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Putin's Bad Internet Week

A woman looks at a computer monitor displaying the main page of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.

A woman looks at a computer monitor displaying the main page of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.

Vladimir Putin is having a very bad week online.
The Russian premier once derisively dismissed the Internet as "50 percent pornography." But with more and more of his compatriots getting wired and web savvy he has had no choice but to at least try and embrace the medium. And the results have not been pretty.
Putin posted his presidential campaign platform online today on a slick new website featuring flattering photos of him skiing, playing hockey, fishing, hunting, and riding horseback. The most popular comments that initially appeared on the site, however, were somewhat less flattering -- to say the least.
"Please leave politics," wrote a man identified as Andrei Antonenko. "We understand that power is like a drug, but this would be a dignified act." Another man, Arkady Vishnev, suggested that dropping out of the March 4 presidential election "would be the most useful thing you could still do for the country." Svetlana Sorokina, a well-known blogger, also called on Putin to resign as prime minister and quit the presidential race to prevent "the situation to become a revolutionary one."
Another commenter, Mikhail Meshkov wrote: "I'm tired of you. I've already tolerated you for 12 years and it's still the same. If you win [another term] a lot of my friends are thinking about leaving Russia. Do you need this? Do we? I don't. I want to live in a normal country. So get out before its too late "
The negative comments were quickly removed from the site and were replaced by comments praising Putin and calling on him to impose censorship and to take measures to halt the financing of NGOs from abroad.
But in the latest incident of the Kremlin getting punked by Russia's agile blogging community, they were preserved on LiveJournal with helpful before-and-after screen grabs.
As a result, the controversy over the comments overshadowed the launch of Putin's electoral platform everywhere except the state-run media.
Today's Internet fail came just a day after Putin tried to use one of his tried-and-true tactics of dressing down a subordinate on television -- but was later harshly rebuked in cyberspace.
During a televised videoconference with regional governors on Tuesday, Putin claimed that hot water fees had risen by 40 percent in the Kirov Oblast -- which is led by Nikita Belykh, the only opposition figure holding a high government post in Russia. "Why on earth did hot water prices jump 40 percent?" Putin asked.
When he learned that Belykh was on vacation, he ordered Deputy Governor Aleksei Kuznetsov to "send him a little signal."
In the end, however, it was Putin who got a signal -- sent Wednesday via Belykh's blog on LiveJournal.
Putin was mistaken about the price hike, Belykh wrote in a post complete with photos of documents proving his claim. The apparent 40 percent price increase was actually an accounting error that has long been corrected. And as far as his vacation goes, Belykh wrote the following: "Those who follow my work know that I don't abuse my vacation privileges, to put it mildly. Over three years, I've accumulated 131 unused vacation days."
This week's embarrassments were only the latest incidents of the Kremlin getting outmaneuvered online.
When President Dmitry Medvedev tried to address the protests following the contested December 4 parliamentary elections on his Facebook page, he faced a deluge of negative comments.
When, a website with alleged links to the security services, posted embarrassing recordings of Boris Nemtsov's telephone calls, the opposition was quickly able to use the Internet to control the narrative -- changing the subject from Nemtsov's behavior to the illegality of the phone taps.
And when an unflattering photo of anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny with exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky showed up in a Yekaterinburg newspaper last week, it was quickly proven to be a photoshopped fake. Navalny's supporters quickly posted the original photo online -- showing Navalny with billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. They followed up with a series of hilarious photoshopped images of Navalny with space aliens, Josef Stalin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Vladimir Putin and his team do not understand the Internet,” Navalny told "The New York Times" after the incident.
They also do not appear to understand the new political environment they are living in.
-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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