Kremlin’s Reach Widening on the Internet

One of the remaining spaces for opposition voices in Russia is the internet. While the Kremlin has taken steps to control all other forms of mass-media, including television, radio and print, it has remained as an open system where anyone can openly speak their mind. Now, it appears that the Kremlin and its allies are squeezing the online opposition, by such means as entering the blogosphere, pulling media on grounds of “extremism,” and buying out opposition websites.

On October 28th, the Washington Post reported on a number of such cases. The most prominent detailed the events of April 14th, 2007, when hundreds took to the streets in Moscow for a demonstration dubbed the “Dissenter’s March”. Meanwhile, Kremlin-funded bloggers wrote articles about a much smaller, pro-Kremlin march that was also taking place. The blogs then inter-linked each other, and as result pushed out posts about the Dissenter’s march from popular blog-listing sites. One of the masterminds, Pavel Danilin, commented that “We played it beautifully.”

As internet use has climbed to nearly 25 percent of the adult population, the top brass have realized that it provides problematic, unedited content. The editor of the Nashi youth group website, Andrei Osipov, told the Washington Post:

“You watch the first channel or the second channel and you can only see good things happening in Russia.

“The Internet is the freest mass media. . . . There is competition between state and opposition organizations.”

Meanwhile, the number of Russians going online seems to be reaching a summit. The Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow reported on October 16th that internet use was growing rapidly until this summer, when the growth nearly stopped. Specialists believe that cost barriers and provider monopolies are keeping most Russians offline, particularly in more rural areas.

This is poor news for the health of Russian independent media, which is already suffering. According to the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, Russia ranks 144th for press freedom, out of a total 169 countries. This puts Russia below Afghanistan (142), Yemen (143), and Sudan (140).