Thursday, September 03, 2015

Ashley Madison Cheats On Ukraine

The Ashley Madison adultery website has millions of subscribers, including some in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Michael Scollon

Of all the revelations emerging from the Ashley Madison hack, which is the most scandalous?
A) That some 37 million subscribers to the service, which helps adultery-inclined adults find each other, were caught with their pants down when their identities were revealed?
B) The suggestion, made in a pair of number-crunching analyses, that virtually none of the subscribers were women?
C) That of all the nations around the world, Canadians can lay claim to being the most adultery curious?
D) None of the above
The best answer is, arguably, D.
Despite all the juicy details that emerged after an anonymous hacker last month released nearly 30 gigabytes of data on Ashley Madison, including subscribers' e-mail addresses and confidential information, Ashley Madison's worst sin could be that the cheaters website recognizes Crimea as a sovereign entity.
Millions of readers already know this, but of the 53 locations subscribers can choose from while setting up their profiles, Crimea is the only one that is not a country.

It is one of the more interesting aspects of a process that lists "bald" as a hair color option, "zaftig" as a body type, and "anything goes" as a limit to what the subscriber will consider doing.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 in a move that has been condemned and not recognized by the international community, is conveniently listed as a location option in the Russian language.
Likewise, Ukraine can be found on the scroll-down list in Ukrainian.
Crimeans, alas, will have to be able to pick out their location in the English language.
Once signed up, subscribers can tweak and perfect their profile, and can choose Russian, Ukrainian, and English among the numerous options in the languages-spoken category (no Crimean Tatar).
Crimeans who got this far can now begin their search for like-minded locals by searching for matches within a proximity of 500 miles, or by choosing specific locales.
One of the two options is clear -- Sevastopol, the port city. But Ashley Madison confuses matters further by listing the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as a second choice. Autonomous Republic of Crimea is the official status granted to Crimea as part of Ukraine. Following Crimea's annexation, it was rebranded as a federal district of the Russian Federation.
So, what exactly was Ashley Madison trying to achieve by recognizing Crimea?
Was it trying to please a powerful customer base of fiercely nationalistic Crimeans? This theory does not make sense, seeing as a search for "an attached male seeking females" aged 18-65 throughout the peninsula garnered a mere eight potential mates.
Was the service seeking a middle ground that would not rattle its Russian and Ukrainian subscribers? Neither Russia nor Ukraine feature on Ashley Madison's "global infidelity map" of top cheating countries, so it would seem there would not be much to gain (or lose) through the measure.

Was Ashley Madison simply trying to get on the right side of the Russian authorities?
There were reports in the immediate aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea that Duma Deputy Anatoly Sidyakin had asked the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service to check in on Google and other foreign media outlets to ensure they were labeling Crimea as Russian territory. Sidyakin's initiative, which would have forced such outlets to change how Crimea was depicted on maps and text for Russian users, never took hold.
But Google Maps and Google Earth have nevertheless made alterations to the border between Crimea and mainland Ukraine that would appear to be in line with Sidyakin's idea.
The Russian version of Google Maps, for example, clearly shows Crimea to be part of Russia, underscored by a continuous, black line to demarcate the border.
Outside Russia, Google Maps shows the entire Crimean Peninsula (with the exception of Sevastopol city, which is considered a separate entity by Russia) surrounded with a solid, red line. The border with mainland Ukraine is depicted with the dotted line normally reserved for disputed areas such as the Palestinian territories.
Unfortunately, questions to Ashley Madison went unanswered, making it a mystery what the service might have been thinking.

Breakaway Bride And Groom: Transdniester Leader To Wed 'Foreign Minister'

Transdniester's Yevgeny Shevchuk (left) and Nina Shtanski are set to be married, and she will take a new job.

Steve Gutterman

"Do you, Separatist Leader, take this Self-Styled Former Foreign Minister as your lawfully wedded wife?

"De facto, I do."

That's how the wedding vows might go when the leader of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, Yevgeny Shevchuk, marries Nina Shtanski, who serves as the territory's top diplomat.

