Daily Archives: October 30, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: Big Brother is Watching

La Russophobe is delighted to welcome yet a fourth expert translator of Russian into English to our blog, and for her first installment she opens another window into the Russian press, here by Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta. This is exactly the type of column that Anna Politkovskaya got shot for writing, and but for the work of heroic translators like Samantha it would never see the light of day in English (as much of Anna’s work failed to do). Ms. Latynina is a true Russian patriot.

Big Brother is Watching You

by Yulia Latynina

Novaya Gazeta

Translated from the Russian by Samantha S.

Our “Separation of Powers” is a war of the Security Services. One lot whisper into the president’s left ear, the other into his right ear.

The main principle of the Special Forces is: if you’ve got something to say, say nothing. If you’ve got nothing to say, say even less. The main principle of the Kremlin clans is: never appeal to the public, appeal to the president. An appeal to the public is an admission of disloyalty and a sign that you can’t get to the president. General Cherkesov broke both these rules when he published an article in the newspaper Kommersant about the Security Services’ war. Why- God
only knows. Perhaps he hired Kharms [TN: Daniil Kharms 1905-1942. Russian absurdist writer] to write the letter, or, Shenderovich [TN: Victor Shenderovich b. 1958. Russian writer and satirist.] as a last resort. The postmodernists should frame this text on the “corporate soul” and “chekism” and hang it in place of Malevich’s Black Square.

I’ll venture to remind you of some events which preceded the creation of this philosophical text. It began with a clash between two powerful Kremlin clans — one usually associated with the deputy head of the presidential administration, Igor Sechin (and the head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev) and the other with the head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service Viktor Cherkesov and the head of the presidential security service Viktor Zolotov– over the planned appointment of Shamakhov, who was close to Cherkesov, as head of customs. Criminal cases were brought; the clans began to stop each other’s goods wagons and recapture the confiscated goods using the special police of the OMON. It was a terrible but completely quiet fight. Among the most noticeable episodes, which were widely debated in narrow circles, were: the seizure of a consignment of Chinese consumer goods in the Nakhodka port which were being sent directly to the address of a secret unit which was the FSB’s supplies section (An FSB employee received the consignment of goods with official certification) and a search of one of the biggest dealers at the customs office, during which diamonds were seized by weight. “They’re just presents!” said the aggrieved dealer.

It’s thought that during this turf war, the FSB obtained wire-tappping equipment which was used to record Sechin’s conversations with his powerful relation and ally Ustinov, the Prosecutor General. The recordings allegedly made their way to Putin, who, it’s said, was not particularly pleased by discussion of the president’s weakness, and the fact that Ustinov would make a better president. Ustinov was fired. Several FSB generals were also dismissed at the end of last year. However after a few months they went back to their posts, disregarding the presidential order. It was then that this bitter fight broke into the depths of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, between the head of the Economic Security Department Sergei Meshcheriakov (considered Sechin’s protégé) and deputy minister Novikov (considered Zolotov’s protégé). The details of this battle were not disclosed, but there are well-founded rumours that Meshcheriakov’s assistant, who was arrested during the fight, gave information under the influence of psychotropic drugs about the value of the department’s services. The result of the battle was that both figures were dismissed from their posts and both received other posts- prestigious but without influence.

And now– with the arrest of General Bulbov and Cherkesov’s letter– the war has come to the surface for the first time.

What sticks out? Firstly, it’s the disparity of power. On one hand there is Igor Sechin–not the top man in the state, but not the least important either; on the other–some kind of collective leadership. Secondly, it’s impossible to talk directly about the subject of the dispute. It’s quite funny reading about Cherkesov’s “chekism” and “corporatism” when the dispute is over the control of contraband goods and who can better take in the president. Thirdly, it’s striking that the war would have finished long ago, if only the president hadn’t supported the weaker side every time. He is personally interested in the war as an instrument of mutual destruction. The war of the Security Services is what we have in place of a separation of powers. It’s a way for the president to stay informed. And moreover—and this is most important—it is difficult to wish victory on either side. Not because they are dividing up the customs department or fighting between themselves in secret; but because even before this war their departments were subject to a malignant regeneration. One clan concerns itself with the dividing up of YUKOS, the Gutseriyev trial [TN: ex-president of Rosneft, charged with illegal business practice and tax evasion in 2007], cheerful reports about the exposure of planned terrorist attacks in Sochi, Saint Petersburg and Samara. The other clan’s business will be dealt with in the next article. If one crocodile is weaker, it doesn’t mean you should get close to it. When two brigades of Orcs in Mordor fight over Frodo’s Mithril armour, which side are we on?

