The Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014 was preceded by an ardent propaganda campaign. Critical voices against imperial hysteria were almost silenced, pushed to the margins. And what if freedom of speech had been preserved in Russia? As the saying goes, history does not deal in conditionals. However, it can be assumed that this would significantly complicate the implementation of the Kremlin’s plan. Therefore, it's reasonable for Ukraine to be worried about the situation with freedom of speech in Russia.
Public opinion is an extremely changeable thing. It can be formed in the conditions of open discussion, the market of ideas. Or it can be subjected to purposeful manipulation. It now seems almost incredible that in the early 1990s, only 10% of Russian citizens had a negative attitude towards the United States. In 2014, this figure reached 71%. During all these years, the situation with freedom of speech in Russia has been steadily deteriorating.
Freedom of speech and the press in Russia is now more restricted than ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Reporters Without Borders. The international journalist organization has published a special interactive gallery called Predators Devouring Press Freedom. And Russia, which ended up between Congo and Honduras in the press freedom ranking, is represented by two such “predators”: Putin and Kadyrov.
The Putin regime is confidently drifting towards the North Korean style, seeking to control the entire information space.
Congratulations, you are a foreign agent!
One of the restrictive tools used to deny freedom of speech in Russia is the law on so-called “foreign agents.” In principle, it does not stop people from living in Russia. But due to the various pressures associated with it, many were forced to cease operations or leave Russia.
Everyone is at risk of becoming a foreign agent in Russia, even those who have a blog on social media or who receive help from relatives from abroad.
“Imagine the situation: you are a Russian citizen, an active user of social networks ... And you also have a loving grandmother in Armenia, who occasionally mails you dried fruit and sends you some money for your birthday. Very soon you may be recognized as a foreign media outlet, which acts as a foreign agent ... Got a blog? Got foreign money? Welcome to the register of foreign agents,” explains Nataliya Taubina, director of the human rights foundation Civic Verdict (forcibly included in the foreign agent register in 2014).
From now on, you will have to comply with the relevant provisions of the law: report once a quarter, undergo an annual mandatory audit, and indicate in all your blogs (even comments) that the author of the entries is a foreign agent.
There are currently 73 entries on the list of foreign agents. Of these, 17 were added before 2021. All the others have been added this year.
This year, a new law has also come into effect, introducing criminal liability for violation of the activity procedure by a foreign agent.
Russian Anton Tilipman has launched a Facebook campaign: he suggested replacing the lines of famous songs and poems with words from the mandatory disclaimer that “foreign agents” have to use. The campaign gained considerable popularity among Russian users.
It is prohibited to count those who “are not there”
The FSB has approved a list of non-secret information in the military and military-technical spheres that, when received by foreigners, stateless persons, other states, international or foreign organizations, “can be used” against Russia's security. Under the new law, a person may be recognized as a “foreign agent” for collecting such information.
It is obvious that this ban is aimed primarily at facilitating hybrid operations with the use of armed forces, namely, to conceal their participation.
Here are some items from the list approved by FSB Order No. 379 of September 28, 2021:
- Information on the assessment and forecasts of the development of the military-political and strategic situation;
- Information on the rule of law and the morale in the military;
- Information on military service by Russian citizens;
- Information on army procurement, including information on single-source suppliers of goods, works, services; and
- Personal data of servicemen and members of their families.
A citizen of Russia or another country must apply to the Russian Ministry of Justice for inclusion in the register of "foreign agents" before collecting data from the FSB list. Otherwise, they face criminal liability
Prohibit voting from being reasonable
The efforts of Solovyov, Kiselyov, and Skabeyeva are no longer enough, although they are bending over backwards to fool Russians. As long as the Internet lives its life instead of following the Kremlin’s rules, Russian officials cannot rest easy. That’s why they try to turn it into a scorched desert so that the information vacuum would enable them to brainwash their “subjects” as they please.
“The Internet is no longer free here; it’s worse than in China, and in a couple of years, it will be done completely,” says Mikhail Klimarev, Executive Director of the Internet Protection Society.
In particular, he refers to how before the last election, representatives of Internet giants Apple and Google in Russia were summoned to see the authorities and threatened them with imprisonment unless they removed the Navalny app from their app stores.
The outlet points out that this blocking is not founded by any law at all, but “nobody cares anymore,” because there is a “de facto state of emergency” imposed in the country, aimed at censoring any mentions of Navalny’s political activities online.”
On the night of September 16, a historic event took place in Runet—a phrase used to refer to Russian Internet—big providers started blocking Google Docs, a key tool used by millions of people in Russia working in various sectors from marketing to education. It was on this platform that Alexey Navalny's supporters published guidelines for “Smart Voting”—recommendations for a consolidated protest of citizens.
Navalny’s activity can be viewed in different ways, but the Anti-Corruption Foundation divisions attempted to convey alternative facts and opinions to Russian voters. Their investigations into corruption and other crimes committed by Russia's high-ranking officials have sometimes garnered hundreds of millions of views—an audience larger than all federal television channels combined.
Coercion to respect
Roskomnadzor has already begun creating a register of social networks that will be closely monitored by the authorities. They include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube.
In February, a law on self-monitoring of social networks came into force in Russia, according to which social networks themselves are obliged to detect and block "forbidden" information. It includes “calls for riots, extremism, terrorism and participation in uncoordinated public events,” as well as content that “offends public morals” and expresses “clear disdain for society, the state,” state bodies and its symbols. All this is recognized as “socially dangerous content.”
In addition, the Main Radio Frequency Centre (MRFC), subject to Roskomnadzor, is planning to launch a system to detect illegal content in images and videos online, called “Oculus.” It will be based on AI. The introduction of such a system threatens to slow down the analyzed resources.
"Disappearance of the Internet"
The founder of Bellingcat, an international group of investigative journalists, Christo Grozev said that in the next two years, Russia is planning to introduce an accreditation system for all hosting providers. For providers unable to pass the accreditation, a speed limit of 24 Kbps will be set.
“This is the dial-up speed from the ‘90s. This means disconnecting the Internet for Russia,” said the lead investigator with Bellingcat.
The next, even more profound, stage of creating the “information ghetto” is the complete disconnection of a Russian Internet segment from the World Wide Web. Something similar with great restrictions on the Internet has been introduced in China.
Russia's Roskomnadzor has already spent tens of billions to create the so-called “autonomous sovereign Internet.” At the behest of the Kremlin, they will not hesitate to turn 1/9 of the land into an information ghetto.
What does it mean for Ukraine? That the number of brainwashed military servicemen, guards, other security officers, and ordinary Russians will be even greater. Which means that they will pose an even greater threat to our country.
Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security
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