Daily Archives: March 5, 2007

Commissars of the Internet: Conclusion

Today we bring you the sixth and final installment in the “Commissars of the Internet” series, an original LR translation which exposes how the Kremlin is attempting to take control of the Internet.

Last Monday, we read the authors’ introduction to the subject of “Internet Brigades.” Then last Tuesday, we learned the details about their organization and activities and on Wednesday we examined their ideology and strategy. Last Thursday, we began reading about the brigades in action against their targets, and on Friday we continued that story. Today, we complete the saga.You can find the entire article to date on the new website LR is constructing to house its major translations, located here. The first major translation, “Spare Organs,” is also already there.

It’s also worth noting a recent piece in the International Herald Tribune which shows that the Kremlin is approaching this not only from the demand side but also the supply side, seeking to co-opt bloggers by bribing them to report favorable information about the Kremlin. The article states: “Some bloggers close to the government admitted that in order to insure that certain news is spun a certain way, or that certain items get leaked, money does change hands. Ivan Zassoursky, a marketing director at SUP-Fabrik and a media expert, says, ‘Can you give someone money to organize a demonstration? Sure you can. So why can’t you give someone money to write something on ZheZhe?'” Since the Kremlin owns all the major television stations and many newspapers, and even operates it’s own English-language propaganda forum “Russia Today,” it should surprise nobody that it is using its oil windfall to buy off the blogosphere as well. And those it can’t buy it seeks to destroy.

Here then is Part II, Installment 5: The “Brigade” in Action, conclusion.

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
Gulag
September 16, 2006

(continued from last Monday)

Part II. Commissars of the Internet

The Brigade’s “gift of prophecy”

As a consequence of their specifically Soviet mentality and upbringing, brigadniki often slack off and do slipshod work, allowing annoying leaks which site administrators must then fix, by erasing the leaks along with large pieces of the rest of the forum.

For example, in October 2002 several brigadniki from the MN forum, presenting themselves as “patriotically-minded emigrants”, suddenly, without making any connection to the topics of the forum, launched into a campaign to discredit and expose a certain Mr. Limarev, who was completely unknown to the forum. It later turned out that Mr. Limarev ran the site “RusGlobus”, which was critical of the current Russian regime.

The postings of these “everyday readers from various countries” were unusually full of private information, including details of the unheard-of Mr. Limarev’s business and personal life, including his home address and telephone number, pseudonyms, names of his family members and bank account numbers. Two women were especially eager to expose Mr. Limarev, both of them long-time contributors to the forum, one of whom claimed to be a doctor in Ireland, the other an American real estate broker; both were passionate admirers of Putin and the FSB.

All of this brought a certain degree of confusion to the forum, inasmuch as none of the participants in the discussion could understand why the women were discussing and denouncing this unknown person, about whom so much personal information was being revealed.

The reason for this untimely “kompromat spill” became apparent two weeks later, when the magazine Moscovskiy Komsomolets ran an article by the journalist Khinshteyn [TN: Aleksandr Khinshteyn, also a Duma Deputy and well-known mouthpiece for the FSB; most recently involved in the purging of the leadership of the Russian Jurists Association (AYuR)] about how the FSB had sent an agent named Sultanov to France six months before to secretly investigate the creators of an anti-KGB site named RusGlobus. Among the creators of this site was the mysterious Mr. Limarev, whose address and bank account numbers had been posted by the Brigade on the MN forum.

The premature publicizing on the Internet of materials derived from operational sources of the FSB, two weeks before their first appearance in the mass media, resulted in a local Internet scandal. Many readers asked the obvious question: Who are these people, really, who have constantly appeared on this forum as opponents, presenting themselves as well-meaning residents of various countries, if they have access to information from the bowels of the FSB even before it is known to the journalist Khinshteyn, with his rather specific reputation? The remarkable “foresight” of these prophetic ladies might have been thought to put the prophetess Baba Vanga to shame, were it not for all their previous propagandist activities on the site, which had long before caused readers to have doubts about their true place of work.

After the scandal broke, the MN site administrator simply purged the archives of all the forums on which the women’s postings had appeared. When he was finished, not a trace remained of this premature leak of information.

Yet another very telling incident occurred on the forum of the journal “Novaya Gazeta” in February 2002, when a certain person under the nickname “Obaldevshiy ot Anni” (“Driven crazy by Anna”), in remarks on an article by Anna Politkovskaya, posted this text:

George Soros made a big contribution to “Novaya Gazeta” for the creation of databases of people kidnapped in Chechnya, hostages and war criminals. Soros later returned to see how his grant money was being spent. No databases whatsoever. But here our little Anka, the machine-gunner, shows up again. And it all makes perfect sense. How can one create such a database, when the horrible FSB is always encroaching on the life and dignity of poor Ms. Politkovskaya? But it would appear that in this case Soros is not buying it. Soros is now planning to cut off financing to “Novaya Gazeta” due to “improper use of grant money”. So there it is. And one more thing – for the serious specialist: Why in the world would the FSB defend the GRU? They have always been the fiercest competitors in every area of activity – both intelligence-gathering and covert action. They’re like the MVD and Prosecutor General, ready at any moment to take each other by the throat. And if a GRU spetznaz officer ever committed a crime, the FSB would do everything possible to expose it. The GRU are war-fighters, white-boned aristocrats, while the FSB is the successor to the KGB. Between them there will never be peace, they’ll never eat from the same bowl.

The above text was repeated almost verbatim by FSB representative Ilya Shabalkin on this exact topic. This would be nothing surprising, except that the announcement of Comrade Shabalkin took place just four days AFTER the appearance of this posting.

