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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Commissars of the Internet: Part I, Installment 2

Today we bring you the second installment in the "Commissars of the Internet" series, an original LR translation which exposes how the Kremlin is attempting to take control of the Internet. Yesterday, we read the author's introduction to the subject of establishing professional "Internet Brigades" to launch attacks on anyone who dares to criticize the Kremlin. Today, we learn the details about their organization and activities.

Here is Part I, Installment 2: Characteristics of the "Brigade"

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
September 16, 2006

(continued from Monday)

Characteristic Indicators of a “Brigade”

We have tried to systematically characterize the activities of this “Brigade”, which can now be found on all liberal and pro-democracy open forums of the RuNet and in various online publications read by the educated classes. Communist, nationalist, pro-fascist and mass media sites were not considered in our study.

Round-the-clock presence on forums

At least one of the uniform members of the brigade can be found “online” at all times, always ready to repulse any “attack” by a liberal. During a 24-hour period, there is not a single hour when one can carry on a discussion in a forum without these “curators” being present. In any discussion, someone from the “Brigade” will invariably muscle in. The Brigade in fact stands guard day and night on all meaningful forums, periodically wandering from forum to forum with the same set of materials and advertisements.

Plasticity of ideology, always coinciding with the government

The brigade invariably and fervently propagates a fairly eclectic system of viewpoints and values, corresponding exactly to the very latest directions of government PR, including the ideology and policies of the Russian leadership. Any change in government instructions is immediately followed by sharp changes in the views of all members of the “Brigade”. In cases where government propaganda for some reason has to suddenly change course regarding, for example, the USA, or Mayor Luzhkov, the very same brigade member will permanently “forget” one or another individual, who until recently was either “worshiped” or conversely “fire-branded”, and begin to propagandize about something that only yesterday was hated, or vice-versa. Praises are sung as zealously as slanders were the day before. All of this is done without the slightest embarrassment or care for their personal reputations.

One of the more recent [2003] examples was in discussions of the issues surrounding the Kuril Islands [annexed by Russia at the end of WW-II, but are still claimed by Japan]. If in 2000 all members of the Brigade sang in a single voice: “Not one inch of our native land to the damned Japanese”, then in 2003, after the completion of negotiations between Putin and the Japanese leadership, the very same authors, under the same nicknames, were suddenly entirely open to the possibility of the islands changing hands in exchange for money or large-scale Japanese investments, and with great satisfaction would count off the many benefits of such a trade.

Conversely, during the time when a bill on the storage of nuclear waste in Russia was working its way through the Russian Duma, members of the Brigade passionately tried to persuade forum readers of the “definite usefulness, profitability and security” of turning Russia into the world’s nuclear cesspool. Individuals working on this propaganda projected themselves as “private citizens and patriotically-spirited emigrants”, but were clearly using information from the press service of the Ministry of Atomic Energy (MinAtom).

The camp complexes were scattered throughout the entire country, and not only in the backwaters, but even in capital cities. They were so disguised that the uninitiated would never guess what they were. By the mid-1940’s, they numbered several hundred, and in every one there were from several dozen to more than a million prisoners. It was often the case in remote regions of the country that prisoners outnumbered the local free residents. And the budget of a camp complex might exceeded by several times the budget of the region, state or several states in which it was located.

Boundless loyalty to Putin and his circle

Members of the web-brigade, with nicknames that are “twisted” and unknown to the forum, always make a point of expressing their immeasurable affection for Putin. They are prepared to destroy anyone who expresses even the slightest doubt about the merits of the Russian President. For the slightest criticism of Vladimir Vladimirovych, they will threaten their opponents and their opponents’ families with lawsuits, beatings, murder and other reprisals. The final form – threats to opponents’ families – are not isolated cases, but a widespread phenomenon on all political web forums. Sometimes members of the Brigade very openly announce their intentions for being on the forum. For example:

“Let’s support the first President in the last 11 years who has tried to change the course of history for our long-suffering Motherland. Let’s judge him by his deeds, and not by the gossip purveyed by the club-girl-loving mass media. Let’s put forward some constructive proposals here, so that if (hah-hah) the KGB were to show up here, Putin would have laid out before him on his desk a file containing the ‘voice of the people’, intelligently discussing the problems of ‘today’ and proposing solutions for ‘tomorrow’, rather than the cackling of a bazaar.”

This text is interesting in its ingenuous openness, its simple and comprehensible presentation of the Brigade’s assignment. What is curious is only that the information in the hypothetical presentation of the “voice of the people” from the forum would be “laid out before Putin” in the form of a rationalized proposal, but without any criticism, which might spoil the President’s mood. This is reminiscent of a 1930’s satirical epigram that went around along these lines:

“We’re for laughter, but we need,
Someone nicer than Shchedrin,
And those guys like Gogol,
So they’ll let us be.”

