Mr. Medvedev, Please Stop Lying!
She's the only one listening, Dima. The only one. Hat tip: Robert Amsterdam.
While being interviewed by the utterly clueless milquetoast Fareed Zakaria on CNN last Sunday, Russian “president” Dima Medvedev stated: “Whether some bosses like it or not, in the modern age of global information, there are no subjects you can conceal. You can sometimes be silent about or hold back certain things on TV, but remembering the fact that there are around 40 million Internet users in Russia today, people from across the country will learn the news within five minutes. Therefore, trying to curtail press freedom is a totally hopeless thing to do.”
He was, of course, lying. According to ComScore, in June 2008 Russia had less than 18 million total visitors to the Internet per month. That’s half the figure Medvedev quoted, and it’s a vast overstatment. According to ComScore, Russia’s level of Internet penetration was a pathetic 14%, the lowest of any country in Europe. That means that a whopping 86% (that’s right, eighty-six percent), of all Russians have no monthly access to the Internet at all. And Russia’s rate of per capita of Internet activity, because of its poverty and social repression, is far lower than in developed countries too. This means that a Russian who accesses the Internet each month spends far less time online than a European counterpart, and if you were to measure daily activity as opposed to monthly Russia’s Internet population would be far smaller than even the pathetic 18 million figure.
Information Week reveals the conclusive evidence that the Russian government sponsored acts of cyber terror against Georgia:
The cyber attacks against Georgia last year marked the first known time that computer networks were assaulted by civilians in conjunction with physical attacks conducted by a national military force.
Paul Goble reports:
Mikhail Afanasyev,editor of the Internet Journal “Novy focus,” has been charged with slander for distributing “intentionally false reports” about the Sayano-Shushen Dam disaster when prosecutors in the Khakass Republic say he was in full possession of “reliable and official information.”
The filing of these charges less than 24 hours after Afanasyev suggested on his site that officials were shifting their efforts too quickly from the search for survivors to the recovery of bodies demonstrate that Russian officials can move quickly when they want to control reporting about any event. But they also call attention to a disturbing phenomenon, the increasing propensity of Russian law enforcement to draw on the legal norms of the Soviet past when the criminal code included provisions for bringing charges against anyone making “intentionally false slanderous declarations, which disparage the socialist system.”
The Russian government is creating a new search engine called “Gogul” (gosh, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) to be used by children “safely,” without poisoning their brains with unpleasant information. It has never heard of Vladimir Putin and it will only let you find pre-approved websites that the Kremlin finds suitable for young minds.
Welcome back to the USSR!
Posted in internet, russia
Long Knives in Sukhumi
Blogging on Live Journal (backed up on Google), Twitter and Facebook, a Georgian lecturer on economics at Sukhumi State University named “Giorgi” last week faced a massive campaign of cyberwar from Russia (read his posts in translation here and here). Thanks to the free advertising from his beloved Russians, which got him written about in such places as the Times of London and interviewed by The Guardian, by the time the dust settled and he was fully back online (though the LJ blog still seems to be under assault), laughing at the Russian cowards who attacked him, the professor (who blogs as “cyxymu,” which looks like the Russian script for Sukhumi) now has well over 2,000 followers on Twitter and is ten thousand times more well read than before the crazed Russophile set tried to silence him. By the weekend, there were nearly 1,000 articles in the mainstream Western press blaming Russia and praising the Georgian’s courage.
Nice job, Russians! Maybe you’d like to do the same favor for La Russophobe?
Russia, Obama and the Internet
For years now, Russia has been weaponizing the Internet using a two-track approach. First, Russia has been seeking to excercise totalitarian control over its domestic Internet by generating content and harassing independent publishers and ISPs, even going so far as to prosecute bloggers and commenters. Ultimately, once the Runet is brought to heel, the proud KGB spies who rule the Kremlin plans to use it to further brainwash the lemming-like population just as it is doing today with the TV networks and major newspapers that it seized years ago. Second, Russia has been developing its capacity to attack the Internet resources of foreign countries. Russia has actually waged open “cyber war” against Estonia and Georgia when those two former Soviet states dared to defy the Kremlin’s demands.
