Putin's War on the Internet
In two extraordinary developments this month, former National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander and former CIA Director of Operations Jack Devine launched all-out assaults on U.S. traitor Edward Snowden, accusing him of being a Russian agent. Meanwhile, even as he launched his own assault on Russia’s smaller neighbors, Vladimir Putin began to implement a Final Solution for Russia’s Internet and thanked Snowden very kindly for inspiring it.
In an op-ed for Politico, Devine opined that Snowden was likely a Russian agent, calling him a “narcissistic, often delusional under-achiever” who was obsessed with a fantasy world of video games and whom the Russians “could hope to turn into [a] loose-lipped source.”
And Alexander was right behind him, telling The Australian Financial Review that “I think he is now being manipulated by Russian intelligence. I just don’t know when that exactly started or how deep it runs. Understand as well that they’re only going to let him do those things that benefit Russia, or stand to help improve Snowden’s credibility. They're not going to do things that would hurt themselves. And they’re not going to allow him to do it."
As if to confirm it, Putin launched an all-out war on the Russian Internet in Snowden’s name, claiming it was Snowden whose revelations made these actions necessary, and Edward offered nary a word of protest in response. Likewise, Snowden mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald was silent on the Putin crackdown.
If you think I am being hyperbolic in using the term “all-out war” you have not heard about Andrei Lugovoi. He’s the KGB agent most believe was responsible for the assassination of neo-Soviet dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. In response, Russia did not just refuse to extradite Lugovoi for trial (or to try him in Russia) but gave him pride of place in parliament. Now, his next hit job is to liquidate Russia’s answer to Google, the Yandex website that lies at the heart of the Runet. And Putin’s flunkies have also put the word out that Twitter is in the Kremlin’s cross hairs as well.
There’s scant reason to believe Putin won’t get away with muzzling the Runet. In fact, its leading champion, Alexei Navalny, has been silenced with house arrest that forbids him from using the Internet (and forbids others from linking to him) and he faces a new round of trumped up criminal charges that could send him away to Putin’s neo-Soviet gulag for years.
Imagine that Barack Obama took over NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX and overnight they became exactly like MSNBC. Then, when this was criticized on the Internet, Twitter, and Google were both shut down on Obama’s orders, and blogger Michelle Malkin was placed under house arrest. Finally, Obama announced that Snowden’s revelations required these actions. Now you have some sense of what is happening in Russia today. If you make Obama a career CIA spy, that is.
Russia is using Snowden as cover to actually do there what Snowden delusionally imagined might happen in the USA. For years, we were told that we did not need to resist Putin’s relentless crackdown on print and TV journalism in Russia because there was nothing he could do to rein in Russia’s Internet and that would always counterbalance the state’s version of events. But now it’s very clear this was a fantasy, and Putin is more than capable of liquidating the Runet.
One of Russia’s last remaining bastions of actual journalism is its version of the Wall Street Journal, called Vedemosti (“Details”). Its opinion page editor recently wrote in the New York Times that Putin is slowly squeezing the life out of the Russian media and using the same rationalization to do so that was relied upon by the USSR:
Mr. Putin will argue that the West is punishing Russia for its international ambitions and that we, the Russian people, will have to persevere. This is the type of social contract the Soviet government used to impose on its citizens: The enemy is at the gate, and we all have to hunker down. Mr. Putin is bringing this siege mentality back because he knows very well how to work it to his advantage.
Thus, we have the anomalous situation that as Russia slides into recession the desire of Russians to protest is falling rather than rising because, steeped in the Kremlin’s propaganda, they simply lack basic information about Putin’s performance that would motivate them to want to make a challenge.
Another telling example was provided by Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch. She poured scorn on Putin’s neo-Soviet effort to respond to human rights atrocities by Russians with “whataboutism” accusing the accusers. Putin’s laughable attempt to do so clearly echoes precisely the same tactics that were used in Soviet times. In fact, Human Rights Watch believes that Putin is using Ukraine as cover for a dramatic new escalation in his neo-Soviet crackdown within Russia.
Indeed, there does not appear to be any neo-Soviet depth to which Putin will not seek, which was also true of the Soviet leadership. Putin is making common cause with North Korea just as the Poliburo once did and bringing back old-school Soviet-style anti-Semitism. There’s even talk of his reviving the horrific Soviet practice of encouraging children to inform on their anti-state parents.
As leading Russia pundit Lilia Shevtsova puts it, Russia has chosen to exist in a state of “perpetual war” with the civilized world. She states:
The Kremlin’s efforts to root Russian identity and patriotism in shows of force and in seminal historical events like the victory in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) has prompted a continuous search for enemies. Russia has embarked on a path of perpetual war (or at least perpetual confrontation) with those who refuse to accept this identity—whether those enemies are to be found beyond Russia’s borders or within them. Cooperative gestures by other nations will not change this paradigm; it can only be undone when those who set it in motion relinquish power.
From the beginning, Putin has been quite open in expressing his admiration for the Soviet model, and his most recent pronouncements make clear he does not limit his revanchism to the control of journalism and dissent. He wants to bring back the USSR, replacing Communism with Russian Orthodox religion. He’s actually doing what we were told could never happen.
Snowden, meanwhile, was recently “honored” by being named student rector of Glasgow University in Scotland. Two of his predecessors in that job were the traitor Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed secrets about Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press, and convicted kidnapper Winnie Mandela.
Just as we were wrong to let ourselves be duped into believing that Russia could “never go back” to the dark failure of its Soviet past, we are equally wrong to imagine there are not still many among us who can be suckered by the Russians into helping them turn back the clock.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larsussophobe.