The criminal case of the contraband furniture which appeared in the shops “Grand” and “Three Whales” from October 2000 was investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Inquiry Committee. Led by the investigator Pavel Zaitsev, the group conducted searches and questioning. In his evidence of November 2000, the witness Vladimir Burkov mentioned Evgenii Zhukov, the assistant to the deputy director of the FSB Iurii Zaostrovtsev. Zhukov was questioned and several hours later the case was transferred to the Prosecutor General. The investigator Popov suspended it on the 7th of May 2001 owing to lack of evidence of a crime being committed. The State Duma ordered the investigation to be resumed with Iurii Shchekochin, the Duma deputy and the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta occupying an especially active role. However the case was resurrected only on the 26th of March 2002 after the personal intervention of President Putin. In April the case was taken over by an acquaintance of the President, the deputy head of the Leningrad region office of the public prosecutor, Vladimir Loskutov. However the first arrests took place only after a change of leadership in the General Prosecutor’s office in June 2006.

Case no 290724 of the contraband mass market goods to the address of military unit 54729 was begun in April 2005 by the Investigative Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unit 54729 serves the central apparatus of the FSB. The contraband was received by an employee with official certificate no. 066631. On the 7th of April 2005 the General Prosecutor ordered the case to be transferred to the FSB. Only in August 2006 was the case returned to the General Prosecutor. Coincidentally, as the case reached its active phase, deputy director of the FSB Vladimir Anisimov, deputy director of the FSB Sergei Shishin and deputy head of the Economic Security Service Sergei Fomenko all retired.

Annals of Russian Human Rights: Now, The Cyber Attacks

Maidan, the Ukrainian human rights clearinghouse, reports via Andrei Blinushov that what’s good for Estonia is good for Russian human rights organizations:

As already reported, since 21 October 2007, the website Human Rights in Russia at www.hro.org, the largest Russian-language Internet resource on human rights in the Russian Federation) has been subjected to a relentless and concentrated computer attack (a new form of DidoS attack***) with access to the site blocked. It would seem that HRO.org has become the first public resource in Russia to be confronted with an attack of such ferocity and persistence. The human rights resource has effectively become in the frontline of the newest stage of “cybernetic warfare”. It should be noted that this attack does not only involve a consistent flow of tens of thousands of requests. The perpetrators have also managed to penetrate the website’s extremely serious security system and insert virus infecting modules into the file system. These modules have been created in a very devious and professional manner – when deleted, they “come to live” in other directories. And they bring the server down from inside. Combined with the mass attack from outside, programmers believe that this fairly expensive attack was clearly professionally planned.

At present no one is protected from a mass-scale DDoS attack. It can take place with any server in any country, and at present there is no general remedy. Internet resources are advised to spread themselves out (the more the better) over different physical servers and on different domain addresses, making it harder and more expensive for the perpetrators to organize such an attack. There are, in my view, two main problems. The first is the fact that there are a huge number of unprotected computers without firewall**** and resident anti-virus programmes. The perpetrators infect such computers through remote control with special viruses and use them as distributed networks for attacks on “commissioned” Internet resources. The second problem is that police departments ignore computer security of hacker gangs who almost openly use the Internet to take commercial orders for criminal “cyber measures”. Some observers have expressed doubts as to whether such “agencies” may not be using hackers for their own purposes.

