Friday, April 18, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Kremlin Plays Whac-A-Mole

A woman attends a protest in Russia against Internet censorship, with a sign over her mouth reading "censorship."
A woman attends a protest in Russia against Internet censorship, with a sign over her mouth reading "censorship."
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Russia's nationalists are going anarchist. Or at least some of them are, sort of.

Take the movement "Russia Will Liberate Itself" or RONS, for example. The group's website features some of the normal expected nationalist staples: support for Orthodox Christian values, opposition to multiculturalism, revival of Russian culture, etc.

But they also declare themselves to be "opponents of the current regime" and call for its overthrow. And their site offers a series of highly technical -- albeit surprisingly readable -- primers that would please the hearts of many self-respecting liberals, libertarians, and, yes, anarchists.

There's a helpful little manual on "how to access blocked Internet sites," for example. And there's a list of dos and don'ts in case anyone suspects the FSB is tapping their phone. 

RONS is yet another example of how the Kremlin has lost control of the nationalist groups they once manipulated and used so effectively. But it also illustrates something else: despite the Kremlin's best efforts, and all the tools at its disposal, it will be increasingly difficult for the regime to regain complete control of Russia's information space.

"The Russian authorities are putting ever more pressure on the Internet in the hopes of imposing Kremlin control on the last relatively free segment of the Russian media," Paul Goble wrote on his blog "Window on Eurasia," which flagged RONS efforts in a recent post. 

"But their efforts are being countered by those most affected who are offering what they describe as 'very easy' workarounds so that those who want to visit banned sites can.

From the de facto takeover of the popular VKontakte, to new legislation making it even easier for the authorities to block websites they find distasteful, to the recent assault on Dozhd TV, the Kremlin is clearly trying to rein in new media and reassert control over the narrative.

The apparently imminent removal of the iconoclastic Pavel Durov as CEO of VKontakte has been widely interpreted as the endgame of a long campaign to gain control of a popular social-networking site that has been frequently used to organize opposition protests. (When the authorities told Durov to block VKontakte pages operated by anti-Kremlin activists in late 2011, he responded by tweeting a photo of a dog sticking its tongue out.) 

Cable- and satellite-television providers' decision to drop Dozhd TV after it aired a controversial poll on the Leningrad blockade looks like an obvious attempt to effectively shut down a key alternative media outlet.

And legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in December enables prosecutors to block websites advocating "extremism" -- without a court order. Putin also signed a law criminalizing online calls for separatism. And another proposal seeks to allow for sites that publish incorrect information about banks to be blocked without a court hearing. In an editorial, Gazeta.ru quipped that the word "devaluation" could soon be forbidden.

"The goal is to erect a huge media wall to protect the authorities and isolate Russia from the free world," Yulia Latynina wrote recently in "The Moscow Times." "They are building that wall slowly but steadily."  

They may be. But that wall is bound to have many cracks in it, tunnels under it, and backdoors around it.

Dozhd TV may be on the ropes. But the channel's success has proven that there is a growing market for independent media that will sooner or later be filled -- one way or another.

The Kremlin may finally have gotten rid of Durov and gotten VKontakte under control. But this should provide an excellent expansion opportunity for Facebook -- or a startup opportunity for Russia's next Internet guru. 

And as RONS illustrates, young tech-savvy Russians -- regardless of their ideological bent -- are adept at finding workarounds when the authorities seek to block troublesome websites.

The Kremlin is late to the new media party. The regime has long focused its attention on corralling and controlling traditional media while ignoring the growing communities and outlets springing up online. And now, with Internet penetration at 59 percent, they are forced to play Whac-A-Mole

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Dozhd TV, Russian Internet, VKontakte

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mamuka
February 06, 2014 22:24
So Russia has lost control of the nationalist groups it once tried to promote... something like Pakistan and the Taliban, it seems.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 07, 2014 14:35
Guys, talking about censorship: I hope the RFERL will not censor the latest statements of Mrs Nuland on the EU (which I actually quite agree with). Have a listen (if the RFE/RL allows :-))): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSxaa-67yGM
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 08, 2014 09:57
Perfect, guys, I am glad that Mrs Nuland's right of not being censored has been respected and now her insightful comments are all over the Internet, inculding the RFE/RL web-site :-)).
May I share with you a reaction of someone I know (who happens to be German) on Mrs. Nuland's comments: "Lieber Eugenio, ich habe mir spontan angewöhnt, in jedes Handytelefonat ein von Herzen kommendes F....k the US einzubauen. Ob es den Abhörern auffällt? LG und vielen Dank für die Links".
English subtitles: "Dear Eugenio, I have developed a spontaneous habbit of pronouncing a love-filled "F....k the US" in each one of my telephone conversations. Will those who listen in notice? Kisses and hugs and thanks for the links" :-)).
Yes, and my best wishes to Mrs. Nuland: after all, she has once again demonstrated to the entire world the highly professional level of the US diplomatic service .-)).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 08, 2014 14:50
An entertaining VIDEO of the latest briefing in the US State Dept: 'This is what you cook for Ukraine?' State Dept Psaki grilled - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW1WDbDX7wE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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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