Then again, maybe Russia WON’T have an overseas aid agency… or maybe it already has one?

In an earlier post, I reported that Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak had announced (on 16 May 2012) that a “packet of documents” that would officially establish a Russian Agency for International Development had been “agreed, signed off by the Minister, and sent to the government”.

However, on 21 June 2012, Gazeta.ru, one of the most popular and reputable online news outlets, quoted an anonymous source as saying that a new agency would not be created after all. The anonymous source seems to come from inside the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the Gazeta.ru story phrases it, the anonymous source explained that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs corrected its position in relation to creating a new agency and now supports having the overseas development assistance function carried out by a department under its own jurisdiction, Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency on the Affairs of CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation).”

All along, there seems to have been a bit of tug-of-war between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over who would have the upper hand in providing both the vision and the infrastructure for Russia’s overseas aid programme, which has been in a developing phase for several years now. When I was investigating this in Russia in 2009, the consensus among my consultees was that Rossotrudnichestvo would fulfill the role of Russia’s aid agency. The 2007 presidential document ‘Concept on Russia’s Participation in International Development Assistance’ envisioned “the establishment of a specialized state institution for international development assistance,” and when Rossotrudnichestvo was established in 2008, many of my consultees assumed it constituted that very “state institution” indicated in the Concept (in fact, some were already referring to it as ‘RussAid’ in analogous fashion after USAID). However, when I returned in 2011, I was hearing a different consensus: that Rossotrudnichestvo had done nothing toward cultivating a development aid programme, and it probably would never fulfill that function.

Meanwhile, since 2008, the World Bank had been working to cultivate Russia into the status of a DAC-like development aid donor through its DFID-funded “Russia as a Donor Initiative”. For three years, the World Bank bombarded a hand picked Russian audience with seminars and trainings and consultations, from a conference on how to set up an aid statistics accounting system to a workshop on “strategic communication for Russia’s development aid program”. Looking at the lists of participants at these events, the Ministry of Finance seems to have had a stronger presence than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And indeed, in the last year the Ministry of Finance has been the only Russian government agency issuing press releases that expressly promise the appearance of a Russian Agency for International Development.

However, earlier this year, things began to change in Rossotrudnichestvo. A new Head of the agency was appointed, Konstantin Kosachev (Косачёв), a Duma Deputy in the party United Russia who previously had a long history of employment in the Soviet and Russian Foreign Service (the original Head of Rossotrudnichestvo since its creation in 2008, Farit Mukhametshin, was released from his duties by an order signed by former President Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012 and now serves as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova).

There is an interesting question at the heart of this about the differences between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in terms of their institutional culture and the vision of their leadership, which also links up to similarly interesting questions about the institutional culture(s) and visions(s) of the global agencies that pursue international development cooperation (such as the OECD-DAC and the World Bank).

Kosachev has been interviewed twice in the business-oriented newspaper Kommersant’, in April and in September of this year. The September interview came in the context of a rather unprecedented Moscow gathering of all the heads of Rossotrudnichestvo’s offices abroad, which was addressed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The transcript of the speeches made at the general assembly of this gathering is notable for the number of times the phrase “soft power” is used. Accordingly, in both of his Kommersant’ interviews, Kosachev talked primarily about Russia’s image abroad and the importance of branding (брэнд) to overcome negative perceptions.

In the September interview, Kosachev was expressly asked about the fact that Roosotrudnichestvo had previously been seen as the analogue to USAID. In responding, Kosachev said:

Among the proposals there does indeed exist the idea to hand over to Rossotrudnichestvo authority in the sphere of international development assistance (содействие международному развития) on a bilateral basis. Currently, in this sphere Russia acts mainly through its participation in multilateral programmes … But in such a model there are obvious flaws: the resources that Russia invests in such programmes, voluntarily or involuntarily, are depersonalized. No one, in fact, says “thank you” to us afterwards for these programmes. Therefore, we consider it necessary to strengthen the bilateral component in Russian development assistance. So that Russia directly, bypassing the middleman in the form of international institutions, grants suitable resources in the form of goods, services, or even direct financial aid (although the latter is less desirable) on a bilateral basis to those states whom we consider important.