Obviously, one hardly needs to add that the anonymous person’s information, prematurely leaked on the “Novaya Gazeta” forum and repeated by the senior FSB officer nine days later, had absolutely no basis in reality and was quickly refuted by both the editors of Novaya Gazeta and the Soros Foundation.

Yet another similar “premature” release of information onto the Internet occurred on a forum of the magazine “Moskovskiye Novosti”. Strangely, its author presented himself as a Georgian artist of pro-communist leanings living in Europe. Here is his text, most interesting of all being the date – April 13, 2002:

With regards to the skinheads and fascists in Russia, maybe for a complete picture we should consider the possibility that the Western intelligence services have had a hand in this, eh? On the principle of “divide and conquer”. Just like they did with ultra-nationalist and fundamentalist organizations in other parts of the former Soviet Union. Why not suppose that the Chechen “freedom fighters” and “Moscow skinheads” were organized by one and the same force? The KGB men have no use for ultra-nationalism, because it destabilizes the region, and former KGB officers would never cut off the branch on which they are sitting. But well-organized neo-Nazis in the Soviet space might be quite useful to the west. By the word “west” I mean not the people of North America and Western Europe, but the intelligence services of those places. And their various propaganda specialists.

Six days passed. April 19, 2002 arrived. An then on the site Lenta.ru there appeared the following, very doubtful report:

LENTA.RU: RUSSIAN SKINHEADS RECEIVING HELP FROM ABROAD.

Information available to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs indicates that Russian “skinheads” may be receiving financial assistance from abroad. This was announced on April 19 during an interview by “Interfax” of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Aleksandr Chekalin. He believes that “we cannot fail to consider the foreign here, and we cannot exclude the possibility that young skinheads are finding sponsors and supporters from outside the local area.” “Our job now – together with the intelligence services – is to prove or disprove this”, the deputy minister emphasized.

So this “Georgian emigrant-artist”, always in solidarity with the pro-KGB Brigade of the site, managed to anticipate on the forum exactly the amusing and very doubtful announcement of the MVD representative, who subsequently was not able to come up with any proof or further developments.

Not long ago [in 2003], there erupted not just a local but very widespread Internet scandal on a similar theme. On a whole range of Russian forums there appeared a group of very well-informed people, all under the same nickname, “Ramsey”, who presented very specific information derived from intelligence sources.

The site Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru both reported that from the very beginning of the war in Iraq, intelligence information from the GRU on U.S. military actions in Iraq had leaked onto a variety of military and military-history forums and sites through postings under the pseudonym “Ramsey”. Analysts at “Gazeta” and “Lenta” carefully compared these reports with reports from the western press and coalition military commanders and came to the conclusion that all of the information was not only verified by official sources, but had appeared in advance of its first being mentioned in the western press. The online publications “Gazeta.ru” and “Lenta.ru” suggested that in this way the Russian intelligence services were carrying on a virtual war on the side of Iraq, against America. If in Soviet times the intelligence services served up disinformation and leaks via the nationwide “Sarafan Radio”, and political propaganda was read to people at their workplaces, then today the Internet has given them a simply unprecedented new capability for similar manipulations of public opinion.

After these publications by “Ramsey” on the forums of Tsivitas.ru, there appeared an approving posting by a regular member of the Brigade from Irkutsk:

The GRU in Iraq is working at full strength. This structure was, thank God, not destroyed by the democrats. They shoot me off a few things too, limited, of course. They themselves told me frankly, “Just what you need to know.” Nothing startling, all according to the law…

It is somewhat difficult to imagine GRU employees “shooting off” from Iraq their intelligence information to a modest little engineer in Irkutsk, who immediately posts this information on forums.

The most common occurrence of sloppy work by the Brigade appears when brigadniki are too lazy to correct their typographical mistakes and alter at least a bit the style they use under various identities and “legends”. As a result, they make themselves recognizable, like a portrait on a dollar, thereby reducing the “effectiveness” of their work. For example, a male personality will repeat word for word what he just said as a woman. It sometimes happens that one of these personalities will be offended personally by something that was said (nothing human is strange to them), and suddenly from the reserved image of a noble old widow will hatch the alcohol-soaked mug of a retired sergeant of the internal security service.

When did all this start?

This phenomenon is relatively new, very little studied, and is still awaiting researchers. As recently as 1998, such a large number of readers of a uniform type, with a conservative pro-government point of view, making use a common methodology and base of information, simply did not exist on the RuNet. People with communist and fascist viewpoints appeared only extremely rarely, and were found on forums in the ratio of about 1:50 in comparison to people of democratic persuasions. Much less were there any such “active measures”, following exactly the actions of the authorities. There were no personal, planned, mass houndings of one or another political figure who was out of favor with the current authorities. No obvious propaganda or counterpropaganda actions were visible, especially actions synchronized with government propaganda and precisely following the changing positions of Kremlin ideologues.

Here we present a short quote from one of the personalities we have described, in which he attempts to explain the unusual sociological transformation of Russian public opinion on the Internet, starting in 1999. By way of background: the brigadniki nowadays often call their opponents “paid propagandists of Boris A. Berezovskiy, or “BAB, Inc.” Clearly, it is too taxing for the soldiers of Ideology.gov.ru to imagine that their opponents might have their own motives for being on the Internet (such as their world view, political convictions and other such obsolete concepts) beyond conducting agitprop for money. So here is how the uniform personalities explain their simultaneous mass genesis on the RuNet:

“It is funny how the entire argument for the BAB, Inc. team’s main thesis rests on the fact that a couple of years ago the ideological complexion of the RuNet underwent a sharp change. Previously, so they say, a group progressive youth were nailing the Russian government, but now they’re gone. And, well, the fact that the age and social makeup of participants on RuNet forums has changed sharply (representatives of the middle and older generations have started to participate actively in discussions), BAB could care less, since it doesn’t correspond to their strategic interests. So they try to catch a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there…”

The author of this posting openly admits that in recent times there has been a genuinely SHARP change in the ideological complexion of the RuNet, but gives an explanation for this “sociological phenomenon” that does not stand up to scrutiny.

