Russian Internet: the Gov. vs the People?

Oct 29 2015

Twenty-five years have passed since the internet began uniting the world in a single network.  We began to live in an era of information and communication. For those of us who were born and grew up with the net, it was a fantastic opportunity to communicate with each other, to get instant access to any information or knowledge, to live in a free world without borders.

Today’s world is becoming something we used to read about in science fiction- a fully-fledged cyberspace.

Despite the invention of the internet, those linked with military companies and the state, likely sponsors and potential beneficiaries, have continued to lag behind progress, and the net, even despite its global growth, still belonged to the inventors. In effect, the main conflict of interests lies in the freedom of transmission and distribution of information: some (i.e. the state), think that information needs to be controlled, others (i.e. the inventors), understand that the net is built in such a way that renders total technical control impossible.

Years of existence in a communal space has not only changed our habits, but it has also opened up possibilities. The speed of the spread of messages, such as the news, is astonishing. The speed of the organization of events, where the number of those ‘attending’ doubles every hour, clearly demonstrates this process. We have started to communicate personally more:  the number of horizontal links that are represented online today through our devices have been increased significantly since last 20 years.

Web 2.0 and social networks present a great opportunity for some (i.e. us). For others, the net has become a threat. If we remove the typical set of cyber-crimes, then freedom of access to information and freedom of communication will remain a major threat.

How this works in Russia: the government department RosKomnnadzor, independently or at the request of other government departments, adds sites to the register of banned websites: a list of sites which all internet providers are obliged to block. RosKomnnadzor itself rarely really blocks sites. And if you want to get on any of the sites on this register, then it is likely you will see the message: “This resource is blocked by the state authorities”. However it’s possible you won’t see it and the site will work. Immediately you will see links to applications which will rid you of the message and any restrictions on the network. RosKomnnadzor is a department which, on its own behalf or at the request of others, goes through the net and seeks to delete or change information which it believes violates legislation.

This is usually the case when it comes to suicide (in Russia this is a difficult topic due to a large increase in suicide rates) and drugs (for some reason the Federal Drug Control Service focusses its energies on marijuana on the internet, and not on the street).  But the most striking and, unfortunately, now the most numerous are political blocks and bans: from song lyrics to political figures’ last words in court (Alexei Navalny’s speech at one of his trials was blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General).

The main mistake of the conservative-minded state representatives is thinking that all of this somehow helps. These tasks designed to control don’t solve the problem, because the environment changes in such a way that this control becomes meaningless. These laws are simply all harmful: investment is becoming less appealing, the market is becoming impoverished, the population is getting angry, and alternative means of communication are growing.

Today in Russia there are two internets: one that the government wants to build itself, and another, ours- a shared internet. The attempt to control the net in such an original way honestly seemed a worthy but pointless task. The net is constructed in such a way that it is technically impossible to control anything.

A couple of years ago I wondered about the possibility of blocking Facebook or Wikipedia or some other infrastructural resource. And all these years, in spite of all the madness of the legislative and executive authorities, I still reply: no, it isn’t possible. Because at today’s usage levels, there is scope everywhere. Such a block causes irreparable damage to its creators. For users, the potential is there but technically it goes unnoticed. As discussed above, blocks are merely a formality.

Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter are all in the top 50 most popular sites in Russia. Not only is Alexei Navalny on Facebook, but Dmitry Medvedev is too. Not only does Charas have a Wikipedia entry, but the giant panda Mei Xiang does too. It’s not just Anonymous International who have a Twitter account (which internet users with a Russian IP address can’t see), but also the press secretary of the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin. The media, government departments, as well as small and large businesses are on all these services.

Today Facebook or Twitter is not only a way to post a funny picture, but also a way of communicating. Lots of people use Facebook Messenger for work, and many use Wikipedia for their studies, and so on and so forth. When any of these services goes down, everything stops: life, work, studies.

And do you really believe that people in the government  are that crazy (of course, after the annexation of Crimea and the adoption of all these brutal laws everything is believable – but we are in the internet)?