Nowhere in Kosachev’s interviews is there any mention of the kinds of issues that the DAC donors typically express concern for, such as hunger, poverty, global health, environmental degradation. Nor is there any mention of principles that constitute almost an obsession among DAC-oriented actors, such as the need to develop methods for compiling aid statistics as a matter of accountability, or the importance of the cooperative aid agendas hammered out in the High Level Fora on Development Effectiveness.

Ministry of Finance spokespeople, by contrast, consistently pay homage to such issues and principles. For example, former Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, speaking at the 2010 World Bank/OECD-sponsored conference ‘New Partnerships in Global Development Finance’, said:

Increasing the volume of aid to developing countries in the aim of fighting against poverty in order to secure sustainable economic growth is today one of the most discussed problems at large international fora … Russia considers it fundamentally important to maintain the emerging progressive trends of the last few years in development finance. In this context, we are stepping up the volume and number of formats of our interaction with various multilateral institutions.

And Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, in his announcement in May that a Russian aid agency was imminent, said: “We do not use donor funds as a means to stimulate the export of national products; it is purely development assistance, fully in compliance with the agreements reached in Paris.”

The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just seem to be on different pages.

The one factor that does speak in favor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taking the lead in Russia’s participation in international development assistance is that fact that it already has infrastructure in countries where Russia would provide assistance, as well as a long history of experience working bilaterally in those countries. The Ministry of Finance has neither of these, which is perhaps why it emphasizes multilateral aid over bilateral. Each ministry sees possibilities along the lines of its own strengths.

It will be very interesting to see how these developments are interpreted from outside Russia. I predict DAC-oriented actors will see this as ominous, and those who are prone to “China threat” discourse will begin to characterize Russia in similar terms. On the other hand, those involved in ‘South-South Cooperation’ may find resonance with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ approach.

For additional background on Russia’s donor activities, download this Summary Paper on the Public Face of Development in Russia (2011).

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What’s happening in Russia right now is just a (Pussy) Riot

July 31st , 2012 is a mid-summer fest in Russia: The group Strategy 31 has staged its regular thirty-first-of-the-month demonstration promoting the Russian Constitution’s Article 31 on freedom of assembly (see also here); anticorruption activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been charged with embezzlement by the Investigative Committee of Russia, which is headed by Alexander Bastrykin, who was recently exposed by Navalny for scandalously holding a residence permit and real estate in the Czech Republic; and the trial of the punk girls group Pussy Riot for ‘hooliganism’ continues into its second day.

The trial is the sleeper hit of the summer. It is being reported in newspapers all over the world. Celebrities are jumping on the #FreePussyRiot bandwagon: Sting expressed outrage in his recent Moscow concert; Peter Gabriel wrote a letter of support; Stephen Fry tweeted to his follоwers to “pressure Putin” about Pussy Riot (which was covered in the Russian newspaper Moskovskii Komsomolets). In some ways, it seems as though Putin’s tolerance is on trial more than Pussy Riot’s hooliganism.

If you haven’t yet heard of Pussy Riot, time to catch up; this is a loose collective of young women who use feminist punk performance art, deployed flash-mob style, to express dissent against Putin’s leadership of Russia. Clad in bright-colored miniskirts and balaclavas, members of the group have popped up in guerilla performances in places such as Red Square and on the roof opposite the Moscow detention center where many protesters were being held after one of the December street demonstrations.

But the performance that landed three members of Pussy Riot in jail was the one they staged in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow on February 21 of this year. This one targeted the too-close-for-comfort links between the Russian government (in the person of Putin) and the Russian Orthodox Church (in the person of Patriarch Kirill, who endorsed Putin shortly before the recent Russian presidential election).

Pussy Riot chose to communicate their message by slipping incognito into the cathedral and up onto the raised platform in front of the iconostasis (a sacred space called in Russian солея – Pussy Riot could be said to have misread this space as a stage). Throwing off their coats and donning their balaclavas, they launched into their punk protest song, which last about 40 seconds before they were removed from the church by a security guard. Video footage of the stunt was later combined with music and additional performance images and released on You Tube with the title “Punk-Prayer, Virgin Mary Drive Putin Out” (Панк-молебен, Богородица Дева Путина прогони), a song that includes a chorus of “holy holy holy shit!” (срань срань срань господня). Shocking stuff – but that is the intent: to shock observers into paying attention to their political critique.