The argument of a sharp and completely unexplained change in the age of participants in discussions is from the realm of unscientific fantasy. In the three years following 1999, there was no universal cataclysm, no epidemic or neutron-bomb explosion, which selectively wiped out only young people. So, did the entire “progressive youth” remain on the Internet? Then how did their proportion change so much? Previously they were 90%, now they are 30%.

There also was no sudden increase in the standard of living for elderly people in Russia, nor any mass campaign to put “an Internet connection in the home every pensioner”. This is something too expensive for most retired people in Russia, and is clearly not their first priority.

There was no massive war, revolution or cataclysm in those three years that would have caused the generations on the RuNet to switch places. And without a social cataclysm, generational change and changes in ideology are very slow and gradual, always and everywhere — in all countries and in all eras.

Another thing about these old folks in Russia – the ones who supposedly in 1999 suddenly got themselves on the Internet and piled into political forums (which is absurd on the face of it): among those aged 40-60, with a level of education sufficient to make a hobby of the Internet, these folks often have more radical pro-democracy views than the “progressive youth”, which by and large is not interested in politics at all. As for pensioners being supposedly “nostalgic for the Soviet Man”, one should not forget that these pensioners are of the famous “60’s generation”, who were more than a little critical of Soviet realities.

What we recall happening in 1999, however, was something much different from some hypothetical hooking up to the Internet of all the pensioners. Maybe exactly these global political metamorphoses and a total “U-turn” in all areas of Russian life also led to such decisive changes in the Internet? Certainly similar changes occurred over the same three-year period in the broad majority of traditional Russian mass media – newspapers, magazines and television. But the Internet is different from newspapers and television exactly because it is not possible to change its political tilt overnight, just by changing administrators under the guise of a “management dispute”.

Cui prodest? (Who benefits?)

It is completely obvious that the Russian authorities would like to take the mass media under control. The Internet is something new to them though, and methods for taking control developed in newspapers and television work poorly here. One could, of course, attempt to take under one’s ideological control all the leading news sites and most popular online publications by buying them out or infiltrating one’s own people into them (as is essentially happening now). But in the absence of any single Director of the Internet, and the in the presence of a huge variety of web publications and interactive forums where anyone can participate in discussions freely, outside of the range of political censors – in the presence of this great variety of form and substance the authorities are unable to impose on the RuNet any strict and steady ideological line, and cannot reliably control and protect the government’s approach to it. Any yet they must still conduct their propaganda and counterpropaganda.

Compared with Soviet times, the ways and means of government propaganda have greatly improved. Budgetary resources for PR are nowadays never in short supply. Not being privy to the details of the “projects” for “Creation of a positive image of Russia”, “Strengthening of information security” and “Creation of a unified information space”, we would suppose that these cannot help but affect the Internet, and in particular the popular political forums, on which any participant can write whatever he wants. And here is what the propaganda budget figures look like, as provided by “Novaya Gazeta”:

In 2002, Russia spent on space flight 9.74 billion rubles; on military reform, 16.55 billion; on government television and radio, 9.5 billion rubles. In 2003, the corresponding lines of the budget had new figures: On space flight, 7.65 billion; on reform of the army, 15.8 billion; on government electronic mass media, 11.02 billion rubles.

The peculiar thing about any propaganda is that it must always be all-encompassing. If any place is left free of influence from government ideology, then the effectiveness of any propaganda campaign is sharply reduced. It seems likely that exactly this specific feature of the RuNet led to the sudden appearance of hundreds of uniformly national-government, “patriotically”-minded (as they like to call themselves) personalities, who resemble each other like the soldiers of a single division.

We note that on forums people make new acquaintances, groups of like-minded people come together, and public opinion is formed. One can understand how the organizers of “a single information space” and “creators of if a positive image of Russia” would try to destroy in the womb this independent public opinion, even if it is only in the virtual realm (inseparable as that is from modern life).

Such actions, however, often lead to counterproductive results: people on RuNet forums already are striving to defend and support one another against the coordinated aggressions of the Brigade. It was exactly in this way that the authors of this article, living as they did in different countries, met and became friends. Our experiences participating in various web-forums turned out to be very similar. As a result, this article came into being, with our collective observations. But we leave it to our readers to draw their own conclusions from the above.

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Tracking the Russia Blogosphere


La Russophobe has undertaken a study of the English-language Russia blogosphere which offers the following insights which may be of interest to readers and bloggers alike (click here to visit a cool interactive map of the blogosphere, pictured above). Naturally, if we have omitted any blog which deserves inclusion, we’d love to know. One that’s missing for sure is the Russia page of the mighty Global Voices megablog (top 300 blogs in the world), but it appears that this page doesn’t have an independent identity in the tracking world.

First, we offer a listing of blogs in English that focus primarily on analyzing Russian politics, ranked by the number of other recognized blogs that have linked to them, as measured by Technorati.com — a measure of influence in the blogosophere (basically, this is a list of all such blogs ranked in the top 100,000 by Technorati, with the top Russia blogs in the top 30,000 range of all blogs of any kind in the world).

