Putin Signs Repressive ‘Yarovaya’ Package of Anti-Terrorism Amendments Into Law

July 7, 2016
Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / TASS

LIVE UPDATES: President Putin has signed off on a package of amendments granting the authorities dramatically increased powers of surveillance and prosecution against so-called extremists.

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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Comms Minister, Mobile Companies Criticize Anti-Terror ‘Yarovaya Law’; Putin Orders Impact Studies

As we reported, President Vladimir Putin signed into law the controversial “Yarovaya Package” of amendments to anti-terrorism statutes today, named for hardline Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya, a former Yabloko party member now in United Russia who serves as the chair of the Duma committee on security and anti-corruption.
While Stratfor described the legislation as involving a “choice” by Putin between hardline loyalists and his critics, such laws originate in the Kremlin in the first place, and the outcome illustrates how Putin himself is more of a hardliner than a reconciler.
While there was speculation that Putin might play the liberal and soften some of the harshest features of the law, the only change that occurred even before his signing was the removal of the clause stripping citizenship away from those charged under the anti-terrorism laws.
Mobile operators from Russia’s “big four” (Megafon, MTS, Vympel and T2 Mobile) were unhappy with the law because it means huge expenses to keep files of communications for six months, Interfax reported.
In a letter to Valentina Matvienko, chair of the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament), the companies urged her to delay passage of the law, which would lead to “exponential growth in fees for subscribers’ communications services, degradation of the services provided and a halt to the development of communication networks in the Russian Federation.” The companies’ CEOs complained that their concerns had been repeatedly expressed but never taken into consideration in drafting the law.
The authors also pointed out that with the concentration of all the data, including some that would constitute a state secret in only a few places, hacking could be made easier and become a threat to national security. They said more than 2.2 trillion rubles would be needed to acquire the equipment to retain the data, and only foreign manufacturers would benefit from the profits.
While the letter has not been published in full, it does not appear that the mobile operators listed customer privacy as a concern although this issue has constantly been raised by users, notably by opposition members who have claimed that the companies are colluding with the state to monitor their conversations.
In a rare departure from loyal compliance with the Kremlin’s instructions, Nikita Nikiforov, minister of communications, questioned the law and said costs to mobile operators may rise 300%, Novaya Gazeta reported.
The Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights appealed to Putin not to sign the law.
Yarovaya denied that the implementation of the law would lead to a rise in communications costs and accused the companies of “speculation” and trying to drive up fees, Novaya Gazeta reported.

As with all Russian laws in Russia’s civil law tradition, every law is accompanied with a set of “normative acts” or instructions for how to implement it, enabling bureaucrats, not judges, to interpret them. 

In other words, not only does the law itself provide for significant erosion of privacy and freedom, including civil liberties under the Russian constitution, the bureaucratic instructions proliferating in connection with the law create a field day for arbitrariness and confusion with only a faint hope for leniency.

While Putin’s mandate involves a certain delay in the impact of the law, the reports expected later this year will likely contain little relief for critics’ concerns.

Under Putin’s instructions, by July 20, the FSB must provide a list of certified encryption methods as well as decryption keys for Internet communications. 
By September 1, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, in conjunction with the Ministry of Communications must prepare a report with proposals regarding the financial expenditures required for computer programming in Russia related to the law.
By November 1, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and FSB head Aleksandr Bortnikov must provide a report on the cost for equipment acquisition to implement the law, “taking into account the need to use domestic equipment” — raising the issue of whether foreign equipment would be banned.
They must also provide details on the authorities government officials will have in implementing the law and the instructions regarding non-certified encryption methods, and the creation of a registry of Internet service providers who must turn over keys to decode communications.
And finally they must describe how federal law will be used to “halt the provision of communications services in the event of non-confirmation of the compliance of personal data of actual users of the communications with the information indicated in subscriber terms of service.”
Thus it appears that if a person uses an encryption (or circumvention) program not approved by the government able to be decrypted, their phone and Internet service will be shut off.
ISPs in Russia are already required to retain files and cooperate with the FSB. The law will place additional burdens on them to keep all data for 6 months, and also retain files on the receipt, transmission and delivery of messages and calls, and to decode all encrypted communications.
The Kremlin has at least one way of pressuring the minister of communications — if it decides to act. Today, an experts council ruled that Nikiforov could retain his scientific degree despite acknowledging evidence he had plagiarized his dissertation, Novaya Gazeta reported.
The group Dissernet, which has tracked the plagiarization of dissertations by a number of officials, had appealed to have the minister’s degree revoked, citing 100 pages of copied material from other authors in his paper “Innovation Model of Management of Information Flows in Provision of Government Electric Services: Case Study of the Republic of Tatarstan.”
The Yarovaya law has been condemned by opposition and human rights activists, and even Edward Snowden, the fugitive NSA contractor who was granted asylum in Russia.

