Russia’s Corruption Fighter — Censored?

Posted April 6th, 2011 at 3:59 pm (UTC+0)

Do a Google search on “Kadyrov cars,” or “Kadyrov palace,” or “Kadyrov racehorse.”

Russians often wonder what happens to the billions of rubles the Kremlin pours into Chechnya to prop up Ramzan Kadyrov, the chief of the long rebellious republic. Five minutes on Google gives a juicy hint.

Russia is riding the rocket of some of the fastest growing rates of internet connectivity in the world. Week by week, more and more Russians have been getting a clearer, uncensored picture of the corruption that permeates a government funded with $120 a barrel oil.

From a spare office in Moscow, Alexei Navalny uses his laptop to fight corruption in Russia. Photo: AP

The poster boy for this new transparency is Alexei Navalny, a 34-year-old, blue-eyed, anti-corruption crusader.

Shut out of Kremlin-controlled TV, Navalny develops his audience on the internet.

Last fall, one million unique visitors came to his site when he posted documents alleging that officials at Transneft, the state oil pipeline monopoly, stole $4 billion during the construction of Russia’s first pipeline to China. After Navalny debated corruption-fighting strategies with a Moscow economist, 700,000 watched the debate on YouTube.

“If 800,000 people read my blog, why do I need the First Channel?” Navalny asked me over dinner recently, referring to the nation’s lead, government controlled station.

But Russia is entering an election year. In December, Russians vote for parliament. Next March, they vote for president. Voter surveys show that corruption now tops the anger lists of voters. Many Russians say they do not need Transparency International to tell them they are navigating in the world’s most corrupt major economy.

Corruption stories ricochet around Russia’s lightly regulated internet.

In one, a nurse alleged that before Prime Minister Putin visited a regional hospital last year, the doctors told several nurses to dress up as patients. They were filmed, lying in bed, telling the visiting prime minister that the care they were receiving was great.

In another case, a psychiatric hospital in St. Petersburg bought 200 mink coats. When asked why, the hospital director answered that the patients wanted to wear mink.

In the past, crusading newspaper reporters have been beaten or killed.

In the most prominent case, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to death in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006, the birthday of then President Putin. Putin later said that Politkovskaya was little known and little read in Russia.

But Navalny, with his massive following of middle class netizens, is too powerful to be attacked directly.

But now, we may be witnessing the start of a veiled campaign to silence Navalny and to stifle his anti-corruption crusade.

Last month, Russian web surfers noticed anonymous offers to pay people 14,000 rubles a month – about $430 a month — to spam Navalny’s blog with hostile comments.

This week, anonymous internet hackers intermittently shut down Navalny’s site and then its host, the LiveJournal blogging site. LiveJournal hosts 45 percent of the nation’s online blogs and diaries. With almost one million visitors a day, it is the seventh most popular site in Russia.

President Medvedev often calls the internet a crucial tool for transparency in government.

But the fate of Alexei Navalny in an election year may determine limits on the internet in Russia for years to come.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

12 responses to “Russia’s Corruption Fighter — Censored?”

  1. Gennady says:

    I strongly disagree with the assertion that “Navalny…is too powerful to be attacked directly”.
    The regime will do it at any moment at the least expense from their side. I still wonder why the most corrupt regime in the world has not eliminated him until now. It is a common knowledge from history book that VChK-OGPU-KGB-FSB killed and repressed dozens millions of the USSR’ citizens. In the last decade we watched dozens journalists killed and maimed, Constitution suspended, economy stagnated, corruption traced to President’s Administration, apartment buildings blown up, polonium used. So why not to perish for someone more?
    Internet hackering of Navalny’s site may be the last warning for him before physical elimination. Even Navalny has envisaged that. I would not have taken seriously calls made by President Medvedev. It has already been demonstrated on multiple occasions that he does not mean a thing that he has pronounced.

    • Joseph says:

      I am sorry for the people of Russia, but from an American perspective we here in the USA have never been fooled by Putins public persona, Putin has shown his true face to the United States on many occasions in the way he is constantly talking down U.S policies in the International media forums. It is sad to think that such a Great people as those in Russia would allow and stand by and watch as their Country and peoples are threatened, harassed, and in some cases killed. This type of government is not true Democracy,and i hope one day a leader will come forth that is truly committed to its Nations constitution and also to its people.

      • Democracy?? says:

        Any American that thinks the USA is a democracy is simply brainwashed…..
        Camp X-ray is really a rehab center for terrorists ….. Wake up blind patriots you’re being lied to (still)

  2. Victor says:

    I am sorry for the American people who live in the worst police state. You can get stopped by cops and if you make a sudden movement the cops will shoot you. If you try to argue about a traffic ticket they will pull you out of a car and beat you up. I lived and worked in the States for 10 years and I know people get fired from jobs for making innocent jokes. After the enhanced pat-downs in the USA airports they soon will introduce mandatory cavity search of all passengers. I am so glad that I returned to Russia and can breathe free. The real freedom is in Russia.

  3. Gennady says:

    Before posting, you haven’t consulted your pal-woman Anna Chapman and brainwashed State Television (called in Russia “putinovisor”). Therefore, you missed a few words.
    You certainly meant,
    “The real freedom is in Russia for hired killers (none was ever found), thieves, swindlers, bureaucrats and other honorable public in limousines with flashlights. Just they feel free to commit anything they choose. They are above the Law. They suspend Constitution and fundamental human rights in Russia”.
    If you had known the last public poll, you would be surprised to find out that the majority in Russia do not share your delight. To the contrary.

  4. Ben says:

    Navalny of course is the avanturer using the nationalistic wave, but I`ve seen your more senceliss actions like rewarding some unknown women organisation instead of wellknown “soldiers` mothers” and journalist of local news as the successor of Politkovskaia and N.Morar.All this acts looks like corruption my dear friends!

  5. Will B says:

    Interesting article! I like the “With almost one million visitors a day, it is the seventh most popular site in Russia.” part that really shows the popularity of his website.

  6. Pyotr says:

    I have never been to America. But if USA is a “police state” it doesnt make Russia a free country. Eltsin’s mistake was to allow former KPSS and KGB people to stay in power. He should have banned those people who were somehow connected to the former regime to have any jobs in goverment. The problem is he was one of those himself. It is horrible even to think about but it seems we need a revolution once more to make Russia free.
    Victor, I am glad you haven’t made any sudden moves and turned back to Russia safely but for goodness sake dont try to argue with russian policemen or I don’t give a damn for your life either, they wont shoot you perhaps but beat you properly and frame you for a ” drug dealing” or “rape” crime so for you to enjoy breathing freedom at least some years somewhere in a siberian prison.

  7. vasiliy says:

    There is no democracy in the world.

  8. Mike hughes says:

    Keep up the good work Alexei I’m British living in Australia and when ever I hear anything of Russia I think of bad things and it’s always by the people who run your country not the people who have to live under the conditions of who are running it.
    My best wishes to you in you work

  9. Pyotr says:

    “Navalny…is too powerful to be attacked directly”. Well nothing can stop “the Party Of Swindlers and Thieves” of Putin from attacking anybody who shows their lies and crimes whoever he or she may be if Russian public is passive like it is now. Navalny now is a suspect in a fabricated criminal case charged by RF Investigative Committee. Coruption retaliates.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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