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 Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement, âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers, The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto âTrack IIâ Talks â and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement and Johnsonâs Russia List Spreads Invented Story About Germany Preparing Sanctions Against Kiev
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We reported last week about a rumor going around the Internet that General Lentsov had a body double in the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LNR); a militant who appeared alongside Col. Vitaly Kisilyev of the Army of the South East, deputy defense minister of the LNR, to take Ukrainian POWs out of Debaltsevo. A number of observers were certain that it was the same man in disguise, as part of the “hybrid” war in which Russia has cloaked its true military actions in Ukraine.
We thought it was unlikely, because it seem that logically, a Russian general, if he were going to dress up as an LNR militant, wouldn’t then make the mistake of appearing before the media, and risk being exposed by alert Ukraine supporters on Twitter.
Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) posted the video of the “matches” without comment, and the Lithuanian Strategic Communications office ran a poll on Twitter about it.
Novaya Gazeta picked up the story and decided that maybe Lentsov was in
disguise as the militant — because when they tried to check out the
story with the LNR, they got a funny answer — that the LNR didn’t know
the name in the beat-up ushanka (fur hat with flaps), but they knew his
call sign — “Eustace.”
“If his name is Eustace, then I know who
Alex is,” quipped Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief in an interview with Ekho Moskvy, referencing an old joke. In the
Soviet era, there was a novel and then TV series about a Soviet spy
named Max Otto Von Stierlitz (Shtirlits) whose work name was “Eustace.” The name of his boss
in Moscow center was “Alex.” So there were many coded cables with the
headers “Eustace to Alex”. This bound phrase in Russian Yustas k Aleksu or
“Yustas Aleksu” then itself became a name or a tag line in jokes
Muratov felt that if this man turned out to have a name that was as classic for Russians as “James Bond” is for Americans, that they
were pulling his leg. Maybe his nom de guerre really is Yustas Aleksu but
meanwhile, some sharp-eyed Ukrainian bloggers discovered the man with the POWs on the field of Debaltsevo looked to be the same man as on the Ukrainian
government’s website for citizens to file reports against suspected “pro-Russian terrorists, separatists, mercenaries, war criminals, and murderers.” We would have to agree.
His real name is Nail Sagitovich Nurullin, he is 53 and a graduate of the Alma Ata Border Academy and Afghan war vet with the rank of colonel in the reserves. While not a truck driver, he ran a trucking and logistics business called MontazhSpetsStroik in his native town of Buzuluk .
Part of the
joke — which Lithuania’s Strategic Communications picked up – was that
the LNR fighter was the general posing as a truck driver since the day
before, President Vladimir Putin told the Ukrainians condescendingly
that he realized it was hard to be beaten at Debaltsevo by “yesterday’s
coal-miners and truck drivers” but that’s how life is.
Back home in Orenburg Region, Col. Nayrullin cuts a different figure when in uniform:
A photo with a date stamp in December 2014 shows him with the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR).
was some disagreement as to whether Nurullin was affiliated with the
DNR or the LNR, but since at the time of the video with Kiselyev, his
assignment was to conduct negotiations on behalf of the LNR with the
Ukrainian prisoners, we described him as LNR.
The LNR were the
ones to take Debaltsevo because they came up through Stakhanov to
surround the rail hub. But when the Ukrainian flag was pulled down and
the victors’ flag raised, it wasn’t an LNR flag, but the flag of
“Novorossiya,” the entity that supposedly unites the DNR and LNR in one
armed forces — but doesn’t in practice.
Nurullin is shown again in February 2015 with his friend, a fighter named Mikhailych.
The Debaltsevo video
is almost like a sit-com from the Soviet era — in a classic Soviet-like
fashion, the person who is nominally in charge, Col. Vasilyev, is a local Russian indigenous to Ukraine, and his supposed subordinate, the Russian colonel, is
actually in charge — that is, if he is in fact something more than a
volunteer, which some believe is the case.
