Saturday, May 30, 2015

Video 'Russian Tanks In Washington' Video Triggers U.S. Secret Service Probe

A screen grab from a video posted on YouTube that seemingly shows images of Russian military vehicles projected onto the facade of the White House.

WASHINGTON – Did pro-Kremlin activists beam images of Russian tanks onto the facade of the White House to protest what they call Washington's efforts to prevent foreign leaders from traveling to Moscow to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany?
A YouTube video of this purported light show has notched hundreds of thousands of views after it was uploaded this week by a nationalist-oriented Russian film group, which has claimed credit for the prank. 
It's unclear from the video itself whether the alleged prank is merely a ruse or whether the activists actually pulled off the stunt.
But the U.S. Secret Service, the federal agency tasked with protecting the president, is now investigating the authenticity of the footage.
"The Secret Service is aware of this alleged incident. Appropriate follow-up is being conducted at this time," Nicole Mainor, a spokeswoman for agency, told RFE/RL in an emailed comment.
The video was uploaded to YouTube on May 6 by a film production group called Set, or "Network," and had garnered more than 750,000 views on the site as of May 8.
It is prefaced with a text stating that U.S. President Barack Obama "has forbidden many world leaders" from visiting Moscow for the city's Victory Day parade on May 9 -- a clear reference to the fact that Western heads of state are skipping Russia's commemorations of the defeat of Nazi Germany in light of the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last year and its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"If Barack doesn't go to Moscow['s] Victory Day Parade, the Parade will go to Barack!" the text accompanying the video reads.
With a soundtrack comprising one of the most famous Russian patriotic military marches, Farewell Of Slavyanka, the video proceeds to show footage of tanks and missiles parading across Red Square being beamed onto the face of the White House as bystanders mill about and film the spectacle with their smart phones.

WATCH: 'Russian Tanks In Washington'

The Russian website TJ Journal reports that the film group was founded by alumni of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, which gained notoriety for its anti-Western stunts and for hounding foreign diplomats and Russian opposition activists. 
The YouTube video also provides a link to a website for a Russian patriotic film festival using a URL titled "vezhliviye tanky," or "polite tanks."
The title is an apparent reference to the phrase "polite people," a term used in Russia to refer to armed men who entered Crimea in February 2014 and seized government buildings, paving the way for the Kremlin's annexation of the peninsula. Russian President Vladimir Putin later admitted that the men were Russian troops.
TJ Journal notes that a member of the film festival's jury, Yury Degtyaryov, is linked to a March prank in which a light show was projected onto the facade of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. 
Anastasia Melnik, a spokeswoman for the film group behind the alleged White House light show, neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the stunt portrayed in the video.
Contacted by RFE/RL on May 8, she directed inquiries to a statement on the group's website noting that "the video was shot in May of this year."

-- Carl Schreck

Russia Unveils Monument To 'Polite People' Behind Crimean Invasion

The unveiling of the "polite people" monument in Belogorsk on May 6.

Russia's first monument honoring the "polite people" behind last year's armed annexation of Crimea has been erected in the Far Eastern city of Belogorsk.
Veterans, residents, and a phalanx of local officials gathered amid a May 6 snowfall for the unveiling of the life-size statue, which depicts a heavily armed, insignia-free soldier holding a cat.

The monument, cast from 400 kilograms of Chelyabinsk iron, is reportedly based on an image by TASS photographer Aleksandr Ryumin of a soldier in Crimea handing an orange-and-white cat to a young boy.
A boy attending the Belogorsk unveiling was asked to pose with his arms outstretched toward the soldier, whose stance is otherwise suggestive of a man dumping a cat into a wastebasket.

Unlike the soldier in the original, Belogorsk's "polite person" is unmasked, a detail that didn't pass unremarked on social media:

Stanislav Melyukov, the mayor of Belogorsk and the mastermind behind the project, says he hopes the monument will become a major tourist attraction. The city has already laid special decorative tiles around the statue and installed a video surveillance system to discourage vandalism.
The memorial is a tribute to the armed men in unmarked olive-drab uniforms who entered Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in February 2014, seizing control of airports, administration buildings, and other key structures in a purported effort to "protect" the territory's majority-Russian population from Ukrainian unrest.
The soldiers, originally referred to as "little green men," were later given the "polite people" moniker in an attempt to improve their image. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted the men were Russian troops only after Crimea had been annexed following a widely criticized public referendum.

Asked if Belogorsk had been too hasty in immortalizing a particularly controversial chapter in Russia's recent history, Mayor Melyukov said the statue was a matter of patriotism, not current events.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly has thrown his support behind erecting a second "polite person" monument in Moscow.

