The Real Russia. Today. Russian Internet censorship becomes ‘instantaneous,’ condemning Stalin to Hell, and correcting Putin's numbers
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
This day in history: 29 years ago today, on March 6, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR adopted a law for the first time permitting Soviet citizens to use their private property for legal economical activity.
- Russia will soon require digital journalists to delete ‘fake news’ ‘instantly.’ Here's what that actually means.
- A Russian activist explains why he risked arrest to yell ‘Burn in Hell!’ at a Stalin memorial
- Putin says terrorism-related crimes in Russia have declined 110-fold in the past decade. Published statistics say he’s wrong.
- Scholar Andrei Kolesnikov thinks Volodin's showdown against Oreshkin is a joke
On March 6, lawmakers passed the second reading of a bill that will make it illegal to post “fake news” on the Internet. The final vote tally was 327 deputies in favor, 42 deputies opposed. A day later, the State Duma will pass the third and final reading of the legislation, sending it to the Federation Council, which will then pass it along to Vladimir Putin, who’s expected to sign it into law.
The bill will impose fines on offenders across the Internet — formally registered digital mass media outlets and ordinary websites alike — but special procedures written into the legislation target only online news organizations. The new restrictions will not apply to newspapers, television networks, radio stations, or online news aggregators. Individuals who spread “fake news” will also face fines: up to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for low-grade “fakes,” up to 300,000 rubles ($4,550) if the information disrupts vital facilities, and up to 400,000 rubles ($6,070) when someone dies as a result of the disseminated unverified information.
The legislation states that digital mass media outlets will be required to delete fake news “instantly.” “Fake news” will be the first kind of information in Russia that websites are required to block “instantly.” Meduza explains more about this law here: “Russia will soon require digital journalists to delete ‘fake news’ ‘instantly.’ Here's what that actually means.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of elderly Russians lined up outside the Kremlin’s walls to lay flowers at the foot of a monument to Joseph Stalin, honoring the dictator on the 66th anniversary of his death. This year’s ritual was disrupted, however, by two “Decommunization Project” activists, Evgeny Suchkov and Olga Savchenko, who threw their carnations at the Stalin memorial, resulting in their immediate detention by police. (Suchkov also yelled, “Burn in hell, executioner of the people and murderer of women and children!”) Officers charged the two with the misdemeanor offense of violating Russia’s public assembly laws, and a court promptly fined them 500 rubles (about $8). Evgeny Suchkov told Meduza why he decided to crash the Communists’ memorial event.
Why Evgeny did it
I don’t know if I have any relatives who were repression victims, but this was an outburst of moral duty. I’m a volunteer at the GULAG Museum, and everyday I’m confronted by the evidence, when taking care of the survivors. There’s woman who was sent to the Polar Circle at the age of 17 simply because her parents were Poles and her father was a priest. A man who was born at the ALZhIR camp [in Akmolinsk, in modern-day Kazakhstan], at a camp for the wives and children of enemies of the people, where they’d interned his pregnant mother. Another woman who got eight years in the camps just because she fell in love with a Yugoslavian man. When torturing her at Lefortovo Prison, a security goon asked her, “Not enough Russians around for you or something?” They’re often on their own now, and nonprofits do what they can to help them, both financially and by sending volunteers to spend time with them. This [memorial demonstration at the Stalin monument] was an evil congregation, and if you can’t muster even a word to stand in its way, then you’re culpable for the evil, too, and I don’t want to be an accomplice to such evil.
I didn’t plan what I did — it was a spontaneous decision. A huge crowd came together, many were elderly people, and they were praising everything imaginable about the Soviet authorities and trash talking modern-day Russia, today’s generation, and the world. A line of people started out from the monument, and I ended up in it and took part. Afterwards, I was caught and brought to the police station. I snapped my flower in my hands and threw it. As they were dragging me away, people were yelling, “Get out of here, freak!” and “Get that troll out of here!” In the police car, the officers asked me, “Why, man? Are you bored or something?” I told them it was for ethical reasons. They didn’t really care.