Certainly he isn’t an
ordinary fighter, as he was authorized to conduct sensitive negotiations
with the Ukrainian soldiers surrounded on at least three sides at
Debaltsevo, a critical junction of highways and railroads. Novaya Gazeta also said that a Czech Skorpion machine pistol
hung on Nayrullin’s chest in one picture; this type of weapon made in the Czech
Socialist Republic in 1961 was rather rare for the Donbass.
Nurullin wasn’t a Russian general — but it turns out he is a Russian
colonel in reserve — still an example of how Russia is meddling in
Ukraine — and with a profile that many of the trouble-makers in the Donbass share. As Novaya Gazeta‘s Irek Murtazin put it when he followed up on the story, left his home town “to hide
from the problems descending on him.” He had a run of bad luck when
first his wife died, leaving him with two children. Then a friend died
for whom Nurullin had served as a guarantor of a bank loan, and the bank
wanted 3.7 million rubles back (about $58,000). Then to top it off, a customer didn’t
pay for work Nayrullin had done.
Somehow, with all these troubles, Nail did manage to run for mayor in 2013, but wasn’t elected.
A picture of him taking from one of his social media pages gives an indication of Nurullin’s life before Debaltsevo — he is standing in shabby clothes bedecked with a St. George ribbon in front of a drab concrete five-story building.
In July 2024, Nurullin wrote on his page in Odnoklassniki, a Russian social network and Facebook, a message of despair:
Afghanistan I survived and did not besmirch my honor until I got aught
in this “garbage.” What honor can I speak of when I am up to my ears in
debt, sinking deeper and deeper for the simple reason that I can’t
return debts to people who helped me immeasurably!!! I can’t return
money to them, just as I can’t get the money back from those for whom a
sense of honor and conscience is alien! It is impossible to return the
money by a civilized way! I must again use criminal schemes but using
them is impossible since quite a few statements to the police have been
written on me even for those demands which I made in a civilized fashion.
Sometimes I want to put a bullet in my head because of the hopelessness
of this situation…
Then in October, he made a new post:
people write to me, “Stay strong, don’t whine, hold on!” I am not
whining I’m howling! I’m howling from helplessness! What should a man do
who has had 3 million hung on him? Go and tear to pieces the living son of a
dead friend who lives in an apartment purchased with my money? Murder a
widow who stated in court that she didn’t know if perhaps the deceased
had settled accounts with me, and on the whole, she isn’t responsible
for the actions of her husband? And how can I go on living, if I have to
pay 100,000 rubles a month? […] Or should I go fall in the garbage
with the bums? What, did I gobble up this money in a bar, losing at
cards or flying to the Canary Islands?…Truly, all that is left is to
But Russia’s war in the Donbass gave him a new role. Here he is in front of the Sverdlovsk, Ukraine city council building.
Here he is leading men into battle, wearing an Afghan hat.
The war gave him lots of buddies.
And companionship on the holidays.
And he didn’t have to worry about where his next meal was coming from.
We can’t vouch for Nurullin’s sad story — and it
may be that after his services to the LNR — and Mother Russia — he has
now settled his debts. Some UN Security Council ambassadors who wanted
to save face and not look further than Minsk, and no doubt some mothers
who wanted their sons to come home from Debaltsevo may be grudgingly
grateful for Col. Nurullin’s services on the icy field outside of
Debaltsevo. But his story and his role in fueling violence is emblematic of a war driven by
Russia’s internal problems, and the need for poor young men without job
prospects or old Afghan veterans with business problems in a lawless
society to solve them by waging war on the people of Ukraine.
was still the matter of another figure in the drama (leaving aside the
unknown past of Col. Kisilyev), and that is the Ukrainian colonel from
the Joint Control and Coordination Center who vouched for Lentsov. A
number of observers instantly decided that if this Ukrainian military
man got on the odious TV1 — the same channel that broadcast the false
story of a toddler crucified in Slavyansk that caused Russians to go and
kill Ukrainians — to vouch for Lentsov, then he must be one of those
Ukrainian officials about whom it is said they are “ambiguous” about the
war, or worse.
