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, and see also our Russia This Week stories âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers and The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features âManaged Springâ: How Moscow Parted Easily with the âNovorossiyaâ Leaders, Putin âThe Imperialistâ A Runner-Up For Timeâs âPerson of the Yearâ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.
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Chechen Brig. Gen. Isa Munayev, 50, was killed in battle fighting for Ukraine at Debaltsevo.
The Russian online-dating service “Topface” said
it paid a hacker an undisclosed sum, preventing the person from
selling or leaking 20 million user addresses, Bloomberg reported:
The St. Petersburg-based site was able to track down the
hacker who advertised an offer to sell the e-mail addresses,
founder and Chief Executive Officer Dmitry Filatov said in an e-mailed statement Thursday. Since the hacker didn’t pass the data
to anyone and agreed not to do so, Topface won’t take legal
action against him. Topface called the payment “an award for
finding a vulnerability.”
The theft raises concerns about data security in Russia,
where two biggest Internet companies, Yandex NV and Mail.ru
Group Ltd, reported leaks of millions of accounts last year.
Topface, which found a loophole through which the hacker
accessed e-mail addresses of its users, said it agreed with the
hacker on “further cooperation in the field of data security.
A tech website called Naked Security had a little more pointed analysis of the incident:
Topface is not calling this payment “ransom.” Topface is, rather, calling it “an award for finding a vulnerability”.
There are no details available on what vulnerability the attacker
exploited to exfiltrate the user data, but the company seems to have
struck up some sort of working relationship with him.
Topface agreed to “[cooperate] in the field of data security”, according to an email exchange between Filatov and Bloomberg.
…meaning that we should stop calling him an attacker, hacker, or
intruder, and instead now refer to him as, perhaps, a “consultant”?
Filatov said that his company’s new “security consultant” (I believe
that phrase requires air quotes when read aloud) didn’t access anything
beyond the email addresses.
Russia is among the top countries from which hacks of computers emanate. Go to Norse, a security company’s map that tracks all the reported hacking of computer systems around the world in real time.
Today, as on many days, Russia is in the top three, striking at the US or Europe as the US and China fight each other:
Russian social media has filled up with commentary about another outrageous comment from Dmitry Kislyev, the widely-known talk-show host and head of Russian state media conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya.
Just as he once spoke about how Russia’s nuclear weapons could “reduce America to ash,” on February 1, Kiselyev said that President Vladimir Putin could launch an attack on NATO “with one phone call.”
Kiselyev recounts recent negative developments for Russia, including the downgrading of its bonds to “junk” level by Standard & Poor but says it’s “not a catastrophe” and claims that every day, American politicians, financiers and generals look on the map and are unhappy that Russia is even on it, because “its existence doesn’t suit them.” He cited Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who said that Russia’s reaction to being cut off from the SWIFT banking transaction system would be “limitless.”
A transcript of the show on TV1 provides the context and the quote (summary and translation by The Interpreter).
Kiselyev cites a column by Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan administration adviser who has turned to conspiracy theorizing and pro-Putin positions in recent years, and thus is a frequent guest on RT.com.
Roberts believes the entire Western financial system is ready to collapse due to over-reliance on derivatives. He invokes the notion of a “black swan,” a fateful event like September 11, and says all Russia has to do to trigger such a “black swan” is cut off the gas to Europe, which will lead to the collapse of the EU, he believes.
So when Russia decides to destroy NATO, it simply has to call the European puppets — Merkel, Holland, Cameron — and say, “You guy got it so good in NATO, but you know, we’ve decided not to sell energy to members of NATO anymore.” That’s the end of NATO and American might.
Vesti tweeted a statement that “Putin could destroy NATO with one phone call,” but then later some official must have thought better of the threatening words, and the tweet was removed. Copies were saved by TJournal:
Then the Russian-speaking Internet had a lot of fun with this meme. It immediately called to mind a children’s story from the Soviet era by Kornei Chukovsky called Telefon (Telephone), in which an elephant calls a crocodile to make huge demands, and then describes the increasingly wild antics of various animals.
The first lines, which rhyme in Russian and have spawned numerous jokes over the years go like this (translation by The Interpreter):
My telephone began to ring.
Who is it?
Where are you calling from?
From the camel’s house.
What do you need?
For my son.
Should I send a lot?
About five pounds, he’s still small
Cover of Telephone by Kornei Chukovsky
Variations on the theme on Twitter then include a rhyme with the substitution of Putin for the elephant from the parody account for Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov:
Translation: My telephone has begun to ring, I won’t pick up the phone, what if it’s him!
My telephone began to ring.
From the camel’s house.
What do you need?
DEATH TO NATO!
(K. Chukovsky, Telephone)
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny pointed out that Putin should use his
powers to bring back public transportation to rural areas, which was cut
due to the economic crisis:
Translation: Putin can destroy NATO with one phone call, but if he calls from four telephones, he can take over the world.
This story hasn’t been picked up by the mainstream Western press yet, although RFE/RL covered it and pointed out that Vesti pulled the story from its top story page and substituted it with a blander piece on budgets.
