Russia Update: Anti-Western Attitude ‘Worst It Has Been in 25 Years’ – Levada Center

February 9, 2015
Two Muscovites in popular t-shirts sold now in many kiosks. The one on the left says "Topol - Not Afraid of Sanctions" and "Sanctions? Don't make my Iskander Laugh." The references are to weapons systems. Photo by

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 ‘Anti-Maidan’ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers and The Guild War – How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features ‘Managed Spring’: How Moscow Parted Easily with the ‘Novorossiya’ Leaders, Putin ‘The Imperialist’ A Runner-Up For Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.

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Twitter Refuses to Fulfill Most Requests from Russian Censor to Block Tweets or Accounts

The microblogging service Twitter is refusing to block information about the war in Ukraine at the request of the Russian government, Vedomosti reports.

The new semi-annual “Transparency Report” provides statistics about how many requests Twitter receives from various countries of the world to block accounts or tweets. Twitter issues these figures as part of its philosophy of complying with some government requests to block content, but then revealing it in the belief that ultimately this will serve as a deterrence. It’s not so transparent as to reveal the content of the requests or the names of the accounts, however, although word usually gets out about these anyway.

It’s also possible in some cases for users to switch out of their location and then get around the block which applies only to that geographical area.

So far, publicizing the fact that it can block tweets has only led to more block requests from governments, which increased in 2014 by 40% to 2,871.

Turkey submitted the most such requests to block, and Twitter management satisfied only 50% of them. When government officials asked to reveal identities of users, Twitter declined every time. Twitter was entirely blocked by Turkey for a time until the Constitution Court revoked the decision.

Russia is in second place in terms of world block demands to Twitters; management satisfied 13% of them, and blocked three accounts and 9 tweets. Among these was the Russian-language account of Right Sector. Demands to block material have more than doubled; all requests for one came from the state censor, Roskomnadzor, invoking the Russian law against “extremism.”

Says the Twitter report:

We denied several requests to silence popular critics of the Russian
government and other demands to limit speech about non-violent
demonstrations in Ukraine.

Twitter management doesn’t mention a persistent phenomenon we often see on Twitter, where sharp critics of the Kremlin are suspended if enough pro-Kremlin sympathizers abuse-report them on specious grounds. The system handling complaints is automatic, and if enough “@” messages are seen, Twitter may simply suspend an account for spamming.

While activists have had some success in individually contacting the Twitter account @security to try to get them to notice misuse of their very abuse-reporting system, it can take time. Dick Costello, CEO of Twitter, recently conceded that his company had not addressed these issues. “We suck at dealing with abuse,” The Verge reported him as saying.

Twitter has been vital for war reporters in both Ukraine and Russia and abroad to publish short dispatches with pictures and sometimes geolocations of Russian soldiers and armor in Ukraine. It’s also been used for Kremlin propaganda accounts with massive numbers of followers. Recently, when one of the pro-Putin bloggers @korobkov threatened a Ukrainian supporter with violence, he was suspended. But then soon he was reinstated after accessing a Russian contact within Twitter’s staff.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Opposition Leader Navalny’s Proposal for Anti-Corruption Legislation Debated

A government working group voting on a petition that originated with an anti-corruption campaign by Alexey Navalny ended up taking no action today due to a lack of a quorum, BBC’s Russian Service reported.

Navalny’s has called on the Russian government to incorporate into its legislation Article 20 of the UN Convention Against Corruption which provides for prosecution of government officials who obtain wealth unlawfully.

His Anti-Corruption Fund organized a petition drive that garnered 100,000 signatures, which under law meant that it could be reviewed by a government body.

It is one of the more bizarre features of Russian life that a hounded political opponent of the Kremlin, who has faced multiple court cases in the last year on the theme of theft and fraud — mirroring the charges he himself has made against Putin cronies like Vladimir Yakovlev, head of Russian Railways — could nevertheless have his proposals reviewed by the government.