But Pussy Riot are not on trial for political subversion; they are on trial for disorderly conduct. Their indictment reads that their crime was “hooliganism, that is, gross violation of public order carried out by a group of persons by prior conspiracy, expressing a clear disrespect toward society, motivated by religious hatred and enmity, and motivated by hatred toward a particular social group.” The text of the indictment is taken from Article 213 of Russia’s penal code, and the portions of the article selected are those that carry the harshest sentence – up to 7 years in prison.

What makes this trial bizarre is the indictment for religious hatred. The article of the penal code also allows an indictment for politically- or ideologically-motivated hooliganism (also interpreted in the code as a form of ‘hatred’), but such an indictment would have resulted in a trial that draws attention to Pussy Riot’s real goal: political critique of Putin. The trial that is unfolding traverses an entirely different sort of terrain and is being described by those witnessing it as ‘absurd’ and ‘surreal’, with comparisons ranging from Kafka to the Spanish Inquisition to Soviet-era show trials to burnings at the stake to the trials of Vladimir Vysotsky and Joseph Brodsky to sixth-century canon law.

The trial is an odd mix of liberality and repression. It is open to the press, but held in such a small courtroom that most of the hundred or so journalists who showed up at the courthouse could not fit inside. Most of the first day was broadcast via livestream on the court’s website, but judge Marina Syrova shut down the feed when she started calling witnesses to the stand – thereafter, journalists were not even allowed to take photographs in the courtroom. But no one prevented them from bringing in their smart phones, and play-by-play coverage was provided by an impromptu tag-team of tweeting journalists – one could follow them directly on Twitter, or could monitor the ticker-tape of tweets conveniently assembled on the TV Rain website. Even the defense lawyers’ tweets could be followed – and many of them were cris de coeur of exasperation at the way their lines of questioning were constantly blocked by the judge, who was finally dubbed Marina “Question Withdrawn” Syrova (Марина ‘снят вопрос’ Сырова) by journalist Julia Ioffe. (In that sense, the tweets are an important historical record of the trial, containing the text of questions that will not be found in the official court transcript). The prosecuting lawyers received very different treatment from Judge Syrova.

Many tweets also commented on the irony that Judge Syrova often chided the defense team for making the court proceedings into a ‘farce’ or a ‘circus’, when the circus-like flavor of the trial was a pure production of the prosecution. The defense was allowed no witnesses; the only witnesses in the first two days of the trial were the eight ‘victims’ of the crime assembled by the prosecution: four Cathedral ‘altar boys’ (men), three ‘candle-sellers’ (women), and one security guard. It was in the question-and-answer with these ‘victims’ that the trial took on its surreal quality, and indeed gave followers the impression that they had stumbled into the transcript of a medieval inquisition or a witch trial. For example, this exchange followed testimony about the “demonic jerking” (бесовское дрыгание) of the girls during their performance:

Defense to victim: “Were they possessed?”
Judge Syrova: “Question withdrawn, he doesn’t have a medical degree!”

Or this one:

Defense: For you as an Orthodox believer, is the word ‘feminism’ offensive?
Victim: Yes. It’s obscene.
Defense: Do you understand the meaning of the word ‘feminist’?
Judge Syrova: Question withdrawn!

 And at one point the trial became embroiled in the question of Christian forgiveness: The members of Pussy Riot admitted that, although they had not intended to cause harm to believers in the church, they realized they had made an “ethical mistake” and were sorry about that; what would it take for the victims to forgive them? At one point this exchange occurred:

Victim: “I consider their apology insincere and I do not accept it.”
Pussy Riot member (allowed to directly question witnesses): “What should a sincere apology look like?”
Victim: “Everyone decides for himself. Beat yourself, or go away to a monastery, for example.”

In the end, none of the Cathedral employees said they forgave Pussy Riot, except for the security guard. And regardless, how can the group be convicted according to the charge? The way the law is written, the conviction would not be based on any damage caused by the hooliganism, but rather on the motivation for it – which is claimed to be religious hatred. Pussy Riot have claimed – with evidence from their entire short career as punk performance artists – that their motivation in all acts is consistently political. And the entire court proceedings have revolved around Russian Orthodox conceptions of the sacred and the blasphemous – clashing with observers’ expectations that the Russian court system is, after all, a secular one.

