(See "Internet in Russia", Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Russia )
Open Source Center https://www.opensource.gov/
28 February 2010
- Metals magnate Alisher Usmanov, whom experts consider to be close to the Kremlin, purchased half of SUP, the owner of Russia's most popular blogging platform LiveJournal, in June 2008. He recently increased his stake in Digital Sky Technologies -- a Russian Internet investment company that owns controlling interests in top-ranked Russian social media portals VKontakte, Mail.ru and Odnoklassniki -- to 35%, making him the single-largest stakeholder (Russkiy Newsweek, 17 August 2009).
- Oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who is known to cooperate with the Kremlin, owns RosBiznesKonsalting (RBC), which has been quietly gobbling up Russian Internet (Runet) domains, holding 21% of the Runet's sites, according to its last annual report in 2007, including Loveplanet.ru, the second-most popular online dating service in the Runet.
- Pro-Putin Oligarch Vladimir Potanin owns Prof-Media, which owns Rambler.ru, one of Russia's largest Internet portals featuring a search engine, an information portal, an Internet rating service, and other web services (Interfax, 9 February). Together, Rambler and investment firm Finam own Begun, the largest Russian seller of context-based ads in the Russian market. Prof-Media also owns popular Internet news site Lenta.ru.
- Gazprom-Media, which is controlled by Vladimir Putin's close friend Yuriy Kovalchuk,a bought RuTube, a popular Russian clone of YouTube in March 2008 (RIA Novosti, 6 March 2008). Indicating this was part of a wider Gazprom-Media initiative, Director Nikolay Senkevich stated his company had allotted $100 million to acquire various Internet resources (Kommersant.ru, 9 July 2007).b
Limited Public Outcry
Although some independent bloggers and press sources raised concerns at the growing government presence in the Internet, the public is probably unaware of the extent to which the Runet is owned by Kremlin allies. Most buy-outs were not well publicized, appearing only in specialized business dailies that reported only the fact of the deal.
Moreover, most Russians are not overly concerned about censorship in general or censorship of the Internet. Most actually support censoring the Internet, believing official rhetoric stating it would cut down on child pornography, hate speech, or extremism, which may partially explain the lack of public reaction to the various Kremlin attempts at gaining control of the Russian Internet. Those who do react negatively to threats to Internet freedom tend to be opposition members or human rights activists who would be directly affected by censorship.
- Independent print media are often subject to political and economic pressure, and selfcensorship by journalists and editors is common. An Intermedia and Levada Center poll carried out in 2008 found that the vast majority of the population do not express concern about this and do not read these sources.c
- According to a 2008 poll by the Kremlin-Influenced All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Questions (VTsIOM), nearly half of all Russians believe that information on the Internet should be regulated. The main argument given for this view was that the Internet is filled with "dirt" and "trash" and that it is accessible to children and has a bad influence on them. When asked what should be censored, the majority of respondents named child pornography (89%), followed by 83% in favor of blocking terrorist organizations and extremist content. Many (41%) believed that the sites of political opposition movements should be blocked (9 December 2008).
- Regardless of their stance on censorship, according to Gazeta.ru, Russians are not likely to change their social networking use over privacy concerns. The director of marketing and sales at Rambler Media, Anton Terkhov, stated that "discussions have come up in the Runet that data from social networks are being used by government structures, but these conversations have not led to users closing their accounts. Quite the opposite, the popularity of the services has continued to grow." The head editor of Yandex, Yelena Kolmanovskaya, had a similar opinion stating: "Talk of the possible decline in popularity of these services is doubtful" (26 March 2009).
Protests Over Buyouts
There have been limited protests over the buyouts, but reaction centered on well-publicized deals involving major Internet outlets and known Kremlin supporters and appeared mainly in opposition publications and politically active bloggers' journals.