They refer, for example, to publications about how the “enforcement agencies” hired hackers to destroy the sites of separatists from the Caucuses during the first and second Chechen Wars. It is worthy of note that several months ago, one hacker, well-known in programming circles, was recognized by chekists [i.e. the FSB] for “patriotic work”, but instead of that gave an interview to the press. It is also known that in Russia DDoS attacks have been carried out on anti-fascist sites and sites of those fighting racial discrimination by neo-Nazi games. Besides computer attacks, some of them extended to publication in the Internet of home email addresses of democratic politicians, human rights defenders and journalists and to calls for violence against them. The Russian law enforcement authorities have refused to bring prosecutions over these cases. There is a wide scope for possible versions, only nobody has yet, it would seem, been able to expose those who commission such high-tech crimes as DDoS attacks.

We should point out that it is specifically in this year – spring and summer 2007 – that DDoS attacks have been attempted against the servers of the newspaper “Kommersant”, the radio station “Echo Moskvy”, and later the servers of “Memorial”, Kasparov, the United Civic Front”, the National Bolshevik Party {Limonov’s party}, and “liberals’” blogs on the Live Journal. We thus have an entirely specific civic and political spectrum which can be loosely defined as “opposition”. The author then ventured the suggestion that such criminal actions with respect to opponents, especially the opposition, might become a widespread “tool” for dealing with those who don’t buckle under. I rather fear that this gloomy prediction is coming true…

When Russians Fight Back

The New York Times reports:

Kirill Formanchuk [pictured, above], like almost everyone who drives in Russia, was used to being pulled over by the police and cited for seemingly trumped up infractions. Yet instead of resigning himself to paying a bribe, he turned traffic stops into roadside tribunals, interrogating officers about their grasp of the law, recording the events and filing formal complaints about them.

And so it was that Mr. Formanchuk became a leader of a budding movement to uphold motorists’ rights in the face of police corruption, making him a not unfamiliar face when he went to a police station here two weeks ago to register his car. The next time he was heard from, he was in the hospital with severe injuries from a beating, and the resulting outcry in Yekaterinburg has caused an unexpected burst of civic activism across the country at a time when such sentiments appeared to have otherwise withered.

Motorists’ groups have held demonstrations against the police in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, and an Internet posting in support of Mr. Formanchuk has received nearly 200,000 hits from around the country. Even the national television networks, which are under the Kremlin’s control and tend to ignore news that reflects poorly on the government, have begun to focus on what happened to Mr. Formanchuk on the night of Oct. 12 in an isolated jail cell. One channel called his treatment “outrageous.”

The affair, echoing the anger that erupted after the Rodney King case in the United States, suggests that resentment toward police misconduct is so widespread that the Russian government senses that it cannot immediately clamp down on the protests, as it usually does with the political opposition. Mr. Formanchuk has become a symbol for Russians who contend that the police are poorly educated, badly trained and allowed to operate with impunity. “Everyone understands that this can happen to them, too,” Mr. Formanchuk, 24, said in an interview at a hospital in Yekaterinburg, where he is to remain for at least a month with brain and skull injuries. “Because in this country, we have a problem with the law.”

The tensions over the police in Russia have soared with the enormous growth in car ownership. There are 28 million cars now, three to four times more than at the end of Communism in 1991, experts estimate. More cars mean more opportunities for the police to solicit bribes, in the view of motorists’ groups. The corruption also emboldens people to drive recklessly because they know they can skirt penalties by slipping money to an officer. (The typical bribe is $5 to $20.)

Police malfeasance has an especially corrosive effect on the public outlook toward government since here, as in most places, officers are among the most visible civil servants. The Kremlin, Parliament and the chief federal prosecutor regularly promise reforms, yet little has changed, as even those in government circles concede. “It’s time for the law enforcement services to understand that the driving public — it’s a force,” said a commentary in the Yekaterinburg edition of Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper. “To reject cooperation with it, is not wise. Kirill Formanchuk, as we can see, is not going to give up.”