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Russia and Global Health – In need, or in the lead?

When I talk publicly about Russia’s role as an international development donor, I am usually greeted with raised eyebrows of surprise. From those of a certain ideological bent, I get a scholarly equivalent of rolled eyes as they dismissively express suspicion over Russia’s strategic motives in providing aid (as if no other international aid donor shares similar motives).

But the greatest surprise and incredulity comes when I say that Russia is aspiring to be a leader in global health. “Oh come one,” goes the typical response, “Given the state of Russia’s own health care, how could it possibly become a leader in global health issues?” The assumption is that, in the realm of health care, Russia remains in need of development assistance itself.

However, it should be obvious: In order to improve its own health care outcomes, Russia has developed quite some expertise in addressing health care issues in a “developing country” context. It is taking that expertise and applying it outside Russia, especially in Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly in Central Asia, Russia’s health care expertise is arguably more appropriate and effective than that of the more commonly recognized leaders in global health initiatives, since the health care infrastructure there bears the marks of the Soviet past it shares with Russia. Generations of Russian and Central Asian medical personnel share a consciousness of having been co-citizens of the same country, the Soviet Union, not to mention sharing a common language, Russian.

Although most of Russia’s activity in global health issues is quite recent, some significant precedents were set early in the 20th century, such as Soviet collaboration with the WHO to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. More recently, Russia took the lead in organizing an international forum on the challenges of meeting MGD6, the Millennium Development Goal that targets HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, and other diseases.

Russia also hosted the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Control in April 2011. Then-Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin made a dramatic appearance at the event and spoke forcefully in favor of prioritizing support for health care. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, attended the Moscow conference, and his brief report on it is worth quoting:

“One of the most optimistic conclusions I took from this meeting of ministers was that Russia has launched itself into global health. Is it too hopeful to believe that Russia sees health as a sphere where it can demonstrate its positive contribution to global affairs? Vladimir Putin committed Russia to ‘enhance cooperation’ with WHO … Putin’s extended hand for health should be grasped.”

Of course there is room to criticize Russia’s activities in the realm of global public health – the point is not to pretend that Russia is perfectly praiseworthy. The point is to put the lie to uninformed or ideologically driven dismissals of Russia’s role.

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The Blackness of Pots and Kettles, Part Two

The parallels between Moscow and Montreal at the moment are startling; both have been experiencing a season of unprecedented protest, and both have seen legislative attempts to suppress that protest. While Quebec’s legislature has passed its Law 78 restricting freedom of assembly in astonishingly undemocratic ways, Russia’s federal Duma has been discussing a proposed law on street demonstrations, drafted by Putin’s party United Russia (Единая Россия), that would raise the fine on violations of regulations concerning the organization of public demonstrations.

In the original Russian bill, the fine for violations by ordinary participants (currently 100 rubles) would range from 5000 to one million rubles, while the fine for violations by organizers of protests (currently up to 300 rubles) would range from 50,000 to 1.5 million rubles – that latter figure is over 36,000 euros / 45,000 U.S. dollars. In the second reading of the bill, these figures were lowered somewhat, but still remain draconian.

Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev, Duma deputies of the party A Just Russia (Справедливая Россия), have been fighting the bill, and are planning a kind of filibuster in the Duma when the bill comes up for its final vote (planned for June 5). As he explains in his blog, Gudkov likens it to an “Italian Strike” (the Twitter hashtag is #ИтальянскаяЗабастовка), although it is not precisely either –the idea is to introduce numerous amendments to the bill (each of which allows the proposer to speak for 1-3 minutes), enough so as to tie it up indefinitely.

On May 29th, Gudkov and Ponomarev also introduced their own alternative bill, prepared in collaboration with former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and his newly established organization Committee for Civil Initiatives (Комитет Гражданских Инициатив). Their proposed law consciously adheres to OECD guidelines for freedom of assembly.

And how fitting that as I write, on the 31st of May, the group “Strategy-31” is carrying out one of their regular flash-mob-style street protests and being dragged off and shoved into waiting police vans, as this Novaya Gazeta video shows. This is a group that predates the current wave of protest in Russia, but has since 2009 been regularly protesting on the 31st of every month that does have 31 days, in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which states:

 “Citizens of the Russian Federation have the right peaceably to assemble, without weapons, and to conduct gatherings, rallies and demonstrations, processions and pickets.”