Many people don’t realize that the JCCC is not
part of OSCE; OSCE took pains to explain this in one media briefing last
summer. The JCCC is a body created by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, to
coordinate monitoring of the ceasefire with the Russian military. OSCE
has monitored and reported on it, but one indication of its separate
status is the nature of the reports — they are scant, and do not
contain names or details. A report that pro-Kremlin sources cited as
proof that Gen. Lentsov was in Donetsk on the day of the video and
couldn’t physically be at Debaltsevo in fact contained no names, and the
ranks of the military personnel described didn’t include his rank, Lt.
General. OSCE knows his rank, as earlier he had been cited in a meeting
with the correct rank.
In a discussion about the Debaltsevo
video on G+ begun by azarot_54, who was among those skeptical of the
Ukrainian officer’s role, another user surfaced with the name pin4uk
(Pinchuk) said that the officer, whose full name was Andrei Borisovich
Lishchinsky had served under UN auspices with the rank of major in Iraq
in 2003 in the 5th Separate Mechanized Brigade (OMBr).
“He’s a real
person, who in this video is playing himself. Information on the
personnel of the Armed Forces is not secret, it is elementary to check
Regardless of Col. Lishchinsky’s bona fides and now a solid
alibi for Lt. Gen. Lentsov, many continue to believe that it is not
credible to have Russians monitor a ceasefire in a war to which they are
a party, and oversee the withdrawal of heavy artillery which they
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Observers wondered why Muratov would risk waiting days before publishing such an explosive report, given the risk that either he could be arrested or censors could intervene to prevent the report from appearing. While pre-publication censorship in Russia is still rare, blocking of sites and warning about prosecution for “extremist” content is often used now to control debate. Novaya Gazeta is already skating on thin ice, as it has already received one such warning this year, and with two in the span of a year, it could face action to close it.
Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor Andrei Lipsky has presented the document, which he says was presumably “brought” to the presidential administration during the period of February 4-12. “Brought” is in quotes to describe a process that Muratov had indicated earlier involved a group in which Russian Orthodox businessman and philanthropist Konstantin Malofeyev, close to the government himself, discussed a plan to incorporate the Crimea and southeastern districts of the Donbass into Russia, and then found another unnamed contact with even closer connections to take it to the Kremlin. Asked by a reporter how he knew it got attention, Muratov said that essentially the plan was executed, as events have illustrated. Says Lipsky (translation by The Interpreter):
Judging from the information which we possess and also according to the evaluations of experts to whom we provided this analytical memo for analysis, Konstantin Malofeyev, the “Russian Orthodox businessman,” presumably could have taken part in its preparation…In fact, Malofeyev’s press service, after the announcement of this material on Ekho Moskvy, has categorically denied this claim and has announced his intent to go to court.
The document which we publish is interesting for the fact that at the earliest stages of the Ukrainian political crisis — that is, before the flight of Yanukovych from Kiev and the coming to power of the “Banderite junta” — it prescribes the basis, step by step, and also the political and PR logistics for the interference of Russia in Ukrainian affairs and the breaking off from Ukraine of Crimea and the eastern regions. And while the actual course of the Ukrainian drama has introduced some correctives, on the whole, the high degree of coincidence of this project with the ensuing actions of the Russian government are striking.
Critics of Muratov’s claims and the portrayal of them by Western analysts have said that a memorandum that doesn’t show an actual documented provenance from the presidential administration itself is not much of a smoking gun. Lots of analytical papers are written by pro-Kremlin think-tanks and the government sifts through them — presumably in the offices of Surkov, where Ukrainian policy has been documented by Gazeta.ru and others to be made (see our report The Kremlin’s Policy-Making on Ukraine is ‘A Mess’).