NATO doesn’t seem to have noticed.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Rights in Russia reports that an effort by Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper and news site, has lost its court case to challenge Roskomnadzor, the state censor.
Novaya Gazeta was handed a warning last year for an article by Yulia Latynina, “If We Are Not the West, Then Who Are We?,” published on September 10, 2014.
The court rejected Novaya Gazeta’‘s
defense which said Latynina’s article doesn’t contain any extremist
material and does not go beyond the scope of academic debate.
SOVA Center, an organization that monitors extremism in Russia,
said they found Roskomnadzor’s warning unlawful because they never
explained exactly what was “extremist” about Latynina’s work.
it’s a sign of the times that when making this analysis, Sova felt it
still had to explain that they did not believe Latynina’s “strident
thesis” to be “beyond question.”
Latynina, a journalist as well as a fiction writer, has been a popular presenter and columnist at both Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta and other papers long known for her controversial articles
In the article in question, Latynina analyzes the increasing use of
the “ancient Rus'” theme in everything from state propaganda to
advertising and makes a rather unflattering portrait of Russia today by
contrast with the West (translation by The Interpreter).
We can’t see her first paragraph, which begins (at that time) “It has been six months since Maidan.” The management of Novaya Gazeta already had to black out that paragraph:
And a second article in the piece was also blacked out.
This being the Internet, with a bit of searching, we could retrieve the original offending paragraphs from a forum discussion (translated by The Interpreter). First, the opening paragraph:
It has been six months since Maidan’s victory, and Russian officials, deputies and television commentators have discovered the existence of a special “Russian culture” which counterposes Europe’s lack of spirituality.
They haven’t thought up anything new, really. Hitler and Mein Kampf opposed the European decadence and lack of spirituality of that day with a stern Nordic culture. This is a common method of fascism: under the guise of liberating the nation from “alien culture,” it is liberated from any culture whatsoever and plunges into the times and habits of barbarism.
Then the paragraph in the middle, discussing the origins of Russian culture:
I must reassure the reader: this is not the exception, but the norm. There are only three developed nations — Jews, Chinese and Indians — who can claim to have thousand-year autochthonous cultures. All the rest are a graft: crossbeeds and mud-bloods.
The last term is taken from the Harry Potter novels.
An excerpt of some of the other points in the article will give the reader a sense of why the authorities — and nationalists fuming on forums about Latynina — were made so mad about this scathing look at Russian traditions (translated by The Interpreter):
It was Peter the Great who inoculated the Russian
wilding with the European cultural strain, or to be more accurate,
re-inoculated, since the first immunization was made by the Vikings, but
then the Tatars chopped down the tree almost at the root. That’s how
Russia would have grown after the Tatars — with drunkenness, with the Oprichina [Tsar’s secret police], with ignorance, with the dance of Fedka Basmanov before the tsar,
whose boots everyone kisses until he chops off their heads, and with
the endless certitude in ignorance and hypocrisy of one’s own
superiority, if it had not been for Peter.
A reference to history might have been forgiven, even if not in
the official canon, but Latynina compared Putin’s Russia to the Nazis, and applied this assessment of Russian
culture to the present, it was deemed “extremism,” which, as
Roskomnadzor saw it, using the language of the law, is “exceptionalism,
superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of their social,
racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation, as well as a
public and knowingly false accusation against a person holding public
office.” As Latynina writes:
Under the slogan of “Return to great Russian culture” in a society
rapidly turning fascist, we are told to consider Russian crudeness,
drunkenness and lack of culture as primordial. It is instilled in us
that what is primordially Russian is drinking, chopping off heads and
taking bribes. And all the rest is supposedly the rotten West.
there is nothing “primordially Russian” in brutality and bloodshed.
It’s simply wildness which is peculiar to the roots of any civilization.
Henry the VIII chopped off the heads of his wives, but David Cameron
would hardly do the same and refer to “primordial British traditions.”
All successful civilizations pass through bestiality and barbarianism.
But not a single successful civilization takes it into their head to
make bestiality a model. Only fascism would get this idea.
Novaya Gazeta plans to appeal the court decision.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Remember the five Chechens rounded up after the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher deli in Paris, in which 17 people were killed?
As we reported two weeks ago,
5 Chechens in Paris, 4 immigrants and one of whom had Austrian
citizenship, were arrested after the bombings. For some reason, the
story was deleted from Le Monde, and then fell off the pages of other newspapers. Some sources said that explosives were found among the suspects. Reuters reported that while the Chechens arrested weren’t related to terrorism, they were suspected of other crimes.
But eventually it turned out that all the Chechens in France were
released — along with others caught up in a sweep through the Chechen
communities in other European countries.
This author managed to speak to 8 of the 12 detained Chechens, who
indicated that after they were arrested and had all their money,
telephones and computers confiscated, they were held for nearly two days
at an unidentified site near Paris. The security services tried to
extract from them confessions of ties with the Chechen fighters in
Syria. Videos watched on YouTube and excerpts from telephone
conversations were put forward as proof of the detained individuals’
connections to the jihadists in Syria.
