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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: January 29, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian-Backed Separatists Plan 'League of Newest States'

The Russian-backed leadership of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) plans to hold a summit of all the breakaway regions that the Kremlin has forced into existence in the last decade.

RIA Novosti reports that Aleksandr Kofman, the DNR's foreign minister, announced on Oplot TV that the meeting will be held in February or March of this year.

Oplot is the name of both the fight club and the battalion of fighters headed by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the DNR.

Kofman claimed that "negotiations were already held and consent already obtained" for the conference which plans to declare a "League of Newest States."

Earlier the foreign ministry of the breakaway South Ossetia announced it would establish diplomatic relations with the DNR, and Abkhazia is also discussing this. Both are regions separated from Georgia after the 2008 war which have not been recognized by Western governments.

The question is: which regions from which "frozen conflicts" fomented by Russia will join the "League of Newest States"?

The blogger Colonel Cossad reprinted a map from Argumenty i Fakty which shows a number of such regions in Eurasia and Africa:

League-of-Newest-States.jpg

These are (clockwise):

Transdnistria
Abkhazia
South Ossetia
Waziristan (Pakistan)
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
Turkish Republic of North Cyrpus
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara)
Territory of Somalia
Kosovo

Colonel Cassad noted that the congress might include "those partially recognized states or territories without state status like Basque, Flanders, Venice and Texas."

Kosovo is already recognized by Western governments although not Serbia or Russia, and would hardly be likely to attend a DNR-inspired event which is just a front for the Kremlin. We dare say Texas wouldn't participate, either, although knowing how Russian organizers have been able to collect representatives from various extreme right- or left-wing parties in Europe and the US for various ventures like "election-monitoring," anything is possible.

Comments Colonel Cassad (translation by The Interpreter)

This is an entirely good venture on the part of the DNR foreign ministry even in the purely propagandistic sense. Exploiting modern separatist tendencies (especially in Europe) can lend the problem of the people's republics of Donbass a somewhat different level.


Yes, otherwise they might just be places where Russia has instigated war, that are currently designated as "certain districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions" in the Minsk talks, where the maps of the front line have been disputed.

We notice that the "League of Independent States" doesn't want to include breakaway regions from Russia like Chechnya, retained in the Russian Federation at the cost of two wars causing hundreds of thousands of lives, much less movements for more autonomy such as have appeared in Siberia. Nor does it include successful European autonomous regions like the Aland Islands.

That's because the purpose does not really appear to be strengthening autonomy so much as disrupting Western-leaning countries or territories Russia opposes.

Even Colonel Cassad admits that this venture "was quite likely coordinated with Moscow." He believes that these aspirational rump statelets are "not only an element of the collapse of the old world but the bricks in the foundation of the new world which has still not appeared" -- although a lot of it looks like the old world of Soviet imperialism.

And the agenda is unmistakeable: "If Russia plans a long-term battle with the USA and its hegemony, then the support of separatists tendencies in the EU and the USA itself if of course one of the instruments of russian foreign policy," says Colonel Cassad.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick



The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
EU Votes to Extend Sanctions Against Russia over War in Ukraine

The European Union has voted to extend sanctions against Russia, AP and other wire services reported.

AP reported today:

Consensus was found but some pointed out that instead of mentioning the threat of economic sanctions, the joint statement only mentioned "any appropriate action" was on the table for the Feb. 12 EU summit of government leaders. It was wording seen as a concession to those seeking to keep dialogue going with Russia.

France and some others said that while firmness was essential, room for negotiation had to be kept open.

Denmark was pleased no such rash action was taken Thursday.

"It makes sense that we don't decide on economic sanctions before we see how Russia will behave. We still have the hope that this will be the push to Russia to go to the negotiation table," said Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard.

Mogherini insisted though that "When I say any action, it means any."

She said that on top of Thursday's decision to extend the first batch of sanctions, the EU was also preparing a list of new officials to be put on the visa ban and asset freeze program, which could be confirmed as soon as Feb. 9.

"We hope that this can help in putting pressure, in particular on Russia, to make positive steps and prevent the negative steps that we have seen in the recent days," Mogherini said.

The factor that seemed to turn the tide for Mogherini and other EU diplomats was the Russian-backed assault on Mariupol last Saturday, January 24, when separatists led by a Russian officer fired Grad missiles on the city, killing 30 civilians and wounding 90.

OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission visited the sites of many craters left by the Grad and Uragan missiles and made a clear-cut assessment:

According to the impact analysis, the Grad rockets originated from a north-easterly direction, in the area of Oktyabr (19 km north-east of Olimpiiska Street), and the Uragan rockets from an easterly direction, in the area of Zaichenko (15 km east of Olimpiiska Street), both controlled by the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”).

Lithuania, which is currently a member of the UN Security Council, has also been very outspoken against Russia's role in the war in Ukraine.



