Category Archives: blogosphere

EDITORIAL: LR rates the Russia Blogs

EDITORIAL

LR rates the Russia Blogs

Happy birthday to us! This month, La Russophobe turns five years old, a mighty milestone, ancient in blog years.

It’s April, the month of our founding, and a young LR’s head turns once again to thoughts of blog ratings.  As we did last year at this time we offer our “top ten” list of the best Russia blogs on this planet.

Continue reading

The Kremlin’s Army of Blogger Zombies

Bookmark and Share

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.

Continue reading

EDITORIAL: Our One-Millionth Visitor

one_million

EDITORIAL

Our One Millionth Visitor

We are pleased to announce that since being founded a little over three years ago by a single determined writer named Kim Zigfeld, this blog has now  — as of 3 pm EST Monday, May 11th —  been visited over one million times.  We warmly thank all the readers who have supported us and the contributors who bring you our content.  This achievement, of course, belongs as much to them as it does to us. 

Web pages we have created have now been opened nearly two million times (each visitor usually opens at least two pages per visit).  Our work has been cited by a wide variety of much larger publications, from the snooty New York Review of Books to the pugnacious Little Green Footballs and everyone in between, from the Associated Press to the Moscow Times.  Kim has gone on to write inspiring regular Russia columns for two gigantic mainstream Internet publications, Pajamas Media and the American Thinker. 

And that, if we may say so, is only the beginning of a long, impressive list of our achievements to date.  Even more to the point,though:  You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!

Continue reading

Exposing the Horror of Russia’s Crackdown on the Blogosphere

Blogger Dmitri Minaev has horrifying details on the arrest of Oborona activist and blogger Dmitri Solovyov for publishing critical posts about the Kremlin.  He points out that back in July Solovyov published a post predicting that Russia would attack Georgia in late August based on a report on Kavkaz Centre.  Among other things, KC predicted that Russia would rig a “terrorist event” in Sochi to prestage the attack, and would gradually ratchet up Ossetian military action until Georgia was forced to respond.  Minaev notes that in fact there was a bomb explosion in Sochi just before the attack.  Then he offers a translation one of the posts for which Solovyov was arrested:

The Men in Gray Won’t Break Oborona

by Dmitri Solovyov

You think that with a stupid “Not allowed!” you can destroy an organization? It won’t work. You have been dragged into a a game you know you cannot win. You’re setting up your brown bear protégé. You’ll keep going until some Merkel or Bush calls on the phone and whispers “Stop it!” into the receiver. And then, although you now stand on every corner spreading the stinky mantra, “Russia will never be brought to its knees. Russia will not permit itself to be ruled from abroad,” you’ll come to attention like good lads, salute, and bellow out, “Yes, sir!” Just like you bellowed last year, when the June March [of the Dissenters] was permitted at the request of the German chancellor. Or like you bellowed a month ago, when you transferred [Vasily] Aleksanyan [a severely ill lawyer and ex-Yukos executive in police custody since 2006] to a clinic at the request of the American president.

Continue reading

EDITORIAL: Robert Amsterdam, Asleep at the Switch?

EDITORIAL

Robert Amsterdam, Asleep at the Switch?

One of the maxims we live by here on this blog is Martin Luther King’s warning that moderates can be more dangerous to liberty than extremists. Accordingly, we have bone to pick with blogger (and Khodorkovsky attorney) Robert Amsterdam. Several, actually, and they have compound fractures. We ask his readers, a category in which we include ourselves (often admiringly so), to pressure him to wake up and smell the bitter Russian coffee brewing under his nose. These days, as Putin’s Kremlin makes moves like attempting to hand-pick jurors, we need lawyer Amsterdam to be hyper-vigilent, yet he often seems to be asleep at the switch.