Some comrade calling himself one of the event organizers came to the station, and started filing a report against us, requesting that they get tough with us. “Could you give them community service? Or maybe a stiffer fine, so this crowd stops showing up at our events and disappears from Red Square entirely?” By the end, even the police officers were looking at this guy like he was the village idiot. He filed his report and left. Then they gave us copies of the report, which was written up so carelessly that it didn’t even identify the misdemeanor offense.
“I must note that the number of crimes related to terrorism has been decreasing in recent years; the [FSB] director will certainly mention this in his remarks. In general, over 10 years, this figure has declined dramatically, from 997 to nine last year. At the same time, please note that the number of prevented terrorist attacks remains high — about 20 a year. This level has been maintained for the last three years,” Vladimir Putin recently told an audience at the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to the Kremlin’s website.
Where did Putin get these numbers?
The president didn’t clarify what “crimes related to terrorism” he has in mind. Last year, however, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev referred to nine terrorism-related crimes, so we can assume Putin was given similar data.
Publicly available statistics don’t support Putin’s “997” figure, but FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov and Russia’s National Counter-Terrorism Committee previously cited similar data for 2010, though they identified 779 terrorism-related crimes, not 997. There’s reason to believe that President Putin may have simply misread the number provided to him.
Do open-source data support the president’s claims?
No, published statistics actually contradict Putin’s claims directly. Terrorist-related felonies belong to a criminal category all their own, which the Attorney General’s Office defines clearly and presents separately in all statistical reports. Here are how the numbers break down over the past decade.
In similar reports, the Attorney General’s Office also discloses data about crimes registered under specific terrorist-related offenses, but the agency did not register nine instances of any of one crime in this group.
Contrary to what President Putin says, the statistics show that the number of registered terrorism-related crimes rose until 2016 and then only started declining marginally. In 2016, half of all these crimes (1,082 offenses) involved the formation of or participation in illegal armed groups (Criminal Code Article 208), which includes cases launched against crimes committed abroad (in Syria, for example). Another quarter of the crimes reported that year (544) were registered as violations of Article 205.5 (terrorist organizational activity), which only appeared in the Criminal Code in 2013, along with another two new statutes (Article 205.3, terrorist camp training, and Article 205.4, organizing a terrorist community).
What about the “prevented terrorist attacks”?
On this score, published statistics confirm Putin’s claim that Russia prevents roughly 20 planned terrorist attacks a year, though the Attorney General’s Office only started reporting attempted terrorist attacks in 2017, when there were 21 cases. A year later, the number fell to 16.
In an op-ed for RBC, Carnegie Moscow Center senior fellow Andrei Kolesnikov says State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin’s motives for recently dressing down Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin at a parliamentary session are rooted in a futile effort to rescue the legislature’s reputation, which has been seen as Putin’s rubber stamp for more than a decade. Volodin’s simultaneous displays of loyalty to the president, however, have frustrated the campaign to restore respect to the parliament. By interrupting Oreshkin’s remarks and telling the minister to return to the Duma at the end of the month, Volodin was flexing his “administrative muscles,” not engaging in genuine political sparring, Kolesnikov says.
Kolesnikov argues that Volodin’s lack of interest in Oreshkin’s comments about small and medium businesses reflects the political establishment’s disappointment with the Economic Development Ministry, which hasn't delivered the macroeconomic miracles demanded by the Kremlin. The Duma’s speaker seemed to hold Oreshin’s agency responsible for Russia’s economic slowdown, despite the fact, Kolesnikov says, that “any entrepreneur will tell you” that federal security agencies are far more to blame for stagnating the economy and damaging Russia's investment climate. The state’s growing economic role, moreover, has rendered private enterprise less profitable and the economy less competitive. Kolesnikov says Volodin dismisses this conversation because he’s only interested in a quick fix to maintain Russia’s “oligarchic-bureaucratic model of monopoly state capitalism.”