Monday, August 03, 2015


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

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

Joanna Paraszczuk

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."


Did A Brain Injury Save Russia From Napoleon?

As this portrait shows, Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov had suffered (and survived) serious head trauma before his encounters with Napoleon's Grand Armee.

Antoine Blua

Many Russians consider Mikhail Kutuzov a national hero and a savior of his country for brilliantly repelling Napoleon's 1812 invasion.

But it could all have turned out differently, if it hadn't been for a certain French doctor. 

That, at least, is what researchers at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona have concluded. 
 
After an investigation lasting more than two years, the American scientists credited a French surgeon in the Russian army, Jean Massot, with changing the course of history.
 
The American researchers found that Massot, years before Napoleon's invasion, employed experimental techniques that foreshadowed modern neurosurgery to help Kutuzov survive what otherwise would have been two mortal bullet wounds.
 
In their study, published in the U.S. Journal of Neurosurgery, the researchers also say the wounds provide clues to the strategy Kutuzov used to defeat the French emperor. 
 
According to Dr. Mark C. Preul, leader of the research team, "It's a story of how medicine changed the course of civilization."
 
Kutuzov survived two shots to the head while fighting the Turks in 1774 and 1788, before playing a major part in repelling Napoleon's seemingly invincible Grande Armee.
 
"We wanted to find out what really happened and basically identify this surgeon who saved Mikhail Kutuzov," Preul added. "Massot's facts were somewhat buried. He is at the vanguard of surgical technique. He uses incredibly modern techniques that we still use today."
 
The study found evidence that the first bullet wound, sustained in Crimea, destroyed Kutuzov's frontal lobe. The second bullet, sustained in another confrontation, passed through his face and skull base.
 
After treating the wounds, Massot wrote, "It must be believed that fate has appointed Kutuzov to something great, because he was still alive after two injuries, a death sentence by all the rules of medical science."
 
The U.S. scientists say the first wound could explain Kutuzov's erratic behavior after the injury, and most likely impaired the Russian general's ability to make decisions.

But paradoxically, that is what probably saved the day.
 
A hesitant Kutuzov delayed confronting Napoleon's forces in the autumn of 1812, retreating with his army safely to the east of Moscow after the Battle of Borodino, 125 kilometers west of the city.
 
The French imperial army captured Moscow and retreated following the burning of the city. Lacking supplies and food, the Grande Armee succumbed to a brutal early Russian winter and counterattacks by Russian forces. Napoleon abandoned the army in December and returned to Paris in defeat.
 
"The other generals thought Kutuzov was crazy, and maybe he was," Preul said. "The brain surgery saved Kutuzov's life, but his brain and eye were badly injured. However, ironically, the healing resolution of this situation allowed him to take what turned out to be the best decision."
 
"If he had not been injured, he might well have challenged Napoleon and been defeated," he added.


Photogallery Putin Reportedly Heading To Crimea For His Latest Annual Adventure

Archaelogy seems to have a special appeal for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here he is seen "discovering" two ancient Greek amphorae in the Black Sea in 2011.

Robert Coalson

Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to participate in an archaeological expedition to the annexed Crimean peninsula in the coming weeks, according to reports in Izvestia and other Russian media.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told RIA-Novosti on July 31 that he could not "yet" confirm the report. However, Peskov was the original source of the news, apparently mentioning it to journalists on July 29.

According to Izvestia, Putin will make the trip under the auspices of the Russian Geographic Society, of which he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees (Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is the president of this "all-Russian nongovernmental organization").

The Russian daily says details of the expedition are being kept secret, but that it will focus on archaeological sites related to the historic Silk Road and an antique shipwreck in the Black Sea.

Putin, of course, is no stranger to adventure tourism. 

In May 2014, he joined a group of Russian and Chinese conservationists in releasing three rescued tiger cubs into the wild near the Amur River.

In 2013, also with the Russian Geographical Society, he rode a submersible to visit a sunken 19th-century Russian sailing ship in the Gulf of Finland. 

In 2012, he piloted a motorized hang glider in a bid to help endangered cranes find their way from Siberia to breeding grounds in Iran and India.

