Stories from Quick Reads and Russia
As the world watches Russian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists occupy Ukrainian administration buildings, cities, and even an entire peninsula, a group of Ukrainian hackers is fighting back by launching an invasion of their own.
Since this summer, Ukrainian hacker Yevgeniy Dokukin and his group of fellow computer pros calling themselves Ukrainian Cyber Forces have carried out “Operation Bond, James Bond,” in which they leaked web camera and security footage from Crimea, separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, and even government offices in Russia. Dokukin and the Ukrainian Cyber Forces have been leaking videos from cameras for months now, including a video supposedly from a separatist base in Donetsk.
A few weeks ago, Dokukin and his allies took up new weapons in their cyberwar: printers. In a series of Facebook posts, Dokukin has explained how, after accessing private WiFi networks, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces were able to print documents on vulnerable networked printers in various offices in Crimea and separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, and were now trying to do the same in Russian networks.
— MustLive (@MustLiveUA) December 8, 2014
#UkrainianCyberForces have begun occupying networked printers in Donbas and in Crimea.
As Dokukin told RuNet Echo, he sees the wasted ink and paper in Russia as a variant on Ukraine’s own “economic sanctions” aimed at its neighbor. The messages appearing on these printers vary, but they share a common theme:
Якщо ваш мережевий принтер передасть “вітання Путіну” чи надрукує “Слава Україні!” та інші цікаві надписи, то знайте, що він під нашим контролем.
If your network printer passes along “greetings to Putin” or prints “Glory to Ukraine!” or other interesting messages, then you know that it is under our control.
Not all of Dokukin’s printer messages were meant to be confrontational. Recently, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces accessed an open network printer in Canada—an especially strong ally of Ukraine throughout the ongoing crisis—and printed the message “Thanks for supporting Ukraine!” in English.
As Russia increases its support of information warfare, including slick redesigns of its news agencies and propping up fake Ukrainian news sites, Ukrainian Cyber Forces are taking the trolling and information war to their opponents—and their offices—more directly.
Ukraine's new foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, is in hot water on the Russian Internet today, where bloggers are drawing attention to his first subscriptions on Twitter. RuNet users have noticed that some of the first accounts Klimkin chose to follow are US politicians John McCain and Mitt Romney, the neoconservative American think tanks the Foreign Policy Institute and the Lugar Center, and the US State Department itself. Serving a new government in Kiev that Moscow regularly accuses of kowtowing to Washington, Klimkin has provided critics of Ukraine with fresh ammunition in the information war between Russia and the West.
The anonymous LiveJournal blog hardingush, run by a member of Russia's Ministry of the Interior special forces operating in Ingushetia, is now closed. RuNet Echo has previously highlighted [Global Voices report] this blog as part of its series that focuses on bloggers in the volatile North Caucasus. The blog had been ranked one the most popular in the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, and at the height of its popularity was one of the most highly rated LiveJournal blogs in Russia, receiving hundreds of comments per single blog entry.
Many had speculated about the hardingush's origins, with some bloggers wondering if the whole blog wasn't simply a very well made public relations stunt on the part of Russia's security apparatus. hardingush had previously closed his LiveJournal, but resumed blogging under a different account — molonlabe. Currently the original page shows only one post, about dogs. The link to the mirror site, molonlabe is in the comments. There, in his final post, HardIngush writes:
У меня для постоянных читателей блога есть не очень приятное известие. Ну, я, собственно, предупреждал об этом раньше. По ряду причин дальнейшие публикации в этом блоге невозможны. Короче, это последний пост в моем блоге. Никому не нужны проблемы, а я тем более их не люблю сам себе создавать.
I have not so good news for the regular readers of the blog. Well, actually, I was warned about it previously. For several reasons, further posts on this blog are impossible. In short, this is the last post on my blog. Nobody wants problems, and I especially do not like to create them for myself.
He is probably talking about the fact that his profile has become publicly visible — to the point where there have been numerous attempts to deanonymize him. He concludes:
Спасибо вам, что были со мной все это время. И помните, пока мы есть – у террористов нет шансов в России. Дураки не погубили страну, куда там отмороженным фанатикам.