Novaya Gazeta does not explain (or perhaps did not find out) who the figure was who was close to Malofeyev who brought the document to the Kremlin — and how then Col. Igor Strelkov — an associate of Malofeyev’s as Russian blogger Oleg Kashin and we have reported — came to use violence to take over Donetsk using this scenario.
What the editors of Novaya Gazeta are saying, however is that the fact that Malofeyev’s script — in which his PR consultant Aleksandr Boroday, later the head of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” had a part — was in fact carried out exactly as indicated means that the scenario found support within the Kremlin.
It also then enabled the Kremlin to claim “plausible deniability” about the entire project. Reports last week indicated that a criminal investigation into Rostelekom and related companies in which Malofeyev was involved had led to a court order to search his home and office which he was unable to contest.
Novaya Gazeta had published the document with some cuts (translated by The Interpreter below). These headers will give an idea of the content, and we will have a full translation later.
1. In assessing the political situation in Ukraine, we must proceed from the recognition, first of the bankruptcy of president V. Yanukoych and his ruling “family,” rapidly losing control over political processes.
Secondly, the paralysis of the central government and the absence in the country of a coherent political subject, with which the Russian Federation could conduct negotiations; third, the low likelihood of the appearance of such a consensus subject after snap parliamentary elections and presidential elections announced by V. Yanukovych February 4.
If in Russia, the oligarchy is balanced out by a powerful class of bureaucrats, in Ukraine the state apparatus is deliberately weaker than the oligopies; it, like the sphere of public policy, is under the control of oligarchs. It is the oligarchs (R. Akhmetov, D. Firtash, I. Kolomoyskyi and others) who rule the Kiev political communities, including the Verkhovna Rada and the system opposition.
By “system opposition,” the author means the legal opposition that works within the system.
This part of the document is noteworthy in that Petro Poroshenko, then the future president of Ukraine, is not mentioned. The document goes on to characterize Yanukovych as “a man of low moral and willpower qualities.”
Meanwhile, the part of the Berkut which is used to suppress the disorders in Kiev is formulated mainly from natives of the Crimea and the eastern regions. In the opinion of local observers, any attempts by V. Yanukovich’s successor to organize repression against the Interior Ministry and the Ukrainian Security Service as punishment for suppressing Maidan will inevitably encounter harsh forceful reaction. Meanwhile, the position of the Ukrainian army is ambiguous, which in the words of an officer of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, is “locked in its barracks and the officers are guarding the arms depots so that God forbid, they don’t fall into the hands of the contractors, which in that case will start shooting each other.”
Note that this quote meant that influential businessmen with ties to Yanukovych had a source within the Defense Ministry of Ukraine willing to reveal to them the weakness of the Ukrainian Army.
This line is among the most damning in the document:
Early parliamentary and presidential elections can become an excuse for a new wave of demonstrations and stormings of civil war, a deepening of the “east-west” electoral divide and in the final analysis will hasten the disintegration of Ukraine.
2. Russian Policy Regarding Ukraine Must, Finally Become Pragmatic
Russia should not by any means limit its policy in Ukraine only to attempts to influence the Kiev political set-up.
3. The Constitution of Ukraine in any event is incapable of becoming a mechanism with which the integration of the Ukrainian eastern territories and the Crimea into the state and legal field of the Russian Federation could be legitimately launched.
In this section, as Muratov mentioned, the authors detail a plan to use what they claim is a European Model for integrating border towns in adjacent states as a model for Russia and the Donbass; they claim they are using the Assembly of European Regions for this model. Of course, countries that have already joined voluntarily within the European Union, and which have centuries of voluntary ties — and sometimes wars for territory that have eventually produced victors and then amelioration — is hardly the model that Russia has actually pursued. What’s important about this section is the list of regions influential Russians with the ear of the Kremlin listed: Donetsk, Lugansk, Rostov and Voronezh in the Donbass; Kharkov and Belgorod in the Dnepr and Bryansk and Chernihov.