The stylish Shtanski will step down to take "another job," Shevchuk told a news conference on August 31. "She will soon fulfill the obligations of the president's wife," he was quoted as saying.

But will their marriage be recognized? Their region isn't.

A sliver of land inhabited mainly by speakers of Russian and Ukrainian, Transdniester declared independence from then-Soviet Moldova in 1990 and fought a war with Moldovan forces in 1992. It has support from Moscow and hosts some 1,400 Russian troops, but is not recognized by any country.

Shevchuk, 47, was elected "president" in 2011. Shtanski, 38, was appointed as "foreign minister" in January 2012, weeks after Shevchuk took office.

Shtanski may hope that her wedding precedes a more momentous union: She said last year that Transdniester is "Russian land" and made clear she hopes it will become part of Russia -- a goal she called "the will of the people."

No date has been announced for the nuptials, but when the big day comes, the bride and groom are sure to be wished a joyful lifetime together.

If it doesn't work out, however, the separatists could separate -- a split within a split.

Meanwhile, Shevchuk and Shtanski are not the only high-profile couple in Moldova planning to tie the knot.

Wedding bells are also ringing in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, whose longtime mayor announced very publicly on August 31 that he was engaged -- and not a moment too soon, according to some supporters.

Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca broke the news to a big crowd gathered in Chisinau's central square for National Language Day, shortly after presenting a ring to Anisoara Loghin, a TV presenter.

In office since 2007, Chirtoaca has portrayed himself as a workaholic who is married to his city and his job.

According to Moldovan media, he was under pressure from supporters -- not least his uncle Mihai Ghimpu, who heads the Liberal Party -- to put his bachelor days behind him and settle down.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, AP, and Novosti Pridnestrovya


Putin Pumps Iron, Internet Delivers Punch Lines

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev drink tea during breakfast at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 30.

Anna Shamanska

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spent their Sunday on a thoroughly photographed man-date -- pumping iron, barbecuing, and drinking tea.

Putin and Medvedev met at the president's Sochi residence on August 30, and after a quick warm-up got to the workout machines.

The president and prime minister sported tracksuits, T-shirts, and sneakers -- with Medvedev donning a pair of trendy Nike shoes and Putin the more patriotic Russian-made Forward sneakers. 

After the workout the Russian leaders barbecued and shared a cup of steamy tea -- all of which was covered by the state-run network RT. 

The bizarre public get-together was interpreted by some media organizations as an attempt to boost Putin's approval rating. According to Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, Putin's approval rating fell from an all-time high of 89 percent in June to 83 percent in August.

Whatever the official goal might have been, the photo shoot sparked a wave of Internet memes.

Some Twitter users experimented with captioning an image of Putin working out his upper body. This one suggests it's a still from an imaginary sequel to 50 Shades Of Grey, the well-known erotic drama. 

With minor retouching, Putin becomes a character from Mortal Kombat -- a violent videogame series that originated in the 1990s. 

A few more strokes in Photoshop and the Russian president becomes the Vitruvian Putin -- based on the Vitruvian Man, a classic drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. 

Others were openly critical of Putin and Medvedev. While the president and prime minister were hanging out in the resort city of Sochi, Siberia was being scorched by dozens of wildfires. One encroached on the shores of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world.

"Instead of flying to Siberia to manage firefighting, they are barbequing. Tell them that all of Buryatia is a barbeque," reads one tweet. 

A caption to the photo of the Russian leaders smiling amicably at each other reads: "Don't worry, Baikal won't burn down! It's a lake after all!" 

At the same time Ukrainian Twitter users pointed to the ongoing battles in Donbas between the Ukrainian military and Russian proxies. Here the pair is Photoshopped into an image of the destroyed Donetsk airport: 

Another Twitter user evoked a story shown on Russian state television about a small boy supposedly crucified by the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine -- a fake that was heavily mocked online as a propaganda stunt.

This photo of Putin, too, is called "Crucified boy." 

The ongoing theme of Russian sanctions and goods destruction is also not going anywhere. In this Facebook post, for instance, Putin and Medvedev are seen drinking their tea atop a pile of destroyed Western cheese. 