Thanks to all who have been with me all this time. And remember, as long as we exist – the terrorists do not have a chance in Russia. Fools couldn't not ruined the country where there are frostbitten fanatics.
Was hardingush a conscientious special forces officer who just wanted people to understand him and his work, as he portrayed himself? Or was he a successful media project? His true identity will probably never be known, and neither will his motivation for blogging.
A group of artists in Kiev has opened a new exhibit that many Russians are calling dangerously xenophobic. Yesterday, April 24, 2014, the “Ukrainian Cultural Front” presented four interactive installations intended to criticize Russia for its opposition to the EuroMaidan movement and its interventions in southeastern Ukraine. The most controversial exhibit (titled “Beware of Russians!”) featured three homely-looking men trapped behind a fence, dressed as stereotypical Russians. (One man wore a tracksuit, another donned military camouflage, and a third sat on a flattened cardboard box, playing the balalaika and begging for spare change.) Posted on different sides of the fence were signs like those one finds at a zoo, reading “Beware of Occupiers!” and “Please Do Not Feed!”
The art exhibit was in such obvious bad taste, many Russians seem to believe, that several of the RuNet's most vocal patriotic bloggers simply reposted photos from the installation, not even bothering to specify their objections. Of course, many others found it necessary to articulate the dangers of Russophobia. Publicist Dmitry Olshansky, whose Facebook texts are among the Russian blogosphere's most vociferously pro-intervention, wrote threateningly that the “motor” of today's conflict between Russia and Ukraine rests entirely on “Ukraine's certainty that Russians will never respond to anything.”
The Russian government is drafting a new project that would redefine the “principles of state cultural policy.” In a concept paper shared with the press this week, a working group led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff, declared Russia's need to preserve its unique “state-civilization” and moral foundation in the face of globalization. Russia must “open up to the world” without “dissolving in it,” the paper argues.
The Ministry of Culture's plans could have a profound impact on Russia's regulation of the Internet, if future legislation adopts the language that now appears in the working group's recommendations, which likens “information quality controls” to environmental protection:
Сегодня в киберпространстве все, кто имеет доступ к компьютер и Интернету, что-то создают и распространяют вне зависимости от образования, кругозора, жизненного опыта, знания предмета, психического здоровья и их истинных намерений. В результате информационное пространство загрязнено, и воздействие на нас этих загрязнений пока еще плохо осознается, но их уже можно сравнивать с загрязнением воздуха, которым мы дышим и воды, которую мы пьем.
Today in cyberspace, everyone who has access to a computer and the Internet is creating and distributing something, regardless of their education, worldview, life experience, expertise, mental health, or true intentions. As a result, the information space is polluted. It is still early and we cannot say what impact this has on us, but we can already compare this to pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Equating “Internet pollution” with carbon emissions and water contamination would vastly expand the state's ability to regulate online activity. Lawmakers discussed the working paper in the Duma today, but no one addressed its potential application to Internet policy. Before the plan emerges as legislation, state officials have several wrinkles to iron out—particularly those concerning funding.
IP addresses inside the Russian government continue to be active on Wikipedia, where a computer at the Russian Secret Service, the FSO, revised the German entry for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, changing the word “separatists” into “rebels.” The Twitter bot @RuGovEdits, which automatically logs all Wikipedia edits made from Russian government IP addresses, caught five separate attempts by an FSO computer this morning to make the “rebels” language stick. The effort failed. German Wikipedia editors reverted the article's language to the original text, every time.
A Russian chocolate company in Novosibirsk has released a new candy bar called “The Crimea” with the slogan, “Just try to grab it!” A product announcement shared with the press features a super-hero character wearing the colors of the Russian flag, standing before a map of Crimea, with the following tagline:
Даже в то время, когда страна принимает непростые решения, мы не перестаем улыбаться. Потому что мы—Россияне!