Russia using the legitimate, from the perspective of the European Union legal instrument of euro-regions must achieve the signing of agreements on border and trans-border cooperation and also establish direct state agreement relations with the Ukrainian territories where there are persistent pro-Russian electoral sympathies.
4. Of course, Russia, taking upon itself the support of Crimea and several eastern territories will be forced to take on a very burdensome budgetary expenditures in its current situation.
5. For the launching of the process of the “pro-Russian drift” of the Crimea and eastern Ukrainian territories events must be created in advance to lend this process political legitimacy and moral justification.
And also a PR strategy must be built to accentuate the forced, reactive nature of the corresponding actions of Russia and the pro-Russian minded political elite of the south and east of Ukraine.
The recent events in Western Ukraine (Lvov, Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk Regions) during which the opposition proclaimed their independence from the Kiev government provide a basis for the eastern regions as well to declare their independence and sovereignty from the government of Kiev, with ensuing re-orientation to the Russian Federation.
Another important revelation from this document is that the Crimean annexation and the eastern regions’ annexation were envisioned together from the start, not some “spontaneous” or then “forced” reaction to events as they unfolded over months at a time.
6. The retaliatory actions in the eastern Ukrainian regions must be dual in structure and in scenario.
Participants in actions of civil disobedience must demand from the Verkhovna Rada the expansion of the format for Constitutional form discussed in the Ukrainian parliament including the simplification of the procedure for organizing an all-Ukrainian referendum.
At first demonstrators must articulate their wish not to be “hostages of Maidan”, and its attempt to usurp the rights of other regions and a large part of the population of the country on its own civilization and political choice its non-acceptance of the “ideology of civil war and splitting of the country” which political representatives of the Western Ukrainian elite are espousing.
Of course, this shows a deliberate mendacity and determination to turn upside down the actuality of what happened — pro-Russian militants backed by Russia itself stormed buildings under the guise of such “demonstrations” and took over towns throughout southeastern Ukraine, thus producing the civil war they claimed they were opposing in Western Ukrainians.
As Muratov indicated in his interview, the slogans for these actions about “federalization” and “direct sovereignization with ensuing annexation to Russia’ indicate the truth nature of the plans as early as February.
7. It is important to arrange these events with a PR campaign in the Russian and Ukrainian press.
Novaya Gazeta then provides some commentary, which we summarize:
1. The document was drafted before Yanukovych’s flight.
2. A scathing assessment of Yanukovych is made.
3. There is a pragmatic and even cynical tone to the memo — there are no spiritual or historical justifications for Russian interfering in Ukraine’s affairs; there aren’t even any invocations of the need to protect the Russian language or “the Russian world”. There are only geopolitics and a cold calculation.
4. The authors are obsessed with trying to make their cynical actions to annex Ukrainian territory “look legitimate” — this is why they claim that what they are doing is “like” the EU concept of “euro-regions.”
5. There are a number of crude and false assessments of Maidan in the document, i.e. claiming the leaders were “recruited from soccer fans and the criminal world” or that they were “under control of Polish and British intelligence” or that the EU and US had a vested interest in threatening Ukraine’s integration.
6.The document has arguments of a geo-political and economic nature mainly intended to keep control over the gas pipeline corridor through Ukraine.
A reader points out that the same document has shown up in the leaks by the hacker group Shaltai Boltai of the correspondence of Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist and Eurasianist ideologue who is close to Malofeyev.
Western readers of this document and Novaya Gazeta’s thoughts about it may find it falls short of what they would consider something like “the Pentagon Papers” leaked by Daniel Ellsberg about the Vietnam War. Yet just as the Pentagon Papers were in part drafted by the Rand Corporation outside the government, yet reflected actual government policy and practice, this Russian document drafted by a separate group with connections to the top rulers was placed in the Kremlin — and ultimately executed. Its leakage or hacking and placement in the leading independent press is for Russia, a rough equivalent of the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times.