But the exercise seemed designed to discredit a chief plank of Navalny’s popular program.

After a three-hour discussion, the working group found that only 14 members out of the 35 were present, insufficient to have a vote. They tabled the vote to the next session.

Rubanov’s home was recently searched in connection with an investigation of an “art theft” case which authorities have been attempting to pin on Navalny.

Ivan Pavlov, an attorney and member of the government’s working group said that the presidential administration, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry opposed the legislation. (And that’s understandable, as all these bodies have officials in them who appear to live beyond their means.)

Officials argued that the UN convention does not make domestic legislation mandatory for signatories, but only that it was recommended.

Despite the fact that the working group is part of the “Open Government” project, the meeting was closed, and Navalny, author of the proposal was not admitted. Officials said he was “under arrest,” although Navalny has pointed out that his continued house arrest is unlawful, as he was already given a suspended sentence, and under Russian law, house arrest can be used for pre-trial restraint but not as a form of punishment.

During the debate about the proposed legislation, a number of points were made by establishment liberals who represented an older style of dissent that stressed human rights and due process in struggling for the rule of law against a lawless state, contrasting with the newer style of Navalny’s populist anti-corruption movement that harnesses the outrage of ordinary people suffering economic difficulties against wealthy bureaucrats.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council opposed the anti-corruption legislation since he believed that it would create more “massive repressions” as the government could unleash crackdowns and would “pave the way for a new 1937,” the height of Stalin’s purges. Tamara Morshchakova, a judge of the Constitutional Court of Russia also said that “the elements of the crime are not defined” and could lead to more abuse of the law.

“It’s not even 1937, but some kind of inquisition,” said Anatoly Kovler, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights. He believed that the inclusion of any law requiring officials to report on the wealth of their adult children was a direct interference by the state in private life. Russians have been indignant to see the children of high officials studying abroad in expensive colleges and sailing yachts.

Igor Zubov, deputy interior minister, turned in the most quotable quote today with his pronouncement. “All color revolutions in all countries began with the slogan of struggle against corruption,” implying that combating graft would mean regime change.

Yelena Pamfilova, vice president of Transparency International in Russia, said that the Ministry of Economic Development had reported the amount of business corruption in Russia in 2013 as 1.93 trillion rubles ($29 billion). This money should have appeared in the income taxes of officials, but “we didn’t see it,” she said. Kirill Kabanov, president of the national anti-corruption committee, advocated increasing the penalties for embezzlement of state funds under an already-existing draft law, rather than Navalny’s proposal for the “unlawful enrichment” legislation.

Both the Communist Party and Just Russia supported legislation to ratify the legislation. The communists gathered 115,000 signatures in 2013, but their initiative failed to pass. Sergei Mironov, head of Just Russia, said he advocated legislation that would make it possible to confiscate property from officials and their families. In the Russian context, that’s the sort of concept that many feel will be abused further than it already is.

Despite the fact that the working group is part of the “Open Government” project, the meeting was closed, and Navalny, author of the proposal was not admitted. Officials said he was “under arrest,” although Navalny has pointed out that his continued house arrest is unlawful, as he was already given a suspended sentence, and under Russian law, house arrest can be used for pre-trial restraint but not as a form of punishment.

The last time we heard from the “Open Government” project head, the head was explaining that he didn’t have a copy of the government’s anti-crisis legislation himself.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Pre-Trial Detention of Sentsov Extended Until April 11
A Moscow court has approved of the extension of pre-trial detention of Oleg Sentsov until April 11, reports. Sentsov, a film director and active Maidan participant who was arrested last May, is charged with “preparation of terrorist acts” in Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol.

Recently new charges were also added for unlawful weapons possession. Sentsov’s lawyer says the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia has recognized his dual citizenship (Ukrainian and Russian) but he is being tried as a Russian citizen.

Many of his colleagues and human rights groups believe Sentsov has been falsely charged and is a political prisoner.