This rhyme could be placed as an epigraph on the Brigade’s version of the life and times of the Russian President.

Respect and admiration for the VChK-KGB-FSB

The brigadniki are overflowing with affection and respect for the FSB and all its historical incarnations, beginning with the ChK-OGPU and so forth. All reincarnations of the ChK-KGB are called “neo-noble”, “law-enforcement” and “civics-instructing patriotic” agencies, the activities of which, including the Gulag system, should be a source of pride for Russians. Any participant in an online discussion who shows insufficient respect for the VChK-FSB is denounced by the Brigade as an “enemy of Russia, a Russophobe, and a betrayer of the Motherland.” The Brigade constantly underscores the “honor, heroism and impartiality” of the Chekisti, the “selflessness and devotion of their service to the state and Motherland”, and their “incorruptibility”, in contrast to other government workers. The Brigade will make declarations like the following:

“The Russian special services have always existed, just as they existed, currently exist and always will exist in the countries of the West.” Or this: “The FSB is a ‘special service’ just like the FBI in the U.S., the MOSSAD in Israel or MI-6 in Great Britain,” etc.

Condemnation of the actions of the KGB-FSB by any participant of a discussion group excites genuinely strong feelings from all members of the brigade. For instance, the following was directed at a reader, who expressed less than sufficient respect toward the KGB-FSB (we request the reader excuse the language, although it is presented as it was in the original):

“EVERY MAGGOT DREAMS OF BECOMING A LOUSE. EVERY MAGGOT ON A FORUM DREAMS OF BEING NOTICED BY THE KGB. He cries out ,he wriggles and prays: “Notice me -- I’m the very biggest maggot!” But the KGB sets you aside with its instruments; it definitely is NOT INTERESTED in maggots. Grow up to the size of a louse, a mongrel, and maybe they’ll notice you.”

The Brigade has lately shown a tendency to separate the FSB from all its previous incarnations and renamings, and to present the organization not as the direct successor of the VChK-OGPU-NKVD, etc., (as it is presented in all of its official symbols), but as some sort of “self-born Aphrodite”, supposedly appearing only yesterday, literally out of thin air.

The key word which will invariably drive the brigadniki from their hiding places and force them to reveal their true colors is “lustration”.* [TN: Historically the term for various ancient Greek and Roman purification rituals. In the period after the fall of the European Communist states in 1989–1991, the term came to refer to the policy of limiting participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in the successor governments, or even in civil service positions.] Not a single member of the Brigade can for even one second comport himself to the idea of a peaceful, legal limit on the choices of profession available to former Party bosses and KGB officers. Usually, after even the most peaceful and non-accusatory mention of the word “lustration”, the brigade will cry out in a choir about “bloody repressions by democratic murderers” and “witch hunts”, after which they will collapse into a collective hysteria of obscenities.

Main Directions of Propaganda

On every Russian language political forum, brigadniki conduct targeted propaganda that is anti-liberal, anti-American, anti-Chechen, anti-Semitic and anti-western. By way of proving their slogans and theories, they introduce arbitrary tracts full of facts and events -- often completely fraudulent -- that force their opponents to do extensive research to refute them. This modus operandi is easy and effective, distracting opponents away from pointed discussions that are uncomfortable for the authorities. Members of the Brigade use every polemical resource available, including generous quotes from official and semi-official Russian government propaganda, such as articles from the online journal “” or the resurrected “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. Sometimes they recycle ideological artifacts from previous years, for example, Yakovlev’s book “CIA versus USSR”. In addition, they widely employ materials like “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. They constantly quote (without attribution) from the “Short Course of the VKP(b)”. One can compile a list of the myths and main ideological values of the web-brigade, including:

1. Vindication of Stalinism, the rehabilitation of Stalin and his imperial idea of a greater Russian people. A cult of Stalin and Dzerzhinskiy , the founder of the ChK. Minimizing the number of victims of the Lenin-Stalin repressions.

2. Prohibition of any discussion of lustration* and the crimes of the ChK-NKVD-KGB. The absolute sacredness of this organization from the day of its founding to the current day.

3. Unswerving Judeophopia.

4. Loyalty to every action and announcement of the current authorities, and a cult of Putin. Stories about the economic and social blossoming of Russia under his leadership.

5. Propaganda in favor of the war in Chechnya, “taken to every last Chechen”. Stories about how “Chechnya attacked Russia.” Mythical stories about “hundreds of thousands of Russians” killed by Chechens at the beginning of the 1990’s, before the beginning of the war. In the Brigade’s texts the number of these casualties grows every month. If two years ago they set the number at 20,000 dead, today they say a million Russian residents of Chechnya have been killed. The entire population of the republic is less than the number of dead Russians counted by the brigade.

