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The Real Russia. Today. America's ‘failed’ cyberattack on Russia's trolls, a Soviet believer's ‘persecution,’ and more Internet law tinkering

Meduza

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

This day in history: Four years ago today, on February 27, 2015, opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was assassinated while crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin. In July 2017, Meduza raised five questions unanswered by the subsequent murder investigation.
  • News agency tied to Russia's ‘troll factory’ says it was targeted in last November's ‘failed’ cyberattack by the U.S. military
  • Venezuelan vice president may visit Moscow as soon as this week
  • Officials seize six children whose father says he’s being persecuted because he believes the USSR never collapsed
  • New Russian bills on Internet speech may avoid automatically censoring users — as long as they censor themselves
  • Widow of Russian media entrepreneur says husband’s death may not have been caused by suicide
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin thinks the Rubanov APB is just the state's sluggishness

Still on its feet

Federal News Agency (FAN) — a media outlet that journalists have tied to catering tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin and his infamous “troll factory” in St. Petersburg — confirms that the U.S. military targeted its servers in a cyberattack.

According to FAN, a cyberattack on November 5, 2018, disabled two of its internal office server’s four hard drives, and also erased the data stored on servers the publication leases in Sweden and Estonia. FAN says it remained online despite the outages, calling the cyberattack a “complete failure.”

In a public statement, FAN said the U.S. military gained access to its intranet through an infected iPhone that an employee unknowingly connected to his computer: “It is worth noting that the intrusion into the local network was carried out from IP addresses controlled by American companies, including Amazon servers that are usually used by hackers to cover their tracks and conceal the true source of an attack. In this way, the U.S. Armed Forces Cyber Command exploited its administrative capacity and used a commercial enterprise for its own interests.”

  • On February 26, The Washington Post reported that “the U.S. military blocked Internet access to an infamous Russian entity seeking to sow discord among Americans during the 2018 midterms,” calling it “a warning that the Kremlin’s operations against the United States are not cost-free.”

Venezuelan VP rumors

On February 27, an anonymous source told Interfax that Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez may land in Moscow for an official visit by the end of this week. The previous week, Venezuela’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil said that visits are a regular component of Russian-Venezuelan relations in the latter country’s current crisis and said Rodríguez may visit Moscow very soon.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to the news by announcing that no meetings between Rodríguez and Russian President Vladimir Putin are planned for the Kremlin’s schedule in the coming days, but he did not comment on the possibility that the Venezuelan vice president may visit the Russian capital.

An ordinary Soviet family

Last September, Karelia’s Supreme Court took away the Kiselyovs’ children, after officials concluded that the married couple failed to provide adequate education and living conditions. Over the past several years, the family has been cited a dozen times for different violations. In response to the ruling, the Kiselyovs resorted to “evacuation.” The court then issued an arrest warrant for Lydia Kiselyova, who managed to evade the authorities until mid-January with her five children in tow. On January 17, police finally tracked her down in Moscow, where they pulled her off a bus and seized all the children, whose ages range from four to thirteen. They haven’t spoken to either of their parents since. Anatoly Kiselyov, Lydia’s husband and an activist with the “Union SSR” trade union, says he’s certain the loss of his children is punishment from the local authorities for his controversial political views.

Read Meduza's report: “Russian officials seize six children whose father says he’s being persecuted because he believes the USSR never collapsed”

To errr is human

Two bills currently under consideration in Russia’s State Duma would introduce administrative penalties for those who share “unreliable information” or criticize the government online. The bills have already been approved after an initial reading and are expected to pass their second and third readings as well. On February 27, the chair of the Duma committee responsible for technology and communication bills, Leonid Levin, announced that new amendments were being added to both bills to give users the “right to make mistakes.”

The original drafts of the bills would have penalized Internet users and media sources outright by blocking offending news sites on Russian territory and fining individuals. The amended versions would allow the Russian government to issue advance warnings to media sources that post suspected falsehoods and users who post materials that censors consider offensive to the government. Levin said the changes would give media sources “a chance to delete the unreliable, socially significant information themselves … and thus avoid measures on the part of Roskomnadzor to block their websites.” He added that individuals who likewise “meet the demands of Roskomnadzor and delete the content before a set deadline … would not face administrative responsibility” upon a first violation. Levin also announced that print media sources would no longer face penalties under the amended versions of the bills.

Bozhe(na) moi

Igor Malashenko, a major political figure in contemporary Russian history who founded the country’s first independent television station, died in Spain on February 25. Malashenko’s widow, Bozhena Rynska, wrote on Facebook that day that her husband had told her he did not plan to commit suicide approximately two months before. However, she added, he began expressing increased distress in November due to stress caused by “lawsuits and threats,” Interfax reported.

On February 26, Rynska told Interfax that foul play has not been ruled out in Malashenko’s death. She noted that the media producer did not leave a suicide note and that “an investigation is ongoing in Spain.”

Kashin thinks the Kremlin probably forgot about Navalny's Medvedev investigation, like most people

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin raises and then dismisses conspiracy theories that an arrest warrant issued for former Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) director Roman Rubanov is part of a new political attack on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Kashin says it’s tempting to believe that siloviki deliberately returned FBK’s March 2017 investigative report about Medvedev to news headlines (once again “using” Alexey Navalny, Kashin quips), but the “more sinister” and “banal” reality is that the wheels of Russia’s state machinery simply turn slowly. After Alisher Usmanov won his defamation lawsuit against FBK in May 2017, the officials in Putin’s administration who oversaw Usmanov’s litigation likely “checked out” and put the rest of the process on “autopilot,” Kashin says. In other words, the APB issued for Rubanov is a Kremlin “system error.”

Zone out: Watch Russia Today chief editor Margarita Simonyan and Mikhail Khodorkovsky's MBKh Media exchange memes about the former oil tycoon's wealth and Simonyan's peculiar interest in him.

Yours, Meduza