Next, we offer a listing of the same blogs reorganized by the total number of links each has received from the group of blogs that link to them. This measures how interested each of those linking blogs are in the blog, and changes the rankings signficantly.

Then, we offer a listing of the same type of blogs ranked by traffic (visitation and page views), as measured by Alexa.com — a measure of popularity among readers (basically, this is a list of all such blogs ranked in the top 5 million by Alexa, with the top Russia blogs in the top 500,000 range of all blogs in the world). Each blog name is hyperlinked to the Technorati or Alexa data page where the relevant statistics about that blog can be found. This changes the rankings significantly a second time. Note that Alexa’s data is really only an educated guess, but it appears to be the best guess available.

Finally, we translate the Technorati data into a cash value for each blog, the amount for which it could theoretically be sold on the open market. Based on this data, one could say that the market capitalization of the Russia blogs (how much they would theoretically sell for combined) is in excess of half a million dollars. To know how impressive that is, you’d have to collect the same data for the same number of top blogs about other countries an compare the valuation. We invite someone to undertake this task.

The data shows that it’s obviously necessary to review both links and traffic in order to assess a blog’s significance; Vilhelm Konnander, for instance, ranks highly in links but is off the scale in terms of traffic. Conversely, Russian Spy has a very large amount of traffic but relatively little concrete interest in the blogsophere to show for it. The results also show that there is no independent English-language Russia politics blog which can compete with La Russophobe in terms of a combination of consistent traffic and links from other blogs. That is why we call ourselves the #1 independent English-language Russia politics blog in the world! The only blog which can compete with La Russophobe when comparing linking blogs and traffic is Russia Blog (now “the Real Russia Project“), and that entity is funded by a large institution (one dedicated, it should be noted, to banning the teaching of evolution and replacing it with the teaching of “intelligent design”) and which likely engages in commercial traffic generation techniques. It’s publishers are paid a salary to create and promote it (for this reason, it can easily be argued that it doesn’t even belong in this study). Nonetheless, Russia Blog has received only about 300 total links from blogs whilst LR has received over 1,500 links from blogs, and the two have basically the same number of linking blogs even though Russia Blog has existed much longer than LR so Russia Blog has had much more time to generate them. LR currently has over 60,000 Google hits, while “Real Russia Project” has less than 600 (granted, LR has existed longer than RRP, but “Yuri Mamchur” has been the boss of Russia Blog from day 1 and has currently less than 13,000 Google hits. In other words, Russia Blog’s traffic is completely empty, basically a bait-and-switch charade — a classic Russophile illusion (and in that way, quite fitting). LR has the most published visitation after the much older Siberian Light (Russia Blog has no public counter and, apart from a freak Internet event, LR’s regular daily traffic exceeds SL’s as well) and the most links from blogs of any blog listed below. In short, if LR were funded the way Russia Blog is, her traffic data would grind Russia Blog into the dust.

Finally, and perhaps most important, our study clearly shows that Russia is not a major topic in the blogosphere, meaning that all bloggers should view all blogs as being welcome. Interestingly, LR has blogrolled all the blogs listed below, but not all of them have blogrolled her (even though she’s obviously the most potent force in the Russia blogosphere today). There are less than 1,200 blogs in the world that Technorati has tagged to Russia (and a goodly number of these blogs are in Russian and can’t be read by other speakers — the number one Russian-lanaguge blog is Anton Nossik, editor of the Moscow News and a major organizing force in the Russian Internet). By contrast, there are more than twice that many blogs tagged to tiny England, roughly 2,500 tagged to Germany, nearly 5,000 tagged to France, and 7,000 tagged to Japan (Canada and China also have over 7,000 blogs each). The U.S. has more blogs than all of those countries combined. There is no more emphatic evidence of the extent to which Russia has alienated the entire world than these basic facts, which clearly show the world wants little to do with Russia. That’s fitting of course, since every day Russians show they want little to do with the world — well, until they start starving, that is. Of course, it’s also clear proof of the ridiculous lie that the Internet is significant in Russia; the vast majority of Russians, earning an average of $2.50 per hour, simply can’t afford to access it, and free access is simply unavailable.

All of the following data was accurate to the best of our knowledge on March 2nd. We apologize for any errors or outdated information and will be happy to update/correct if notified. Be sure to read the explanatory notes under each item before drawing any final conclusions about the results.

Top 16 Russia Blogs Ranked by Linking Blogs (Technorati)

Russia Blog 115

La Russophobe 107

Sean’s Russia Blog 74

Edward Lucas 71

Russian Blog 70

Very Russian Tochka 66

Lex Libertas 64

Robert Amsterdam 59

Siberian Light 58

Vilhelm Konnander 58

Russian Spy 52

A Step at a Time 47

White Sun of the Desert 45

Accidental Russophile 38

Copydude 35

Scraps of Moscow 28


EXPLATORY NOTES:

[1] Two photoblogs, which do not engage in political commentary, have been omitted from this listing, but they are very significant and bear mention: They are English Russia (2,502 linking blogs) and Moscow in my Eyes (118 linking blogs). They are excluded not merely because they do not engage in political commentary, but because English Russia generates links and traffic by means of spam and because Moscow in my Eyes has not posted since September 2006.

[2] Edward Lucas, Vilhelm Konnander and David Mcduff (A Day at a Time) do not confine themselves to the topic of Russia in any systematic way, but Russia dominates their discussion. We feel it is more than appropriate to include them in this group.

[3] Accidental Russophile is moribund. Very Russian Tochka has not posted since February 4th. Scraps of Moscow and Siberian Light have just emerged from long periods of dormancy. Russian Blog posts only occasionally. Thus, the group of actively posting English-language Russia politics blogs is extremely small, and active bloggers ought to do all they can to encourage new entries.