Snowden is known for mainly criticizing Western governments and companies for compromising user privacy, but has rarely commented on the more severe problem of surveillance in Russia. 

Snowden’s criticism may be the reason at least one influential official has decided to declare that Snowden helped Russian intelligence when he defected — a claim that has been scrupulously avoided by Putin and other top officials.
In an interview with NPR, Franz Klintsevich, a senior Russian security official and Duma member was cited:

“Let’s be frank. Snowden did share intelligence. This is what security services do. If there’s a possibility to get information, they will get it.”

Snowden’s lawyer and supporters denied the claim, saying he had no files with him when he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremeytovo Airport in June 2013. In seeking asylum in China, Germany, and other countries, Snowden offered to turn over information about US spying on those countries, and it is possible a similar offer was made to Russia.

A key problem with monitoring the impact of the law is that the independent press has suffered significant blows lately with the firing of more independent editors and installation of those believed to be more loyal  to the Kremlin, as occurred with RBC and Gazeta this week.

Human rights groups have also been whittled down with the imposition of the “foreign agents” law requiring them to register assistance from abroad if they engage in vaguely-defined “political” activities.

There has been a rash of cases of users themselves handed fines and even prison sentences for their own work or reposting objectionable comments by others.

While there is considerable criticism of the law, it appears that with the help of Yarovaya, who has reportedly never been elected but appointed, Putin has gained — with the ominous new National Guard — the tools to consolidate and harshen his authoritarian rule.

Translation: The general director of Megafon has proposed the government provide for the implementation of the Yarovaya law with funds from taxes.

Translation: The stocks of Russian cell operators fell after the signing of the Yarovaya law.

The picture used in the tweet is a Russian meme based on a clip from a Russian state TV  interview with Justus Walker, an American dairy farmer who came to Siberia, known as the “Happy Dairy Farmer,” in which he extols the advantages to Russia’s food sanctions on the West: now Russians will be forced to buy his cheese, “Because your Italian cheese won’t exist.”

Translation: Will believers suffer from the Ozerov-Yarovaya law? Live broadcast.

Translation: What the implementation of the Yarovaya law will lead to (a conspiracy theory post).

Volkov recounts a theory that the Yarovaya law may actually be an attempt to introduce white lists of approved sites — something conservatives have repeatedly tried to and failed — because it will be a way for operators to reduce the load of retained content.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Double Agent Who Exposed Russian Sleeper Agents In USA Reported Dead

Interfax reports that Aleksandr Poteyev, a former Russian intelligence officer who revealed the names of Russian sleeper agents operating in the USA, has died.

Poteyev, who was reported to have been recruited by the CIA in the 1990s, revealed a network of so-called “illegals” — Russian sleeper agents operating under false, foreign identities in the United States.

The most notorious of the ten agents was Anna Chapman, who was feted on her return to Russia and became a celebrity.

The Guardian‘s Shaun Walker recently interviewed the children of two other “illegals,” Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, who had posed as Canadians Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley:

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The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies

Tim Foley turned 20 on 27 June 2010. To celebrate, his parents took him and his younger brother Alex out for lunch at an Indian restaurant not far from their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both brothers were born in Canada, but for the past decade the family had lived in the US.

View full page →

Jul 07, 2016 11:02 (GMT)

It is uncertain if Poteyev was the sole reason the “illegals” were identified, or when he disclosed the information.

According to some reports, he was the deputy director of ‘Department S’ within the SVR — Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The department oversaw the work of sleeper agents within the USA.

The FBI had begun investigating ‘Tracey Foley’ as far back as 2001, but Poteyev fled Russia just a few days before the arrests were made in 2010, sending his wife a text message:

“Mary, try to take this calmly: I am leaving not for a short time but forever.

I did not want this but I had to. I am starting a new life. I shall try to help the children.”

Poteyev was convicted in absentia in 2011 of treason and desertion by a military court in Moscow. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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Russian double agent sentenced in absentia to 25 years in prison

A Russian double agent who fled to the US after betraying the espionage ring which included Anna Chapman has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Alexander Poteyev was found guilty of state treason and desertion.

View full page →

Jul 07, 2016 11:08 (GMT)

Today Interfax reports, citing “informed sources,” that Poteyev has died in the USA.

According to one of the agency’s sources in Russia, the reports received from abroad were “being verified.”

Another said that they too had received such news, but suggested that it may be “disinformation, with the aim that the traitor is simply forgotten.”