But despite clear-cut evidence that Russia was continuing to escalate the war on Ukraine, and the belief of many European leaders that sanctions were still warranted, there were fears this week that Greece, which has recently elected a new government with two pro-Putin parties in the coalition, the far-left SYRIZA and far-right ANEL, would prevent consensus on the sanctions.

The fact that all the EU foreign ministers meeting today in Brussels, including the new Greek minister, agreed on the extension, was characterized by the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders as a "strong signal toward Russia."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Smolensk Woman Accused of Treason for Informing Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow About Russian GRU Troops Sent to Ukraine

A Russian woman has been placed in pre-trial detention in Lefortovo Prison on charges of "state treason" for reporting on the possible deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine, Kommersant reports.

Svetlana Davydova of the city of Vyazma in Smolensk District  has been detained for reporting to the Ukrainian Embassy in April 2014 that the building next to her house where a military unit was usually stationed was empty, and the soldiers may have been sent to Donetsk.

Davydova, mother of seven, and her husband Anatoly Gorlov were awakened by police at 8:30 on January 21 who told  them through the door that the neighbors had complained about them. When Gorlov opened the door, men in black camouflage burst into the apartment. Among them was a plain-clothed man, Col. Mikhail Svinolup, an investigator from the special cases department of the investigative division of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Svinolup informed Davydova that she was under arrest under Art. 275 of the Russian Criminal Code ("state treason").

Davydova-2.jpg
Svetlana Davydova and infant.


Their home was searched, and all notebooks as well as a computer and laptop were seized. A day later, Gorlov learned his wife had been taken by convoy to Lefortovo. Her case is registered under No. 3/1-10/2015. A judge had already issued the warrant for her detention, and the fact that she had seven children was not taken into consideration.

Last April, Davydova noticed the unit No. 48886 was gone from the building next to her home. It is the home of the 82nd Separate Radio Technology Red Banner Alexander Nevsky Brigade of the GRU, or Russian military intelligence.

Davydova says that she then went to the center of town on errands, and on the commuter bus saw one of the soldiers from the 82nd Brigade. It was not hard to tell who he was; as Gorlov recounts the story, he was talking on his cell phone loud enough for the whole bus to hear, and saying that he and his fellow soldiers  "were being sent to Moscow in small groups, compulsorily in plain-clothes, and then would be sent on a trip from there." Davydova, who followed the situation in eastern Ukraine with interest, decided that he must be referring to a trip to Donetsk.

Next, she decided to warn the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, and even made a note for herself about the phone call -- which is now attached to her treason case, said Gorlov. She said she wanted to prevent casualties, he recalls.

The Ukrainian Embassy has not had any comment on the arrest but Gorlov claims that at the time, they took down the information. He says (translation by The Interpreter):

"Sveta [Svetlana] is against this war in general, but I would not say that we are some sort of active participants in anti-war rallies or opposition members. She was in the KPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation) but then she left to raise her children. I don't know how the FSB found out about all this."

The FSB told Kommersant that they would answer questions on the case in a month.

Anna Stavitskaya, an attorney who earlier defended Igor Sutyagin, a military expert arrested on false charges of espionage, has commented on the case. She noted that the "treason" charge, which is interpreted to mean disclosure of state secrets or help or assistance to another state carries up to 20 years of prison.

Stavitskaya noticed an interesting facet of this case:

"It turns out that during this case, the FSB will have to admit the fact that soldiers were sent to Ukraine, or confirm that a neighboring state is at war with us and about to attack us. So in any event, it places investigators in an awkward position," she said.

Davydova had no access to state secrets as she was not admitted to classified work. "Her story referencing a conversation she heard somewhere and her assessment of the reality cannot be disclosure of a state secret," said Savitskaya.

Both Russian and Ukrainian military leaders have claimed that Russia has no regular army fighting in Ukraine, only "volunteers." But stories like that of Davydova cast doubt on the official claims.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
UK Summons Russian Ambassador Over Russian Strategic Bombers Flying Over The English Channel
Sky News has these news alerts:

Reuters adds these details about the actual incident:

British Typhoon fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian Bear long-range bombers which had flown close to UK airspace, Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Thursday.

The Russian planes were detected flying over the Channel, south of England, on Wednesday and typhoons were launched from Royal Air Force (RAF) bases at Lossiemouth in Scotland and Coningsby in eastern England, the MoD said.

"The Russian planes were escorted by the RAF until they were out of the UK area of interest. At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into UK sovereign airspace," the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

As we've been reporting for nearly a year, such incidents used to be rare but have become alarmingly common over the last year. As evidence of this, Daily Mail has posted this picture of a "Russian Bear is escorted by an RAF jet during an alert in September."

2525BD2D00000578-0-image-a-3_14224843161

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Confessions of a Former Kremlin Troll

A new report has come out on sobaka.ru about the infamous "Kremlin troll farm" located at 55 Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg.