[4] The tie between Vilhelm Konnander and Siberian Light has been broken by looking at total links from blogs, where VK has 128 while SL has 233

[5] The links collected by Russian Blog and Very Russian Tochka are misleading. Unlike the others, the vast majority of links collected by these two blogs are due to a single frivolous post having nothing to do with political analysis. In the case of Russian Blog, it was post about how to drink vodka without getting drunk. In the case of Very Russian Tochka, it was a post about how to tell a painting was made by an insane person (a question which turned out to be a scam).

[6] It’s questionable whether Russian Spy belongs on this list. LR has it designated on her blogroll as a web resource rather than a blog, given its newspaper format and advertising for mail-order brides similar to that of the eXile. We consider it to have been included for informational purposes only.

Top 16 Russia Blogs Ranked by Links from Blogs (Technorati)

La Russophobe 1,507

Russia Blog 302

Russian Spy 301

Edward Lucas 248

Siberian Light 229

Sean’s Russia Blog 213

Robert Amsterdam 187

White Sun of the Desert 181

A Step at a Time 175

Copydude 173

Very Russian Tochka 130

Vilhelm Konnander 130

Russian Blog 122

Lex Libertas 103

Accidental Russophile 94

Scraps of Moscow 94

EXPLANATORY NOTES

[1] There is a tie between Very Russian Tochka and Vilhelm Konnander which has been broken by referring to each blog’s total number of linking blogs, where VRT leads. However, since as noted above VRT’s links are largely unrelated to Russia and due to a single freakish post, Vilhelm’s number of links are a that much more impressive because they are wholly genuine. The Accidental Russophile vs. Scraps of Moscow tie was broken the same way.

Top 12 Russia Blogs Blogs Ranked by Traffic (Alexa)

Very Russian Tochka 78,458

Siberian Light 208,084

Russia Blog 541,609

Russian Spy 1,130,755

La Russophobe 1,397,769

Lex Libertas 2,216,958

White Sun of the Desert 2,307,800

Robert Amsterdam 2,480,904

Russian Blog 2,651,110

Edward Lucas 3,288,059

Sean’s Russia Blog 4,234,450

Copydude 4,477,871

EXPANATORY NOTES:

[1] The traffic rankings for Very Russian Tochka and Siberian Light are the result of an anomaly. In each case, a single post on the blog was picked up by a global engine that generated a freakishly large amount of traffic during a very limited period of time, skewing the results. In both cases, the posts in question were not original but copied from another blog and then noticed by the engines.

[2] The traffic for Russia Blog is the result of the fact that, unlike any other blog on the list, Russia Blog is institutionally funded and engages in commercial traffic generation. As for Russian Spy, see note [7] above.

[3] Vilhelm Konnander, A Step at a Time, Accidental Russophile and Scraps of Moscow have no data from Alexa. Appparently, Alexa’s methodology does not produce meaningful traffic results for these sites. However, Alexa’s methodology is not foolproof, see note [4] below.

[4] Alexa computes traffic rankings by analyzing the Web usage of millions of Alexa Toolbar users. The information is sorted, sifted, anonymized, counted, and computed, until, finally, they get the traffic rankings shown in the Alexa service. More information about the process can be found here. Since the data is based on the toolbar, it is only one type of sample and could be skewed if a given blogger tends for some reason to attract readers who don’t use the Alexa bar in a represenative way. The best way to judge traffic is by referring to a public counter, but of the 16 major Technorati-listed blogs less than half (only La Russophobe, Siberian Light, Sean’s Russia Blog, Edward Lucas, Accidental Russophile and Russian Blog) maintain public counters. La Russophobe’s counter shows by far the highest amount of traffic, but the counters do not cover the same period of time. Alexa warns: “Generally, Traffic Rankings of 100,000+ should be regarded as not reliable because the amount of data we receive is not statistically significant. Conversely, the more traffic a site receives (the closer it gets to the number 1 position), the more reliable its Traffic Ranking becomes.” However, Technorati links to Alexa, and it is apparently the only credible universal source of blog traffic data. If anybody knows a better source of traffic ranking information, please clue us in!

Finally, blogger Dane Carleson offers a formula to calculate the financial value of a blog using a link-to-dollar ratio relied upon in the Internet industry and based on Technorati’s data. Here are the results for the blogs above, ranked by market value (bloggers are advised that if you run your blog through Dane’s converter he will the provide you with HTML code so that you can post a running tally in your blog’s sidebar; LR has done so):

Top 16 Russia Blogs Blogs Ranked by Market Value (Carleson)


Russia Blog-$64,357.56
La Russophobe-$60,405.78

Sean’s Russia Blog-$43,469.58
Edward Lucas-$40,082.34

Russian Blog-$39,517.80
Very Russian Tochka-$37,259.64
Lex Libertas-$36,130.56
Robert Amsterdam-$33,872.40
Siberian Light-$32,743.32
Vilhelm Konnander-$32,743.32

Russian Spy-$29,920.62
A Step at a Time-$26,533.38
White Sun of the Desert-$25,404.30
Accidental Russophile-$21,452.52

Copydude-$19,758.90
Scraps of Moscow- $15,807.12


Russia Blog Comments on LR and She, of course Responds

La Russophobe has received the following letter from the goons at Russia Blog as a comment to her most recent Sunday Funnies post (unfortunately, it wasn’t actually about that post, but rather a response to a prior post exposing an error on Russia Blog involving a Russian film at the Academy Awards). Following is her response:

Dear Kim Zigfield/Oliver Bronson/Lenard Daulton,

We’re flattered by all the attention you’ve lavished on Russia Blog lately, and we’re glad we don’t have to seek it out by hurling insults or calling anyone who disagrees with us schoolyard names. In fact, we noticed from “Lenard’s” comment on our Simpsons post that someone didn’t appreciate our joke about the “neo Soviet Union”.