- In March 2008, Gazprom-Media purchased the popular Russian clone of YouTube, video-sharing platform RuTube. This prompted Oleg Kozyrev, a well-known opposition blogger, and Oleg Salmanov, a reporter for the online opposition paper The New Times, to protest: "The Russian Internet community is following with alarm the social networks passing under the control of those who are loyal to the authorities and responsive to their requests. Many still remember what the federal media were like before Vladimir Putin arrived in the Kremlin. Yes, the purchase by state corporations (or by businessmen close to the Kremlin) of large media does not always and not necessarily lead to them stopping being objective. But the authorities gain the legitimate opportunity 'to switch off the button' in case of something. The networks only have to be in the necessary hands" (17 March 2008).
- Usmanov's June 2008 purchase of 50% of LiveJournal from SUP prompted speculation about censorship, but also criticism of SUP's management of the resource. Cyxymu,d a blogger and professor in Tbilisi, Georgia, expressed fears that this was part of a plan by the authorities to rein in freedom of speech on the Internet: "That means everything will be under the control of the FSB [Federal Security Service]. Or more accurately under greater control than earlier" (22 June 2008).
- In September 2009, Yandexe owners gave a "golden share" to government-owned Sberbank, giving the bank the right to veto any sale of more than 25% of Yandex and ensuring this sensitive resource remains in government-friendly hands (Russian Newsweek, 17 August 2009). In response, The Moscow Times, an English-language daily owned by Finnish company International Media, wrote: "While Yandex's concessions have been minor and apparently voluntary, Internet users fear that they could lead to restrictions like those in China, where access to pro-democracy and foreign news websites is severely limited" (26 November 2009).
- In December 2009, various media reported that DST was negotiating to buy ICQ from AOL in a deal that would give DST control of roughly half of the Russian messaging market (Lenta.ru, 15 December 2009).f Blogger response centered on having to pay for the previously free service instead of any risk of monitoring or censorship. Blogg Aleks Eksler (exler) stated: "If DST buys ICQ, we'll have to leave this platform for good because, just like 'Zhadnoklassniki' [greedyclassmates] it's easy to predict what will happen. First they'll forbid any alternative clients so that Internet chatters will have to use the official client where they can put ads everywhere. Then they'll start the onetization of the service." Others responded with alternative chat platforms and ebated whether or not ICQ would cease to be free (15 December 2009).
Protests Over Government Moves
Officials have made numerous attempts to pass laws seeking to regulate the Internet. They have also been accused of using laws covering the mass media or extremism to censor the unet. Such methods have met with significant resistance from the opposition and human ights activists, and the government has scaled back or rejected some provisions of the controversial laws.
The Joint Commission on National Policy and Cooperation of Governments and Religious Unions of the Federation Council announced a bill with planned amendments to the law on mass media on 11 February 2008. If passed in its original form, the amendments would have given any electronic media which has more than 1,000 hits per day the status of mass media, thus making them subject to laws on mass media such as the law on extremism. Amid controversy and outcry provoked by news of the draft, supporters of the bill attempted to assuage fears that it would lead to censorship, promising that the law would not affect sites that are "not information sources."
- Bloggers expressed varying degrees of alarm over the potential danger the law would pose to their community, because so many of their blogs receive more than 1,000 hits per day. Blogger may-antiwar wrote: "As soon as a site becomes mass media, we will be threatened not only with immediate shutdown but also unpleasant personal sanctions under the law 'On extremism' and we will become political prisoners. They have declared war on our resource" ( 27 February 2008). Blogger Viking_nord called the initiative "extremely stupid" and claimed that "over the last five years there were 20 such initiatives and no one ever passed one of them" (11 February 2008).
- Independent Internet sites, like bloggers, expressed their concern that the law would lead to the closure of Internet resources and ridiculed the 1,000 hits-per-day figure (Newsru.com, 12 February 2008; Strana.ru, 11 February 2008).
- On 11 February, Vladimir Slutsker, the deputy chairperson of the commission, gave a very broad definition of sites to be covered: "Any regularly updated Internet site can be included in the understanding of mass media, including personal diaries, various forums, and chats including, for example, dating sites" (Gzt.ru, 11 February). However on 12 February, he backed off, stating: "The amendments to the law 'On the Mass Media,' which were discussed today by the Internet community, only concern sites which are, in fact, Internet mass media although they are not registered at the moment...The blogosphere, dating sites, and search engines will not fall under that law because they are not mass media" (SMI.ru).
