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The Financial Times estimated that the real number of people who have died in Russia from COVID-19 could be 70 percent higher than reported by the country's health officials.

Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has asked Google to block an article about the controversy over official data on coronavirus deaths in the country on the website of MBKh Media independent online publication.

MBKh Media said late on May 14 that its article was based on a report by the Financial Times, which estimated that the real number of people who have died in Russia from COVID-19 could be 70 percent higher than reported by the country's health officials.

MBKh Media said it had received a message from Google a day earlier, saying that the request to block the article was based on the decision of the Prosecutor-General’s Office that claimed the article contained “calls for riots, extremist activities, [and] participation in mass public events held in violation of the established order."

According to MBKh Media, which is hosted on the Google Cloud Platform, Google asked it to remove the article from its website or make it inaccessible in Russia.

The Roskomnadzor request was not listed on the Google transparency report web page as of May 15.

MBKh Media also said the article in question indicated that its content was based on the Financial Times report.

As of May 15, Russian authorities said the country had 10,598 new infections, bringing the official number of confirmed cases to 262,843, the second-highest total in the world, lagging only behind the United States. The death toll stands at 2,418, up 113 over the previous day.

Experts have questioned whether testing procedures were flawed, or whether local and regional officials were misclassifying cases. In some places, such as St. Petersburg, for example, the number of pneumonia cases went sharply above seasonal norms.

The Moscow City Health Department issued a statement on May 13 saying that more than 60 percent of coronavirus patients' deaths in the city had been caused by "alternative causes," and therefore such deaths had not been included to COVID-19 death toll.

In a May 13 interview with Current Time, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia downplayed doubts about the country’s coronavirus statistics.

Melita Vujnovic also told the television channel in the interview that the epidemic is "in the stabilization phase and is moving into the decline phase.” Current Time is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Russian cybersecurity magnate and the CEO of the Moscow-based cybersecurity Kaspersky Lab says cybercrimes have risen during lockdowns introduced across the world to slow down the coronavirus spread, adding that the majority of cybercriminals are Russian-speakers.

In an interview with the TASS news agency that was published on May 14, Yevgeny Kaspersky said that the quarantines "have forced cybercriminals to hunt for prey with greater frenzy."

"Every day we fish out several million files on the suspicion they may have malicious functions. Also, every day we identify more than 300,000 malicious samples we’ve never come across," Kaspersky said, adding that each of those samples can be used hundreds of times.

According to Kaspersky, as people have to stay at home due to the coronavirus, they spend more time surfing the net to buy food and other items and sometimes venture into no-go areas, which has led to an increase in cyberattacks by 25 percent globally.

Kaspersky also said that Russia and some other former Soviet republics train "the best programmers in the world," but that has a negative side, too, as the world’s most advanced hackers are mainly Russian-speakers.

Programmers from Russia and other former Soviet states earn much less than their counterparts in the West, partially explaining the greater proclivity to engage in cybercrimes.

"We are known for having the world’s best programmers and software developers, but also for having the world’s top hackers. They all graduated from the same universities but went on different paths in the end. While one part works to create something new, the other one seeks to hack and destroy. In almost 100 percent of the cases, the hackers’ motivation is the same -- to reap money, and money again, and still more money, and not only from a victim, but also from their clients," Kaspersky said.

The United States has arrested several Russians hackers over the past year.

With reporting by TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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