Others imagined what their equipment would look like if the officials decided to substitute their American and German workout machines with something made in Russia: 

And just so you know, not everybody's tea-drinking sessions in Russia feature proper cups and a teapot. For instance, this post offers a reminder that residents of the Russian city of Stavropol were once served traditional pancakes on shovel-blades to mark Maslenitsa, Russia's version of Mardi Gras. 

In the end, the manly weekend workout session was summarized with this caricature, in which Putin is seen holding Medvedev over the ledge of a cliff. 

Russian Church Chief Seeks Spotlight With Putinesque Call-In Show

Patriarch Kirill

Steve Gutterman

Live from Moscow, it's Patriarch Kirill.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to charm his country and rattle the West with an annual call-in show broadcast live on television.

Now the head of the Russian Orthodox Church wants some time in the spotlight.

Patriarch Kirill will conduct a live, televised question-and-answer session on September 3, state news agency TASS reported.

The August 28 report said Kirill would do the show during a church congress on social ministry that will also be attended by government officials.

Unlike Putin's call-in show, which is carried by the main state channels, Kirill's is apparently to be broadcast live only on Soyuz, a church-affiliated channel.

But the program may fuel criticism from secular-minded Russians who say that Kirill often acts like a politician and lament the close ties between church and state, which have tightened under Putin and Kirill even though the constitution says Russia is a secular country.

Polls have shown that some three-quarters of Russians identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, but that only a small fraction attends church regularly. 

Kirill, who has headed the church since 2009, gave his informal but clear support to Putin's campaign for a third Kremlin term in 2012, and Putin has held out the church as a bulwark of morality. 

The services Kirill leads on Orthodox Christmas and Easter are shown on state TV, as are holiday addresses he delivers.  

Vox Prop? Cue The 'Happy Belarusians'

A photo by Uladz Hrydzin shows a reporter and cameraman for Belarus state STV appearing to cue an answer from an interviewee in Minsk.

Farangis Najibullah

"Brilliant shot," prominent Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet says of the photo he shared with his tens of thousands of Facebook followers, which appears to show a TV reporter cuing an interviewee with an off-camera sheet of prepared answers. 

"Journalists from the Belarusian state television channel STV polling Minsk residents about something. Answers prepared in advance so the 'happy Belarusian' doesn't accidentally blurt out something negative," Sheremet says, noting that Uladz Hrydzin had photographed the "clever propagandists."

Hrydzin, a freelance photographer, wrote simply when he posted his pic: "I think they're pros." 

This year in its survey of press freedom around the world, Freedom House rated Belarus a 93 (on a 0-100 scale, 100 being least free), well down in the "not free" category. It has consistently ranked Belarus's media environment lowest among the EU's so-called Eastern Partnership countries and noted this year, "Belarus has consistently ranked among the worst performers in Freedom of the Press, and its low score has stagnated in recent years, reflecting the entrenched nature of the authoritarian regime."

"The only thing missing here is a pistol pointed to the interviewee's head, just in case," Facebook user Idris Asayev comments in Sheremet's feed.

But others questioned Hrydzin and Sheremet's cynical interpretation, suggesting the reporter could have been simply showing the interviewee a brainteaser, prompting him with a multiple-choice question, or holding notes the interviewee scribbled himself to stay on topic.

The image has been liked by almost 4,000 people and shared by nearly 800 more. So this glimpse behind the scenes of Belarusian state TV is spreading the message, although it might not be the intended one.

Video Dirty Jokes: Internet Awash With Memes Mocking Russia's Detergent Ban

Facing Bans On Detergents, Russians Say Soda Will Doi
August 26, 2015
In the latest ban to hit foreign products in Russia, authorities have ordered stores to remove popular detergents and soaps from their shelves, citing "irregularities" found by consumer watchdogs. Some Moscow residents say they don't want to replace their foreign products with domestic ones, but others are happy to do so -- and are ready to use old-fashioned substitutes if necessary. (RFE/RL's Russian Service)
WATCH: Vox Pop -- Facing Bans On Detergents, Russians Say Soda Will Do
Anna Shamanska

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. 