-- Daisy Sindelar

Video The Terrifying Kids Show Staged By Pro-Putin Bikers And Paid For By Taxpayers

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite pro-Kremlin bikers, the Night Wolves, have used public funds to stage frightening New Year’s shows for children, according to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has published a new report showing that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite biker gang, the Night Wolves, have received more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded state grants in recent years.

Led by nationalist biker Aleksandr Zaldostanov, a friend of Putin’s known as “The Surgeon,” the Night Wolves have used these funds to stage over-the-top patriotic events like their pyrotechnic-filled take on the Ukraine conflict last year in front of a crowd of some 100,000 in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol. 

But they’ve also drawn from the public till for a goal that some might consider of questionable propriety: terrifying children.

According to Navalny’s investigation, the Night Wolves received 12 million rubles ($237,000) over the past two years to stage bombastic children’s New Year’s shows aimed at frightening kids about the menace of a U.S.-led global conspiracy to bring Russia to its knees.

"When the kids come to us, we don’t cut costs on special effects or efforts to convey to the children a feeling of true drive and danger," Zaldostanov said of the group’s annual New Year’s show in an interview earlier this year with the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. "They should see that evil truly is scary."

Known in Russian as “novogodniye yolki,” these children’s New Year’s parties are typically a highlight of the holiday season for wide-eyed children across Russia. They feature songs, fairy tales, the ceremonial lighting of the tree, and appearances by Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, and the snow maiden Snegurochka, who hands out his gifts.

The annual Night Wolves celebration, however, takes some extremely dark turns. In the 2013 show, Snegurochka is kidnapped as part of a plan by evil conspirators from “across the ocean” that includes destroying both Russia and New Year’s celebrations.

One of the conspirators is a woman representing the Statue of Liberty who at one point appears in tight-fitting studded biker leather and wielding a whip as the song “Thunderstruck” by legendary Australian hard rock band AC/DC plays.

The show brims with ominous red lighting, villains’ cackles, and pulsating music. A video of the performance occasionally reveals the alarmed expressions on the faces -- though no visible tears -- of the children in the audience:

Ultimately, however, the enemies of Russia are defeated, and Zaldostanov and his colleagues emerge to do some bike tricks, lightening the mood in the venue.

The Night Wolves, who are currently riding across Europe to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet and Allied victory over Nazi Germany, received 3.2 million rubles in state grants for the 2013 New Year’s children show, according to Navalny’s investigation.

That sum was bumped up to 9 million rubles for the 2014 show, according to Navalny’s report, which gave the following description of that event:

“Evil forces are trying to sell out the motherland, symbolized by a giant key, in exchange for ‘foreign grants.’ The reanimated Statue of Liberty in a sheriff’s car brings suitcases with grants. Then she climbs up on some kind of platform and throws cash and entire boxes of ‘grants.’ People in traditional Russian garb…catch the boxes.”

During a July 2012 meeting with Putin in Sevastopol, Zaldostanov touched on the possible value of the Night Wolves’ annual holiday event in promoting vigilance among Russia’s youth, according to a report by the Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

“If I had seen that kind of [New Year’s] show when I was their age,” Zaldostanov was quoted as saying, “I would have crapped my pants.” 

-- Carl Schreck

Quirky Bans In Iran

An Iranian hairstylist shows a brochure of official hairstyles in July 2010.

Jagged hairstyles, body tattoos, solarium treatments, and the plucking of eyebrows for men are the latest fashion statements to be banned in Iran. 

But they are by no means the only things that can get a man in trouble. For years, Iranian authorities have occasionally cracked down on signs of Western influence, targeted "un-Islamic behavior," and enforced strict dress codes.

Here is a list of some of the clothing and fashion accessories that face restrictions in the Islamic republic:

Unveiled Mannequins

Iranian shopkeepers are banned from displaying female mannequins sans a hair-covering head scarf, or ones that highlight bodily curves. 

"Using unusual mannequins exposing body curves and with heads without hijabs is prohibited in shops," Iranian police said in a statement in 2009.

Male shopkeepers are also banned from selling women's underwear.

Last year, Iran's Cultural Ministry unveiled what they called "Islamic mannequins." 

Western Ties

Publicly wearing neckties is effectively banned in Iran. There is no written law against ties, but they are frowned upon under Iran's strict Islamic dress code. Shopkeepers tend to sell them under the counter. 

Former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad outraged senior clerics in 2010 when he said it was acceptable for men to wear ties. Ahmadinejad sported open-neck shirts. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami claimed at the time that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against wearing straight ties or bow ties.

The straight tie was famously described as a "donkey's tail" by Iran's first president, Seyyad Abolhassan Banisadr.