Clever use of the oldest schoolboy’s trick in the book to turn one’s opponent into one’s promoter (photo Evgeny Feldman, Novaya Gazeta).

 

 

 

P.S. there was no pun intended with the title of this post. I had actually composed the title the day before I received the video about Montreal’s pots-and-pans protest. But I find the irony delicious (okay, that might have been a pun!).

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The Blackness of Pots and Kettles (Чья корова мычит, а чья молчит?)

A colleague of mine with Canadian connections yesterday sent me a link to a lovely video about “La Révolte des Casseroles”, Montreal’s creative protest against rising university fees and, now especially, Quebec Province’s Bill 78, passed on 18 May of this year, which severely restricts freedom of assembly in Quebec.

I immediately tweeted the video to the attention of some well-known figures in Moscow’s ongoing protest movement, wagering that they would find it relevant. Within 5 minutes Roustem Adagamov, the popular photographer and blogger, had retweeted the video, and I found a couple of the replies to his tweet particularly interesting:

«Ох, щас омоновцы наши смотрят и слюнки пускают!» (“Oh, now our riot police are drooling over this!”)

«На российских центральных каналах предпочитают несколько иное видео с акций протеста на Западе” (“On Russia state TV they prefer a few other videos of protest actions in the West.”)

Indeed, Russian state TV discourse and imagery, not to mention a recent statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has recently been pointing to the way that riot police are used to control demonstrations in “the West”, sometimes quite violently (Russian blogger Dmitry Surnin has an interesting post about this here.). The point is made explicitly to justify the way Moscow city police and Russian OMON (riot police) have been responding to opposition marches in Moscow since December.

This is both disingenuous and at the same time quite genuine. The problem is they are right. Even the U.S., the self-proclaimed beacon of democracy who is quick to point out repression elsewhere, is a state that will use its legitimate forces of violence to quell internal unrest, and the line between protest that is allowed to go on unmolested vs. protest that is violently smacked down appears very thin.

In a recent interview with the news agency RosBalt.ru, Ben Judah, a policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, commented on the use of police forces to break up demonstrations in the West:

“I constantly repeat to Western politicians and diplomats that Putin follows their activities intently, and that if they employ these methods in the West, Putin will simply employ them himself against democratic movements. However, Western politicians just don’t understand that their domestic activities immediately turn up on the television screens of Russia…”

In the current international discursive arena around street protests, it is hard to sort out who is the pot and who is the kettle – but the blackness of each is not in dispute.

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Gay Pride Goeth Before the Fall in Moscow – Yet Again

Moscow city police shut down Moscow’s seventh attempted Gay Pride Parade on Moscow’s Red Square yesterday, even though the city’s ban on the annual festival was declared illegal last year by the European Court of Human Rights. Moscow Gay pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev (whom I’ve come to think of as Moscow’s Harvey Milk) was arrested the moment he set foot on the square and was carried off by police at a dead run, captured in this photo by blogger Roustem Adagamov (you can see more of Adagamov’s excellent photos of the event here).

Other Gay Pride activists were arrested within seconds of displaying anything rainbow-colored or even just for talking to the gathered press. A few counter-protesters also showed up, including members of the fundamentalist Russian Orthodox group Union of Orthodox Bannerbearers (Союз православных хоругвеносцев), who periodically chanted ‘Sodom won’t pass” («Содом не пройдет»); some of these counter-protesters were also arrested (there’s at least one moment of equal opportunity for you). Bursts of violent melee erupted when a few young men fell upon some of the Gay Pride would-be marchers with fists flying, as captured in this video on the Novaya Gazeta website:


What do Moscow bystanders think of all of this? Lida Moniava, a resident of the neighborhood where the Gay Pride Parade was attempted, wrote in her Live Journal blog:

“It is impossible to watch the video of today’s gay parade in Moscow without tears. I don’t like the idea of parades on a sexual theme, and I do not belong to LGBT society, but watching the Russian Orthodox psychotics who were beating up intellectual and well-meaning gays and lesbians, and the OMON who were twisting people’s arms and dragging them away for no reason at all makes me want to get up and go to the next gay-parade, just out of solidarity. This whole nightmare took place today right outside my front door, and the Russian Orthodox psychotics, screaming their slogan “Sodom won’t pass”, went en masse into my very own church, where I’ve been going for five years practically every week. Taking everything into consideration, there’s no way I can say this doesn’t concern me. It concerns me. And what to do about it, as always, I don’t know and I’m very sad.”