First, we are outraged that Amsterdam has failed to republish and praise the Boris Nemstov white paper and its supplement on Gazprom, even though we have specifically reached out to him and asked him to do so.  In fact, he should be doing even more than that, and using his connections to lobby for op-ed space fore Nemtsov in major Western newspapers and funding to help him better educate the benighted people of his country.  Amsterdam’s failure to express solidarity with Nemtsov is unconscionable, and almost makes us think it’s something personal he (or his client) have against the former deputy premier, or maybe against us since we translated the text.  It’s good enough for the New York Review of Books, but not good enough for Bob Amsterdam.

Second, we are disappointed by Amsterdam’s failure to address his client’s recent moves to express submission to the maligant will of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, moves we have condemned here on this blog. We realize that a lawyer can’t exactly call his own client on the carpet, but Amsterdam owes the world some kind of explanation for his client’s repugnant behavior, since he has asked the world to lobby for his client’s freedom and gained international notoriety in the attempt. Sweeping it all under the carpet just won’t do.

And then there’s this whole business of the Big Mac attack.

Continue reading

EDITORIAL: Tales of the Iron Curtain, Descending

EDITORIAL

Tales of the Iron Curtain, Descending

A few months ago Russian opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky was drafted into the Russian Army. Then, a short time later, he was un-drafted.

It’s no flight of fancy to say that this blog (a term that certainly includes you, the reader) had a something to do with his release. Because of our leadership in covering the story, it made it into both the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, and from there into a number of other forums and the attention of significant world leaders. What was obviously a plan to crush Kozlovsky with dedovshchina torture fizzled like a cheap firecracker and went up in smoke.

It would be a mistake to think, though, that the malignant forces of evil in the Kremlin saw that as much of a setback. The real point of moving against Kozlovsky, after all, was to intimidate, threaten and silence others, not just him. And the Kremlin’s action hasn’t even been declared illegal in a lawsuit, nor have damages been paid to Kozlovsky. Until that happens, the Kremlin will conclude it accomplished the lion’s share of its objectives.

But the lion’s share isn’t total victory. Kozlovsky lived to tell the tale and he did tell it — on the storied pages of the Washington Post in his own editorial, while he was sitting in jail on yet more trumped-up charges. He hasn’t been silenced or intimidated; in fact, the Kremlin’s action has given him new credibility and may ultimately blow up in its face, just like British action against Gandhi and Southern action against Martin Luther King did.

And now, there’s more bittersweet news along these same lines to report.

Back in August, we were the first in the English-speaking world to tell the full story of blogger Savva Terentyev, who had been arrested and faced two years in prison for a comment he wrote on another blogger’s post. Just imagine what his fate would have been for an actual post on his own blog!

Now the Moscow Times reports that Terentyev has been tried and convicted for the act of writing a comment on a blog post. His only consolation is that he received not actual jail time but a 1.5-year suspended sentence — meaning that for the next year and a half the Kremlin can chuck him into prison any time it wants if he’s not a really, really good boy. As Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA centre in Moscow, a non-governmental group that monitors extremism, told Reuters: “This was an absolutely unjustified verdict. Savva for sure wrote a rude comment, but this verdict means it will be impossible to make rude comments about anybody.” The Kremlin’s chilling message has been sent out loud and clear, far and wide: “If we’ll do this to a mere commenter, just imagine what we’ll do with the actual bloggers themselves.”

But still, a suspended sentence isn’t nothing. Just like with Kozlovsky, it shows the Kremlin knows its own weakness, that it can’t risk doing what it wants and has to move in careful, baby steps down the road to dictatorship. We played our part in bringing sufficient pressure to bear on the Kremlin that Savva is still at liberty to blog again, if he’s got the guts. It will be a drawn-out process to liquidate the last vestiges of civil society in Russia, and that means its defenders have a chance.

But not much of one, unless of course the forces of good in the West, led perhaps by John McCain and others who clearly see our peril, use these victories as a springboard towards a confrontation that will ultimately force back the tide of repression now sweeping over neo-Soviet Russia.

