Kremlin Seeks To Extend
Its Reach in Cyberspace
Sites Gain Influence
Anton Troianovski and Peter Finn
Post Foreign Service
October 28, 2007; Page A01
-- After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling
traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin
and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace,
which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion
in Russia's dwindling public sphere.
of President Vladimir Putin are creating pro-government news
and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established
online outlets known for independent journalism. They are
nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate
propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new
Russian computer network - one that would be separate from
the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the
authorities to control.
attractiveness of the Internet as a free platform for free
people is already dimming," said Iosif Dzyaloshinsky,
a mass media expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
addressed the question of Internet censorship during a national
call-in show broadcast live on radio and television this month.
"In the Russian Federation, no control is being exercised
over the World Wide Web, over the Russian segment of the Internet,"
Putin said. "I think that from the point of view of technological
solutions, that would not make any sense.
in this sphere, as in other spheres, we should be thinking
about adhering to Russian laws, about making sure that child
pornography is not distributed, that financial crimes are
not committed," he continued. "But that is a task
for the law enforcement agencies. Total control and the work
of the law enforcement agencies are two different things."
people here say they believe Putin didn't mind a free Internet
as long as it had weak penetration in Russia. But with 25
percent of Russian adults now online, up from 8 percent in
2002, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern
for the government.
Russian Internet experts say a turning point came in 2004,
when blogs and uncensored online publications helped drive
a popular uprising in Ukraine after a pro-Moscow candidate
was declared the winner of a presidential election. Days of
street protests in the capital, Kiev, led to a new vote that
brought a pro-Western politician into the presidency.
the Kremlin is ready with online forces of its own when street
April 14, an opposition movement held a march in central Moscow
that drew hundreds of people; police detained at least 170,
including the leader of the march, chess star Garry Kasparov.
Danilin, a 30-year-old Putin supporter and blogger whose online
icon is the fearsome robot of the "Terminator" movie,
works for a political consulting company loyal to the Kremlin.
He said he and his team, which included people from a youth
movement called the Young Guard, quickly started blogging
that day about a smaller, pro-Kremlin march held at the same
linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts
about the pro-Kremlin march had crowded out all the items
about the opposition march on the Yandex Web portal's coveted
ranking of the top five Russian blog posts.
played it beautifully," Danilin said.
a lengthy article published online last fall, three Russian
rights activists argued that a strident, vulgar and uniform
pro-Kremlin ideology had so permeated blogs and chat rooms
that it could only be the result of a coordinated campaign.
allies in the online world acknowledge that the Internet represents
a challenge to the status quo in Russia, which has, since
Soviet times, relied on state-controlled television to influence
public opinion across the country's 11 time zones.
watch the first channel or the second channel and you can
only see good things happening in Russia," said Andrei
Osipov, the 26-year-old editor of the Web site of Nashi, a
pro-Kremlin youth group, referring to national stations that
back the Kremlin. "The Internet is the freest mass media.
. . . There is competition between state and opposition organizations."
Kremlin is also increasingly allying itself with privately
run online outlets that foster a new ideal for life in today's
Russia, one that is consumerist and uncompromisingly pro-Putin.
main champion of this ideal is 28-year-old businessman Konstantin
Rykov. The pearl of Rykov's media empire is the two-year-old
Vzglyad ("View") online newspaper, which features
a serious-looking news section with stories toeing the Kremlin
line and a lifestyle section that covers the latest in luxury
cars and interior design. Surveys rank Vzglyad as one of Russia's
five most-visited news sites.
is a man who created a good business on the government's view
that it has to invest in ideology," said Anton Nossik,
an Internet pioneer in Russia now in charge of blog development
for Sup, an online media company. Nossik said that Vladislav
Surkov, Putin's domestic political adviser, organized private
funding for Rykov's projects.
officials deny any involvement. "It is a general habit
of everyone to connect every popular occurrence and success
with the Kremlin," deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov
said when asked about Rykov. "In reality, it is not so."
an interview, Rykov would not comment on his investors. A
framed portrait of Surkov hung above his desk; Rykov is running
for parliament on the list of the pro-Kremlin United Russia
party in elections slated for December.
Vzglyad newspaper has created this appearance of a state publication
for itself since the very beginning," Rykov said. "And
from the perspective of business and selling ads, that's very
of the Kremlin have also begun buying some of the companies
that have helped make the Internet a bastion of free expression
in Russia. Gazeta.ru, long the country's most respected online
newspaper, was sold in December to a metals magnate and Putin
last October, Sup, which is owned by Alexander Mamut, a tycoon
with ties to the Kremlin, bought the rights to develop the
Russian-language segment of U.S.-based LiveJournal. The segment,
with half a million users, is Russia's most popular blog portal.
Rykov is pro-Kremlin. Mamut and Sup are pro-Kremlin. The social
networks are all being bought by pro-Kremlin people,"
Ruslan Paushu, 30, a popular blogger who works for Rykov,
said in an interview. "Everything's okay."
far, Gazeta.ru has continued to publish articles critical
of the Kremlin, and no widespread censorship has been reported
on blogs run by Sup. But as the government wakes up to the
Internet's potential, many of Putin's critics are growing
have begun to target postings on blogs or Internet chat sites,
charging users with slander or extremism after they criticize
Putin or other officials. Most such incidents have occurred
outside Moscow, and federal officials deny that they signal
any broader campaign to control the Internet.
I am against developing and adopting a special law that would
regulate the Internet," Leonid Reiman, minister of information
technology and communications, said in a written response
to questions. "The Internet has been always developing
as a free medium, and it should remain as such."
in July, Putin briefed his Security Council on plans to make
Russia a global information leader by 2015. Russian news media
reported that those plans included a new network apart from
the global Internet and open only to former Soviet republics.
put it bluntly, we need to fight for the water mains,"
Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin's foremost political consultant,
said in an interview. "We need to fight for the central
networks and for the audience segments that they reach."
Kleinwaechter, special adviser to the chairmen of the Internet
Governance Forum, a group convened by the United Nations,
said some Russian officials he has spoken to are considering
a separate Internet, with Cyrillic domain names, and appear
to be studying China's Internet controls.
the deputy presidential spokesman, said in an interview that
a Russia-only Internet was still in the "investigative
phase," adding, "I don't know if it's more than
not meant to get rid of the global network," he said.
"It's a discussion of creating an addition."
now, supporters as well as critics of Putin see the Kremlin
doing something atypical: competing on more or less equal
terms with its opponents.
there's the dark segment that is still saying words like 'prohibit'
and 'limit,' " said Marat Guelman, who worked as a political
consultant for the Kremlin until 2004, when he broke with
the administration. But "what is happening on the Web
vis-a-vis the authorities is very good," he added. "That
is, they're trying to play the game."
strategy is in contrast to the way Putin brought the independent
television network NTV to heel at the beginning of his term,
using highly publicized court cases and raids by heavily armed
Litvinovich, a blogger who used to work for Pavlovsky, the
Kremlin consultant, and now works for Kasparov's United Civil
Front, said she is satisfied with the government's approach
to the Internet because it forces Putin's allies to respond
to criticism rather than simply ignore it.
also argued that as the Kremlin consolidates political power,
it has less incentive to come up with sophisticated online
propaganda. "They're not really in need of particular
creativity right now," she said.