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 (the same year it was decriminalized in my own adopted home of Ireland, incidentally).  In 1995, Nikolai Alekseev started his university studies in Moscow State University, while also interning at the Constitutional Court in Moscow, and he graduated with honours in 2000. He stayed on at MSU to study law, doing well until he proposed to change his dissertation topic to focus on the legal status of sexual minorities in Russia – his supervisors disapproved and he had to give up graduate studies. This seems to have daunted Alekseev not a whit; eventually, he dedicated himself full time to gay-rights activism, and he now heads the Russian Human Rights LGBT-Project GayRussia.Ru. Alekseev is active in a number of gay-rights campaigns in Russia, but his one main success to date is his fight against the Russian Ministry of Health’s ban on blood donations from homosexual men. In an uncharacteristically progressive act, the Ministry overturned the ban in May 2008. Currently, the Moscow City Council is debating an anti-“gay propaganda” law similar to the one recently passed in St. Petersburg.

Image

Arrest of Nikolai Alekseev at the first Moscow Gay pride in May 2006. Photo Nikolai Alekseev at en.wikipedia.

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Russian search engine beats Russian TV in the ratings

It seems that Yandex (Яндекс), the Internet company that is Russia’s homegrown alternative to Google, has surpassed Channel 1 (Первый канал), Russia’s premiere state-owned television channel, in something like a cross-platform ratings game. The Russian newspaper Vedemosti reports today that, for the month of April, 19.1 million users visited Yandex daily, while only 18.1 million viewers watched Channel 1 daily, according to market research by TNS. This is apparently the first time an Internet portal has overtaken a TV channel in this way in Russia.

There are still more Russians in general watching TV than using the Internet – about 30.5 million Russians used the Internet on a daily basis in April, while about 31.5 million Russians watched TV on a daily basis (although that’s not such a big difference, actually). Also, the people who watched Channel 1 did so for a longer time: about an hour a day, while the people visiting Yandex did so for about 10 minutes a day.

Nevertheless, this can be taken as an indicator that Internet use in Russia is widespread and rising. In the recent wave of openly expressed opposition in Russia, online social media have certainly played a significant role. Putin was asked about this in one live TV interview on the very same Channel 1. The following question was put to the Prime-Minister-cum-President (interestingly, the question came to the interviewer via the TV channel’s website, which he was reading on the air from his laptop): “The greatest number of your critics are on the Internet; what is your view of the Internet and Internet users?”

Watching the video, you don’t even have to understand Russian to perceive what Putin thinks about the Internet – his body language communicates pretty loudly in his initial response. He goes on to make campaign-safe statements about keeping the Internet open; but the interviewer follows up with a casual question, which unfolds like this:

Interviewer: “Do you often read the Internet?”
Putin
(looking away from the interviewer):  “No.”
Interviewer
(smiling): “Deliberately?”
Putin
: “No, I simply have no time…I don’t even watch television.”

Among opposition activists, jokes about Putin’s animosity toward the Internet are pretty common. A recent animated music video by “Kapitan Kangeru” (Ilya Dombrovskii and Maksim Leonov) on You Tube captures this hilariously; titled “Our National Leader, or Song about Harm on the Internet”, it pokes fun at Putin’s overplayed bravado and his seeming agelessness; although elsewhere this is attributed to botox, in this video it is attributed to Putin’s avoidance of the Internet. One frame depicts the Kremlin as an “Internet-free zone”, while another shows Putin with his hand quavering on the Internet’s red ‘on-off’ button; everywhere, Putin is seen wagging his finger in warning to those who are glued to their computer screens.

Of course, Yandex hopes the ratings news will attract more advertisers to its platform, but some Russian observers, loyal to the TV viewer market, remain dismissive of the advertising potential of the Internet. Interesting in this context to note that, during the Russian presidential campaign this year, the Putin campaign for the first time spent a considerable amount of money on Internet advertising – almost $2 million, according to Vedemosti.

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