As if all this weren’t enough, Russia’s extreme poverty (the average worker earns less than $3/hour while the cost of Interet access is comparable to that in the West) serves as yet one more barrier to the population’s use of this valuble resource. As we reported in our last issue, many Russians have no chance to get near the Internet, even in large cities, and this means that the claim that the Internet’s relative freedom can offset the total lack of objectivity in print and television media is utter nonsense.
Now, the Obama administratration has created a new cabinet-level position devoted to Internet security, and it is pressing for dramatically higher levels of worldwide response to cyber terrorism. Putin’s Russia, of course, stands in the way — just as it has stood in the way as the world has sought to demand justice and democracy in places like Iran and North Korea.
One of the very most under-reported critical facts about Russia is the total lack of Internet access available to the country’s general population, which remains in the dark ages. Thus, claims about freedom on Russia’s Internet counterbalancing the loss of TV and newspaper freedom are wholly bogus. Paul Goble reports:
Despite reports about the expansion of Internet use in Russia, more than half of that country’s urban residents over age 12 have never gone online, and more than a third have never used a computer, global figures which set Russia apart from Western countries but ones that conceal deep divisions within the Russian Federation in the electronic world.
As members of the Facebook community, we express our revulsion at the company’s recent decision to sell 1.9% of it to the Russians. Facebook has betrayed basic principles of democracy and Internet values, and it should be ashamed.
Evegeny Morozov, blogging at Foreign Policy:
One of the Kremlin’s pet new media projects has been a site called liberty.ru. It’s been set up under the auspices of the Fund for Effective Politics, a think-tank headed by Gleb Pavlovsky, who has been instrumental in shaping the Russian ideology of the last decade. The official objective of liberty.ru — as articulated by Pavlovsky — has been to tap into the immense creativity of the Russian internet users and involve them in producing ideas that could make Kremlin’s increasingly unappealing ideological package relevant to the younger generations. Liberty.ru was meant to become something like Russia’s DailyKos or Talking Points Memo.
We’ve repeatedly pointed out that less than a fifth of the Russian population has Internet access, which isn’t surprising given that the average wage is $3/hour and the cost of Internet use is similar to that in the West. The Russian website Veb Planeta recently carried the following op-ed item, translated by Profy (hat tip: Global Voices). It points out the flip side to this issue, namely that more than half the traffic on the Russian internet consists of thieves seeking to profit from lax Russian copyright protection:
Russia is well-known for its liberty when it comes to piracy: one almost never sees a court trial featuring any crime related to downloading content from torrents or using pirated software here in Russia. But I did not really know Russia has already become a safe shelter for foreign pirates – in the way that Las Vegas has become for the US people in gambling.
It now turns out that more than a half (52%) of all the visitors to all the web resources in the Russian internet segment are foreign pirates who rush to the local web resources looking for free content that is easily available on the popular Russian torrents.
Russia Today Declares war on USA
If the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin is looking to “reset” relations with the world’s only superpower, rather than to ratchet up cold-war tension, it sure has a funny way of showing it. Dripping with anti-American poison, a recent RT item on Kremlin-controlled propaganda network Russia Today recently threatened that Russian hackers would cause satellites to drop out of the sky on Los Angeles at will if America wasn’t careful.
Paul Goble reports that the Putin regime is now attempting to turn the extremism law, supposedly aimed at terrorists, towards crushing Russia’s infant environmentalist movement:
RusHydro, which builds and operates hydroelectric stations for the Russian government, has accused a group opposing a dam it wants to build in Krasnoyarsk kray of extremism, a charge that prompted interior ministry officers there to call in representatives of the website of the opposition yesterday for “an explanation.” But the charge and the expansive definition of “extremism” interior ministry officials have accepted has prompted the Russian section of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and other environmental protection groups to denounce the company for engaging in such “black PR” against its opponents.