I noticed that you claimed that your site received 10,000 visitors last month. That’s nice, we get about 2,000 visitors everyday, with 4,000 page views. We get a lot more comments from real live human beings as well.

As for 9 Rota, I did write about its box office record-setting ($20 million – more than double its budget) box office and DVD ($2 million) receipts in Russia, back in March 2006. You must have missed it.

I know that you would simply claim that these numbers are fake or paid for, since I got them from the Russian press, but there it is.

We have received many comments from fans of this film outside of Russia, and 9 Rota is available on DVD with English subtitles from Amazon.com. Our post on the Russian miniseries Brigada also received comments from all over the world, not just Russians.

Again, as with my statement to you that I couldn’t possibly fact check every single COMMENT on Russia Blog (which you immediately distorted into a confession that I don’t fact check posts), it seems you are distorting what we actually said, which is that 9 Rota was Russia’s nominee to be submitted in the category of Best Foreign Film.

BTW, Bondarchuk’s follow up movie, Zhara, also was a smash hit at the Russian box office. I watched it in Moscow, right after I had some powdered sugar in my tea. The young star of that movie, Timati, has a hit hip hop album called Black Star. In one of his songs, he slams Putin by name. Personally, Black Star is my favorite Russian CD. But we know from reading your blog that Russians are all racists and there is no freedom of speech in Russia, right?

Cheers!
Charles Ganske
(a real person using his real name :)

Dear Charlie,

Gosh, I guess I should be flattered by the attention of such a big, powerful blog as Russia Blog. Am I really so important as to deserve such a long letter? If so, then I’ve really arrived! Thanks for the compliment!

Let’s clear up a few basic things first, then I’ll address the substance of your comment.

Number one, my name is spelled “Zigfeld” not “Zigfield.” That’s a matter of public record. Very sloppy of you, Charlie.

Number two, your comment is spam. If you wanted to comment on our post about your claims concerning this Russian film, you should have done so on that post. I request that you not spam my blog again.

Number three, your comment is the height of hypocrisy. You’ve disallowed me from commenting on your blog (because you’re a pathetic coward) yet you feel you have a right to leave comments on my blog (as you can see, I have no problem publishing them even more prominently than you placed them). Even more hypocritical is your statement about “hurling insults or calling anyone who disagrees with us schoolyard names.” Can’t you see that you’re doing exactly the same thing yourself? You’re repeating the ridiculous, paranoid statements of Mike Averko about “Oliver Bronsen” which are fired at us as personal insults even while claiming this practice is wrong. Hypocrisy AND paranoia! Really quite an impressive neo-Soviet display. Stick to the facts, can’t you Charlie? Set a good example. Maybe we’ll be able to learn something from you! By the way, it’s rather odd that you would repeat Mike Averko’s charges since, as we understand it, you’ve fired him. If that’s true, all of us here at LR congratulate you on that decision, and admire it greatly. We look forward to more such brilliant moves in the future.

Number four, when you say you’re “flattered by all the attention you’ve lavished on Russia Blog lately”, I say you’re lying, not once but twice. I say that Russia Blog has not received a lot of attention on this blog recently, its content has been discussed three times in the last six months amid hundreds and hundreds of posts, nothing for a blog with so much traffic as you claim and far less than we’ve discussed other blogs, such as Robert Amsterdam and David McDuff. I also say you’re not “flattered” (implying happy) but annoyed and critical. In other words, this is more of the loose, unsourced drivel that readers have come to expect from Russia Blog. Do you stand behind your statements?

Number five, your comment arrived at quite a convenient moment since, as you can see from the post before this one, LR has been working on fleshing out the data concerning traffic to blogs and explained it, along with lots of other interesting information about the blogosphere, proving once again that it’s LR who occupies the leadership position in this universe. Happy reading! What you seem to overlook when you mention your traffic is that before this post nobody could have any idea what traffic you have because you don’t have the guts to put a public counter on your blog. As you can see from the data, our two blogs have basically the same number of blogs linking to them, and I have far more links from my group of blogs than you have from yours. Given the fact that you are financed by a substantial organization and LR is not, and given the fact that your blog has had far more time to generate interest than mine, I’d say my performance is far more impressive than yours. But that’s for readers to decide, and I’ve said from the beginning that my only goal is document facts, not to attract traffic. I leave you to becoming the McDonald’s of Russia Blogs, if that’s your goal you’re welcome to it. I sure can’t hope to compete with you in spending money on the blog, and I don’t want to. I’d also point out that since I have far more legitimate traffic than any other blog of our kind, your gratuitous comment disparaging my traffic is also an attack on all the bloggers beneath me. Since I think every single one of them operates a better blog than yours, I’m offended on their behalf. Meanwhile, I’d like to issue you a challenge: Post a public counter, and publish the data as to how much time an average Russia Blog reader spends at your blog, as I’ve previously done. You see, I think you are using commercial traffic generation tactics to lure in unsuspecting visitors from the Internet, people who have no real interest in what you are doing and who leave virtually as soon as they arrive (the same thing English Russia does). But I’d be happy to be proved wrong. I’d like to see as much interest as possible generated in the nightmare that is becoming neo-Soviet Russia. Needless to say, it must be rather annoying to your accountants at Russia blog that LR has basically the same cash valuation as the one they pay big bucks to produce, so I can understand your annoyance.