Prior to meeting these people in
person, this author thought they would be Salafists but, as it turned
out, that assumption turned out to be completely wrong. A mother of
three boys who was detained along with her sons was still in shock after
being accused of having a photograph of a slain Syrian child in her
home. One of the detainees, who is fluent in French, managed to read the
accusation against them, which stated that they were being accused of
organizing a terrorist cell. A well-known Chechen journalist from the
first Chechen-Russian war was also among those detained. She was one of
the handful Chechens who supported the “Je suis Charlie” action. All the
detained Chechens were eventually released but warned they would be
summoned again to provide additional information
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Donbass Battalion, reported on the death of Brig. Gen. Isa Minayev, the Chechen commander fighting on the side of Ukraine. Semyonchenko himself was wounded in battle. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of his Facebook post:
My comrade-at-arms has been killed, a Warrior with a capital letter, Isya Munayev, brigadier general of Ichkeria. I didn’t want to write anything, there have been too many losses in recent days, too great a contrast between the front and what I see at the rear. But I must describe the most recent battle, and I must fulfill the promise I gave him, to help legalize the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion [named for the first president of Ichkeria, the historical name of Chechnya used by the resistance of the 1990s–The Interpreter]. Now this is what Adam, Isya’s deputy in the battalion, are obliged to see through to the end.
The latest kettle is at hand in Debaltsevo. The terrorists and the Russian Federation forces have tried to break through the line of the regiment strongholds in the region of Chernukhino.
The Grads were firing, the tanks came out point blank, the mortars were firing, there were constant attacks on the strongholds without cease.
The fairy tales about “our control” over Uglegorsk (Vuhlehirsk) ended with serious battles in which 4 Donbass fighters and 12 soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (VSU) were killed. At a critical moment, information came in that 14 tanks of the RF came from Yenakievo to Uglegorsk.
The Vityaz Battalion took advantage of the distraction of the enemy’s forces to come out of the encirclement.
The VSU artillery made a strike on the forest above Uglegorsk and about 16 RF tanks came out of there and moved to a safe area. It became absolutely clear that if regular forces of the RF would take Uglegorsk, the trap would close shut.
And then Isa called.
He called and proposed help. I don’t have the right to write now about the other circumstances of those days. But the situation was a lot worse than simply “they’re advancing.” Isa offered his help on the night before the day Uglegorsk was stormed. But on the night before, he had also given his word to other units that he would help in the area of the Bakhmutovka Highway where everyone was awaiting the advance of the enemy. And Isa kept his word.
He came to Debaltsevo with his fighters. In Isa’s battalion, there were Nokhchi [Chechens], Russians, Ukrainians and Georgians. Not much weaponry but a lot of spirit. At the VSU headquarters they were glad for the reinforcement and a decision was made that the Donbass and Dudayev battalions would form two groups of tank destroyers that would stop the storming of the strongholds.
We left some of the guys at the base, and some of them, along with Commander Munayev left on the assignment. I took along with me a scout, a sapper, and two fighters as an escort and went along with them. Donbass had lost 4 men that day, and 11 were wounded, and we decided that we’d perform this expedition with a small group, and then swap out people every day.
I considered it my duty to go along with my comrades-at-arms on the scouting mission.
We left at midnight. After a long search, we came upon the Bala stronghold. There were destroyed remnants of tanks and BMPs, rusting carcasses of vehicles, constant shell fire and people running between the trees with large-caliber machine guns…There was a round, then an AGS (automatic grenade-launcher) fired. I went behind a tree, but when I saw how Isa was threading his way through the night-time forest so efficiently, I followed after him.
I will dictate more later.
Borys Filatov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, also confirmed Munayev’s death in a Facebook post (translation by The Interpreter)
Amina Okuyeva [an Odessa-based surgeon and Maidan activist–The Interpreter] has called.
She said “Yes, Isa has been killed. It’s true. At the price of his own life, he wouldn’t let them close the encirclement.”
The Prophet (peace be upon Him and blessing) said: “If 100 people pray for the peace of a deceased man and ask intercession for him, their prayers will not remain unanswered.”
Pray for Isa. He was a Great Warrior.
And he gave his life for Ukraine and each one of us.
Isa Minayev, born in 1965, is a famous Chechen general who fought in the first Chechen wars and played a key role in the defense of Grozny in 1999-2000. He later distanced himself from the Doku Umarov, head of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and later the terrorist organization Caucasus Emirate, who was killed last year.
In October, the Belarusian news agency Belsat published an English-language interview with Munayev in which they asked him if he was fighting against Russia, or fighting for Ukraine:
I am fighting for Ukraine. I know what will happen to Ukraine if we fail
to stop Russians. We’ve been fighting against Russia for 23 years, you
can’t even imagine who have come to you. We are defending Ukraine here,
we are defending the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. We are not Islamic
fundamentalists, not terrorists, we are Chechens.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick