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The Real Russia. Today. A look back at Russia's NATO overtures, Meduza talks transparency with Kaspersky Lab, and prosecutors crack down on mobile games

Source: Meduza

Thursday, April 4, 2019

This day in history: 70 years ago today, on April 4, 1949, twelve countries in North America and Western Europe signed the North Atlantic Treaty, creating the defense alliance NATO, which would be Moscow's greatest military rival throughout the Cold War.
  • NATO was born 70 years ago today. Moscow has always viewed it as a threat, but that hasn't prevented three attempts to join the alliance.
  • Meduza talks government relations and transparency with Kaspersky Lab’s Vice President for Public Affairs
  • Court orders Russia’s federal censor to block Play Market and App Store games that insult the cops
  • Russian rapper ST sets national record with 24-hour live performance
  • Social media content from Sergey Belanovsky, David Kankiya, Natalia Taubina, and Svetlana Shmeleva

Why can't we be friends? 🕊️

On April 4, 1949, representatives from twelve countries in North America and Western Europe met in Washington, D.C., to sign the North Atlantic Treaty, giving rise to the NATO military alliance. From the very beginning, the organization was designed to defend against a potential conflict with the Soviet Union. As the center of both the USSR and the Russian Federation, Moscow has viewed NATO as a major national security threat. Nevertheless, the possibility of Russia joining the military alliance has surfaced multiple times throughout NATO’s 70-year existence.

  1. The USSR wanted to join NATO back in 1954, or at least it pretended that it did
  2. In 2005, the United States entertained Russian membership in NATO
  3. In the first months of his presidency, Vladimir Putin suggested NATO membership for Russia

Read Meduza's full report here: “NATO was born 70 years ago today. Moscow has always viewed it as a threat, but that hasn't prevented three attempts to join the alliance.”

‘We’re making a system that’s fatal to us if it’s misused’ 🦠

One might expect the cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab to focus primarily on hackers and viruses, but in the last two years, the company has had to defend the safety of its own products. It all started in 2017 when the U.S. government prohibited all of its institutions from using Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus service out of concern that the company might be cooperating with Russian intelligence services. A year later, in the fall of 2018, Kaspersky opened a “Transparency Center” in Switzerland that offers experts the chance to examine the source code behind its products firsthand. A second center will open in Madrid in the summer of 2019, and by the end of the year, all data the company receives from European users will be processed directly in Europe. Meduza’s Deputy Chief Editor Sultan Suleimanov spoke with Kaspersky’s Vice President for Public Affairs Anton Shingarev, whose portfolio includes government relations, to ask how helpful the new centers will be in restoring users’ and governments’ trust in the company.

Read Meduza's interview here: Meduza talks government relations and transparency with Kaspersky Lab’s Vice President for Public Affairs”

GTFO, GTA 🎮

A court in Kirov has ordered the Russian government to block several games hosted on the Google Play Market and Apple App Store, ruling that they insult law-enforcement agencies, incite players to commit crimes, and “propagate criminal traditions.” Once the ruling takes effect, Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, will get its marching orders.

The lawsuit was brought by the district prosecutor’s office, which argued that the mobile games draw young people to criminal activity, and warp the “physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, and moral development of children.”

Denis Sukhomlin, spokesman for the Kirov district attorney’s office, told the website 7x7 that the games “propagate criminal themes.” “There are games, for example, where you have to build your own business as the head of a prison, or go get transferred from general population to maximum security,” he said, without identifying the game. Sukhomlin clarified that his office doesn’t intend to prosecute all instances of criminal slang and culture, just “specific games that propagate insults and incitement to violence against law-enforcement agencies.”

A real record-holder 🎙️

For 24 hours straight, the Russian rap artist ST performed original tracks in a livestream on the social media site VKontakte. The event’s organizers believe the live show is the longest online performance in Russian history. After its conclusion, the rapper posted a photograph indicating that he had earned a place in the Record Book of Russia.

Throughout the day, ST took short breaks on a regular basis. As the show neared its end, the rapper’s voice began to break and he began to sweat profusely, but he continued to perform nonetheless. ST’s VKontakte livestream drew more than seven million views, and a full recording is scheduled to be posted in the coming days.

The peanut gallery 🥜

Sergey Belanovsky, the sociologist often credited with predicting Russia’s 2011 pro-democracy protests (April 3)

David Kankiya, “Golos” election monitor coordinator in Krasnodar (April 3)

“Debunking” Putin’s 2018 re-election: Real voter turnout in Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia’s March 2018 presidential election was just 35 percent, not the 92 percent officially reported, according to “Golos” researchers who reviewed video surveillance and counted the number of voters at 84 of the republic’s 354 polling stations. In other words, based on the study’s findings, an average of 939 ballots were stuffed at each polling station. “This is the biggest debunking of the Putinist elections yet,” Kankiya says. Responding to reports that Russian lawmakers might prohibit the use of video surveillance to identify voting violations, he added, “It’s expected. After all, they have to get re-elected in ‘21 and ‘24.”

Natalia Taubina, human rights activist (April 4)

Illegal business cards: Sharing a post from the “Public Verdict Foundation,” Taubina draws attention to an administrative case filed by the state censor in the Altai Krai against the social movement “Soglasie” (Consent). Officials say the organization violates Russia’s law on “foreign agents” because it doesn’t identify itself as a foreign agent on its business cards. The group’s management faces fines as high as 500,000 rubles ($7,635). This January, a regional court upheld a 150,000-ruble ($2,290) fine against Soglasie because the movement doesn’t self-identify as a foreign agent on VKontakte. Taubina calls this “theater of the absurd,” pointing out that the Justice Ministry removed Soglasie from its foreign-agent list last fall.

Svetlana Shmeleva, activist and civics tutor (April 4)

The Moscow region's last rebels: Shmeleva says towns and villages around Moscow have been forcibly incorporated into the city’s regional government in recent years, despite strong resistance from local residents. Public hearings to discuss this initiative, she says, have been virtually “underground,” and officials have openly ignored public backlash, reportedly even refusing to admit Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission, to a meeting in Kraskovo. “Today, the Moscow Duma dealt the final blow,” Shmeleva says, referring to the adoption of laws that abolish local government in three dozen towns and villages. She says the opposition movement’s “last bastion” is in Bykovo, where activists will now focus their efforts, beginning with a protest at the local community center on April 6.

Yours, Meduza