Even in times when the country is making difficult decisions, we never stop smiling. That's because we are Russians!
The company responsible for this new confection, “Chocolate Traditions,” has produced other specially themed sweets. Earlier this year, it announced a fudge bar called “the Viagra.” There are also several holiday-themed candy collections, for Victory Day, Women's Day, and so on. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the Crimea chocolates costs 130 rubles (about $4).
Russian Internet users have showed great interest in the new Crimea-themed candy bar. According to Yandex's blogs search engine, the past few hours have seen over a thousand posts on the subject. Many Russians have noticed that the chocolate bars expire after ten months, leading several bloggers to joke that Russia's occupation of Crimea won't last another year.
В российских конфетах “Крым – а ну-ка, отбери” срок годности 10 месяцев. В январе Крым вновь станет украинским. pic.twitter.com/10y2Zhd4uu
— Льовочкинъ (@slevo4kin) June 5, 2014
The Russian candy “Crimea—just try to grab it” has a shelf life of 10 months. In January, Crimea will become Ukrainian again.
Bloggers in Ukraine are turning to the Internet to publish the locations of troops in the country’s southeast, where the army is in the midst of a massive “counter-terrorist” operation against militants who have seized control of parts of major cities. A group called “Military Maps” on the Russian social network Vkontakte has created an application that allows any user to mark the location of soldiers and military hardware on maps of Ukraine. The service appears to be the work of separatist sympathizers hoping to provide rebel combatants with tactical intelligence.
Друзья! Не забываем! pic.twitter.com/bht8Thd8sA
— ЄВРОМАЙДАН (@euromaidan) April 17, 2014
“Friends! We won't forget!” [Image reads, "Attention: Ukraine's Ministry of Defense asks Internet-users to remain silent about the movements of Ukrainian army troops."]
The accuracy and timeliness of “Military Maps” is questionable, but some Ukrainian bloggers are taking the threat seriously, spreading a message from the country’s defense ministry warning against discussing online the army’s movements. As early as mid-March this year, the Ukrainian government has cautioned citizens against revealing such information on the Internet. In mid-April, the mega-popular Twitter account “euromaidan” disseminated the same message again (see above), collecting nearly 900 retweets and favorites. Now, as Odessa slips into apparent anarchy and Kiev’s soldiers battle their way into cities throughout the southeast, bloggers are again calling on people to avoid posting about troop movements.
Russia's most famous blogger (or as he describes himself: “corruption fighter, son, husband, father”) has been forced to move away from LiveJournal, the popular blogging platform that launched him to fame in the first place. As a result of government mandated censorship [Global Voices report], and notwithstanding attempts to counteract such censorship [Global Voices report], Alexey Navalny's team has started a new standalone blog, navalny.com [ru]. Because Navalny is still under house arrest, the blog is technically run by his wife. According to the first post [ru], this blog is an attempt to create a clean slate with Russia's Internet regulators, who claim that Navalny's old blog contains calls for unlawful rallies. At this point, Navalny's LiveJournal account [ru] has stopped updating with original content — it simply links to new posts on navalny.com.
“Is Crimea referendum a good model for Africa?” asks Richard Dowden:
Africa’s arbitrary borders, mostly drawn by people who had never set foot in the continent, have always been an obvious target for renegotiation. But Africa’s first rulers, who foresaw chaos and disintegration if the nation states were reconfigured, ruled it out. “Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State” was one of the founding principles of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union. Despite all the wars, internal and external, this principle has been pretty much adhered to by both presidents and people.
Loyalty to an African state is not always related to the ability of that state to make the lives of its people better. Patriotism, an emotional thing, does not take these benefits into account, even in countries where the majority of citizens are marginalised or oppressed by the government. Even in the catastrophic recent meltdown of South Sudan after just two years of independence, no one is advocating return to rule from Khartoum. In the dying days of Mobutu’s Zaire (now the DRC) I was astonished to find that people felt it to be a great country. I asked why Katanga, the rich south east province, didn’t secede – as it had in 1960. My suggestion was greeted with shocked surprise.