Analyses

The Russian independent media writes about the Kremlin’s propaganda in Europe and hunting down “terrorists” among “neo-Nazis” and pupils

Russian Special forces officers wait in a cordoned off area as the Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts an operation against wanted members of illegal armed units from the North Caucasus, in St. Petersburg, Russia, 17 August 2016.
© EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV   |   Russian Special forces officers wait in a cordoned off area as the Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts an operation against wanted members of illegal armed units from the North Caucasus, in St. Petersburg, Russia, 17 August 2016.

Susține jurnalismul independent

The Russian independent media writes that Russian special services have developed a new propensity for “preventing” terrorist attacks perpetrated by Ukrainian “nationalists”. Journalists also note that the Kremlin’s official channels are still followed by Russians in the European diaspora, although they have been banned at EU level.

THE INSIDER: Weapon of mass distortion. How Russian TV channels bypass sanctions and continue to broadcast in EU

In November, the German Center for Monitoring, Analysis, and Strategies (CeMAS) published the results of a survey suggesting that support for conspiracy interpretations of Russia's war against Ukraine has increased significantly in Germany since April 2022. In particular, about 44% of Germans agree (or partly agree) that “Putin is a fighter against the global elite that secretly runs the world”. Despite the European Union having banned Russian news channels from broadcasting in Europe, Russian propaganda, like its audience, easily circumvents these restrictions. Russian-speaking Europeans share tips on social media on how to reconfigure a satellite dish or view Russian channels via a set-top box. However, the most effective platform for propagandists is still YouTube because tracing and blocking all offending accounts is simply impossible.

Satellite dishes

Late in October, police in the Latvian city of Jelgava detained a man who was installing illegal television equipment and had provided access to banned Russian channels for a hundred or so households in and around Jelgava. During the searches, the police seized his television receivers, code cards, and other professional equipment. He was charged with illegal business activities and is currently awaiting trial. In Lithuania, the sales of satellite and television antennas increased as early as in March. The demand has particularly grown in the vicinity of Vilnius, closer to the Belarusian border, where Russian speakers still account for a large share of the population.

French satellite operator Eutelsat switched off the NTV-Mir channel on its HotBird satellite in August. NTV-Mir was the last Russian news channel to broadcast to Europe from a European satellite. However, Eutelsat continues to broadcast Russian state-owned channels to Russia, the occupied territories of Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, the Middle East, and North Africa.

The human rights group Reporters Without Borders appealed the decision of the French broadcasting regulator Arcom, which had allowed Eutelsat to continue transmitting Russian TV via French satellites. […] The French company has a long history of doing lucrative business in Russia, with its Russian subsidiary managed by Nikolai Orlov, the son of former Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov.

But even after European satellites have disabled Russian channels, you can reconfigure the dish to Russian satellites Express-AM8 and Express-80. […]

Set-top boxes

On June 6, the German video service Kartina TV, which was among Europe's largest re-transmitters of Russian TV channels until recently, announced on its website that it has disabled Russian TV channels Rossiya RTR/RTR Planeta, Rossiya 24/Rossiya 24, and TV Center/TVCi/TVC. […]

Kartina TV is a set-top box that uses original software with pre-installed channels and streaming platforms. Such video services abound, with some registered in jurisdictions that cannot be called transparent. We managed to connect to one such service and found almost all Russian news channels are on the list: Channel One, Russia 1, NTV, REN TV, and so on. The service positions itself as “the official operator of Russian TV abroad” and informs on its website that it “has licenses to show all channels in the Channel One family”. The contacts feature phone numbers with a German area code, despite the company being registered in Cyprus.

Applications of Russian TV news channels are blocked in Google Play Market and AppStore, but an Android-run set-top box allows for direct installation from an APK file through the file manager. […]

Apart from that, a scheme called “cardsharing” is gaining popularity in Europe – a method that enables the use of several independent receivers for watching pay-per-view satellite or cable TV channels with a single access card. All you need is an Internet connection. A Russian business or individual purchases satellite or cable TV access and resells it to other people, in Russia or abroad. […]

Social media

RT’s German-language YouTube channel was deleted for fakes about mass vaccination deaths in September 2021. Late in May 2022, a similar fate befell the German RT channel in TikTok. ZAK, the German regulator, blocked RT DE, which was broadcasting out of Serbia, back in early February, before the full-on invasion, but the German authorities are not too fervent in their combat against Russian propaganda online and on smart TV. Those who want to watch German-language RT stories in Germany can just browse the mirror of the old website. Germany, France, Finland, and a few more European countries are also yet to block the websites of Channel One, Russia 1, NTV, and other Russian news channels.

The Insider discovered a host of German-language Telegram channels and chat rooms spreading pro-Russian propaganda.

[…]

NOVAYA GAZETA. EUROPE: Terror trouble and colonels

In 10 years, Russia’s FSB went from fighting militants to looking for terrorists among school students and ‘Ukrainian neo-Nazis’, according to a Novaya Gazeta.Europe investigation.

It was 2018 when Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), declared that the armed bandit groups in North Caucasus had finally been put out of existence. It seemed as if the terrorist menace Vladimir Putin capitalized on to rise to power was no longer a thing. However, the FSB started finding new “future-oriented” focus areas: Crimean Tatars, Columbiners, and “Ukrainian neo-Nazis”. The notion of terrorism has been expanding its definition during the last 20 years and reached its peak after the invasion of Ukraine had started. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recorded three times as many terrorism crimes in the past six months alone than in 2012. Novaya Gazeta Europe has researched several hundred FSB reports on terrorist attacks Russia’s secret service had prevented in the latest decade and looked at what kind of people are being detained most often, who the “Ukrainian saboteurs” are and how the Russia-occupied Crimea became one of its most “dangerous” regions.