If Poteyev’s death is confirmed, then questions will inevitably arise as to whether he was murdered by the Russian security services like Aleksandr Litvinenko, another former intelligence officer who had decided to leave Russia and collaborate with the British security services.

In 2011, during Poteyev’s trial, Reuters noted that an unnamed Russian newspaper had:

quoted Kremlin source as saying a hitman had been sent after the man who betrayed Russia’s spying operation.

A year earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the Russian sleeper agents’ deportation, Vladimir Putin, then the prime minister, was asked whether the agent who had betrayed the network would be punished.

Moskovsky Komomolets reported:

“This is the wrong question, it can not be resolved during a press conference. They live by their own laws and these laws are well known to everyone in the intelligence services.”

We can only guess traitors can expect according to the laws of the special services. However Vladimir Putin spoke about what happens to traitors.

“Traitors always come to a bad end. They come to their end, as a general rule, either from drinking or from drugs in the gutter. One such example recently ended his existence.”

— Pierre Vaux

Editors From State News Agency To Take Over Editorial At RBC

Vedomosti and Bloomberg report that two editors from the state-owned TASS news agency are to take over the editorial board of RBC, which has come under considerable pressure from the Kremlin this year, leading to the resignation of editors and reports that the news agency’s owner is being pushed to sell.

Bloomberg reports:

Elizaveta Golikova and Igor Trosnikov, both deputy editors at Tass, will start on July 14, RBC said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

“In the next several months, they will determine and approve the structure of the newsroom and distribute roles within the newsroom’s management,” RBC said in the statement. “Editorial policy at RBC will continue to be based on objectivity, professionalism and quality.”

An RBC employee told Vedomosti that Golikova would be working more on “the RBC site as a product, with Trosnikov on content.” 

This was confirmed to the paper by a second source at the company, who said that Trosnikov would “soon be responsible for the production of content, Golikova for its packaging and distribution.”

RBC had long been one of the best news outlets in Russia, known for its reliable reportage and some major investigative work.

But this summer saw a series of catastrophes for the agency:

Most recently, there were reports that tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov who owns controlling a controlling stake in RBC via his Onexim investment firm, was being forced to sell his assets:

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Is the Kremlin Forcing Mikhail Prokhorov to Sell His Russian Assets? | News

Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov once said he likes to completely overhaul his professional life every eight years. And so things have turned out. In the 1990s, Prokhorov was a banker, scooping up a business empire on the cheap in the county's chaotic privatizations.

View full page →

Jul 07, 2016 10:30 (GMT)

The appointment of editors from the staid, government-owned TASS (which once stood for Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) as heads of the editorial team at RBC may well herald the end of the outlet as an independent entity.

— Pierre Vaux

Putin Signs Repressive ‘Yarovaya’ Package of Anti-Terrorism Amendments Into Law

President Vladimir Putin has signed off on a controversial package of anti-terrorism amendments, dramatically extending the already oppressive scope of authorities’ ability to prosecute “extremist” behaviour.

Interfax reports that Putin’s signature of the amendments was announced today by his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.

The package, sponsored by MP Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerov, was approved by the State Duma on June 24.

The package introduces new, powerful surveillance measures, including stipulation that all telecoms and online communications companies store records of all their clients’ phone calls, messages and social media activity. 

The Interpreter reported in June:

Furthermore, these companies will have to provide law-enforcement not only with users’ correspondence but the keys to any encrypted chat or files. Companies that refuse — as Apple did with the FBI in the case of the San Bernadino terrorist’s phone — or which use non-certified encryption will face fines from 3,000 rubles for an individual to one million rubles for legal persons ($46 to $15,379).

The law tackles “missionary” activity which is defined as propagating beliefs, holding services, distribution literature, and collecting donations for religions not legally registered with the government. Preaching in residential buildings is now outlawed and equated with “extremism”. Urging citizens to withdraw from the state education system or other civic duties is now also a crime. Foreign missionaries will be unable to obtain long-term visas as they had in the past, and may enter Russia only if they have an agreement with a recognized religious body.

The age of responsibility for the offenses was lowered to 14 and the penalties for the offenses made more harsh with lengthier terms of imprisonment.

Peskov said today that Putin had given specific instructions to carefully monitor the implementation of the package for problems.

But while perhaps the most extreme element of the package – an amendment to strip Russians implicated in terrorism of their citizenship – was removed during the rapid process in the Duma, Putin was apparently more concerned with financial issues than overreach.

From Interfax:

Together with this package a check-list of instructions for the government was signed, entrusting the Cabinet of Ministers with accurately monitoring the course of the implementation of this law, so that, if necessary, they can minimise the potential risks associated with financial costs, with the use of indigenous equipment for protecting information and so on, continued Peskov.

— Pierre Vaux