Protest Over Court Case
A 7 July 2008 trial convicting Savva Terentyev on charges of extremism, the first criminal prosecution in Russia for comments posted in a blog, prompted warnings that the legal system would be used to target bloggers critical of local or federal authorities. Terentyev, who admitted authorship of the comment but pleaded not guilty to charges of extremism, received a suspended one-year prison sentence under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation -- inciting hatred or enmity (ITAR-TASS, 7 July 2008; Interfax, 14 July 2008). In his comment, he railed against the police, describing them as "filth" and saying that a "corrupt cop should be ceremonially burnt daily" in the central square of every city.
- Political columnist Valeriy Vyzhutovich claimed that the Terentyev "show trial" was a "test run" to gauge how Russian society would react to the future imposition of restrictions on freedom of speech on the Internet (Politkom.ru, 25 April 2008).
- Terentyev's lawyer, Vladislav Kosnyrev, warned that now under Article 282 "practically any statement can, if desired, be a pretext for criminal prosecution." Suranov added that "LiveJournal users need to know: The more you show interest in public life, then the greater the interest the law enforcement agencies will have in you" (The New Times, 14 July 2008).
- Terentyev was not pardoned, but in a subsequent trial a 29-year-old senior teacher at the Kuzbass State Technical University, Dmitriy Solovyev, who was accused of inciting hatred and hostility against a social group for his negative statements against FSB and MVD [Interior Ministry] employees in entries on his LiveJournal page was not found guilty (Forum.msk, 13 January).
Criticism of Outsourcing of Attacks
The Kremlin is known to use its youth groups and other methods to carry out "information confrontation" in the Runet.g h Opposition Internet users are aware of this practice and take action to expose, criticize, and thwart them.
Oleg Kozyrev noted the trend toward more frequent and organized attacks on opposition videos on YouTube, stating: "It is interesting that over the last several days, a ton of identical comments [from users] with accounts created at suspiciously similar times have appeared on YouTube. They usually surf opposition videos and post various types of negative messages. Obviously brigades that sometimes work in the blogs and sometimes on forums have now started working on the video service" (Oleg-kozyrev.livejournal.com, 30 November 2007).
During recent protests in Kaliningrad, participants used Internet media to publicize the protest and smaller preceding events. In several forums, and on YouTube videos, users called out the activities of progovernment "trolls"i who ridiculed the protest and attempted to counter the protesters' criticisms of the authorities. User Legis80 struck at all several users he called "Mister trolls" who were spamming the comments section of the Novyy Kaliningrad paper's article on the protests, telling them to "stick their tongues in deeper and stop yapping." On Rugrad.eu, two of the organizers of the 30 January protest, Konstantin Doroshok and Aleksandr Agiyevich, were forced to debate two users, Ivanka and Valter 100_lyt, who alleged that Doroshok was staging the protests in Kaliningrad to further his own business interests and that people were being offered financial inducements to attend protest rallies. Agiyevich's response to the "trolls" was to tell other users to ignore them, but Doroshok decided to do some detective work and said that Ivanka and Valter 100_lyt, who claimed he was a student who had been given R100 to attend the rally on 12 December, were operating from the same IP address. Doroshok concluded that they were, in fact, one and the same person (BBC Monitoring, 9 February).j
Internet users have taken to creating lists of bots that spam their blogs. Orly74 recommended banning a list of 40 users from opposition journals in connection with attacks on other opposition journals (16 October 2009). Out of frustration with what he said was LiveJournal's lack of will to stop bots, Andrey Malgin (avmalgin), writer and Kremlin critic and well-known blogger, started a list of bots and gave users instructions on how to ban them. Readers added to the list in comments and sympathized with his frustrations (30 January 2008). Oleg Kozyrev started a list of bots to ban on 9 October 2008. User Botolov's entire blog is devoted to stopping bots. He maintains a list of bots updated nearly daily by other users and helps to ban them.k l m Opposition users are also savvy at circumventing the Kremlin's monitoring and censorship efforts.
