Friday, October 24, 2014


Russia

Moscow Freaks Out About Federalization Rally...In Siberia

Artyom Loskutov (center) has raised hackles in Moscow by trying to organize a federalist rally in Siberia.
Artyom Loskutov (center) has raised hackles in Moscow by trying to organize a federalist rally in Siberia.
By Glenn Kates

Here's an Internet search test that will both show Moscow's increasing control over the Russian Internet and how its favored policy for its neighbor does not necessarily reflect its stance at home. 

Type the Russian words федерализация Украины (federalization of Ukraine) into Google and you will see over a million results -- many coming from Russian state news agencies and most dating from earlier this year, when Moscow responded to a change in government in Kyiv by annexing the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and backing a pro-Russian separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. 

Now go to the Russian version of Google News (news.google.ru) and do an August 1 search for федерализация Сибири (federalization of Siberia). Click on any of those links and you're likely to get a 404 error.

For months, Moscow has applauded a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine as a justified quest for "federalization." But when word spread of a planned August 17 "March for the Federalization of Siberia" in Novosibirsk, Russia's third largest city, the country's Internet monitoring agency took a less approving stance. 

The agency, Roskomnadzor, demanded that the page promoting the march be shut down (it is still visible outside of Russia), but it did not stop there. 

It ordered Slon, one of a small number of independent news sites in the country, to take down an interview with the march's organizer, claiming that the website was participating in the "dissemination of information about preparation for unauthorized mass events under the banner of infringing on the territorial integrity of the country." 

It ordered the same of the BBC Russian website, which also had an interview with the organizer, a Novosibirsk-based artist named Artyom Loskutov. 

The British-funded international broadcaster has agreed to edit the text in the article associated with the interview but has said it will not take the recorded segment down. 

According to "Izvestia," a Kremlin-connected newspaper, Rozkomnadzor has threatened to block the website completely if it does not comply fully with its order. 

At least 17 other websites, including popular news aggregators like Newsru.com and RIA Novosti, a state-run news site, apparently also originally covered the story but have now taken their reporting down.  

 

Since the beginning of the year, the Kremlin has been moving swiftly to gain greater control over the Internet. In April, the State Duma passed legislation that would require non-Russian tech companies to store all domestic data within Russia and several opposition websites have been blocked. On August 1, a law requiring bloggers to register with Roskomnadzor if their blogs have over 3,000 daily visitors went into effect.

Particularly Sensitive Timing

The August 17 pro-federalization march, which may have originally been created as a form of performance art, was unlikely to draw large crowds at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen his approval rating hovering around 85 percent. 

But Moscow may be particularly sensitive to calls for greater regional autonomy when it has been working at home to centralize authority, walking back a series of laws passed in the final days of former President Dmitry Medvedev's term that were meant to appease antigovernment protesters.

In December, Putin signed a law criminalizing calls for separatism. Just seven months later, he signed legislation increasing potential fines and extending the maximum jail term from three to four years for such offenses. 

But Andrei Piontkovsky, a liberal Russian political analyst, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that, by encouraging separatism abroad, Russia may have "shot itself in the foot" at home. 

Russians, he said, may begin to ask "Why can there be separatism in Donetsk, and if that's fine, why can't there also be separatism in Russia, in Siberia?"  

Russia fought two wars against Chechen separatists in the 1990s in which some 75,000 civilians are believed to have died. 

In the past, some Siberians have complained of a disconnect between the region and the capital some 3,500 kilometers away, saying Siberia has not been able to fully benefit from its vast supply of natural resources.

Local officials have banned the August 17 rally, which called for the creation of a Siberian republic within the Russian Federation.

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