PHOTO GALLERY: Vladimir Putin As A Man Of Action

  • A shirtless Putin famously hunts in the foothills of the Sayan Mountains in the Republic of Tuva in August 2007.
  • Putin helps scientists tag a Siberian tiger in August 2008.
  • Putin swims the butterfly during a vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in southern Siberia in August 2009.
  • A shirtless Putin rides a horse during a vacation in the Republic of Tuva in August 2009.
  • Putin inside a submersible during a dive into the depths of Lake Baikal in August 2009.
  • Putin throws a Japanese judo expert during an exhibition in Tokyo in September 2000.
  • Putin and scientists measure a polar bear on the Franz Josef Land archipelago in April 2010.
  • Putin inspects the cockpit of the new Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter jet at Gromov Airfield in June 2010.
  • Putin rides a horse near the town of Abakan during a trip to the Republic of Khakassia in south-central Siberia in February 2010.
  • Putin climbed into a firefighting plane and helped crews dump water on wildfires in the Ryazan region in August 2010. "Is it OK?" he asked after pushing a button to release the water. "It was a direct hit," the pilot responded.
  • Putin takes aim at a whale in Olga Bay with a nonlethal crossbow in order to get a plug for a skin biopsy in August 2010.
  • Putin takes part in an expedition to Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Preserve to inspect the snow leopard's habitat in the Siberian Federal District in October 2010.
  • Putin hits the slopes at the Krasnaya Polyana ski center outside Sochi, venue of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
  • Putin rides with motorcycle enthusiasts during a visit to a motorbike festival in the southern city of Novorossiisk in August 2011.
  • Putin holds two amphoras he "found" while scuba diving in Russia's Taman Bay in August 2011.
  • Putin looks at one of the orphaned cranes that was to be escorted by a motorized deltaplane on the Yamal Peninsula in September 2012.
  • Putin is airborne with the juvenile cranes during what was dubbed a "Flight of Hope" to preserve the rare Siberian species, a number of whom were killed or seriously injured in preparation for the "experiment."
  • Putin prepares to dive aboard the Sea Explorer 5 bathyscaphe near Gogland Island in the Gulf of Finland on July 15, 2013, to visiting the sunken frigate "Oleg."

In 2011, as prime minister, Putin "discovered" two ancient Greek amphorae while diving in the Black Sea -- an event that spokesman Peskov later admitted had been staged. "They were found during an expedition several weeks or days beforehand," Peskov confessed. "Of course, they were then left there or placed there. It is a completely normal thing to do."

In 2010, Putin visited Franz Josef Land in the Arctic and fit a collar on a drugged polar bear. Kommersant reported at the time that scientists had held the bear in captivity for 10 days in preparation for the prime minister's visit.

In 2009, Putin explored the bottom of Lake Baikal in a Mir deep-submergence vehicle.

If Putin does make the Silk Road expedition, it will be his third visit to Crimea since Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.


Pro-Kremlin Newspaper Nurtures A Know-It-All

Edvard Chesnokov, a Russian poet and blogger, seems to have an unbending trust in authority.

Nick Shchetko

Sometimes he's just a junior research assistant. But he also sees duty as a literary critic, a journalist, an art critic, or a mass-communication expert.

It all seems to depend on what Izvestia, Russia's best-known pro-Kremlin daily, needs from Edvard Chesnokov. But an online search through some of the literary-college graduate's best citations over the past year or so shows one common thread: unbending trust in authority.

"A government official is a person who bears special responsibility, who cannot fail the trust of his constituents or the state," Chesnokov, in the role of "mass communications expert," says in a piece on a proposal to ban advertising in state officials' personal social-media accounts. 

In another story -- this time as a "literary critic" -- he suggests that the experts should preapprove graffiti on suburban trains. 

In still another, now as an "art critic," he highlights the threat of extreme art to national morality. "Those artists who promote, for example, extremism in the name of independence in art are, in fact, double-dealing -- they aren't trying to set on fire an effigy of [murdered Russian opposition politician Boris] Nemtsov or to put an American flag through a meat grinder," he says, seemingly implying that radical artists in Russia never target the opposition, instead focusing solely on the authorities.

This week -- as a junior research assistant at the State Academic University for Humanities -- Chesnokov, whose respect for authority appears to stop at Russia's border, criticizes Russian economist Sergei Guriyev for accepting USAID financing for his dissertation. 

"To what extent is Guriyev independent in his publications, including recent ones, forecasting the crash of our economy?" he asks. "Are the professor's deeply scientific conclusions fed to him by some U.S. State Department clerk?"

