
Meanwhile Lars Adaktusson, an MEP in the Christian Democrat party, said that Lavrov’s comments show “clearly why Sweden should join NATO.”
As The Local notes, a poll conducted in September last year showed that more of the 1,000 Swedes polled supported joining NATO than those opposed, marking a significant shift in public opinion in the traditionally neutral country.
— Pierre Vaux
The following headlines were taken from RBC, Interfax, Caucasian Knot, and NBC.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick