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LJ, SUP, Putin, the Kremlin, and its creatures. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
LJ, SUP, Putin, the Kremlin, and its creatures.

Well.  There goes LJ.

 

You will by now have seen that, whilst the innocent slept (or listened for the Shipping Forecast and obsessively monitored flood warnings and bulletins from the Environment Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency), 6A announced the sale of LJ to that oh-so-unremarkable, common or garden ‘international media company’, SUP.

 

Yawns all ’round, what?

 

Well, no.

 

 

 

It may conceivably – don’t snigger too audibly, please – it may conceivably be a sheer coincidence that the sale was announced on the same day that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, quite unexpectedly, saw his myrmidons achieve an excellent showing in Duma elections so unfree and so blatantly rigged that they would have embarrassed Robert Mugabe.  But the – ah – coincidence is instructive all the same.

 

For who, you may ask, are SUP?  Ah.  Thereby hangs a tale.

 

I suppose we all know who Mr Putin is.  Vladimir Vladimirovich is a nekulturniy Chekist bastard, is who he is.  The past fortnight or so in the UK has, famously, seen the transformation of the PM from Stalin to Mr Bean.  But this is as nothing to the past few years in which, from the mask of Dobby the House-Elf, the new Stalin has emerged in the person of Mr Putin.  The grandson of Stalin’s (and Lenin’s) personal chef, Mr Putin is an old KGB thug, and currently presides over the re-enslavement of his fellow Russians – when he’s not profiting from the assassinations of Aleksandr Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya and the gaoling of Garry Kasparov (whilst preserving plausible deniability in a way that would have been the envy of Henry 2d when FitzUrse and the lads offed Tom Becket).

 

I believe it was Simon Heffer who noted recently that it was a tragedy, with daily emerging consequences, that the fall – or eclipse – of Communism was not followed by its own Nuremburg tribunals, as befell its twin, Nazism.  Had that transpired, perhaps the Bear That Walks Like a Man would not again be ramping about, red in tooth and claw.  But this did not transpire, alas, and there have been consequences.

 

Amongst these consequences is the rise of that class of base, vicious, moneyed thug to whom we politely refer, collectively (ah!  Collectivisation, comrade!), as the ‘Russian oligarchs’: in fact, they are a kleptocracy at best, and most commonly (there’s a mot juste for you) a kakistocracy.  It is not by any means easy to determine, in assessing these gentry, who amongst them are (or fondly believe themselves to be) pulling the Kremlin’s strings, and who are Mr Putin’s puppets, but this is in practise a distinction without a difference.

 

Mind you, LJ’s announcement is concerned in the main with twee reassurances that the sale will not affect Frank, the mythical goat.  (Yes, I know.  You might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.)

 

But what, pray, has any of this to do with the sale of LJ to SUP?

 

Ah.

 

Mr Mamut is described by Six Apart in its news release at its homepage as follows: ‘SUP is a Russian online media company founded and led by Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur living in Russia, and Aleksandr Mamut, a well-known Russian financier.’  How anodyne. 

 

But there is rather more to Mr Mamut than appears in that release.

 

The Washington Post, 28 October 2007:

 

Many people here say they believe Putin didn’t mind a free Internet as long as it had weak penetration in Russia. But with 25 percent of Russian adults now online, up from 8 percent in 2002, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern for the government.

 

Some Russian Internet experts say a turning point came in 2004, when blogs and uncensored online publications helped drive a popular uprising in Ukraine after a pro-Moscow candidate was declared the winner of a presidential election. Days of street protests in the capital, Kiev, led to a new vote that brought a pro-Western politician into the presidency.

 

Today, the Kremlin is ready with online forces of its own when street action begins.

***

The Kremlin is also increasingly allying itself with privately run online outlets that foster a new ideal for life in today’s Russia, one that is consumerist and uncompromisingly pro-Putin.

 

The main champion of this ideal is 28-year-old businessman Konstantin Rykov. The pearl of Rykov’s media empire is the two-year-old Vzglyad (‘View’) online newspaper, which features a serious-looking news section with stories toeing the Kremlin line and a lifestyle section that covers the latest in luxury cars and interior design. Surveys rank Vzglyad as one of Russia’s five most-visited news sites.

 

‘Rykov is a man who created a good business on the government’s view that it has to invest in ideology,’ said Anton Nossik, an Internet pioneer in Russia now in charge of blog development for Sup, an online media company. Nossik said that Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s domestic political adviser, organized private funding for Rykov’s projects.