In April 2013, a counter-terrorist operation took place near the settlement of Gimry in Russia’s Dagestan. The extensiveness of the operation and the actions of the law enforcers resembled those of the Chechen Wars.

It started off when the security officers noticed a group of armed insurgents in a gorge near Gimry, led by the boss of the largest Islamist gang in Dagestan. The FSB blocked Gimry, concentrating several special units near the village, as well as armored vehicles and helicopters. Hundreds of local residents fled the locality when gunfire erupted. They had been dwelling in a square near a mosque in a neighbouring village for a week with no food or even tents for them to spend the nights in, Human Rights Watch reported back then.

Meanwhile, the FSB men were looting people’s houses, breaking doors, smashing house appliances and slaughtering livestock, the human rights organization says. Eventually, possessions of 450 families were destroyed, according to the Dagestani governor’s PR office. The FSB blew up the houses of the 10 families whose relatives were suspected to be linked with the underground resistance.

After the separatists had been routed in Chechnya in 2009, some insurgents moved to Dagestan, Ingushetia, and other regions in the North Caucasus. They would blow up police stations and attack police officers, while the FSB would persecute and kill the insurgents.

The agency killed at least 570 “Islamists” in the past ten years, reported preventing over 300 terror attacks in the North Caucasus, and declared its victory in the war against the underground movement in 2018.

The counter-terrorist activities of Russia’s security services halved after the reprisal against the insurgents: the FSB reported preventing 46 attacks in 2016 and only 26 of those in 2017.

The FSB executed a total of 48 counter-terrorist operations in 2020, a record within a six-year period. After the war had started, the efforts of Russia’s security agencies were redirected at fighting a new underground movement: more than half of the reported prevented attacks had been allegedly plotted by Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” and the country’s Security Service, namely seven attacks in November alone, as per the FSB’s information.

“The FSB directs its resources at the things the state considers a priority. Preventing terrorist attacks means loads of reports and demonstration of efficiency in responding political requests, which change their nature depending on the circumstances at any given time,” says Sergey Davidis, the head of Memorial’s Support for Political Prisoners project. “Usually, when there are no special political events, the most natural target for the FSB are Muslims. They also focus on children’s safety after notable school shootings. Now that the war is on, it’s understandable that the government is willing to demonstrate that the country that fell victim to aggression has major terrorist activity. This is how they justify their own criminal activities in the eyes of the people.”

Two “Ukrainian saboteurs” were shot dead by the FSB in the Voronezh region on 23 November, allegedly attempting to blow up power facilities. As The Moscow Times found out, the Rossiya-1 TV channel passed a logo from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video game off as a badge of Ukraine’s nationalists in an FSB-shot video, while the alleged Ukrainians turned out to be airsoft players from Voronezh.

Prior to the war, the FSB’s primary targets were armed insurgents and suicide bombers. The agency has prevented 30 bombings in crowded places in the last 10 years, according to official reports. After the war started, the FSB focused on anti-war acts. Half of the attacks the agency prevented in 2022 did not threaten people’s lives: the “terrorists” attacked the buildings used as offices for local authorities or attempted to cripple railroad tracks used to transport military equipment to the front lines.

[…]

According to the FSB, half of the attacks prevented in 2022 were set up by “Ukrainian nationalists”, the FSB says. In the first six months of 2022 alone, 32 out of 61 crimes of terrorist nature were prepared by “neo-Nazis”.

The agency took an interest in pro-Ukrainian ultra-rightists shortly before the start of the war. In two years, the FSB organized several massive raids on “neo-Nazis”: 106 people were detained in December 2021, 60 were detained in March 2022, and up to 187 in September 2022.

[…]

“Before Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula enjoyed much diversity in terms of religion,” says Maria Kravchenko, an expert with the Sova center. “Hizb ut-Tahrir was also present there. It turned out eventually that its ban in Russia was a handy excuse for the persecution of Crimean Tatars. Not only the supporters of the organization faced pressure, but also their relatives and local human rights defenders.”

At first, Maria Kravchenko recounts, Crimean Tatars received parole or short-term sentences for extremism. In 2013, a new Criminal Code provision introduced penalties for taking part in terrorist organizations, being the most invoked article regulating terrorism cases. In nine years, 554 people were sentenced based on this provision. According to the Memorial organization, over half of them are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

“The maximum sentence has gone up to 23 years, simply because people assemble, read party literature and discuss religious topics. It’s enough to get you sentenced for affiliation to a banned organization. There are no terrorist plans or any real action preparing a coup”, Maria Kravchenko went on to say. […]

ISTORIES: Russia and Iran exchange expertise in terms of suppressing protests

The prosecutor’s offices of the two countries have signed a cooperation project designed to combat crime and announced the setup of a task force, Istories.media writes.

Iran and Russia agreed to set up a task force charged with combating crime. The two-year cooperation deal was signed during the visit to Teheran of Russia’s Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, the press service of the Russian department reports.

During his meeting with the head of the Iranian judiciary, Gholam-Hassein Mohseni-Ejei, Krasnov said that Iran and Russia are facing similar threats in the fields of extremism, terrorism, cybercrime, drugs and arms trafficking and other “dangerous criminal dealings”.

The two institutions agreed to cooperate to combat “terrorism and extremism, including on the Internet”. Another topical issue is “repelling external attempts at destabilizing the domestic context, thus paving the way for mass riots”, Krasnov argued”.

[…]

Mariana Vasilache




Mariana Vasilache

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