In an interview with Global Voices Online, a project of the Berkman Center that translates blogs from around the world, Roman Dobrokhotov, the leader of a democratic Russian youth movement "We" (My), stated: "All our activities are conducted via the Internet. The main mechanism that creates and maintains our movement is a Google group. We consider it relatively secure. We use an encrypted connection. We only add people that we know…. In addition to Google groups, we use Twitter. But we do it during our real-life actions, not before. When you deal with an opposition movement it is important that your friends can always follow you in case something bad happens." He continued: "The authorities have a legal right to ask for any information from Internet providers. They have access to everything we send through SORM 2 system.n But our information is encrypted and it will take a lot of time for them to decode it. The authorities can also create Internet filters or just shut down blogging services like LiveJournal. But we can always work through other platforms. We can also use anonymizers and other tools like proxy services" (Globalvoicesonline.org, 20 December 2009).
Suspicions Over New Domain
Although the .__ domain (Cyrillic language domain) is touted as being aimed at making the Internet more accessible to more Russians, some bloggers and press sources have pointed out that it may serve to isolate Russian Internet users from the rest of the World Wide Web, forming a kind of "cyber ghetto."
- In an interview with Rosbalt news agency, Ilya Ponomarev, an avid blogger and member of the Duma Committee on Information Technology and Communications, called the new domain "a step towards the isolation of the Russian segment of the Internet from the international Internet space" and stated that it was "a harmful and wrong course" (ilya-ponomarev; Rosbalt, 25 November 2009). One commentator to Ponomarev's Rosbalt interview debated Ponomarev, stating that the new domain was a positive step because it would make the Internet accessible to people who do not know Latin characters and that people who wanted to speak with foreigners would still have Latin domains to use, according to blogger dilesoft (ilya-ponomarev, 25 November).
- User illka worried that sites on the Cyrillic domain would be subject to a great deal of pressure and unable to change their registrar to another provider and that once people became used to domain names in Russian, they would not be willing to go to "that [Latin character domain] Internet" because there would be "nothing comprehensible written there" (ilya-ponomarev, 25 November).
- Another blogger, di09en, researched the newly registered ____.__ (blog.rf) domain and claimed that it was registered in the name of the "Special Communications and Information Service of the Federal Guard Service of the Russian Federation." Commentators stated that it was actually the Federal Protective Service of Russia, a department of the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) (ilya-ponomarev, 25 November).
The Russian Government does not need to own the Runet in order to monitor or control it. It has numerous laws and policies in place that allow it to limit or threaten open discussion on the Internet. Portals owned by Kremlin allies do not yet exhibit signs of censorship, but their acquisitions provide officials an additional lever to control the content of the Runet if the Kremlin feels threatened. The Kremlin is also developing the ability to shape the online discourse using such organizations as the Kremlin School of Bloggers and its various youth groups.
Moreover, many Russians actually favor some degree of censorship of the Runet and any public protest against government control would therefore most likely come from the largely distrusted and marginalized opposition. The lack of public concern over the loss of yet another independent source of information could lead to even greater state control of information and its citizens' beliefs.
Still, information may seep through any Kremlin efforts to censor the Internet as non-Russian portals such as Google, YouTube and Wikipedia are gaining popularity,o and opposition users are very savvy in regard to circumventing censorship efforts.
SUP is an Internet media investment company founded in the summer of 2006 by Russian billionaire Aleksandr Mamut and US media entrepreneur Andrew Paulson. It expanded aggressively in the new media sector, buying up a sports website and Internet ad agencies before buying LiveJournal in December 2007 in a deal estimated at $30 to $100 million (Russia Today, 4 December 2007). SUP leadership included Anton Nosik, one of the pioneers in Russian website development and a famous blogger.p As of 1 September 2009, SUP owned Gazeta.ru, LiveJournal.ru, and Championat.ru (Kommersant).