 

Kremlin officials deny any involvement. ‘It is a general habit of everyone to connect every popular occurrence and success with the Kremlin,’ deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said when asked about Rykov. ‘In reality, it is not so.’

 

In an interview, Rykov would not comment on his investors. A framed portrait of Surkov hung above his desk; Rykov is running for parliament on the list of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in elections slated for December.

 

‘The Vzglyad newspaper has created this appearance of a state publication for itself since the very beginning,’ Rykov said. ‘And from the perspective of business and selling ads, that’s very good.’

 

Allies of the Kremlin have also begun buying some of the companies that have helped make the Internet a bastion of free expression in Russia. Gazeta.ru, long the country’s most respected online newspaper, was sold in December to a metals magnate and Putin loyalist.

 

And last October, Sup, which is owned by Alexander Mamut, a tycoon with ties to the Kremlin, bought the rights to develop the Russian-language segment of U.S.-based LiveJournal. The segment, with half a million users, is Russia’s most popular blog portal.

 

Mr. Rykov is pro-Kremlin. Mamut and Sup are pro-Kremlin. The social networks are all being bought by pro-Kremlin people,’ Ruslan Paushu, 30, a popular blogger who works for Rykov, said in an interview. ‘Everything’s okay.’

 

And the Beeb, from as long ago as 28 March 2000:

 

Aleksandr Mamut was described as ‘the new face of Russian oligarchy’ by the newspaper Kommersant, which ranked him top in its 1999 survey of business tsars.

 

Head of the supervisory council of MDM-Bank[,] he is also very well-connected politically. He is the non-staff advisor to the head of the presidential administration, and is considered a great friend of the ‘family’ of Kremlin insiders, including Boris Berezovsky.

 

He has also been involved in various political scandals, including allegedly laundering money through the Banks of New York and bribing politicians.

 

And there’s this from the International Herald Tribune, on 25 October 2006:

 

If you are an aspiring dictator looking for ways to muzzle the independent media, do a stint in Moscow. The Kremlin’s successful recipe has been at work for a decade.

 

First, take a reclusive oligarch who made his fortune by financing murky privatization deals in the 1990s but remained loyal to the regime. Then, throw in some elections, for which the regime would require media assistance. Have the oligarch buy some lucrative media asset enshrined by the Russian intelligentsia. Finally, find a controversial figure to run it.

 

Russians have been eating this cake ever since former President Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996 was at stake. A decade later, the consolidation of Russian media in the hands of people and institutions affiliated with Kremlin has been almost completed.

***

By 2006, the number of Russian blogs hit the 1,000,000 mark. Surprisingly, most of them are hosted on a popular American service LiveJournal, not on a domestic blogging service.

 

There are quite subtle explanations for LiveJournal’s popularity: Many Russians would not trust a Russian company to handle their personal information like passwords and credit cards, nor would they want to be subject to Russia’s draconian legal system and ‘dialogues’ with the secret services.

 

Therefore, when a two month-old Russian start-up with the funky name of Sup (‘soup’ in English) announced last week that it would take over the Cyrillic segment of LiveJournal from its American parent, the Russian blogosphere exploded with buzz.

 

Plenty of speculation about the Kremlin’s vicious plan to control and censor the blogosphere flooded the Internet. In a country that still mourns over the recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of its most critical voices, many think that a crackdown on bloggers is long overdue.

 

What’s so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media.

 

All ingredients are in order. The oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut, one of the few oligarchs who made a smooth transition between the regimes, owns Sup); the upcoming 2007 and 2008 elections; the independent media asset with tremendous popularity; and the controversial figure in charge (Sup’s chief blogging officer is Anton Nossik, the father of the Russian Internet and, among other things, a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s spindoctor).

 

Sup already announced the creation of an ‘abuse team.’ Typically, abuse teams monitor, warn and suspend blogs that post inappropriate content; prior to the deal, this function was performed by LiveJournal’s American abuse team.

 

Given Sup’s roots and potential ideology, one can hardly expect that the scope of discussions allowed on the Russian Internet will increase.

 

If history is anything to judge by, the days of the Russian blogosphere buzzing with critical opinions are numbered. Unfortunately, a simple solution of migrating to another blog service would only disrupt the existing communication networks that have made LiveJournal so popular.

 

The truly extremist bloggers represent very tiny and rather isolated communities, which will easily migrate elsewhere.

 

But thousands of more mainstream bloggers, who have filled in the void left by the disappearance of independent media, will become divided, some of them falling for the Sup offer, some of them migrating to other services, and some of them stopping to blog altogether (a trend that has started after Sup’s announcement). Thus, with the direct or indirect assistance from Sup, the Kremlin will manage to burden and, perhaps, even reverse the process that has made opinion-sharing in Russia so easy.

