Andrei Soldatov

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A memorial to the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, St. Petersburg, Russia, February 2024. Stringer / Reuters

The announcement on Friday that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died in a remote Russian prison colony has left observers of the country in shock. For years, the most fearless critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the pervasive corruption of Putin’s inner circle, Navalny had been serving a draconian 19-year sentence for extremism. Indeed, it was highly unlikely that he would ever be released as long as Putin was in power. But apparently, even that was not enough. According to the Russian prison service, Navalny collapsed after a short walk in the prison yard and lost consciousness and died soon after.…  Seguir leyendo »

A partial solar eclipse and the Russian coat of arms in Moscow, October 2022. Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

In April 2023, a prominent Russian national with suspected ties to Russian intelligence pulled off an impressive escape from Italian authorities. Artem Uss, a Russian businessman and the son of a former Russian governor, had been detained in Milan a few months earlier on charges of smuggling sensitive U.S. military technology to Russia. According to an indictment issued by a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, in October 2022, Uss had illegally trafficked in the semiconductors needed to build ballistic missiles and a variety of other weapons, some of which were being used in the war in Ukraine. But while Uss was awaiting extradition to the United States, he was exfiltrated from Italy with the help of a Serbian criminal gang and returned to Russia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, November 2019 Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, November 2019. Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

On July 23, one of Ukraine’s largest churches, the Orthodox cathedral in Odessa, was seriously damaged by a Russian missile strike. The strike highlighted one of the lingering enigmas of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine: Moscow has been waging war not only on a neighboring population but also on one that, like its own, is overwhelmingly made up of Orthodox Christians. In effect, the Russian government has been forced to target its own religion in its campaign to subdue Ukraine. Yet despite this, members of Russia’s Orthodox clergy have been among the most vocal supporters of the war, and criticism from Orthodox leaders in other countries has been comparatively muted.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, June 2023. Mikhail Tereshchenko / Sputnik / Pool / Reuters

Among the many lingering questions about the Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion is why Russia’s vast security apparatus was so poorly prepared for it. The FSB, the Kremlin’s main internal security service, has long placed a heavy emphasis on “prevention” and taking aggressive steps to preempt any threats to the state before they occur. The security agency even had informants within the Wagner organization. Yet it seems to have taken no action to stop the mutiny before it started or to warn the Kremlin about Prigozhin’s plans.

Then, as Wagner forces made their move, both the FSB and Russia’s National Guard, the main body assigned to maintain internal security and suppress unrest in Russia, failed as rapid response forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in Moscow, April 2023. Yulia Morozova / Reuters

In early May, tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner, the private military company close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, burst into the open. For months, Wagner soldiers had been playing a lead part in Russia’s siege of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, at enormous human cost. Now, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s combative leader, had had enough. In a lurid video he released, he stood surrounded by the dead bodies of Wagner soldiers in Bakhmut, hurling expletives at Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, as well as at the head of the general staff and the head of Russian forces in Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

The aftermath of a Russian military strike, Donetsk region, Ukraine, February 2023. Yevhen Titov / Reuters

On September 21, 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his large-scale mobilization of fighting-age men, it was seen as a dramatic move toward total war. No longer could the Kremlin downplay the war in Ukraine as a mere “special operation” in which ordinary Russians had little involvement. Fearful of what was to come, hundreds of thousands of young men fled the country as rumors circulated that the security services were going to close the borders to prevent more people from leaving—and take drastic measures to pressure those who had left to return and fight. Many also assumed that Putin’s order would be followed by a second, even broader draft, and that all of Russian society would soon be put on a continual war footing.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian conscripts in Omsk, Russia, November 2022. Alexey Malgavko / Reuters

In late September, following devastating Russian setbacks in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s controversial “partial mobilization” of the Russian population, the Kremlin faced an explosion of popular discontent on social media. Notably, some of the most vocal criticism came from the government’s core supporters: ultranationalists and military hard-liners who felt that Russia was not fighting as well as it should. By the beginning of October, the recriminations were coming close to Putin’s own circle, with Ramzan Kadyrov, the notoriously brutal head of Chechnya, issuing a long diatribe on Telegram, the messaging app. According to Kadyrov, a Russian general who had lost a crucial town in Donetsk was “being shielded from above by the leadership in the General Staff”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian cars trying to cross the Finnish border, Vaalimaa, Finland, September. 2022 Janis Laizans / Reuters

Within hours of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he was ordering a “partial mobilization” for the war in Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russian men began fleeing the country. Many have gone to former Soviet republics or to Turkey, which is still accepting Russians who have the means to get there.  According to Novaya Gazeta Europe, by the end of the third day, a source in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, said that 261,000 men had left, a number that if accurate would be nearly as many as the 300,000 new troops the mobilization was supposed to deliver.  …  Seguir leyendo »

Protesting in support of Ukraine, Bern, Switzerland, April 2022. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

Russians are fleeing their country in droves. Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan; Estonia, Latvia, Montenegro. In the first two weeks of the war alone, Georgia took in 25,000 Russians, and Armenia was receiving some 6,000 Russians per day. By the end of March, 60,000 Russians had gone to Kazakhstan. And many more have sought refuge in a number of different countries in Eastern Europe. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began, Russians who have the means to do so have been racing for the border in what has become the largest exodus since the Bolshevik Revolution.

The dramatic flight underscores the far-reaching effects of Putin’s war.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man walks past an ad at an Internet devices shop in St. Petersburg in April 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

In early December, Russian censors scored an unexpected success: Internet users all over the country reported that Tor, an encryption software that allows users to bypass online government controls, was going offline.

The Russian security services have been trying to neutralize Tor for years. They view it as the West’s censorship circumvention tool of choice. Its creation was sponsored by the International Broadcasting Bureau, a U.S. agency that provides technical support to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The irony, though, is that Russian state scored this victory over freedom of information with the help of Western companies.

Russia calls its system for controlling online discourse the “sovereign Internet.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Google and Apple removed a Russian opposition voting app from their online stores after pressure from Russian lawmakers. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)

On Sept. 16, one day before Russia’s parliamentary election got underway, members of the upper house of the Russian parliament summoned representatives of Google and Apple to rebuke them for allegedly “interfering” in the vote. The tech companies’ ostensible offense: allowing users to access a voting assistance app created by supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In the end, both companies buckled and removed the app from their online stores.

Much of the resulting coverage depicted Moscow’s crackdown on the two Silicon Valley platforms as just another part of the government’s broader assault on freedom of expression. But focusing on that aspect, as accurate as it is, risks missing a bigger story.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny hold signs saying “Navalny” at a rally in Moscow last December protesting a court verdict against the anti-corruption blogger. Navalny received a suspended sentence for embezzling money, but his brother was jailed in a case seen as part of a campaign to stifle dissent. (Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters)

In late November, the number of websites being blocked in Russia reached 1 million, according to Roskomsvoboda, the country’s independent Internet censorship watchdog. This did not surprise the Russian online community, which is used to bad news. The Kremlin’s offensive against Internet freedom has intensified dramatically over the past three years, including the creation of website blacklists, the updating of an advanced national system of online surveillance and increased pressure on international Internet companies to share data with Russian security services.

The failure of the 2011-13 Moscow protests, Russia’s version of a “Twitter Revolution”, to ease Vladimir Putin’s grip on the country, along with all the depressing news from the Middle East, has led many to question the idea that online technology can be used to facilitate political change.…  Seguir leyendo »