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Moscow Planning To Block 'Extremist' Propaganda Amid 'Global Fight' On IS

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

The plan was announced by Igor Barinov, the head of Russia's new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs

The plan was announced by Igor Barinov, the head of Russia's new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs

Moscow is planning to step up measures to block "extremist propaganda" on the Internet as part of its fight against Islamic State (IS) recruitment and radicalization.

According to Igor Barinov, the head of Russia's new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, Russian intelligence and law enforcement services are developing a "system to quickly evaluate sites and the media for extremist and terrorist propaganda."

"On the websites there is open propaganda about so-called pure Islam, the ideas of IS, which have no relationship at all with religion," Barinov -- a State Duma deputy and retired Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel who served in Chechnya -- told Russia's Kommersant newspaper on July 30.

Russia's Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) would then "take measures to block Internet sites and subsequently remove harmful content," Barinov said.

The extent to which Russia intends to crack down on IS Internet propaganda is unclear. Russia has already moved to block some IS social media accounts and sites, though many more have since emerged.

But beyond this, Barinov's remarks are the latest in a series of admissions or claims by various Russian officials that the IS problem is growing.

Barinov said that "around 2,000" Russian nationals had "already travelled to Syria, Iraq, IS."

A similar figure of 1,700 Russians was previously quoted by the head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, who said in February that the number of Russians in IS-controlled territory had "practically doubled" over the past year.

Intelligence Sharing

The exact number of Russian nationals fighting alongside Islamic State is not known.

And although Moscow has begun to say that there a large number of Russian citizens in IS-controlled territory, this admission is part of a narrative that insists IS recruitment is a global problem that no country -- including countries in the West -- has managed to solve.

"No one in the world can deal with this completely," Barinov said in response to a question from Kommersant about how to tackle IS recruitment.

FSB chief Bortnikov adopted similar rhetoric while commenting on IS at an international conference of intelligence and security chiefs in Yaroslavl on July 29.

Bortnikov, who said in February that intelligence sharing between the United States and Russia on IS was "quite possible," called again for international cooperation to undermine IS, including the militant group's recruitment and propaganda networks on the Internet.

The FSB chief urged his "foreign colleagues" to actively carry out operational work to "discredit international terrorist organizations."

IS militants were using the Internet to promote "the ideology of radical Islam, and promoting terror as the only method of conducting total war against the 'infidels'," Bortnikov was quoted as saying by government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta.

Bortnikov's key message to his international audience was about the threat of IS blowback, however. The FSB chief claimed that the militant group was training individuals who were then using "illegal migration" to spread and create secret cells in various regions.

Cause For Concern

The FSB chief's remarks are the latest in a series of warnings from Russian officials that IS poses a threat to domestic security. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warned in April that IS was Russia's "main enemy" and that Russians fighting in IS are "already returning home" where they could "wreak havoc."

Russia does have cause for concern about the domestic security threat posed by IS.

In June, IS declared that it had established "Wilayat al-Qawqaz," -- the "Caucasus Province" -- in Russia's North Caucasus, though in practice there is no evidence to suggest that IS-affiliated militants there are likely to be more powerful or effective than when they were affiliated to the Caucasus Emirate militant group. And while there is also no evidence that militants in Syria are returning to Russia in droves to fight, the Caucasus Emirate in Daghestan announced last week that it had appointed as its leader Mukhammad Abu Dujana Gimrinsky, whom it claimed gained military experience in Syria -- although not alongside IS.

But there are also political reasons behind Russia's emphasis that Islamic State is a global threat that no country has managed to mitigate.

This narrative has allowed Moscow to frame the domestic Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus as fueled by a global, external threat.

It also dovetails with Moscow's longstanding foreign-policy approach to its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (though there have been suggestions that Russia's support for Assad could be wavering).

As part of its stance on Syria, Moscow has consistently sought to paint the insurgency as dominated by foreign Islamists, particularly amid the increasing dominance of Islamist militants and the rise of IS. Emphasizing the global threat of IS feeds into this rhetoric.

It is notable that government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta also used Bortnikov's remarks about the global problem of IS to make a dig at the West over Moscow's important role in fighting the militant group.

"Not one of the European and American colleagues recalled the sanctions against Moscow at the conference," Rossiskaya Gazeta wrote. "They all understand that the war against global terrorism without Russian participation is not possible in principle."

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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