The Sunday Salute: LR on MT

As the screenshot shown above indicates, a screenshot of La Russophobe appeared as the lead to an article in the Moscow Times on Friday called “Under Western Eyes” in which the paper takes a look at English-language blogging about Russia, calling us “notorious” for our “anti-Russian slant.” Publisher Kim Zigfeld was interviewed by the reporter for the piece. Here’s the article:

When Rebecca Roberts, a 26-year-old Australian lawyer, moved to Moscow for work, she did not know what to expect. Like many new arrivals, she was both amused and confused by the nightclubs, the girls, the money and the haircuts. But then she saw an article in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper recommending a blog about Russia’s nightlife, “Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears.”

“I find that the international papers are all focused on taking a superficial look at Russian politics and guide books are often outdated and boring when you are trying to live as a local,” said Roberts. “Blogs like ‘Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears’ are hilarious as they are written with a familiar Western view on things that are part of my daily experiences.”

The popularity of blogging in Russia is evident from the sheer number of blogs that crop up on the Yandex search engine. But there are also countless blogs about Russia that are run by Westerners, many of whom live abroad. Their focuses range from nightlife, like “Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears,” to politics, like “La Russophobe.”

“Originally, I was going to do a Moscow food blog (or rather, an anti-food blog, as I have a pretty dim view of the restaurant scene),” said the writer of “Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears” in an interview. Her identity is an open secret in the expatriate community, but one that she prefers to keep in the real world because she does not want her name attached to anything she says online.

“A good deal of the visitors arrive at my blog looking for where to pick up prostitutes in Moscow. Unfortunately, they come away empty-handed because that’s a topic that has been extensively, depressingly covered in other publications,” she said.

One of her blog entries, titled “I hate Moscow” reads, “Everyone hates Moscow. Everyone except the people who just got here, with a degree in Russian history and a fresh copy of Dostoevsky in their back pocket. And even they are beginning to realize that the waitresses are mean and it’s hard to cross the street.”

Now living abroad, she said she did not intend her blog to be anti-Moscow. “Unfortunately, the longer the blog went on, it began to reflect my deepening personal feelings about the city, which is that it’s a depressing, overpriced [expletive] that should be fumigated.”
Another blog notorious for its anti-Russian slant is “La Russophobe.” One image on the web site depicting Vladimir Putin’s face morphing into a skull embodies the blog’s stance on Russia.

“I started blogging to warn the world about what I felt was a coming neo-Soviet style crackdown on civil society in Russia and an aggressively imperialistic foreign policy leading to a new Cold War,” said Kim Zigfield, the blog’s writer, in an interview. Zigfield lives in New York and writes for Russia! magazine as well as Pajamas Media, an association of 90 worldwide bloggers, where she is a Russia correspondent. “The main reason I started my blog was that I didn’t find what I wanted to read on other blogs, and I saw those who wrote about Russia making some fairly serious mistakes and misleading statements that I thought should be corrected,” she said. Zigfield said only 10 percent of the blog’s readers are from Russia, and only half of those are Russians — the audience is mainly international.

“They are people who are concerned about the threats they see being posed by Russia and want more information, and there are others who are what I call ‘Russophiles,’ or apologists for the Kremlin, who come to criticize me.” She took inspiration from a blog by Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for The Economist magazine. She read it shortly after starting to write and felt that the focus of his writing was too broad.

Not long after she started her blog in 2006, jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s attorney Robert Amsterdam also began a web site. “I feel I broke the ground for him and helped him become the formidable force he is today in the blogosphere, and I’m now a regular reader and great admirer. His is the only Russia blog on which I regularly post comments. It’s very comforting to have him around, as well.”