Iran's Cultural Ministry in 2010 published a list of approved hairstyles in a bid to get rid of "decadent" Western hairstyles in the country. Ponytails, mullets, and other long hairstyles all got the chop under the new rules. However, the 1980s-style floppy fringes and Elvis-like pompadour are acceptable to Iran's Barbers Union. 

The Barbers Union represents only male hairdressers in Iran, with female stylists having a separate trade organization.

Authorities said repeat offenders would face stiff fines, while barbers would have their shops closed.


Iranian men were banned from wearing necklaces in a crackdown against "un-Islamic" clothing and accessories in 2011. Other jewelry, such as earrings, was also outlawed for men.

In addition, men were warned about wearing shorts, although they can wear short-sleeved shirts. Men's jeans are also frowned upon.

Iranian state TV in 2011 aired an interview with a young Iranian man who said wearing jeans had hazardous effects on a man's testicles and rendered men infertile.

Bright Clothing

As part of its national campaign against Western cultural influences, authorities in 2011 enforced stricter dress codes for women at a number of universities in Iran. 

The universities were given a note informing them of the new dress code but did not say on what basis the code was established.

Among the new rules was a ban on wearing skinny jeans, body piercings, and brightly colored clothes and scarves.

-- Frud Bezhan

Video Amazing Footage Of Life In Berlin In July 1945

A powerful video in color of the devastated city of Berlin, shot in July 1945, just months after Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II, has been making the rounds online. 

The archival footage, produced by Kronos Media, was shared on YouTube on April 28.


A Who's Who Of Russian Parody Twitter Accounts

"Recently, I physically can't watch anything with Putin. His mendacious and cocky mug makes me ill."

Twitter has blocked a satirical account lampooning Igor Sechin, the powerful head of state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft and a longtime confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The account, @Igor_Sechin, was blocked inside Russia after state media watchdog Roskomnadzor complained to Twitter that it violated Russian privacy laws

Frequently obscene and ferociously critical of the Kremlin, @Igor_Sechin is among a handful of popular Russian-language Twitter parody feeds based on personas and institutions in the Russian government.

Most of these accounts skewer Russian officials with irony, bile, or both. A notable exception is one claiming the identity of Kremlin presidential adviser Vladislav Surkov. That account features tweets that dovetail with the enigmatic official's ideological underpinnings.

Here's a look at five of these Twitter parody accounts, which collectively have garnered some 1.5 million followers.


Launched in 2010 under the presidency of Putin protege and self-professed Internet lover Dmitry Medvedev, @KermlinRussia shot to Internet fame by using word-play and repurposed Kremlin talking points to needle Russia's ruling elite. 

Translation: "Everything that belongs to Putin belongs to the people. Or the other way around. I can't remember."

Inattentive readers could be forgiven for initially thinking the account is actually linked to the Kremlin. It features a majestic night photograph of the Kremlin and slyly tweaks the words "president" and "Russia" to describe itself as "The Official Twitter Account of the Persident of Ruissia."

The masterminds of KermlinRussia, Moscow-based public relations specialists Katya Romanovskaya and Arseny Bobrovsky, initially remained anonymous but revealed their identities in a 2013 interview with the Russian version of GQ. 

The parody feed has become an institution in the liberal-leaning Russian blogosphere, with 1.24 million followers as of April 30.


Adorned with the dour visage of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, this account lobs broadsides at Russian officials with a mix of satire, outrage, and schadenfreude over bureaucratic incompetence.

The account's handle is a reference to the Russian-language acronym for Russia's Foreign Ministry, "MID RF," and like KermlinRussia, it often plays on the ironic pretense of being an official mouthpiece for the government. 

Translation: "Russia will help those who took out mortgages in foreign currencies. But for those who took out mortgages in hryvnya, your homes will soon be in Russia!"

Since the account was launched in October 2012, it has accrued more than 88,000 followers.


This account, called "Peskov's Mustache," is a reference to Putin's longtime spokesman, the urbane and mustachioed Dmitry Peskov. The tweets rely more on wry barbs than overt denunciations of top Russian officials. The person behind the account, which has 84,000 followers, rarely breaks from the satirical premise that it is actually Peskov clicking the "Tweet" button. 

Translation: "Vladimir Putin: Russia will go all the way to defend my interests."


It would be exceedingly difficult to believe that this account, which Twitter blocked in Russia this week at the behest of Roskomnadzor, is actually maintained by the Rosneft chief and Kremlin insider. Aside from the fact that Sechin is not known to have any sort of social-media presence, the person behind the account is relentless in pillorying Putin. 

Translation: "Recently, I physically can't watch anything with Putin. His mendacious and cocky mug makes me ill."

