Latvia Discovers Russian Warships; Sweden Suspects Russian Hackers

March 21, 2016
Russian Emergency Ministry workers at the site of the crash of FlyDubai in Rostov on March 20, 2016. All 62 on board were killed.


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:

Getting The News From Chechnya – The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
– How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Number of Russians Who Trust Putin Drops 10 Percentage Points, But 65% Still Prepared to Vote for Him in Next Election – Levada

The number of Russians who trust President Vladimir Putin has dropped by 10 percentage points, reported, citing the Levada Center’s latest poll.
According to the survey, 21% of Russians “fully trust” Putin; 52% “likely trust” Putin. In 2015, these figures were 26% and 57%, respectively. 
Among 38% participants of the poll, Putin elicits sympathy and enthusiasm (last year, this was 47%); 30% say they can’t say anything bad about Putin.
Of those polled, 15% say they are “neutral”; 8% are “cautious,” 4% say they “can’t say anything good,” and 4% say they have “negative feelings” toward him.
Asked what attracts them in Putin, Russians above all cite the fact that he is experienced (33%); a far-sighted politician (21%); energetic, decisive and wilful (31%); and that he will protect state interests (25%).

65% of respondents are ready to vote for Putin in the next elections.

The survey was conducted March 11-14, 2016 in 48 regions of Russia, with a statistical margin of error of 3.4%.

Back in January, Levada Center found that 82% of Russian citizens were satisfied with Putin (this was down slightly from 85% in December. Only 18% said they did not approve (in December, this was 14%).

Putin reached his record popularity in October 2015, after he ordered the bomb strikes on Syria, where 89.9% of those surveyed by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Study (VTsiom) said they approved of him. For two years now, that is, since the occupation of the Crimea, Putin has kept his approval level at 80% or higher.

It would be interesting to ask why Putin lost 10 percentage points now, given the surge of popularity that came both from occupation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbass, and then bombing of Syria.

Likely those who have lost faith in Putin didn’t so much become disenchanted with the bloody results of these military campaigns, but with the economic hardships that have begun to bite harder in Russia. This is due to the fall in the price of oil, Western sanctions due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s boycott of Western trade in retaliation for the sanctions, along with its suspension of many areas of its past relationship with Turkey after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane near the Syrian border.

As always, we would have to note that when public opinion is measured in a non-free country that is rated poorly for media freedom and other human rights, you are measuring only the effectiveness of state TV and state propaganda.
So we can say that the effects of that propaganda are starting to wear off, or as Russians often quip, “Television, Meet Refrigerator.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Interpreter’s Editor-in-Chief Michael Weiss Visits Lithuania, Interviews President, ‘Elves’ Fighting Kremlin Trolls

The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief Michael Weiss, senior editor at The Daily Beast recently traveled to Lithuania where he interviewed  journalists, activists, and government officials to discuss the question: would the US defend Lithuania and other Baltic states and risk war with Russia?

Lithuanians have evolved a number of tactics to quote with an increasingly belligerent and provocative Kremlin; Lithuanian’s “elves” are the answer to the infamous “Kremlin trolls“. 

The Baltic Elves Taking on Pro-Russian Trolls

VILNIUS, Lithuania-My elf was on time and surprisingly tall. Mindaugas is an unassuming, thirty-something advertising agency director by day, and a ferocious cyber-warrior by night. He started a phenomenon, here in Lithuania, of countering Kremlin propaganda and disinformation on the Internet. "We needed to call our group something. What to name it?

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Mar 21, 2016 18:31 (GMT)

There were 20 or 30 at first, when the trolls began a targeted campaign of leaving nasty comments about the Lithuanian government and society, usually pegged to a hatred of NATO, the European Union and, of course, the United States. Since then, elves have proliferated into the hundreds. They’re now scattered about neighboring Latvia and Estonia and have even been spotted as far north as Finland. The elves pride themselves on clandestinity and reclusiveness, and so I was quite lucky to catch this Lithuanian Legolas on my last night in Vilnius.

“Most of us were already participating in some online groups,” said this man, who suggests we call him Mindaugas in person. “Fighting the trolls on Facebook and vKontakte, giving examples of Russian lies. That’s how we met.

Weiss also interviewed Lithuanian leader Dalia Grybausakite: 

The country’s pugnacious president, Dalia Grybauskaite, referred to as the Baltic Iron Lady, has said that Lithuania is “already under attack” by Russia.

“The most dangerous goal of information warfare,” Grybauskaite emailed me, “is to break the people’s will to resist and defend their state, and to create favorable environment for possible military intervention. And the example of Ukraine is proof that conventional war in Europe no longer is theoretical.”

The President Who Dared to Call Putin's Russia What It Is: A Terrorist State

Not many world leaders call Vladimir Putin a terrorist and get away with it. But Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite refused to resort to diplomatic euphemism in describing Vladimir Putin's aggression in Ukraine.

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Mar 21, 2016 18:38 (GMT)

Not many world leaders call Vladimir Putin a terrorist and get away with it.

But Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite refused to resort to diplomatic euphemism in describing Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. “If a terrorist state that is engaged in open aggression against its neighbor is not stopped,” she declared in November 2014, about eight months after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, “then that aggression might spread further into Europe.”

Sometimes referred to as the Baltic Iron Lady, Grybauskaite is outspoken about NATO’s responsibility to fortify its eastern periphery and forestall any future acts of Russian military adventurism into Europe. Lithuania, she has said, is “already under attack” from Kremlin propaganda and disinformation, a targeted campaign she considers the possible curtain-raiser to an invasion of her country

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick