Dmitry Rogozin, the moon-faced bad-boy politician in charge of Russia's military-industrial complex, made waves this week when he announced [ru] that starting June 1, 2014 Russia would be shutting down “GPS stations” on its territory, unless the US reciprocates in housing similar GLOSNASS (Russian GPS analogue) stations in America. The news made it to Twitter, where the story gained a life of its own — mainly because news soundbites distributed through the social network aren't conducive to deep analysis.
Although the stations Rogozin spoke of are apparently used to “calibrate” the signal, and will not in fact lead to a shut down of GPS services in Russia, Russian microbloggers assumed that that's precisely what would happen. Public incredulity reached a level that forced Rogozin to clarify [ru] on Twitter that the shutdown “won't affect the quality” of the GPS signal.
Rogozin is known for using Twitter as a platform for scandalous statements; on May 2 he pompously tweeted [ru] that he would exchange all of his official government positions for the privilege to be “in the trenches” with Slavyansk separatists in Ukraine. This led to one of the best jokes to come out of the GPS scandal:
Дмитрий Рогозин заявил, что GPS бесполезен – всякий раз, когда он пытался добраться до окопа в Славянске, GPS уводил его на виллу в Тоскане.
— Дядюшка Шу (@Shulz) May 13, 2014
Dmitry Rogozin announced that GPS is useless – every time he's tried to get to a trench in Slavyansk, GPS took him to a Tuscan villa.
Although the quality of the signal might not change much, it will still probably be mildly degraded with the coming shutdown. Some bloggers were reminded of other ways in which Russia seems to punish itself as a way of protesting against western actions. Max Katz (a polarizing figure in his own right) made a comparison to the “Orphan Law”, which banned Americans from adopting Russian children as a response to Magnitsky Law sanctions against Russian bureaucrats:
В ответ на санкции правительство решило отключить россиянам GPS? Ну ладно, не самый плохой вариант. В этот раз хоть сирот не трогали
— Максим Кац (@max_katz) May 13, 2014
In response to sanctions the government decided to turn off GPS for Russians? I guess that's that the worst-case scenario. At least this time they didn't touch the orphans
Alexey Navalny's twitter, which is supposedly administered by his wife while he is under house arrest, summed up the sentiment:
Ну, короче, шутка про “в ответ на это разбомбим Воронеж” очень близка к правде. Сами себе GPS отключим.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) May 13, 2014
Well, basically the joke “if you do this we'll bomb our own cities” is very close to the truth. We'll turn off our own GPS.
Although GPS is safe, for now, the incident is an illustration of a kind of resigned lack of trust some Russians feel toward their government.