Just when the torrent of Internet posts skewering Russia's destruction of illegal food imports was running dry, Moscow served up an irresistible new target for the Twitterati: a campaign to cleanse supermarket shelves of prominent Western brands of detergent and dishwashing liquid.

On August 25, Russia's consumer protection agency ordered the removal of several foreign brands of cleaning products, citing health concerns for what is widely seen as retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow's interference in Ukraine.

Social media users quickly turned on the taps and trained a stream of sarcasm on the offending ban.

Several used shopping excursions as a touching-off point, documenting searches for cleansers that have been ubiquitous since Russia embraced capitalism but are all of a sudden disappearing from stores.

"Must be a good cleaning agent if it's swept off the shelves," one Twitter user wrote above a photo of a half-empty supermarket shelf in Moscow.

Some people apparently snapped selfies showing them holding soon-to-be-banned cleaning supplies -- a nod to Soviet-era shortages that led to hoarding and frenzied quests for scarce products.

Well-known blogger Rustem Adagamov posted one such photo on his Twitter feed with the hashtag "more hell."

Those who didn't manage to stock up with foreign detergents will have to go back to more arduous ways of doing the dishes and the laundry, if Twitter posts are any judge.

One user called a washboard, a bucket and a huge bar of hard soap "a laundry set for a patriot of the Russian World."

In fact, Russian channel Dozhd TV conducted a quick experiment. Two hosts dirtied two identical pieces of cloth with jam and washed them in separate buckets -- one with an unnamed foreign detergent, the other with Russian-made hard soap. Both pieces of cloth came out perfectly clean. "Import substitution," the latest buzzword in Russia, "has won," declared Dozhd host Lika Kremer. 

A darker take appeared to connect the new rules with Russia's high suicide rate

"Nothing can be more patriotic than a national rope, national soap, and a national stool," the Twitter post said.

In the wake of widespread Russian media coverage of food-smuggling stories, the Twittersphere also came up with headlines adjusting that trend to the crackdown on cleaning products.

"The police found two grams of Persil on a citizen of Ivanovo. In court, the perpetrator tried unsuccessfully to prove it was just cocaine," a post on an account that satirizes pro-Kremlin outlet LifeNews said.

There were other memes referring to the similarities between washing powder and cocaine, including one showing Al Pacino's Scarface character sitting in a stupor behind piles of a white substance -- and a box of Persil PhotoShopped into the foreground.

Some of the jokes might be lost on anyone who does not read Russian, but others would also resonate in the West.

One Twitter post showed Mister Proper -- the Russian version of Mr. Clean, the bald, earring-wearing mascot of the eponymous brand from U.S-based Procter & Gamble -- being wrestled to the floor by helmeted Russian riot police.

Another Twitter user imagined the following scenario in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, lampooning both the food ban and Russian authorities' purported propensity for seeking bribes: "At customs in Sheremetyevo a Persil detector dog lets a passenger know with its eyes that a problem can be solved with a kilogram of jamon [ham]."

Some social media users suggested that Russians, after all, might not be terribly affected by the ban of foreign cleaning agents. 

"Those who are used to eating from shovels do not need any detergents," a Facebook user wrote, pulling out a photo taken earlier this year in the southern city of Stavropol, where people were served traditional pancakes on shovel-blades during a celebration of Maslenitsa -- Russia's Mardi Gras.

And one post on Twitter looked at the bright side with a modern-day take on an old Russian saying. 

"It's a good omen if you see a woman with an empty bucket," the tweet read. "It means buckets and women haven't been banned yet."

Facing 20 Years In Russian Jail, This Ukrainian Bursts Into Song

A court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don has just sentenced an acclaimed Ukrainian film director, Oleh Sentsov, who was accused of masterminding terrorist attacks in Crimea.

Sentsov says the charges are politically motivated and that "a trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."

Standing in a cage, the judge delivered the verdicts: 20 years for Sentsov and 10 years for his co-defendant, Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.

Just after the judge asks -- "Do you understand the court's sentence and the terms of appeal?" -- the two men start singing. 


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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