Guriyev fled Russia in 2013, following a state probe that he says was politically motivated.

Chesnokov's questionable credentials could simply reflect one of the most recent attempts by Russian media to create "experts" to carry the Kremlin's water.

Last year, RFE/RL chronicled Russian state news agency TASS's continued reliance for commentary on a German "professor" who appeared to lack actual academic credentials.

Lorenz Haag's praise of Vladimir Putin, defense of Russian actions in Ukraine, and arguments for a softer Western line against Moscow were even bolstered by references to an organization called the German "Agency For Global Communications" that did not appear to exist. 


Anti-Obama Shirts And Scenic Snapshots: French Lawmakers Spark Uproar With Crimea Visit

The delegation in Crimea

Claire Bigg

A group of French lawmakers has drawn applause in Russia and consternation at home after paying a high-profile visit to Crimea, in defiance of Western sanctions.

The 10 deputies of France's lower house, the National Assembly, touched down on the Black Sea peninsula -- which was forcibly seized by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014 -- on July 23, following a stopover in Moscow.

The goal, they had said ahead of the controversial visit, was to "understand how the population lives" and "counter the disinformation of European media" on Russia's overwhelmingly unrecognized annexation.

Once in Crimea, however, the visitors -- most of whom are members of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right Republican Party -- were quick to sing the praises of Crimea and of its new Kremlin-anointed leadership.

Centrist Union (UDI) lawmaker Yves Pozzo di Borgo, in particular, turned to Twitter to his share his enthusiasm.

"Côte d'Azur or Crimea?" he teased his more than 5,300 followers.

Pozzo di Borgo -- who is also vice president of the French-Russian Friendship Group of the Senate -- often struck a lyrical note, perhaps out of nostalgia for his native Corsica.

"Landscape of the Black Sea blue like the Mediterranean covered by the singing of the cicadas," he tweeted.

His string of tweets abruptly ended on July 24 on a laconic note, stating that the delegation was "without mobile and Wi-Fi" due to the fact that "no French mobile operator works in this part of the world."

But a picture of Pozzo di Borgo holding a T-shirt adorned with a phrase that roughly translates as "Obama, you're a schmuck" continued to make the rounds on social media.

Back in France, authorities are anything but amused.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was "shocked" by the visit, which he condemned as a breach of international law.

"Entering Crimea without the Ukrainian authorities' permission means recognition of Moscow's [annexation] claims," he said.

The French Senate warned the lawmakers against speaking on behalf of the assembly.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, in turn, called the trip -- the first by Western dignitaries since Crimea's annexation -- irresponsible and said it may slap entry bans on the French lawmakers. 


Kyiv LGBT Hand-Holding Experiment Ends In 'Neo-Nazi' Attack

A video experiment in which a gay couple strolled around Kyiv hand-in-hand to gauge homophobic sentiment went largely without incident until they were attacked by a group of men.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- A video experiment in which a gay couple strolled around Kyiv hand-in-hand to gauge homophobic sentiment went largely without incident until the pair was surrounded by a gang of young men who "pepper-sprayed" and attacked them in broad daylight.

Published on YouTube on July 22, the video initially shows two men, Zoryan Kis and Tymur Levchuk, attracting little more than the occasional stare as they walk around the Ukrainian capital. 

Zoryan Kis says nobody had said anything to him and his partner until they were suddenly attackedZoryan Kis says nobody had said anything to him and his partner until they were suddenly attacked
x
Zoryan Kis says nobody had said anything to him and his partner until they were suddenly attacked
Zoryan Kis says nobody had said anything to him and his partner until they were suddenly attacked

But toward the end of the clip, one of them sits on the other's lap on a bench on Khreschatyk, the central street in Kyiv where protesters camped out during the Euromaidan unrest in 2013-14.

They are then approached and surrounded by a gang of around 10 young men -- described by Kis as "neo-fascist or extreme-right men" -- who he says first engaged them in conversation to avoid drawing the attention of the police. "We were asked if we were patriots," Kis says in the video.

Moments later, as pedestrians amble past, one of the men squirts what Kis calls "pepper spray" in their faces before three of the gang land kicks on the seated couple. The attack is swiftly broken up by two men in plain clothes and blue shirts.