Other blogs start out with different aims. “Initially, I started it [the blog] as a way to keep in touch with family and friends in a general way. I didn’t even put much thought into it. You can see this in the name, which I don’t like, but now it’s difficult to change because it is a bit of a brand,” said Sean Guillory, who runs “Sean’s Russia Blog.” Guillory, who now lives in Los Angeles, started his blog in the autumn of 2004 just before he came to Russia on a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship. Originally it was intended to be a blog leaning toward Russia’s historical past rather than its political present. But Guillory became interested in certain contemporary themes and found that they took over his writing. “Anyone who looks through the blog’s archives, which include 563 posts, sees that my interests tend to focus on Russian youth politics, particularly Nashi, high politics and bit of what people call Kremlinology, nationalism, racism, and extremism, Russian-Western relations, and Western representations of Russia in the media.”

“Overall, I try not to fall under the typical binary of pro-Russia and anti-Russia,” Guillory said. “I’m more interested in how Russia actually exists. For example, I think the constant pointing out that Russia is authoritarian, not democratic, and Putin is a former KGB agent is rather trite and doesn’t say much except that Russia is not like us. Okay, fine, it’s not. But then what is it?”A post about the Dissenters’ March in December of last year is typical of Guillory’s style: “The ‘March of Dissent’ has certainly come and gone. The demonstration was modest and certainly ineffective on a political level. And while I don’t think the event should be overblown, I do think the march does raise some interesting questions about the Russian state: how it deals with opposition and, perhaps, how it understands its power.”

One-third of the visitors to the web site are from the United States, but Guillory is less interested in numbers than he is in the amount of time that people spend browsing his blog. For example, the 12 percent of people that spend over an hour on his web site use it for interaction, whether for comments, research or links. Despite being recognized at parties and quoted in the press, Guillory is a little uncomfortable about his success. “On the one hand blogging is a very egotistical, even narcissistic endeavor. You do it with the assumption that not only might people want to read what you have to say, but that you should actually say it,” an act that he describes is a cry for recognition.

“When I do get recognition, it still freaks me out no matter how much I enjoy it. When I find out people I know and respect are readers, it makes me uneasy, like someone is watching me without my knowing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. I’m still amazed that people read it at all.”

La Cosa Nasha: The United Russia Shakedown Begins

La Russophobe‘s original translator has uncovered evidence in the Russian blogosphere of an attempt by United Russia to extort political campaign contributions under threat of force. Here’s a copy of a document posted by the Russian blogger:

(click the image to enlarge it)

Here’s our translation of the letter and the blogger’s short post about it:

Translation

———— Text of Letter —————–

Letterhead: All-Russian Political Party “United Russia” (Yedinaya Rossiya), Kemerov Regional Branch

Date Stamped: November 13, 2007

Addressed to: A.K. Loginov, Executive Director, OAO “Sibirskaya Ugol’naya Energeticheskaya Kompaniya” (Siberian Coal Energy Company)

I am taking your refusal to provide financial support to the regional branch of the “United Russia” party for the upcoming parliamentary elections as a refusal to support President V.V. Putin and his policy direction.

I consider it my obligation to relay this to the Presidential Administration and the Governor of the Kemerov Oblast.

Signed: G.T. Dudyaev

Secretary of the Regional Political Council

Kemerov Regional Branch

United Russia Party

———— End of letter —————–

Blogger’s comment:

I don’t know whether V.V. Putin would be pleased to have his name used as part of a racketeering/”ironing” enterprise. Perhaps he would not be pleased – judging from his comments about “impostors” (prokhodimtsi). This is, however, an unavoidable consequence of his cult of personality – this is the identity the impostors will use for their fraudulent ends. And it is for this purpose that a cult is established.

Now, the Kremlin Moves Against the Blogosphere

Bloomberg reports on the Kremlin’s attempt to establish a chokehold on Russia’s blogosphere:

President Vladimir Putin has already brought Russian newspapers and television to heel. Now he’s turning his attention to the Internet.

As the Kremlin gears up for the election of Putin’s successor next March, Soviet-style controls are being extended to online news after a presidential decree last month set up a new agency to supervise both mass media and the Web.

“It’s worrying that this happened ahead of the presidential campaign,” Roman Bodanin, political editor of Gazeta.ru, Russia’s most prominent online news site, said in a telephone interview. “The Internet is the freest medium of communication today because TV is almost totally under government control, and print media largely so.”