The motorist movement in Yekaterinburg, an industrial center about 900 miles east of Moscow, is still relatively nascent, and only a few elected officials have aligned themselves with Mr. Formanchuk. But in an indication of the repercussions of his case, law enforcement officials called a news conference to defend their performance and to accuse his supporters of inciting the public.

The officials said they were investigating what happened to Mr. Formanchuk, but they denied any police involvement. They said that after he showed up at the station to register his car, he acted belligerently toward officers, and was arrested. In his jail cell, he picked a fight with other detainees, who set on him, the officials said. They said Mr. Formanchuk was a draft dodger with many serious traffic violations. “Mr. Formanchuk is provoking everybody — the organs of state power as well as ordinary citizens, as a result of which Formanchuk was beaten,” said a senior police official, Adam Bogdanovich. “In fact, he is not a law-abiding citizen.” Asked whether the police had meted out revenge, Mr. Bogdanovich said, “Unfortunately, that is not the case.” He then clarified this comment by saying that there was no reason for revenge. While Mr. Formanchuk had filed complaints against the police and then posted them on the Internet, such activities did not influence police conduct, he said.

From the hospital, Mr. Formanchuk said the police charges were ridiculous. He said the conflict began when he tried to use his cellphone to capture video of his interaction with the officers, infuriating them. He said he did not know the identities of those who attacked him, but whether or not they were police officers in plainclothes, it was clear that officers on duty allowed the violence by ignoring his cries for help.

The arrest this month was not the first for Mr. Formanchuk, who was a city bureaucrat until he began working full time with his activist group, the Committee to Protect the Rights of Motorists. Last year, he garnered attention in Yekaterinburg by placing a sign on his Land Rover that resembled a license plate and said “Medved 01,” which means bear in Russian. Officers detained him for the sign — which he said was legal because he had temporary registration and was waiting for a permanent one — and for not addressing many outstanding traffic violations. A judge ruled entirely in his favor, a remarkable verdict in a system that is typically stacked against defendants.

“After my first encounters with the police, I simply myself began to study the law, to read legal literature and court cases,” Mr. Formanchuk said. “And the more that I interacted with police officers, the more I understood that I knew more than them. They can oppose me, but they just don’t know anything. I go out and they stop me. O.K., I say, ‘Why are you stopping me? Let’s take out the law. Let’s look at the legal code. Let’s look at the orders that you need to follow. Let’s read them together. You will understand that you are not acting correctly.’”

Not everyone here approves of Mr. Formanchuk. The chairman of his activist group, Georgy Badyin, said some motorists for a time considered Mr. Formanchuk a showboat who courted controversy with the sign on his car. But Mr. Badyin added that now, people see Mr. Formanchuk in a different light. “It’s not just that the driving public supports Kirill in this situation, but that they oppose the lawlessness of the traffic police, realizing that any one of them could be in Kirill’s place,” Mr. Badyin said.

That seemed to be the feeling on the streets of Yekaterinburg. “Ask any driver, he will tell you many stories about police wrongdoing,” said Roman Belosheykin, owner of a van service. “They do not need a pretext. They say it’s a special action, and then they start making claims. They want money. And it’s that simple.”

See it Now: Russian Prices Out of Control

We’ve previously written much about how Vladimir Putin’s dirty little secret, inflation, is poised to bring down the Russia House. Now, the Romir Russian economics agency gives us a glimpse into the horror of inflation at ground zero in Russia, using the example of sunflower oil, Russia’s basic cooking fat:

Analysis is based on data from 3 thousand households (about 8100 panelists) from 23 cities of Russia with 500+ population. Main method of data collection utilizes online barcode scanning.


Analysis of price dynamics for sunflower oil is based on data of 5 leading brands. It reveals considerable price growth for vegetable oil in Russia: in September 1 litre of Sloboda oil cost 38 Rbl, while in the first two weeks of October its price jumped up to 52 Rbl. The same is true with Milora brand: in September it cost about 39 while in October – 48 Rbl.