For Russians, the concept of an action in a memo, and the legal justifications and PR slogans (ideological tenets) for it, are very important indications of intent for action. The “conception” of a law or program can be debated as long and as intensively as the actual wording in a law or policy in the Russian setting.
That’s why for many Russian intellectuals, this document will be all the proof they need to show their government cynically planned to annex the Crimea — and at the same time, the Donbass — merely to ensure their gas pipelines had right of way. All that went wrong for the Kremlin was that the plan to take Kharkiv right after Crimea failed — yet recent bombings of Ukraine’s second city indicate their determination to stick to this script.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Twitter’s management has announced a readiness to have talks with Roskomnadzov, the state communications monitoring agency, Vadim Ampelonsky, the agency’s press secretary, told Interfax.
He said Twitter had agreed to discuss the issue at the level of technical specialists to define daily traffic for popular Russian accounts. “The company has promised a more detailed reply later,” said Ampelonsky.
On February 13, Roskomnadzor, which functions as the state censor, sent a notice to Twitter urging it to clarify its position regarding its refusing to block accounts or tweets or turn over user data. “Out of 108 requests to reveal the data on traffic for accounts, not a single request was met.”
While the Russian authorities might be more interested in getting the real names and addresses of anonymous users, this request appears to ask for information on “reach” not visible in “retweets” and “followers” that would indicate how influential a given account might actually be.
As we reported, Twitter said it had satisfied only 13% of Russia’s requests to block accounts or tweets, and has fended off requests from Russia to place its servers on Russian soil in compliance with a new Russian law. They will have until September to comply, and it is not clear how this will end.
Meanwhile, Twitter itself has not said anything about negotiations with Russia, but we have sent a query.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Copyright of the photo belongs to the Moscow Zoo. Under a new Russian draft law proposed by the Ministry of Culture, users would pay an annual fee to enable copyright holders — like the Moscow Zoo which took the photo, or the Moscow News which may have paid a fee for the photo — to earn revenue. To do so, they would have to be registered as content providers.
Russian authorities are planning to introduce what amounts to an Internet users’ tax, Gazeta.ru reports today February 24.
Despite considerable objections by other Russian ministries and businesses, the Ministry of Culture plans to impose a fee on Internet users, starting in the fall. The revenue is planned to be directed primarily to copyright holders of Internet content. The Russian Union of Rights Holders, headed by pro-government film-maker Nikita Mikhalkov, had proposed such an idea in the past, but it was rejected as being ineffective in fighting piracy and leading only to less Internet use.
Now, as the government is looking for ways to collect revenue in an economic crisis, it has resurfaced.
Gazeta.ru published their story with a picture of a dog howling — which
is also a reference to the joke, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a
While Vedomosti and RT.com reported last week that officials in the presidential administration would oppose the copyright fee, the fact that the Ministry of Culture is still pushing it this week and invoking an assignment from that same presidential administration to draft the bill in the first place could mean there is significant disagreement within the administration itself.
After these articles appeared February 17, on February 20, a notice appeared on the Ministry of Culture’s portal about the law seeking public input, with a claim that it would “balance the interests of users, rights holders and communications operators.”
The plan would introduce a “global license for use of musical works” (with text or without), recordings of performances and sound files, literary works and audio-visual works” to be distributed on the Internet.
The ministry’s site allows Russians to express their opinion in the next 55 days on a form. It also has a column titled “Opinion of Experts” where apparently the Ministry of Culture gathered some comments in favor and opposed to the law.
A number of experts such as Valery Rzheutsky said that the fee would likely impact the user more than help the artist. Another, Nadezhda Kutovaya said the fee was only aimed at “collecting cash for the pockets of content producers, including those of low quality who do not want to put their own cash into defending their projects.”
One person using a pseudonym was a lot more graphic; he simply wrote “You are f**king mad* to all the questions — and likely his comment won’t last long given Russian regulations about banning swear words from media.