All three national TV stations are state-controlled, and the state gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, has been taking over major newspapers; self-censorship is routine. That has left the Internet as the main remaining platform for political debate, and Web sites that test the boundaries of free speech are already coming under pressure.

In December, a court in the Siberian region of Khakassia shut down the Internet news site Novy Fokus for not registering as a media outlet. The site, known for its critical reporting, reopened in late March after it agreed to register and accept stricter supervision.

Plug Pulled

Anticompromat.ru, which wrote about Putin’s pre-presidential business interests, had to find a U.S. Web server after a Russian service provider pulled the plug March 28, saying it had been warned by officials to stop hosting the site.

Last year, the authorities shut down a Web site called Kursiv in the city of Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, that lampooned Putin as a “phallic symbol of Russia” for his drive to boost the birthrate.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia isn’t restricting media freedom and that the new agency isn’t aimed at policing the Web.

“If you watch TV, even federal TV channels, you’ll hear lots of criticism of the government,” Peskov said in an interview. “This new agency will be in charge of licensing. It’s not about controlling the Internet.”

Putin, 54, isn’t allowed to run for re-election in 2008 under Russia’s two-term constitutional limit. Instead, he is promoting two potential successors: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a 41-year-old lawyer, and Sergei Ivanov, 54, a KGB colleague of Putin who oversees much of Russian industry, including transport and nuclear power. The two, who both come from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, have become fixtures on state-controlled television.

Gorbachev’s Complaint

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policy of glasnost, or openness, ushered in media freedom in the late 1980s after decades of Soviet censorship, has condemned the state propaganda on the airwaves.

“The one thing I can say is that it’s pointless today to watch television,” Gorbachev, 76, said on the 20th anniversary of the launch of “perestroika,” his drive to allow more political and economic freedom that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While most Russians rely on television for news, increasing numbers are turning to the Internet. Around a quarter of the adult population — 28 million people — are regular Internet users, according to the Public Opinion Foundation, a Moscow-based research organization. In 2002, only 8 percent fell into that category.

A Mass Medium

“When the Internet becomes more of a mass medium, then governments start getting worried, and they start treating it like the mass media,” said Esther Dyson, who helped establish the Internet’s system of domain names and addresses, and has consulted extensively in Russia.

“You can’t control the Internet, but you can control people,” she said in a telephone interview during a visit to Moscow.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Moscow, predicted in a telephone interview that “pressure on the media is going to worsen” as the presidential succession draws nearer.

Reporters who write critically about government policies are subjected to intimidation, arrests, attacks and other forms of pressure, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said March 27 in its annual report.

Facing Prison

Viktor Shmakov, editor of the newspaper Provintsialny Vesti in the oil-rich Bashkortostan republic, is facing up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors charged him with inciting mass disturbances after his weekly urged readers to attend an opposition rally last year.

Russia is the second most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq, with 88 killed in the past 10 years, according to the Brussels-based International News Safety Institute.

Last October, Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent reporter and Kremlin critic who uncovered human-rights abuses by security forces in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow.

A journalist for the Kommersant daily, Ivan Safronov, who was investigating Russian weapons sales to Iran and Syria, fell to his death from a window in his Moscow apartment March 2.

The government, meanwhile, has been expanding Gazprom’s media role. The company already took control of independent channel NTV in 2001 and bought long-established Russian daily Izvestia in 2005.

Last year, Kommersant, once owned by tycoon and exiled Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, was sold to Alisher Usmanov, a steel magnate who is head of a Gazprom subsidiary. And Gazprom said in November it will acquire Russia’s biggest-selling daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which has a circulation of 800,000.

Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor of the Web site that lost its Russian server after mocking Putin, said the Web crackdown is part of the final phase of a campaign to stifle free speech.

“Thank God the Internet is difficult to close down, but I think they will go after journalists who write things they don’t like,” he said.