This trend is also true with private brands. Auchan sunflower oil has considerably risen in price during the period under consideration (September – 28 Rbl for 1 L, early October – about 43 Rbl). It is evident that in absolute terms private labels still lag behind federal brands.

If you choose to be governed by a crazed group of KGB spies with no training in business or economics, this is what’s going to happen. 17% inflation in one quarter at minimum, up to a whopping 54%. This means that in the space of one year the prices of really good quality sunflower oil could increase by a factor of four in Russia, and that’s just one commodity. The Moscow Times now reports that wealthy, resurgent Russia can’t afford to leave tariffs in place on these commodities and is considering abolishing them for fear of making the basic staple unaffordable to the mass population.

Annals of Komisars of the Internet

As many of our readers will know, one of the more important translations we’ve offered was the “Commissars of the Internet” piece about how the Kremlin is seeking to seize control of the Russian Internet (RuNet). Now, the Washington Post adds a new chapter to the story:

After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia’s dwindling public sphere.

Allies of President Vladimir Putin are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network — one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control.
“The attractiveness of the Internet as a free platform for free people is already dimming,” said Iosif Dzyaloshinsky, a mass media expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Putin addressed the question of Internet censorship during a national call-in show broadcast live on radio and television this month. “In the Russian Federation, no control is being exercised over the World Wide Web, over the Russian segment of the Internet,” Putin said. “I think that from the point of view of technological solutions, that would not make any sense.

“Naturally, in this sphere, as in other spheres, we should be thinking about adhering to Russian laws, about making sure that child pornography is not distributed, that financial crimes are not committed,” he continued. “But that is a task for the law enforcement agencies. Total control and the work of the law enforcement agencies are two different things.”

Many people here say they believe Putin didn’t mind a free Internet as long as it had weak penetration in Russia. But with 25 percent of Russian adults now online, up from 8 percent in 2002, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern for the government.

Some Russian Internet experts say a turning point came in 2004, when blogs and uncensored online publications helped drive a popular uprising in Ukraine after a pro-Moscow candidate was declared the winner of a presidential election. Days of street protests in the capital, Kiev, led to a new vote that brought a pro-Western politician into the presidency.

Today, the Kremlin is ready with online forces of its own when street action begins.

On April 14, an opposition movement held a march in central Moscow that drew hundreds of people; police detained at least 170, including the leader of the march, chess star Garry Kasparov.

Pavel Danilin, a 30-year-old Putin supporter and blogger whose online icon is the fearsome robot of the “Terminator” movie, works for a political consulting company loyal to the Kremlin. He said he and his team, which included people from a youth movement called the Young Guard, quickly started blogging that day about a smaller, pro-Kremlin march held at the same time.

They linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts about the pro-Kremlin march had crowded out all the items about the opposition march on the Yandex Web portal’s coveted ranking of the top five Russian blog posts.

“We played it beautifully,” Danilin said.

In a lengthy article published online last fall, three Russian rights activists argued that a strident, vulgar and uniform pro-Kremlin ideology had so permeated blogs and chat rooms that it could only be the result of a coordinated campaign.

Putin’s allies in the online world acknowledge that the Internet represents a challenge to the status quo in Russia, which has, since Soviet times, relied on state-controlled television to influence public opinion across the country’s 11 time zones.

“You watch the first channel or the second channel and you can only see good things happening in Russia,” said Andrei Osipov, the 26-year-old editor of the Web site of Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group, referring to national stations that back the Kremlin. “The Internet is the freest mass media. . . . There is competition between state and opposition organizations.”

The Kremlin is also increasingly allying itself with privately run online outlets that foster a new ideal for life in today’s Russia, one that is consumerist and uncompromisingly pro-Putin.

The main champion of this ideal is 28-year-old businessman Konstantin Rykov. The pearl of Rykov’s media empire is the two-year-old Vzglyad (“View”) online newspaper, which features a serious-looking news section with stories toeing the Kremlin line and a lifestyle section that covers the latest in luxury cars and interior design. Surveys rank Vzglyad as one of Russia’s five most-visited news sites.