 

Who would be to blame for destroying a viable and vibrant public forum and turning it into another Kremlin-medicated sanatorium? Nossik, Sup’s blog boss, who increasingly resembles Ivan the Terrible killing his son in that famous Repin painting, should top anyone’s list of suspects.

 

The reliably and expectedly puerile announcement-‘community’, lj_2008, have published a FAQ designed rather to conceal than to reveal these grave issues.  I have taken the liberty of rewriting it as follows:

 

What is SUP?
SUP is an international online media company in the pocket of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

 

What was SUP’s relationship to LJ before acquiring it?
Do not ask these questions, comrade.


The
Sale of LiveJournal
Why is SUP buying LJ?
The Vozhd wishes it so.

Why is Six Apart selling LJ?
The KGB FSB have negatives.


Next Steps for LiveJournal, Inc.
Why is this a good deal for LJ users?
Because the Party is the vanguard of the proletariat.


What happens to Six Apart employees working on LJ?
After re-education, they will be assigned to labour.

Is this acquisition effective immediately?
Remember
Estonia in 1940?  Latvia?  Lithuania?

Will LiveJournal be hiring new staff?
Senior Party members have nephews also, comrade.
 
Will LiveJournal have a new product strategy?
There is a Five Year Plan.


LiveJournal Advisory Board
What is the LiveJournal Advisory Board?
The Party Congress, comrade.  The term ‘nomenklatura’ is not permitted.


Will LJ’s policies around the Terms of Service and Abuse policies change?
As the FSB directs.


Privacy
Will my personal information remain in the
USA?
Of course, comrade.  The copies in the Lubyanka are merely copies of your dossiers.

What assurances do I have that my data will not be stolen or misused?
Are you questioning the Party, comrade?


Development Progress
What improvements has SUP made to LJ since it acquired the Russian license?
The dictatorship of the proletariat has resulted in unparalleled harvest and production!  Everyone is working like a Stakhanovite!


I have some ideas on how to improve LiveJournal, Inc. Who can I talk to?
Simply speak into the lamp on your desk.  Yes, that one.  We are watching and listening most carefully.


Miscellaneous
Who will collect Paid account fees?
The FSB or your block leader or local commissar will call ’round with details.


What are LiveJournal, Inc.’s plans with respect to LJ open source initiatives?

‘Open source’ intelligence is very important to the First Chief Directorate.

 

So this is what it has come to.  Six Apart have effectively sold LJ to Vladimir Putin* and his puppets.  Even as you slept, your paid accounts may have helped fund the disappearance or murder of a dissident, or another transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Teheran (surely you do not imagine that there is any distinction in practise between private and privy, State, funds in Messrs Putin’s and the Oligarchs’s re-branded Soviet despotism). 

 

And LJ imagines that I am concerned with the mythical feelings of a fictional anthropomorphised goat?

_________________________

* Oh.  And those of you who’ve spent the past year with the vapours, certain that every change at LJ was made to appease American Nonconformists of the social right?  I trust that you feel appropriately silly now that the FSB are reading your mail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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73 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: kaskait Date: December 3rd, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for this information.

I've been reading about the Putin years in Kremlin Rising. This development is not good. I'm seriously considering moving to Insanejournal permanently.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 3rd, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Indeed. Not good at all.

One wants always to beware of the Bear That Walks Like a Man.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 3rd, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't retreat.

Ut veniat omnes.

It is worrisome in the extreme. But I rather relish the scrap and the scrum. I think I can devil the buggers best if I remain.
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From: seneska Date: December 3rd, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the information comrade. This will all go into my files on you.

In all seriousness, I am grateful for the profile of SUP since I hadn't heard of them before this morning. I don't plan on doing anything just yet but if changes are made to the running of LJ I will start to look elsewhere. After all I survived the summer purges by the thought police, I'm not going to give in for corrupt police in a country I'm not even associated with.

xx
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 3rd, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Might be worse.

Might have been sold to Wendy Alexander, Harriet Harman, and David Abrahams.
thatwhichiam From: thatwhichiam Date: December 3rd, 2007 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, that was (aside from hilarious) very informative. It is now on the pile of 'Things To Worry About On My Year Abroad In St Petersburg in Nine Months And Counting'.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 3rd, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, quite. You're most welcome.