The account features an unflattering photograph of Sechin with a snarled upper lip (with a U.S. flag tucked in the corner), essentially making it obvious upon first glance that it's a parody account.

In its April 30 write-up of the dustup over @Igor_Sechin, TJ Journal quoted Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky as saying that the agency likely moved to block the feed based on a complaint that the account violated privacy laws.

As Meduza notes, however: "Twitter's terms of service require parody accounts to identify themselves clearly, so readers don't mistake these accounts for the real thing. If the fake Sechin account violated this policy, however, it would have been suspended from Twitter worldwide, rather than blocked in a single country." 

In his interview with TJ Journal, Ampelonsky did not specify whether it was Sechin himself who appealed to Roskomnadzor.


No other Russian-language Twitter parody account has spawned as much confusion and speculation about the author's identity as this one purporting to convey the musings of Surkov, a top Kremlin adviser who is seen as the main architect of Putin's political system.

With some 114,000 followers, the person or persons behind the account hews closely to the Kremlin line when commenting on Russian domestic and international affairs, lending an air of credibility to the possibility that Surkov himself is involved.

Both The Washington Post and The Moscow Times have quoted -- and then retracted or deleted -- comments from the SurkovRussia account as if they came from the official himself.

Surkov has denied having any social-media presence, though he has said that he is familiar with SurkovRussia, calling its tweets "witty" and "humorous."

"But they're not mine," he told Interfax in 2013. "I don't have any blogs in social media. None. This is rather unusual for these times, but that's how it is."

But Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart Of The New Russia, notes that Surkov "likes to invoke the new postmodern texts just translated into Russian, the breakdown of grand narratives, the impossibility of truth, how everything is only 'simulacrum' and 'simulacra.'" 

Some on Twitter have speculated that Surkov himself is running a Twitter feed that pretends to be a fake Surkov account. 

Whoever is behind the SurkovRussia account, however, has poked fun at the official, who is often referred to as the "gray cardinal" of the Kremlin and was born as Aslambek Dudayev to a Chechen father and a Russian mother.

"More than anything I despise people who change their faith, last name, nationality," SurkovRussia said in a March 27 tweet. 

Translation: "More than anything I despise people who change their faith, last name, nationality. There are no 'bad' nations or last names, only stupid people who bear them."


-- Carl Schreck

Russian Ultranationalist Dugin Sparks Outrage in U.S. With Texas Lecture

Kremlin-connected anti-Western ideologue Aleksandr Dugin speaking at a rally in support of Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine.

Russian nationalist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin is banned from entering the United States for backing separatists in Ukraine. But thanks to the Internet and an American white supremacist, he’s set to beam his anti-Western views into the halls of a public university in Texas.

And Ukrainian-Americans are not happy about it.

The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America is calling on Texas A&M University to refuse to host an April 29 online lecture to be delivered remotely by Dugin to a venue on its campus in College Station, Texas.

“We condemn Dugin’s xenophobic worldview and are surprised that a U.S. university would provide a venue for his hate speech,” Andrij Dobriansky, a spokesman for the New York-based advocacy group, told RFE/RL. “We hope the university reconsiders after hearing the outcry.”

The planned lecture is titled “American Liberalism Must Be Destroyed” and is being organized by Preston Wigginton, a Texas white supremacist with ties to Russian ultranationalists. 

In 2007, Wigginton attended an anti-immigrant Russian March demonstration in Moscow and received cheers from the crowd after telling them that “Slavic and European peoples” must “unite to fight this invasion of the third world.” 

He was also denied entry into Britain in 2009, a decision the British government explained as an effort to “prevent those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.” 

The United States slapped sanctions on Dugin in March, citing his role as a leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, which Washington says has “actively recruited individuals with military and combat experience to fight on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.”

“This group and its leaders are being designated for being responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in its statement announcing the sanctions

In his Facebook announcement for the event, Wigginton described the Dugin as a “Kremlin insider and an informal adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.” 

Dugin does indeed have Kremlin connections, though his actual influence on Russian government policy is unclear. 

A petition has been launched asking Texas A&M’s interim president, Mark Hussey, not to host Dugin’s lecture. 

Texas A&M is clearly not thrilled that its facilities will be used for the event. But university spokesman Shane Hinckley told RFE/RL that Wigginton reserved the space in compliance with the rules and that Texas A&M “supports the First Amendment rights of speakers even when their judgment and actions are morally reprehensible.”

"Neither this event nor its message are promoted or endorsed by Texas A&M University,” Hinckley said in emailed comments. “Mr. Wigginton is a private citizen who reserved space generally available to the public to host events of its own choosing.”

--Carl Schreck

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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