The era of social networks is giving way to the era of real-time chats. We are beginning to communicate right here and right now, to come together in big or small groups, to communicate anonymously and safely with each other. Thanks to FireChat – we can do this even without the net. This is further confirmation that the internet has proved its right to freedom.

by Anton Merkurov

Today’s world is becoming something we used to read about in science fiction- a fully-fledged cyberspace.

Despite the invention of the internet, those linked with military companies and the state, likely sponsors and potential beneficiaries, have continued to lag behind progress, and the net, even despite its global growth, still belonged to the inventors. In effect, the main conflict of interests lies in the freedom of transmission and distribution of information: some (i.e. the state), think that information needs to be controlled, others (i.e. the inventors), understand that the net is built in such a way that renders total technical control impossible.

Years of existence in a communal space has not only changed our habits, but it has also opened up possibilities. The speed of the spread of messages, such as the news, is astonishing. The speed of the organization of events, where the number of those ‘attending’ doubles every hour, clearly demonstrates this process. We have started to communicate personally more:  the number of horizontal links that are represented online today through our devices have been increased significantly since last 20 years.

Web 2.0 and social networks present a great opportunity for some (i.e. us). For others, the net has become a threat. If we remove the typical set of cyber-crimes, then freedom of access to information and freedom of communication will remain a major threat.

How this works in Russia: the government department RosKomnnadzor, independently or at the request of other government departments, adds sites to the register of banned websites: a list of sites which all internet providers are obliged to block. RosKomnnadzor itself rarely really blocks sites. And if you want to get on any of the sites on this register, then it is likely you will see the message: “This resource is blocked by the state authorities”. However it’s possible you won’t see it and the site will work. Immediately you will see links to applications which will rid you of the message and any restrictions on the network. RosKomnnadzor is a department which, on its own behalf or at the request of others, goes through the net and seeks to delete or change information which it believes violates legislation.

This is usually the case when it comes to suicide (in Russia this is a difficult topic due to a large increase in suicide rates) and drugs (for some reason the Federal Drug Control Service focusses its energies on marijuana on the internet, and not on the street).  But the most striking and, unfortunately, now the most numerous are political blocks and bans: from song lyrics to political figures’ last words in court (Alexei Navalny’s speech at one of his trials was blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General).

The main mistake of the conservative-minded state representatives is thinking that all of this somehow helps. These tasks designed to control don’t solve the problem, because the environment changes in such a way that this control becomes meaningless. These laws are simply all harmful: investment is becoming less appealing, the market is becoming impoverished, the population is getting angry, and alternative means of communication are growing.

Today in Russia there are two internets: one that the government wants to build itself, and another, ours- a shared internet. The attempt to control the net in such an original way honestly seemed a worthy but pointless task. The net is constructed in such a way that it is technically impossible to control anything.

A couple of years ago I wondered about the possibility of blocking Facebook or Wikipedia or some other infrastructural resource. And all these years, in spite of all the madness of the legislative and executive authorities, I still reply: no, it isn’t possible. Because at today’s usage levels, there is scope everywhere. Such a block causes irreparable damage to its creators. For users, the potential is there but technically it goes unnoticed. As discussed above, blocks are merely a formality.

Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter are all in the top 50 most popular sites in Russia. Not only is Alexei Navalny on Facebook, but Dmitry Medvedev is too. Not only does Charas have a Wikipedia entry, but the giant panda Mei Xiang does too. It’s not just Anonymous International who have a Twitter account (which internet users with a Russian IP address can’t see), but also the press secretary of the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin. The media, government departments, as well as small and large businesses are on all these services.

Today Facebook or Twitter is not only a way to post a funny picture, but also a way of communicating. Lots of people use Facebook Messenger for work, and many use Wikipedia for their studies, and so on and so forth. When any of these services goes down, everything stops: life, work, studies.

And do you really believe that people in the government  are that crazy (of course, after the annexation of Crimea and the adoption of all these brutal laws everything is believable – but we are in the internet)?

The era of social networks is giving way to the era of real-time chats. We are beginning to communicate right here and right now, to come together in big or small groups, to communicate anonymously and safely with each other. Thanks to FireChat – we can do this even without the net. This is further confirmation that the internet has proved its right to freedom.

by Anton Merkurov

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.