Number six, your statement about the comments your blog has received is bizarre, in fact hallucinatory. Between February 20th and today, the last two weeks, Russia blog has posted 11 times. Those 11 posts have to date generated 23 comments, including four posts with zero comments. That’s an average of two comments each. If you think that’s impressive for a blog with 2,000 visits per day, you’re even more of a psychopath than I thought. What’s more, I’ve said from the beginning that it isn’t the purpose of this blog to generate comments. As a gesture of loyalty to my blog host, I’ve made it very difficult for anyone to comment on the blog, they have to register both Blogger first. This is a matter of public record, and you are highly dishonest to fail to mention it. It’s also highly disingenuous for you to fail to mention that posts written by me on your blog set records for comments, and that there are many posts on this blog that have dozens of comments. Finally, you might like to know that, just for instance, Michelle Malkin has over 100,000 visitors to her blog each day and not a single comment. She doesn’t allow them. Maybe you think that proves your blog is more “successful” than hers. If so, your head needs work, dude.

Now, as for the substance of your comment: As for Russia Blog’s statement about “Ninth Company,” not only are its words are clearly quoted in my post, I posted a SCREEN SHOT of your words and linked to them. Here is what you wrote:

join us for a screening of one of the films nominated for the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 9th Company – a Russian blockbuster about the Soviet war in Afghanistan

In fact, the film was NOT “nominated for the 2007 Oscar” it was nominated for a nomination. It was then rejected. Your statement was flatly false. I know that this is inconsistent with your prior post, I so stated in my post. This proves you knew the truth, yet you hyped your film with a dishonest statement anyway, making things worse not better. You really ought to have actually read what I wrote before commenting on it. Your statement is unquestionably false and, as far as we can tell, you have neither apologized nor corrected, but rather attempted to rationalize and explain. Shame on you, Charlie. It’s clear to us that Russia blog won’t stand behind the statements it makes and that nobody can rely on them. Why can’t you just say: “Russia Blog was wrong and apologizes for the error” and thank me for helpfully pointing it out to you?

As for your documenting of your claim about “Ninth Company being a blockbuster (a) I missed this because you didn’t link to it in the post LR was commenting on (you might consider linking to your prior posts when you discuss the same issue again, it’s considered standard practice in the blogging industry — see, you’d put the link behind the word “blockbuster” in your text, cool how that works isn’t it?) and (b) the post you link to doesn’t contain any source material for your claim about the box office receipts (I’ve noticed that it’s a disturbing pattern at Russia Blog that you don’t link to source material to support your factual claims) and neither does your letter, and (c) if you think that generating $20 million in box-office reciepts is justification for calling a movie a “blockbuster” it’s clear proof that you need to buck up your standards a bit. Which I’ve been saying for quite some time now, of course. Please post a link to the source material you relied on for the box office receipts of “Ninth Company.” If it was the Russian press as you say, most people know that the Russian press is often unreliable (being controlled by the state and for sale to the highest bidder) so the source material is even more crucial in that case. Otherwise, readers can’t possibly judge whether your statement is reliable or not.

I’m delighted to know about the “Black Star” CD. Not being a fan of rap music, I hadn’t heard of it. I notice you have a post up on Russia Blog right now which mentions Timati. Oddly, though, you don’t quote his statement about Putin, instead you quote him saying ” You can’t understand Russia with [your] mind, You can only believe in it and trust it.” That sounds like apologizing for Putin, not calling for a challenge to him. To me, it sounds like propaganda, and maybe a misrepresentation of Timati’s position. Won’t you please write a new post and quote Timati on Putin. We’d love to link to it!

As for your statement that LR has written “Russians are all racists and there is no freedom of speech in Russia,” I challenge you to document your claim. It’s quite outrageous that you don’t try to quote LR exactly and link to the statement, very unprofessional, exactly what readers have come to expect from Russia Blog. LR has never stated that “Russians are all racists” nor have I. But we’ve certainly said that Russia is an overwhelming racist society and that Russians who will stand against racism are a tiny minority. LR has never stated that “there is no freedom of speech in Russia.” Anna Politikovskaya spoke freely. But she wasn’t allowed to reach a major audience, and she was killed for her trouble. LR has written that freedom of speech is seriously endangered in Russia, not dead, and that is why it is urgent to fight against the Kremlin’s efforts to further curtail it. Charlie, if you can’t even try to fairly characterize what LR has said, how dare you complain that we are unfair to anybody or suggest that we should change our ways? Shame on you, dear.

Finally, a few questions for you Charlie:

(a) Do you personally believe that the teaching of intelligent design should replace the teaching of evolution in Russian schools?
(b) Did Discovery Institute have any involvement, of any kind, in the recent lawsuit by a Russian student to ban the teaching of evolution in Russian schools?
(c) Does Discovery Institute or the Real Russia Project receive any funding from any entity connected to the Russian government, including Russia Today television?
(d) We can’t find anybody who’s ever heard about the Russian university that Yuri Mamchur says he graduated from. Could you please tell us more about it? Also, please tell us what university he is pursuing his graduate degree at, and how far along he is. Georgtown University has told us that “Yuri Y. Mamchur was enrolled in a Non-degree Program through the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University during the Spring semester of 2004″ but we can’t find out anything about his actual degree work as touted by Discovery Institute
(f) Why is Discovery Institute funding Russia Blog a/k/a The Real Russia Project? Is it using your blog’s drone of Russophelia to try to ingratiate itself with Russians so that it can influence them to ban the teaching of evolution?

We’ll be happy to post your answers here (as a comment to this post, not some other one) or to read them on Russia Blog.