Sobaka.ru (the name means "dog" in Russian) is a news and entertainment site in Russia's 14 largest cities.

A woman who worked inside what she called "a giant propaganda machine" has told her story on condition of anonymity, and explained why "you can't last long at at such a job," says sobaka.ru.

The troll farm is able to attract workers by advertising widely through head-hunting firms looking for "copy-writers" or "content managers." If they are trying to hide the nature of the work, it's a flimsy job as the pay -- 40,000-50,000 ($579 to $726) a month -- and the address (Metro stop Staraya Derevnya/Chernaya Rechka) are always the same in the ads and and have long been associated in St. Petersburg media coverage with President Vladimir Putin's "information war."

Little is mentioned about the job in the interview, as the theory is that for such high pay by Russian standards, most people won't ask too many questions.

The base pay for bloggers -- people who write in LiveJournal and social media -- and other "content managers" including "SEO specialists" or designers of patriotic "demotivator" posters, called "illustration" -- is 45,000 rubles ($653). Those at higher positions earn 55,000-60,000 ($797-$939).

To enter the building on Savushkina, you have to show your passport if you don't already have a pass. The managers collect a lot of information from you; your complete work history, even your parents' workplaces; then ask you to "rewrite" a piece of current news. Says the former worker:

"You get the impression that they hire anyone who can prove that they can write and speak Russia. Meanwhile, they don't reveal any information about where you've landed; 'a media holding company, several sites, you have to earn traffic, the pay is higher than average.'"

Each "troll farmer" is expected to work the hours from 9:00 to 5:30 pm and produce 20 news items, of which 70% are to be original items.

"There are a total of 12 sites in the holding, as I understand it, on various topics, but all of them deal with politics and Ukraine one way or another," says the woman.

The business card says "Federal News Agency" (FAN) but most of the traffic comes from a so-called "Kharkiv News Agency"  (ironically called nahnews.com.ua). Although the site feigns to be Ukrainian "all the news is made at Savushkina 55," says the source. There are several such "Ukrainian" sites including the best known one, "Anti-Maidan" which were started in July 2014. The site doesn't have outright fakes like some Russian propaganda sites, but it does hew to the Moscow line, calling the Russian-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine "militia."

The "farm" has something of a "Big Brother," says the ex-troll:

The first days you simply don't understand where you are, why you're rewriting this news and filling the site with it. You get the impression that it's some kind of social experiment or reality show, especially because in each open space, where there are about 20-30 employees seated, there are observation cameras.

There are never any editorial meetings or even ideological instruction; it is expected that workers know what to do, and guidance only comes at the level of the chief editors. The workers mainly seem to have come from provincial cities in Russia and they are often hipsters -- dread-locks or piercings are common. The workers are divided into three categories, says the former worker:

1) "They pay me and I could care less, I don't even know what goes on," many of these people have families, loans to pay, etc.
2) "Yes, I know this is a pro-Kremlin troll factory but the hell with the mental anguish -- they pay me and that's enough;
3) "I am waging an information war against the fascist junta!" -- the last category is fewest in number.

"Practically nothing is asked about your personal political beliefs when you are hired for the job," she says.

FAN occupies only one floor of the four-story building on 55 Savushkina St. -- the other floors have other "troll" operations who place aggressive comments on forums, for example; those working on the Ukraine sites "regard them with an irony verging nevertheless on a certain fear."

The bosses are only after one thing -- traffic, number of views and unique visitors per day, a number which is supposed to rise by 3,000 every day. The SEO department is engaged in crude spamming, which is why the sites are often blocked in Google and VKontakte.

The managers whip their site editors and they in turn pressure their workers to find breaking news and be the first to re-write it. There's a focus on murders, rapes and other police blotter stories and then show business gossip, features on the Russian pop singer Alla Pugacheva or Madonna in order to get traffic. Negative stories about gays are popular, as are those about feminism and the Ukrainian activists Femen, but the main news is "Putin, Crimea, and 'Novorossiya," says the author.

While the managers make reference to the need to attract clicks and get advertising revenue, in fact this only draws a smile because the operation is widely understood to be government subsidized.

Finally the soul-killing work took its toll, says the former paid troll:

The decision to leave the "troll preserve" was long in maturing. On the one hand, I realized that such non-manual labor with a decent salary for St. Petersburg would be hard to find under the conditions of the crisis; there was never a single day on Savushkina where I encountered any insurmountable difficulties actually of a technical nature. The issue was the psychological burden of this work. By December, I had a tic in my eye from nervous stress and I dreamed all night of writing and re-writing news about Putin and Ukraine. Moreover, I hew to liberal views; among my acquaintances are quite a few opposition-minded people, and at a certain point I realized that I was simply ashamed to say where I worked. All of those factors outweighed considerations of comfort and I resigned in relief.

See our past reports on the St. Petersburg troll farm:

The Kremlin's Growing Army of Trolls

Here Comes the Kremlin's Troll Army


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick


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