6. Xenophobia, racism, approval of skinheads and pogroms.

7. Ruthless hatred of refugees and defectors from the KGB.

8. Anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and a fiery hatred of anyone who mentions the “Cold War” period.

9. Nostalgia for the USSR, as a totalitarian empire and great power, which the whole world feared.

10. Restoration of the historical concepts and propagandist clichés of the Soviet period, with the exception only of Internationalism.

11. Hatred of the educated classes, especially émigrés, whom the Brigade calls “betrayers of the Motherland.”

12. Hatred of dissidents and human rights workers, political prisoners and journalists – as in the past, so in the present.

13. Hatred of perestroika, its ideology, its practitioners and major events. Hatred of the Yeltsin period and of him personally.

14. A relatively new piece of ideological baggage for the Brigade, above and beyond the propaganda of the USSR, is the accusation of “Russophobia” against everyone who disagrees with them. As used by members of the Brigade, this term resembles the obsolete term “anti-Soviet”, and an accusation of Russophobia has come to appear as a modern equivalent of the Brezhnev-era Article 70 of the Criminal Code (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”).

Ideological enemies of the Brigade

The main enemies of the Brigade are democrats (“trashocrats”), liberal westerners, Chechens, Europeans, Americans, Jews… [TN: ellipses in original] Objects of special hatred include the Russian liberal intelligentsia, independent journalists, members of the human rights movement, and certain individuals, including S. Kovalev, E. Bonner, A. Babitskiy, A. Politkovskaya, G. Pas’ko, V. Shenderovich, V. Novodvorskaya and others who are famous for their criticism of the current authorities. The brigadniki always favor limiting freedom of speech in the name of “higher interests of the State”, and introducing strict censorship, right up to the arresting of intellectuals, human rights workers and journalists who are not of the right opinions. The Brigade calls the journalist and ecologist Grigoriy Pas’ko a “spy and betrayer of the Motherland”. By contrast, in the case of Yuri Budanov [TN: the only Russian military officer ever convicted by a Russian court for war crimes in Chechnya] , the Brigade shows the highest level of sympathy and even approval. Budanov is presented as either an innocent victim (of the war, his wounds, a nervous breakdown, a sell-out by generals, liberal journalists, corrupt justice, etc.), or as a “genuine patriot”, “true Russian officer”, “loyal son of the Fatherland” and even “the pride and hero of Russia”.

Paradoxically, the Brigade also views as enemies many of the liberal authors of the articles they discuss on the forums. In other words, members of the Brigade, presenting themselves as honest and private citizens, troll around on and occupy forums they don’t like, round the clock, for years, discussing authors they hate. And yet another great paradox: the editors take no actions against people who run down their own authors, but take decisive action against the opponents of those people, who support their liberal journalists.

For example, in a readers’ discussion of a memoir by Viktor Shenderovich in the journal “Moskovskiye Novosti”, the site administrator (under obvious pressure by the forum’s Brigade) deleted several remarks about the article, but left the positings of brigadniki claiming that the article’s author “has licked out Gusinskiy’s ass, and now is giving Berezovskiy oral sex”.



Penny said...

I wonder how many of the Putin defending trolls that show up here are part of the “Brigade”? I'm sure the FSB trolls the English language sites.

Useful idiots or formal brigadniki, both are fascists cut from the same cloth.

Giustino said...

They are on Wikipedia too. I had to re-edit the Estonia article on several occasions. But I won in the end, because I am one stubborn MF.

Vova said...

[S]trawberry-loving mass media... A poor translation of клубничка which means girlie pictures or clubber girls

La Russophobe said...


Our translator asks us to thank you for your close reading of his text and englightening observations about the Russian term "клубничка". The translator has specifically asked if you would be interested in commenting on "lustration" either linguistically or substantively and would like to know your overall impression of the Russian text.

Anonymous said...

All good stuff. But it would be a stronger indictment if the series included specific citations (site, date). It's also somewhat off-putting that a "more recent" case cited is dated 2003. When did this phenomenon start to surface?

La Russophobe said...

NEIL: Thanks for the comment. I think the answer to your question is that, so far, the world has totally failed to provide the basic level of support to Russians like these. The work on this article started, and the initial results were published, years ago. Yet, it's only now, and only on this blog, that the material finally sees the light of day in English. And now that is has, will the West reach out to these authors and encourage them to update and expand their work, thereby also encouraging other like-minded Russians to pick up the gauntlet? Whether this happens or not will largely determine not only the fate of the Russian people but our own as well.

La Russophobe said...


The translator has asked me to pass along his comment to you as follows:

"According to the intro to the article it all started all of a sudden in 1999, which is part of what makes it so so curious. Which I also recall is when Putin took charge of the FSB. Might have been he came in a year or so before. Coincidence?"