This battle goes back several years. If RusHydro goes ahead with its plans, some one million hectares of land will be flooded, destroying not only a unique natural habitat but also putting at risk the survival of a small ethnic community, the Evenks, who have lived there and depended on that environment from time immemorial.
Other Russia reports:
Russian lawmakers are developing new measures to combat the spread of internet-slang into daily life. As the Novye Izvestiya newspaper reports, the project is still in its early stages, although ambitions run high.
The hubbub over net-speak—purposeful misspellings and emoticons combining into what Russians call “Olbanian” (a made-up language in itself a misspelling of Albanian)–comes as Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, is preparing draft legislation to regulate all aspects of the Internet. One part of the law intends to control the language used by Russians to communicate online, according to Yelena Zelinskaya, the deputy-chairwoman of the Public Chamber Commission on Preserving Cultural Heritage.
Paul Goble reports truly shocking, repugnant news that the Kremlin is already in the process of the final clampdown on the Internet; last week we reported on the Kremlin’s efforts to control major portals like Yandex, and now Russian courts are legitimizing the shutdown of any site that carries objectionable comments from readers. It’s a stunning and fatal blow to Internet freedom unheard of in the civilized world. Welcome back to the USSR, Russians:
According to a Moscow court, Russian officials can close down an internet portal if visitors to the site leave comments that the authorities deem to be extremist, a ruling that could force Russian sites to moderate all comments before they are posted or to stop allowing such comments, thereby ending one of the most lively forums in the Russian media.
The Federal Arbitration Court of the Moscow District has rejected an appeal by the Urals information agency, URA.ru, which held that it should not be subject to warnings that could open the way for its closure for posts visitors to that site left and the site’s own editors took off within a day. That decision, Aksana Panova, the site’s chief editor, said that the decision not only creates “a dangerous precedent” that could be used throughout the Russian Internet but opens the way for abuse because officials could arrange to have someone post “extremist” materials and then pounce even before the site took them off.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Russia’s most prominent Web player, Yandex NV, is in discussions to give a state company veto power over changes in its ownership while ensuring independence in other areas, amid growing Kremlin calls for more control over major local Internet companies.
Neo-Soviet Russia Lashes out at the Internet
It was almost as if the Kremlin wanted to make neo-Soviet moron Kirill Pankratov look foolish.
Last week, just as Panratov was babbling insipidly about the freedom of the Russian Internet, Russia “president” Dima Medvedev was lashing out at foreign investors in Russian cyberspace, calling them a threat to Russian security. It was the classic stuff of neo-Soviet paranoia, laid bare for all to see.
So much for Barack Obama’s silly idea of “resetting” relations with Russia. No sooner did he meet with Dima Medvedev than a massive cyber attack on American electrical grids by Russia was unearthed. The Voice of Amerca reports:
A U.S. newspaper is reporting that spies using the Internet have infiltrated control systems of the U.S. electrical supply network and planted computer programs that could be used to disrupt electricity service.
The report in The Wall Street Journal cites current and former national security officials as saying the spies are from China, Russia and other countries. It says a senior intelligence official said the Chinese and Russians have attempted to map U.S. infrastructure. The report says a senior intelligence official says the computer software tools left behind could be used to destroy infrastructure components, and officials are concerned the programs would be used in times of war or crisis. The report says officials say water, sewage and other infrastructure systems were also at risk. But it says officials do not believe there is an immediate danger. The report says Russian and Chinese officials have denied any involvement in cyberspying.
A Pentagon official said Tuesday the Defense Department has spent $100 million in the past six months responding to cyber attacks. In testimony to Congress last month, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair warned of a growing threat to cyberspace as terrorists expand their use of tactics and techniques. He said the U.S. has to keep strengthening its cyber defenses.