Very truly yours,

Kim Zigfeld

PS: The affinity of people at Russia Blog to decorate their messages with smiley faces has recently been ridiculed by the eXile. Maybe you might want to think about trying to present a slightly more serious image for your blog if you want to be taken seriously. On the other hand, this blog has also been ridiculed by the eXile, so welcome to the club! Maybe it means you are on the right track after all!

PPS: What do you mean by referring to yourself as a “real person” using your “real name”? Are you implying that Kim Zigfeld isn’t a real person using her real name.?If so, do have the courage to say so clearly, and state the basis for your claim. Then, are you implying that you have some kind of problem with certain posters on this blog being anonymous, which they certainly are? If so, you might want to explore the Russian media. There are many reporters at major Russian newspapers who are anonymous. Joe Klein anonymously wrote “Primary Colors.” Alexander Pope anonymously wrote “Essay on Man.” History is chock full of such examples. Come to think of it, the eXile’s recent posts about LR were anonymous and relied on anonymous sources (oddly, Yuri Mamchur seems to have approved of that). Are you so unable to deal with the substance of our comments about Russia Blog that you have to try to change the subject? If so, we’re delighted. That’s one of the reasons we allow anonymity on this blog! If you are really committed to full public disclosure, I assume you won’t hesitate to answer the background questions I’ve asked above. For your information, another reason that some authors rely on anonymity is to avoid artificially inflating the importance of their views. For instance, Joe Klein is a political reporter, and if he had disclosed that fact then it might have artificially inflated the sales of “Primary Colors” and caused people to judge it beyond its four corners. In that way, being anonymous is more honest than being public. It forces readers to judge your work based on its own merit and nothing more. LR is just a bunch of ordinary people, not claiming to be backed up by any “institute” like you are, putting my views out there for what they are worth, and always sourcing them to published material. That’s what blogs are for. You might be interested to know that senior Russian blogger Andy Young called the effort by eXile to “discover our true identity” a “demented” enterprise (as you know, Yuri Mamchur participated in it). You conceal lots of information about your blog from readers, and are far more anonymous than LR in many ways. Certainly, the facts you report are far, far less reliable.

PPS: If you really do have a problem with anonymity, then presumably you’ll ban all anonymous comments on your blog in the future, and require authentication with a picture ID. Right?

Kremlin Critic Paul Joyal Shot in Maryland

The AP Reports:

Police are investigating a shooting that wounded a prominent intelligence expert. Fifty-three- year-old Paul Joyal [pictured] was shot Thursday night outside his house in the 2300 block of Lackawanna Street in Adelphi. Joyal is known for his expertise on intelligence and terrorism and his contacts in the former Soviet Union. He has also been a long-time critic of the the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shooting came four days after he told “Dateline NBC” that he believes the Russian government was involved in the fatal poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Reader Penny notes his relationship with Georgia: “Paul Joyal is a businessman who has been centrally involved in security assistance relationship with Georgia. He published Intercon Daily Report, an electronic information service on events in the NIS.”

Maybe this attack was just street crime, we must wait and see, but the implications are terrifying and investigators are concerned about the possibility of Kremlin retaliation. The Washington Post has more:

Federal and local law enforcement authorities are investigating a shooting in Prince George’s County that critically injured a prominent intelligence expert who specializes in the former Soviet Union.

Paul Joyal, 53, was shot Thursday, four days after he alleged in a television broadcast that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

Law enforcement sources and sources close to Joyal, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the motive for the shooting was unclear. But several sources confirmed that FBI investigators are looking into the incident because of Joyal’s background as an intelligence expert and his comments about the Alexander Litvinenko case.

Joyal was shot by two men in the driveway of his house in the 2300 block of Lackawanna Street in Adelphi about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The shooting was reported yesterday by Channel 4.

The identity of the shooters was unknown, and Prince George’s police released few details about the incident. But sources close to the investigation and to Joyal said two men accosted Joyal as he stood in the driveway of his home, then shot him once in the groin.

Joyal’s wife, who is a nurse, was at home at the time and ran to assist her husband as he lay bleeding in the driveway, the sources said. He was taken to a hospital, where he was in critical condition yesterday.

The sources said it was unclear whether the gunmen were trying to rob him.

Joyal, who has long been an outspoken critic of the Putin regime, appeared in a segment on “Dateline NBC” Sunday about the Litvinenko case. Litvinenko’s death from radiation poisoning has caused widespread speculation that Putin and the Russian government were involved, because Litvinenko was looking into the killing of a Russian journalist critical of the regime. Putin and Kremlin officials have repeatedly denied involvement.

In the “Dateline” interview, Joyal accused the Russian government of being part of a conspiracy to silence its critics.

“A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you, and we will silence you — in the most horrible way possible,’ ” Joyal said.

Joyal, who is a member of the Prince George’s law enforcement task force, is a vice president of National Strategies, a Washington-based government consulting firm. He founded his own company in 1991 and established joint ventures in telecommunications and air transportation in Russia and Georgia, according to the company’s Web site.

He is well-known for his expertise on intelligence and terrorism and for his network of friends in the former Soviet Union, and he published a daily intelligence newsletter for 10 years that offered information on the former Soviet Union. In 1998, he was a lobbyist for the Georgian government in Washington.

Other reports are here. ABC adds:

The shooting appeared to be a random robbery and street shooting, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person did not have authority to comment on the case.

Joyal and Litvinenko were acquaintances, said Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB counterintelligence chief who is now a U.S. citizen and who met with Joyal several hours before he was shot. Kalugin also said Joyal’s condition was improving. Joyal works for National Strategies, a Washington-based government consulting firm.