Mamut is a longtime prominent Russian banker who developed close ties to the family of President Boris Yeltsin and top officials of his Presidential Administration and also top officials of President Putin's administration. This prompted many expressions of concern among bloggers and other observers that his purchase of LiveJournal would increase Kremlin influence over the blogging platform.q
Digital Sky Technologies (DST)
Yuriy Milner and Grigoriy Finger formed DST in 2005 with their own money and funds from outside investors, which now include Goldman Sachs and Alisher Usmanov. While DST continues to be controlled by the two founders, Usmanov now owns 35% of the company, making him the single-largest shareholder.
DST is a dominant force in the Runet, owning the most popular websites in the CIS, including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Armenia, and estimates that over 70% of all page views in the Russian-language Internet are on its companies' websites (Dst-global.com, 2 February). In Russia, DST owns a significant stake in VKontakte, a Facebook clone and the largest social network site in Russia, and a controlling interest in Forticom group, the owner of Odnoklassniki.ru, a very popular Russian clone of Classmates.com and third-most popular social network in Russia. DST owns more than half of the second-most popular site overall, Mail.ru, which offers a variety of services including news, e-mail, a search engine, directories, chats, job services, blogs, role-playing games, and messaging. Mail.ru also controls several other important Internet projects. Because of the prevalence of the Runet in the former Soviet space, these sites are also the most popular sites in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Moldova. Outside of Russia, DST owns Seznam.cz, a Czech social networking site; a majority share in Nasza-klasa.pl, a Polish clone of Classmates.com, and a significant stake in Estonian jobs portal CV Keksus, the number two site in Estonia, based on a Gemius research report from January 2009. The company's 75% interest in Forticom also gives it control of some of the top portals in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- One.lt, One.lv, and One.ee.
Usmanov is the single-largest stakeholder of DST (Russkiy Newsweek, 17 August 2009). According to Finam expert Leonid Delitsyn, "Alisher Usmanov is not an investor for whom state interests are an alien concept… When his structures acquire a media asset this is seen as a deal that has been done with the state's approval" (Infox.ru, 3 July, 2009). According to Russkiy Newsweek, the Russian version of international news magazine Newsweek, the Internet community views Usmanov as "an outright government surrogate" (17 August 2009). Usmanov is considered especially close to President Medvedev. For a long time he was a top official of Gazprom where Medvedev was chairman.
Usmanov has been building a media empire since August 2006, buying the respected business daily Kommersant, the antigovernment website Gazeta.ru, and sports channel 7TV in late 2006. He announced on 7 November 2006 in Vedomosti that he intended to create a multimedia holding company of TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, and websites and told Vremya Novostey he aimed to create a media empire like Bloomberg's (28 December 2006). Usmanov has ambitious aims, specifically in the social networking sphere. For example, he launched the NewTube.ru video site in June 2008 to challenge Gazprom-Media's RuTube (Kommersant, 3 June 2008). In addition, in 2008, he attempted to buy 10% of Yandex in a deal that later failed (Lenta.ru, 28 May 2009).
DST Company President Yuriy Milner was also recently appointed to the Presidential Commission for the Modernization and Technological Development of the Russian Economy, whose mission is the "reduction of the Russian economy's dependence on world economic conditions and the development of high technology" (Politkom.ru, 25 May 2009).
RosBiznesKonsalting was created in 1992 and is an Internet-holding company. RBC owns, among others, news portals Rbk.ru, Utro.ru, and Cnews.ru. It also owns Loveplanet.ru, the second-largest dating service in Russia, Quiet Internet Pager, a free instant messenger, and Fishki.net, a top humor and entertainment website.
Prokhorov has a history of cooperating or supporting government initiatives. For example, he came out in favor of businesses paying their full taxes, a rarity in Russia, and registered himself as living in Yeruda in the Krasnoyarsk region, where his mining company Polyus Gold is located, in order to support the region with his taxes. A spokesman for Prokhorov's investment vehicle Onexim explained: "Given the difficult economic period, one of the main social responsibilities of a business is to pay its taxes in full, and it would seem proper to pay them where the main sources of income are " (RIA Novosti, 22 May 2009).