“Rykov is a man who created a good business on the government’s view that it has to invest in ideology,” said Anton Nossik, an Internet pioneer in Russia now in charge of blog development for Sup, an online media company. Nossik said that Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s domestic political adviser, organized private funding for Rykov’s projects.

Kremlin officials deny any involvement. “It is a general habit of everyone to connect every popular occurrence and success with the Kremlin,” deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said when asked about Rykov. “In reality, it is not so.”

In an interview, Rykov would not comment on his investors. A framed portrait of Surkov hung above his desk; Rykov is running for parliament on the list of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in elections slated for December.

“The Vzglyad newspaper has created this appearance of a state publication for itself since the very beginning,” Rykov said. “And from the perspective of business and selling ads, that’s very good.”

Allies of the Kremlin have also begun buying some of the companies that have helped make the Internet a bastion of free expression in Russia. Gazeta.ru, long the country’s most respected online newspaper, was sold in December to a metals magnate and Putin loyalist.

And last October, Sup, which is owned by Alexander Mamut, a tycoon with ties to the Kremlin, bought the rights to develop the Russian-language segment of U.S.-based LiveJournal. The segment, with half a million users, is Russia’s most popular blog portal.

“Mr. Rykov is pro-Kremlin. Mamut and Sup are pro-Kremlin. The social networks are all being bought by pro-Kremlin people,” Ruslan Paushu, 30, a popular blogger who works for Rykov, said in an interview. “Everything’s okay.”

So far, Gazeta.ru has continued to publish articles critical of the Kremlin, and no widespread censorship has been reported on blogs run by Sup. But as the government wakes up to the Internet’s potential, many of Putin’s critics are growing nervous.

Prosecutors have begun to target postings on blogs or Internet chat sites, charging users with slander or extremism after they criticize Putin or other officials. Most such incidents have occurred outside Moscow, and federal officials deny that they signal any broader campaign to control the Internet.

“Personally, I am against developing and adopting a special law that would regulate the Internet,” Leonid Reiman, minister of information technology and communications, said in a written response to questions. “The Internet has been always developing as a free medium, and it should remain as such.”

But in July, Putin briefed his Security Council on plans to make Russia a global information leader by 2015. Russian news media reported that those plans included a new network apart from the global Internet and open only to former Soviet republics.

“To put it bluntly, we need to fight for the water mains,” Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s foremost political consultant, said in an interview. “We need to fight for the central networks and for the audience segments that they reach.”

Wolfgang Kleinwaechter, special adviser to the chairmen of the Internet Governance Forum, a group convened by the United Nations, said some Russian officials he has spoken to are considering a separate Internet, with Cyrillic domain names, and appear to be studying China’s Internet controls.

Peskov, the deputy presidential spokesman, said in an interview that a Russia-only Internet was still in the “investigative phase,” adding, “I don’t know if it’s more than thinking aloud.”

“It’s not meant to get rid of the global network,” he said. “It’s a discussion of creating an addition.”

For now, supporters as well as critics of Putin see the Kremlin doing something atypical: competing on more or less equal terms with its opponents.

“Certainly, there’s the dark segment that is still saying words like ‘prohibit’ and ‘limit,’ ” said Marat Guelman, who worked as a political consultant for the Kremlin until 2004, when he broke with the administration. But “what is happening on the Web vis-a-vis the authorities is very good,” he added. “That is, they’re trying to play the game.”

That strategy is in contrast to the way Putin brought the independent television network NTV to heel at the beginning of his term, using highly publicized court cases and raids by heavily armed security forces.

Marina Litvinovich, a blogger who used to work for Pavlovsky, the Kremlin consultant, and now works for Kasparov’s United Civil Front, said she is satisfied with the government’s approach to the Internet because it forces Putin’s allies to respond to criticism rather than simply ignore it.

She also argued that as the Kremlin consolidates political power, it has less incentive to come up with sophisticated online propaganda. “They’re not really in need of particular creativity right now,” she said.