WATCH: Kyiv LGBT Experiment Goes Awry

The Ukrainian video was produced by Bird In Flight magazine to repeat a similar experiment recently carried out in Moscow by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual) rights activists to test public reaction to open displays of homosexuality after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States in June.

In the Moscow video, made by ChebuRussia TV and posted on July 12, two men holding hands in the capital are verbally abused, leered at, and rammed into by a passerby and confronted aggressively. 

The Moscow video has been viewed almost 9 million times. 

The Ukraine video had been watched nearly 530,000 times by the time this article was published.

Kis said the Ukrainian video features less casual abuse than the Moscow experiment. "We never heard any insults," Kis says in the video. "And those people who did have a verbal reaction...we were like aliens to them."

"What conclusion can we make? That in our society there are very few aggressive homophobic radicals that are ready for an attack. Other people just do not care if it doesn't concern them personally. And [the antigay] minority is trying to force everyone to play by its rules."


Russian Sports Club Airbrushes Putin Critic And Chess Great Kasparov From History Book

Garry Kasparov quipped on Twitter: "I suppose if Putin's lackeys want to remove my name from every Soviet/Russian record book it will at least keep them busy for a long time!"

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 21.07.2015 14:00

Carl Schreck

Chess has long been a revered sport in Russia, thanks largely to the legacy of Soviet dominance in the game. And big-time sport is tightly intertwined with politics in Russia, where top officials have run sports federations and regional governments and state-owned firms subsidize major spectator sports.

This, it seems, proved problematic for the storied Russian club Spartak when it published a commemorative tome feting its iconic athletes and teams. Among the greatest of Spartak's competitors, after all, is an avowed opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin: chess legend Garry Kasparov.

The solution? Airbrush Kasparov from the book.

Veteran Russian chess author and journalist Yevgeny Gik wrote on July 17 that he was commissioned earlier this year to write an entry for the book about Kasparov and another former Spartak player, Soviet Armenian grandmaster and former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian.

Gik says he submitted the text but that when he recently saw the published version of the book, which celebrates the 80th anniversary of Spartak's founding, it included the Petrosian entry but not a single mention of Kasparov.

The editor who assigned him the piece told him that Kasparov was expunged from the book "at the last minute" but that it is unclear who made the decision to do so, Gik wrote.

"I was surprised as well. One of the higher-ups made the effort," he quoted the editor, Yevgeny Bogatyrev, as saying.

After Gik's article was published on the website Chess-News.ru, Kasparov quipped on Twitter: "I suppose if Putin's lackeys want to remove my name from every Soviet/Russian record book it will at least keep them busy for a long time!"  

Bogatyrev, deputy editor in chief of the Moscow-based magazine Fizkultura I Sport, told RFE/RL that he “would not politicize this affair.”

“Sometimes contemporary sports executives don’t get along with legendary athletes of the past and try not to mention them,” he said in an e-mail.

Kasparov, an enfant terrible of Soviet chess, became world chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22 by defeating fellow Soviet grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, the Kremlin's favorite player. He held the title for 15 years and is widely considered the greatest player in history.

He has been vilified as a Western stooge in the pro-Kremlin media ever since retiring from competitive chess in 2005 to take up opposition politics.

Currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States, he was a key organizer of the so-called March of Dissent street protests in 2006 and 2007 that resulted in the arrests of numerous opposition activists, including Kasparov himself.

He has continued his relentless criticism of Putin while living abroad, publishing op-eds in major Western publications and testifying before U.S. lawmakers.

Russia has kept up its pressure on Kasparov in the chess world as well. During his 2014 bid to for the presidency of the game's world governing body, FIDE, Russian embassies worldwide contacted national chess federations to lobby for his incumbent opponent and eventual victor, former Russian regional boss Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. 

Despite tensions between the two men, Ilyumzhinov, whom Kasparov denounced during the FIDE election as being "fully backed by Putin's regime," criticized the decision to remove him from the Spartak commemorative book as "politically" motivated.

"It's impossible to just erase a world champion from Soviet and world sport," Ilyumzhinov told Dozhd TV

Kasparov, however, has not been completely excised from Spartak's history. The club's website features a photograph of the grandmaster and calls his 1985 victory over Karpov "brilliant" and "arguably the most significant achievement of a Spartak competitor" that year. 

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 transmission+rferl.org

Most Popular