Soldiers’ Mother Head in Prikumya Charged with Fraud; Raised Cases of Russian Soldiers Killed in Ukraine

Ludmila Bogatenkova, head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers and Mothers of the Prikumya [Kuma Basin] in Stavropol Territory, has now been charged with fraud and faces up to six years of prison,, the Crimean site of RFE/RL, reports.

Her lawyer Andrei Sabinin reports that Bogatenkova, 73, allegedly deceived a resident of Budyonnovsk when she offered to provide legal aid for his son and took 800,000 rubles ($12,176). Last year she was detained and put in pre-trial detention, then released on health grounds after pledging not to leave town.

Her colleagues claim that the criminal case is retaliation for her investigation of deaths of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, says Ukrainian human rights advocate Halya Coynash.

It was Bogatenkova’s letter to Ella Polyakova of the St. Petersburg Soldiers’ Mothers that initiated the St. Petersburg group to request the
Investigative Committee to look into the deaths of servicemen in the 19th Motorized Brigade in July
and August
, notes Coynash. Military authorities claimed the soldiers were killed or committed suicide during “training exercises.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Anti-American Attitude of Russians ‘Worst It Has Been in 25 Years’: Levada Center

The Levada Center has found a record percentage of anti-Western sentiment in Russia, Novaya Gazeta reports; 81% of Russians have a negative attitude toward the United States, and 42% call relations between Moscow and Washington “hostile” — 10 times as many as last year (from 4%).

As for the EU, 71% of Russians have a negative attitude and 24% think relations between the EU and Russia are hostile (a year ago, it was 1%), Vedomosti reports. Even so, 40% still believe that relations with the West can be strengthened, even as 36% propose distancing Russia from the West.

The number of those who believe Russia is equal with the most influential powers of the world has reduce from 45% in 2008 to 27% today.

Aleksey Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center said that the attitude of Russians toward the West and specifically the US was the worst it had been in 25 years, and this was related to “the situation around Ukraine and lack of understanding by Russians of the nature of the sanctions.”

Respondents believe that the sanctions have some kind of hidden economic agenda, i.e. fear of competition from Russia, and believe the West is trying to push a growing rival aside, yet others acknowledge that Russian economic development is not as successful as it seemed before the 2008 crisis.

Russians believe that the West is to blame for the war in Ukraine, but they believe that if a settlement is reached, relations will gradually improve, says political analyst Dmitry Orlov.

But Aleksei Makarin, another political analyst, says he is not certain of such an outcome. Russians had traditionally divided “the bad USA” from the “good Europe,” but even before the war in Ukraine had begun to change their attitude toward Europeans as people who “renounced their values” and expressed themselves “at the expense of traditional values.”

An interesting aspect of the chart showing the ups and downs of attitudes by Russians toward America indicate that even during the re-set in the first Obama Administration, there wasn’t a steady rise, but evidently certain events could make attitudes plunge again.

This chart asks “How Do You Regard the USA Now in General?”


The flip side of the poll seems to be that Russians have a poor self-image for their country – and these may be related and self-reinforcing, although the Russian media hasn’t discussed this part of the poll.

When those surveyed were asked “How do most developed countries of the world regard Russia now?” in January 2007, there was a low percentage — 4% — which rose in 6% perhaps even due to the attitude of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Russians – but which went to 2% this January. It has never gone above 6% in the last 7 years.

Meanwhile, only 21% believed other countries saw Russia “as a partner”; this was higher in January 2009 at 39%. The largest percent — 37% — believe Russia is seen as a competitor — which fuels the idea, as the article explains, that sanctions aren’t imposed to change aggressive behavior and deer it, but to compete out of jealousy. Respondents also said 27% believe Russia is perceived as an enemy, which is up from 16% in March 2014, and up from 7% in January 2007 and 8% in January 2013. That’s significant — that the belief that Russia is seen as an enemy has increased more than three-fold.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick