The Internet, any way you slice it, is a strange place populated by strange people. In the last few weeks, the Russian Internet—often your typical den of online cliques and conspiracy theorists—has boiled over the levees of “strange” and flooded the RuNet with a new intensity of bizarre moral recriminations. Behind the frenzy is Russia's most popular blogger, Rustem Adagamov, whose ex-wife, Tatiana Delsal, has accused him of committing statutory rape some ten years ago, when they were married and living in Norway. In the six days since RuNet Echo first reported on this story, Adagamov's situation has developed (or deteriorated, depending on your perspective) quite rapidly.
Adagamov's bad week
Until January 10, pedophilia and statutory rape allegations against Adagamov remained an Internet affair. His ex-wife's claims were confined to an obscure YouTube post [ru] and the blog [ru] of a notoriously anti-oppositionist blogger. That changed when Delsal granted interviews to government-friendly (and widely distributed) media outlets Izvestia [ru] newspaper and RT [ru] cable news station. As a condition for granting the interviews, Delsal insisted that Izvestia and RT transmit her claims to federal investigators as an official criminal charge. A day later, even Russia's state-controlled Channel One [ru] reported Delsal's accusations, airing clips from her interview with RT.
According to a tweet [ru] from RT head Margarita Simonyan, Russia's Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into Delsal's charges—even before RT was able to finish drafting an official request on her behalf.
At roughly the same time as Delsal's appearance on television and in print, Russia's Ministry of Culture quietly deleted Adagamov's name from its list [ru] of Public Council members. Ministry official Yulia Zazulina told reporters [ru] that Adagamov's name was attracting too many website visits, which “raised technical difficulties for the site's functioning.” Earlier in the week, state-owned bank VTB and telecom MegaFon announced that they will not renew promotional contracts [ru] with Adagamov, prompting Izvestia newspaper to compare [ru] Russia's top blogger to the American sports star Tiger Woods, who similarly lost major corporate sponsors after a sex scandal. (Some bloggers [ru] believe this financial attack was the key reason for the current media storm.)
Then, on January 11, LiveJournal's own director, Ilya Dronov, announced [ru] that the government gatekeeper of Russia's Internet blacklist, Roskomnadzor, is now requiring LJ to block access to a March 26, 2012, post [ru] by Adagamov about a self-immolation in India. (The post, which features disturbing photos, is now inaccessible to web users inside Russia, though it is still easily available via proxies. Visitors not in Russia are first asked to verify that they are older than eighteen.) Adagamov's Coordinating Council colleague and blogger friend Alexey Navalny instantly reposted [ru] the self-immolation photos in solidarity, explaining that he is “testing” to see if Roskomnadzor will ban his post, too. (So far, access continues unabated.)
Dragged through the mud
The multiple-fronts assault on Adagamov's reputation and livelihood has convinced many that this is an attack orchestrated by his enemies in the Kremlin. Indeed, Adagamov shared (and later made private) on his Facebook a highly sympathetic Lenta.ru report [ru] by Sultan Suleimanov, who characterizes (perhaps accurately) Delsal's interview comments and earlier online statements as inconsistent and contradictory.
For instance, in a December 27, 2012, LiveJournal post [ru], Delsal stated plainly that she is accusing Adagamov of violating Article 132, Paragraph 4(b), of Russia's Criminal Code, which prohibits “violent sexual actions” against persons under the age of fourteen. Delsal told Izvestia, however, that Adagamov actually “raped” a friend of the family for upwards of five years (during the ages of 12 to 16), beginning sometime around 2003. (Criminal Code 131, which stipulates nearly identical prison sentences, covers rape.)
Suleimanov, along with the liberal-leaning NewsRu.com portal [ru], also linked to a blog post [ru] by journalist Dmitri Gubin, who faulted the RT interview for a lack of professionalism and an absence of hard-hitting questions. Suleimanov also accused Izvestia of being a gun-for-hire, noting its “more active” participation in the propagation of Adagamov's recent troubles with VTB and MegaFon.
Who ARE these people?
The truly bizarre thing about the Adagamov scandal has been the repulsiveness on all sides. If Adagamov's accusers are indeed a bunch of liars, their depravity is clear. That scenario would mean that someone paid off or deceived his ex-wife into fabricating molestation charges, all in order to destroy the life of a single oppositionist photoblogger.
This conspiracy theory is fairly tame for Russian politics—blaming the Kremlin for a “black PR” campaign is both a traditional dodge and a plausible defense. Some bloggers take the “wheels within wheels” concept to extraordinary lengths, such as Valery Lebedev, who on January 6 published [ru] an elaborate theory that LJ head Ilya Dronov is in league with Russian Orthodox activists to censor anti-cleric material like Adagamov's.
