April 9, 2019


Putin's Russia feels increasingly like a fortress under siege (Vladimir Kara-Murza, April 8, 2019, Washington Post)

Of all the ways that Putin's rule has transformed the country, perhaps the most troubling is its state-driven paranoia. It was also the most pervasive characteristic of the organization where Putin had spent his formative years, the KGB. In Putin's Russia, opposing the government is equated with betraying the country -- just what Nikitin was accused of when he published his report. In his own words, Putin views political opponents as "national traitors" who "scavenge at foreign embassies." Their goal, in his worldview (or, at least, in the depiction of his propaganda) is not to improve life in the country, but to advance the interests of their foreign puppeteers.

Last month, the chief of Russia's armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, took the accusation a step further, asserting that the U.S. Department of Defense had launched a new strategy code-named "Trojan Horse," which relies on "using the protest potential of the 'fifth column' in order to destabilize" the country from within ("fifth column" being a term from the Spanish Civil War describing saboteurs and hostile agents inside one's territory). Gerasimov went on to say that the United States is using "color revolutions" and "soft power" to topple governments it dislikes.

The general was only echoing his commander in chief. Speaking at the FSB's annual board meeting, Putin declared that foreign intelligence agencies are ramping up activities "on the Russian front" and claimed that, in 2018 alone, his former colleagues exposed nearly 600 foreign intelligence officers and their agents inside the country. The Kremlin leader urged his security services to be even more active, including by "increasing the security of national informational resources."

This work has already begun. Earlier this year, Russia's rubber-stamp legislature took up a bill that would disconnect the Russian Internet from the Web. The measure, proposed by KGB officer-turned-legislator Andrei Lugovoi -- who is wanted by British police over the 2006 fatal radioactive poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London -- would make Russia's online space autonomous from global networks, as has been done in China. The difference is that the Chinese Communist Party has been constructing that country's "Great Firewall" for years, since the beginnings of the Internet. It is highly doubtful a similar action could be taken in a country where the online space has been largely unfettered, and where 75 percent of the adult population use the Internet on a regular basis. A prominent Russian journalist has compared these attempts to "cutting electricity off all over the country . . . it is simply impossible." Last month, thousands of Russians rallied in downtown Moscow, in what became one of the largest opposition demonstrations in recent years, to denounce Kremlin attempts to "isolate Russia" and to demand online freedom.

Posted by at April 9, 2019 7:12 PM