Allowing “democratic discussion” might indicate there is more freedom of speech left in Russia than believed, but there are other factors at work. The Russian government on the whole has not worked very hard to stop piracy because there are too many people who benefit from it. And once a government ministry has proposed a law, it is unlikely the Duma will scuttle it.
In any event, this is a measure that will spark a lot of protest within Russia and in the West, by those who want to prevent taxation of the Internet.
A “careful what you wish for” part of the plan is to create a “unified register” of content producers in order to collect the fees. That means people will have to submit to more state scrutiny of their content and in general the provenance of Internet content. Although the law will allow for content providers to refrain from participation in the “global license,” Gazeta.ru says the drafters of the law found that there are “less than one percent” of authors who have this position. Given that the Ministry of Culture is not only the drafter of the law but also interested in making content comply with state ideological guidelines, it’s not the best source on this issue.
The size of the fee is not mentioned in the draft from Gazeta.ru found it was 300 rubles or about $4.75 per year of which some would go to the state and some to authors.
Mindful of the backlash, Grigory Ivliyev, deputy culture minister, has indicated that there has been some discussion of exempting students, pensions and disabled persons from the law. He also cautioned that there wasn’t yet a timetable for moving the law through the Duma, let alone a date of enforcement.
He also denied to Gazeta.ru that the law represented “an Internet fee” (translation by The Interpreter):
The Ministry on assignment from the president really has drafted such a law and at the initiative of the public council has submitted it for public discussion. It is yet another attempt to defend the rights of authors and their work, to their property. There is no mention of a tax on the Internet in the draft.
At a meeting of the ministry’s public council, a plan was discussed for how to collect the fee. User traffic would be analyzed by installing “special equipment responsible for filtering traffic and comparing it to materials protected by copyright.” Such filters are sure to be characterized by some opposed to the law as “slowing down the Internet” or adding more scrutiny of the nature of the content itself.
Russian authorities have in the past invoked copyright, which they aren’t especially good about protecting in reality, as a reason to get YouTube videos they dislike removed. We have found an enormous number of incidents of “copyright removal” of amateur videos of the war in Ukraine, showing Russian convoys, which indicates some force is methodically at work using copyright take-down notices to get rid of unwanted information.
Last October, Mikhalkov and the Russian Union of Rights Holders proposed that the concept of the “global license” and a monthly fee for users to download content be introduced. At that time Sergei Fedotov, general director of the Union, said revenue of about $860 million a year could be harvested in this fashion. But the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said that introduction of such a system itself would cost a lot; they estimated 300 billion rubles in 10 years.
Mail.ru, Yandex, Rambler and VKontakte sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin criticizing the draft law and saying it contradicted the Constitution and the Tax Code and also violated privacy rights. Fedotov replied that in fact the cost of Internet content would be reduced while raising the general quality of servers and platforms for its display.
Aside from the issue of the mechanics of collecting the tax is the issue of re-distributing revenue to authors, which in Russia opens up the door to corruption.
Even Nikolai Nikiforov, minister of communications, said in mid-December that there were “a lot of technical problems in distribution of the ‘authors’ fees.’ Moreover, such an obligation to make calculations will add a significant technical load to IT companies.” The Ministry of Economic Development, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service and the Main Oversight Division of the presidential administration have also criticized the law.
This story provides an interesting window into the process of Russian law-making and discussion of public issues that might indicate democracy is still at work. But it’s at best a limited ministerial democracy in which one set of interested bureaucrats argue against another set, with the invocation of the consumer as only a bargaining chip.
As Konstantin Chernyshev, an analyst from Uralsib, one of Russia’s largest commercial banks put it, the Ministry of Culture and Mikhalkov’s union “don’t want to fight piracy by prosecution the distributors of illegal content but want to put a tax on absolutely all users.” This would reduce user activity and development of the Internet, he said. He said there were already trackers of pirated content, but the government never followed up on the information.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick