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Data-leaking group releases thousands of text messages revealing mechanics of Kremlin censorship

Meduza

The data-leaking collective known as Anonymous International has published roughly 40,000 text messages apparently taken from the mobile phone of Timur Prokopenko, who managed the Kremlin’s Internet policy from 2012 to 2014, before being tapped last December to oversee the next several rounds of federal elections. This archive joins the 9,500 messages allegedly belonging to Prokopenko that Anonymous International leaked in mid-February.

The SMS records show that Prokopenko supposedly tried to curb the critical reporting at the news agency RBC, where he grilled Nikolai Molibog, the outlet’s general director, about publishing stories that went against the grain of Russia’s state-controlled press, such as news about federalization activists in Siberia and only half-full aid convoys to eastern Ukraine.

The text messages also demonstrate that Prokopenko is allegedly in regular contact with Maxim Ksenzov, the deputy chief of Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media watchdog. The two men seem to have discussed, among other things, the state’s strategy for responding to muckraking anti-corruption work by oppositionist Alexei Navalny.

Anonymous International’s latest data dump suggests that Ksenzov consulted with Prokopenko about even the smallest decisions to block content online. In one instance, Ksenzov came to Prokopenko furious about a story in the BBC about federalization activists in Siberia, ready to block the British media outlet in Russia. “Those island dwellers have gone too far,” Ksenzov said allegedly. When Prokopenko supposedly warned that blocking the BBC in Russia could jeopardize Russia Today’s broadcasting rights in the UK, Ksenzov backed down.

According the the SMS archive, Prokopenko also spoke to the head of Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov, though not as frequently as he talked to Ksenzov. One of the highlights of these conversations is that Prokopenko apparently lobbied to protect the nationalist website Sputnik i Pogrom from Zharov, who at one time was ready to prosecute Yegor Prosvirnin, the site’s creator, for promoting extremism.

Writing on Facebook after the leak by Anonymous International, Nikolai Molibog, RBC's general director, confirmed that the records of his SMS conversations with Prokopenko are genuine. Molibog apologized for the familiar, not-altogether-professional tone of the dialogue, but insisted that close contact between journalists and state authorities is necessary. He also says he doesn't intend to discuss the matter further in public.

See also: ‘A man who’s seen society’s black underbelly’ Meduza meets ‘Anonymous International’