Speak Up, Mr. McCain
Even as Russian “president” Dima Medvedev was meeting with Barack Obama in London in an effort to “press the reset button” on U.S.-Russian relations, Medvedev’s cruel KGB regime showed by its actions that the effort was nothing more than a sham. Obama remains silent on the issue of human rights and the new cold war with Russia, giving every indication that he has been suckered by the neo-Soviet regime in Moscow, and it is now time for Republican John McCain to speak up in vehement opposition.
We understand that McCain was honor bound to give Obama the chance to formulate his policy towards the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin without interference, but three months have now passed and Obama has met with his Russian “counterpart,” yet remained totally silent on American values and national security where Russia is concerned. Therefore, McCain must now demand better. And let’s be clear: It’s not only the right thing, but in his party’s partisan interests, to do so. Republicans have lost the intiative on domestic policy but, following the lead of their great leader Ronald Reagan, they can claim the high ground on foreign policy by moving decisively against Putin.
The evidence of Putin’s malignant intentions is damning indeed.
Axis Global reports:
Security researchers from Greylogic published a report which concluded that the Main Intelligence Directorate of Armed Foces of the Russian Federation (GRU) and the Federal Security Service (FSB), rather than patriotic hackers, were likely to have played a key role in co-ordinating and organising the attacks, The Register writes. More circumstantial evidence has emerged linking the Russian authorities to cyber-attacks on Georgia that coincided with a ground war between the two countries in July and August last year.
Open Democracy’s Polit.ru website translates an article published last May on the Expertiza.ru website about Vladimir Putin’s Internet goon squads. Our readers first learned about this issue a year before that, when we posted out original translation from the Gulag website along similar lines.
Political forums on the internet are relatively new for the Russian public. They’re today’s “universal kitchen”, where public opinion is “cooked up”. Users report that before 1999 such forums were fairly homogenous sociologically. 70-80% of the audience consisted of like-minded people of liberal and democratic convictions, representatives of the Russian middle class and Russian-speaking émigrés.
However, in a mere four years this has all changed. Suddenly, totalitarian opinion makes up 60-80% of all posts on Russian political forums! This dramatic increase does not correspond to the spectrum of public opinion. It diverges significantly from data of internet voting on key problems of modern Russian life.
Rebecca MacKinnon and Evgeny Morozov, fellows at the Open Society Institute, writing in the Moscow Times:
Even the most cold-hearted realists would agree that the failure of communist censorship played a role in the collapse of the Iron Curtain: Voice of America, the fax machine, rock ‘n’ roll and the lure of Western capitalism helped to win over the people of the Soviet bloc.
Today, similar hopes are often vested in the Internet, with high expectations that the wealth of online information might trigger the same kind of censorship failure that we saw in Eastern Europe in contemporary authoritarian states — and with the same results.
Our staff translation (corrections welcome) of a blog post in Russian by Live Journal blogger “Plucer” dated February 11th:
The Russian government as a whole, and the leadership of the Ministry of Interior in particular, have decided on the complete and final abolition in Russia of the right of writers and artists to use pseudonyms. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, anonymity in the creation of texts of all kinds is one of the main sources of all crimes in the Russian Federation. In particular the decision to destroy the rights of Russian writers and artists to create online texts and recorded under pseudonyms on the web anonymously has been taken.
Medvedev is telling the old warhorse: "Medals are fine, but I'm a blogger with 10,000 registered readers!" (Source: Ellustrator)
It was reported last week that Russian “president” Dima Medvedev’s six-month-old blog, which was however opened to commenting less than a month ago, has recorded its 10,000th registered reader (registration is required to comment). What Kremlin mouthpiece RIA Novosti didn’t care to mention, however was that only 50 of those “readers” signed up to receive regular updates on the blog’s contents and, according to Yandex, Dima’s blog wasn’t in the top 400 in Russia based on link activity. It was behind the blog of so-called “liberal” politician Nikita Belykh, for instance, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s blog has more than 10,000 readers receiving updates, Belykh more than 2,000. The Moscow Times reported: “Of the more than 6 million blogs tracked by Yandex, Medvedev’s was ranked No. 293,326 according to the number of subscribers. President Dmitry Medvedev may be the most powerful man in the country, but it appears to be a different story in the Russian blogosphere — at least for now.”