Sorry to be the bringer of bad news, even with a top-dressing of humour, but needs must and All That.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: December 3rd, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Quite edifying. Really. Though, see my other comment about the fact that I am quite sure the religious right was behind some of the troubles this summer. Particularly as they were quite vocal about saying so.

If you recall, two of my RP journals fell prey to Strikethrough and I was the one who (finally) made Barak Berkowitz sit up and pay attention to what had happened. Those journals, boot2thehead and seventhsnake, were listed on a religious right website as journals of paedophiles that they had triumphantly brought down!

Mind you I'm certainly willing to believe in the prospect of collusion given how interested the people running Russia now are in not offending anyone who might want to give them money, and how much it seems to appear that the religious right does run this country, even if the Republican Party doesn't give them everything that they want.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 3rd, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

As I say above, I don't doubt it was the Unco Guid who blew the gaff.

I simply suspect, in retrospect, that LJ's handling of the matter was driven by the pending sale.

I am of course pleased to have edified in any small way. Thanks, love.
serriadh From: serriadh Date: December 3rd, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Old jokes revisited...

Thank you for this - worrisome indeed. It would possibly be better if it had been sold to Alexander, Harman et. al. - at least we'd have a chance wth incompetent corruption. Putin's worryingly efficient.

I am resisting the urge to post something along the lines of 'in soviet russia, LJ updates you

If LJ are so bloody worried about their goat, I'm surprised they haven't started deleting people who write fanfic involving Aberforth Dumbledore.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Baaaaaaa.

Quite.
shezan From: shezan Date: December 4th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Many thanks for a sadly useful post. May I link to it on my LJ?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Of course you may.

You need never ask.

(Morning, love. Fancy a cuppa?)
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, well. Sins of commission and All That.

I rather suspect I shall feel impelled to write Dobby-fic now for Mr Put(a)in's delectation.
quimtessence From: quimtessence Date: December 4th, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Greetings, comrade...

This has provided a well-deserved laugh on my part. As for the worry that is suddenly slowly creeping on me from every corner? I'll just sit and wait. I'm not entirely certain what will happen next and if it will be a replica of the mess from this summer. As most people here, I'm seriously considering making my IJ my next home, but I'd rather see if it's worth moving to another host.

Fare you well, comrade.
quimtessence From: quimtessence Date: December 4th, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Greetings, comrade...

Hmm, it didn't want to post the first time... Could this be a sign?
max_und_moritz From: max_und_moritz Date: December 4th, 2007 02:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Word.

I´m Hungarian and know all about the virtual salami tactics of these self-styled Neoliberal Bolsheviks. They´ve got their sticky fingers deep in my country´s Government jar as it is; if they want my journal too, guess posting nothing BUT anti-Putin stuff from now on is an adequate answer.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, well.

They've always wanted a warm-water, winter USB port for their navies....

Of course, we in my fandom have a secret weapon, absolutely sure to make Vladimir Vladimirovich do his nut. Dobbyslash!
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hullo! So nice to see you....

Evidently there IS a bear in the woods, as Mr Reagan quite rightly used to say.

Rremarkably, really, that in all the turmoil over LJ-sex, it turns out there were actually Reds beneath the bed....

This does look to be an interesting future, in a rather mournful way, doesn't it.
nebris From: nebris Date: December 4th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
After the Great Strikethrough of '07, my gal and I were more and more dismayed at SuxApart's behavior and started our own [functionally non-profit] journaling site, which we named Commie Journal. The irony of that, given recent events, has not escaped me.

~M~
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 4th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Snort.

That may be the ultimate cosmic joke in this entire sorry saga.
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tiferet From: tiferet Date: December 5th, 2007 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great job! <3

I think you should re-read this very carefully, because that's not what I got out of it at all and I have been hearing similar criticisms of SUP from Russians themselves for over a year now on no_lj_ads.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 5th, 2007 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Lor', yes, of course.

You need never ask. Obliged to you, really.
froganon From: froganon Date: December 5th, 2007 06:27 am (UTC) (Link)

I added you

I came via nebris and I have added you-- mo pressure to add me back. My sole interest is this stuff here that you are writing about.

There is a blogger, a Russian blogger on Live Journal, who as a result of blogging one unfavorable comment about the police in his place of residence is now facing a hefty fine AND 2 years imprisonment.

I am fairly certain there is no cable teevee in the Russian jail system.

spike also crossposting to insane journal
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 5th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hullo, and welcome.

I rather suspect this will be a major topic hereabouts, so you'll be, as indeed you would be in any event, most welcome, and, I confide, regualrly regaled on the topic of interest.
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