On January 8, 2013, Delsal, for her part, encouraged LJ readers to sign a petition [ru] to “Protect Our Children,” which irresponsibly conflates pedophilia charges against Adagamov with his known support for LGBT rights, proclaiming:
Как заинтересованный человек, как активист родительского движения прошу провести проверку фактов в отношении Адагамова Рустема Ринатовича, поскольку его влияние на информационную среду Интернета весьма велико, он часто освещает «детские вопросы», при этом известна его открытая поддержка лиц с девиантным поведением.
As an interested party, [and] as an activist of the parents’ movement, I ask [federal investigators] to investigate the facts surrounding Rustem Adagamov, insofar as his influence online is quite high, and he often addresses “children's issues,” and at the same time he is known for his open support of persons of deviant behavior [sic].
Dmitri Gubin, meanwhile, feigns “agnosticism” about Adagamov's guilt, but immediately demonstrates his support for the blogger, along with his powerful insensitivity to a young woman who may well have been raped. For example, he “innocently” poses [ru] the following questions:
Сразу, чтобы пресечь такое обсуждение здесь: я в отношении этого обвинения агностик. Совратил Адагамов ребенка? – не знаю. Совратил ребенок Адагамова? – не знаю. Политическое это дело, поскольку Адагамов член КС? – не знаю. Месть бывшей жены? девичьи фантазии? шантаж? – не знаю, не знаю, не знаю.
Right away, in order to halt any such discussion here, I'll say that I'm an agnostic in this matter. Did Adagamov seduce a child? I don't know. Did a child seduce Adagamov? I don't know. Is this case political, insofar as Adagamov is a member of the opposition's Coordinating Council? I don't know. Is this his ex-wife's revenge? Is it some teeny's fantasy? Is it blackmail? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
In the comments on Gubin's post, some readers speculated [ru] further about the child's motivations. LJ user doctor_notes announced that he has “a feeling” that the accusations are the fabrication of “some 27-year-old junkie.” He adds that “this assumption instantly explains everything that's happened.” In a tweet the next day, Gubin himself speculated [ru] about the identity of the girl in question, actually revealing her name, as well as complaining that the Norwegian police should be leading the investigation, instead of journalists.
Gubin's blithe attitude about the victim's anonymity, and his readers’ unfounded suspicions that she is likely a narcotics addict, showcase a worryingly reoccurring phenomenon in Russian society. In another brief scandal that emerged in late December 2012, Alexey Navalny posted compromising photos of a Duma deputy's underage children. Defending Navalny's actions, oppositionist Maria Baronova feuded [ru] with blogger Maksim Kononenko over Twitter, at one point suggesting that physically developed minors are fair game for sexualization:
Максим Кононенко: быстро же навальный научился использовать детей столь же ловко, как их используют депутаты.
Мария Баронова: А ты думал мы забудем? Ты думал родители не помнят? Кстати, каких ДЕТЕЙ он трогал? С пятым размером?
Maksim Kononenko: Navalny sure learned quickly to use kids just as cunningly as [Duma] deputies do.
Maria Baronova: And you thought we'd forget? You thought parents wouldn't remember? By the way, what kind of CHILDREN did [Navalny] use? With size DD [breasts]?
Addressing the Adagamov story on January 11, Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexey Venediktov cited [ru] Gubin's post as a reasonable critique of the RT interview. By entering the debate, however, Venediktov also reminded bloggers [ru] that years ago he actually confessed to statutory rape himself. Indeed, in a November 2007 interview with Russian Maxim magazine, Venediktov (perhaps exaggerating his own past for the sake of a men's magazine) revealed that he carried on sexual relations with underage high school students, when he was a teacher, in his late youth. When asked to name his early sins, Venediktov mentioned “sex with schoolgirls.” He went on to explain that intercourse between a 17-year-old student and 22-year-old teacher was no great travesty, concluding [ru]:
Не могу сказать, что я пользовался бешеным успехом, но романы случались. Это были романы, которые включали в себя иногда и секс.
I can't say that I enjoyed any great success, but there were some romances, and sometimes they included sex.
Venediktov's revelation may have been forgotten, had it not been for Vladimir Pozner, who almost three years later grilled Venediktov on the subject, when the two met together on national television in October 2010. In that exchange [ru], Venediktov first tried to dodge Pozner's questions (claiming that he doesn't live in the West and should not be subjected to Western piety). When Pozner did not relent, Venediktov claimed to have only been describing a “social problem” in his interview with Maxim, and not his own personal experience.
Heroes: there's no such thing
In this maelstrom of sexism, polemics, and conspiracy, it's hard to know what to believe. Certainly, the campaign against Adagamov is suspiciously well coordinated—possibly even choreographed. Newcomers to the story expect to find a phalanx of enlightened dissident-netizens rallying to a wounded Adagamov, but the reality is that decency doesn't penetrate this scandal. The filth of disrespect and inconsistency reeks on everyone.