One of Russia's largest media conglomerates, Vladimir Potanin's Prof-Media was created by the oligarch's Oneksimbank in late 1997 to run Russkiy Telegraf, Izvestiya, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and other papers. In March 2003, Prof-Media purchased 35% of the Dutch-owned Independent Media publishing house which owned The Moscow Times and Vedomosti.r Prof-Media later changed its strategy, selling off its print media, especially political newspapers, and buying up entertainment television channels and Internet sites.s
Potanin purchased Rambler.ru in November 2006, which, along with his news websites Lenta.ru and Afisha.ru, figures in the top 100 Runet sites. Prof-Media and investment company Finam own Begun, the leading Russian company in context-based ads. According to numerous sources, advertising is the most important source of revenue to websites, making up, for example, 80% of the revenue of Yandex (Vedomosti, 30 December 2009). Consistent with the government's policy of keeping important companies in Russian hands, the Federal Antimonopoly Service recently blocked an attempt by Google to buy Begun, citing inaccuracies in the paperwork. Some analysts believe the decision was actually motivated by concern at losing control over a Russian market leader (Vedomosti, 24 September 2009). Informative business daily Kommersant's sources in the market said the deal was not approved "because the government came out against the sale of Begun to the American Google Inc" (9 April 2009).
Despite rocky relations with the Kremlin at the start of Vladimir Putin's presidency, Potanin is now believed to have a good relationship with Putin and the government. Rafael Akopov, the president of Prof-Media, supported the government's right to deem Internet portals "strategic"t
and to determine policy on them. He stated: "The Internet is a strategic sector and the government has every right to determine policies in it" (Vedomosti, 9 April 2008).
Gazprom-Media was set up by Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom to manage its media holdings, including the popular national TV channel NTV and Ekho Moskvy radio, and has become one of Russia's biggest media conglomerates. Its parent company, Gazprom is partially owned by the Russian Government. Yuriy Kovalchuk, a longtime Putin friend with ties to Medvedev, controls Gazprom-Media.u
Yandex is partially owned by Ru-Net Holdings, which was founded by Baring Vostok Capital Partners and the Moscow investment company United Financial Group. Leonid Boguslavsky owns 50% of Ru-Net Holdings and has served as its Chairman and CEO since April 2001. Ru-Net Holdings owns 35% of Yandex, which is currently the top-ranked website in Russia and its dominant search engine. Yandex's director, Arkadiy Volozh, controls 30% of the company and the remainder of Yandex is owned by Yandex's managers and several other investment companies including Baring Vostok Capital Partners and Tiger Global (Bfm.ru, 11 September 2009). Yandex owns popular portals Narod.ru and Moi Krug, a business portal similar to LinkedIn. Ru-Net holdings also owns 50% of largest Internet store, Ozon.ru (Kommersant, 1 September 2009).
In September 2009, Yandex owners gave a "golden share" in the company to Sberbank. This special share, which cannot be sold without the approval of Yandex's board of directors, gives Sberbank the right to veto any sale of more than 25% of Yandex, thus ensuring this sensitive resource remains in government-friendly hands (Russkiy Newsweek, 17 August 2009). An unnamed source of the respected business daily Vedomosti in the federal government stated: "Yandex is an infrastructural company and the government is not indifferent as to who controls it. Sberbank will become the de facto representative of the government and will be able to prevent the transfer of Yandex to the control of foreigners" (24 September).
Arkadiy Volozh, owner and director of Yandex stated: "We cannot fail to take the government's position into account and believe it is necessary to develop a legal mechanism that will consider national interest when making large deals involving Yandex" (Interfax, 24 September 2009).
Russia -- Source Descriptors of Key Russian Media
Open Source Center
December 6, 2007
The following are source descriptors of key Russian media, including news agencies (page 1), publications (page 3), radio (page 8), television (page 9), and websites (page 11). Television dominates the media environment in Russia, with most Russians getting their news from the two state-owned channels. There is greater variety of ownership and content in publications and websites, but these have smaller audiences than television.1