From the 10,000 registered readers only 2,500 comments have actually been published to date, so at most a quarter of those who registered have talked back to the “president” (less for each reader who commented more than once). The Committee to Protect Journalists suggests why that might be: Not that they didn’t write, but that they got censored.
Russian “president” Dima Medvedev wrote about what he called the “global economic crisis on his blog on October 23, 2008. He blamed the United States entirely for causing the crisis, said Russia was only a minor victim and only because it had become open to the outside world, and said Russia would avoid any more serious consequences. He did not give a single specific statistic on any consequences Russia had experienced to that point, making no reference to the catastrophic decline in Russia’s stock market or the massive FOREX reserves Russia was expending, nor did he acknowledge that the Russian economy’s performance at that time was far worse than most other nations. He states: “We have taken a number of measures that should restore confidence in the near future in the financial sector and normal lending.”
Since then, the bottom has fallen out of Russia’s currency, reserves are down by half and the stock market has been virtually obliterated. Meanwhile, Medvedev has put up four additional posts: one about sports, one about what he does in a typical day, one about how students can finance education and one about his trip to Latin America. For more than three months, he has totally ignored the country’s economic status on his blog.
Here is Medvedev’s October 23rd blog post in full (staff translation, corrections welcome):
I would like to talk about what is now worrying the world – the global financial crisis. Most countries are faced with the fact that the gross errors – errors committed by several states (especially America) – have led to serious problems. The size of the U.S. financial market and its impact on the world economy is very high. That is why when the crisis happened in the U.S., the rebound hit the economies of almost all countries.
Five or seven years ago, the impact of this crisis might have been negligible in Russia. Now the situation is different: we are a country with an open economy. On the one hand, this gives us enormous advantages, on the other – it forces to react and deal with the problems faced by other leading states. Now everyone is focused on one problem: how to get through the global financial crisis with minimal losses.
ZheZhe on the Brink?
Our charming hosts here at WordPress appear to have scented blood in the virtual waters. On January 8th they published a post implying that the LiveJournal blog (known as “ZheZhe” in Russia, where it is the leading host of blogs in the country — the New York Times operates a ZheZhe blog onto which it translates some of its stories) is on its last legs, and invited ZheZhe bloggers to transfer their content to WordPress. Two days earlier it had been reported that ZheZhe was laying off at least a fifth of its staff because of incipient financial woes. It is closing down its entire operation and moving its headquarters to Russia, apparently its last bastion of strength.
Let’s be clear: Any manpower or technical resources belonging to ZheZhe that are located in Russia are at risk of being liquidated by the Kremlin at any time. Despite what some say about the vitality of the Russian blogosphere, in fact only about 20% of Russians have Internet access and e-commerce is woefully underdeveloped in the country since credit cards are rare and banks are corrupt and unreliable. Given those facts, its hardly suprising if ZheZhe finds it difficult to sustain itself.
If the Russian blogosphere is serious about speaking truth to power and defending its status as the last vestige of free media in Russia, then it must take immediate action. It must develop ways to raise funds so that it can operate indefinitely, and it must find ways to house server data far outside the reach of the Kremlin’s clan of KGB spies. If this isn’t done, and done quickly, we will wake up one morning and read that the Kremlin has simply pulled the plug on the Russian blogosphere.
We’ll read about it, but the people of Russia won’t, because state-controlled, neo-Soviet Kremlin TV won’t report it.