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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2128
Revealed: the Kremlin's complicity in cyber crime;
A new job for the National Guard
Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Kaitlyn Johnson and Garrett Lynch
April 19, 2017
In a move intended to further cement its autonomy, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) has unilaterally declared a border along the "line of contact" separating it from the rest of Ukraine. The Kommersant newspaper reports that the breakaway region's government has unilaterally demarcated the boundary between it and territory controlled by Kyiv, including creating a border guard service, border control checkpoints, and limitations on the passage of goods and persons.
Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an air base in Egypt, near that country's border with Libya, heightening U.S. concerns about Russia's deepening role in Libya. Reuters reports that the move may be part of a Kremlin bid to support Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar in his bid for dominance in Libya, and thereby to "regain a toehold where the Soviet Union once had an ally," in the words of one U.S. intelligence official.
A federal indictment has accused two Russian FSB officers of working with a pair of Russian cyber criminals to hack 500 million Yahoo email accounts, reports the Washington Free Beacon. Among those targeted by the quartet were U.S. and Russian government officials, Russian journalists, and employees of internet service provider companies. The FSB conspired to "protect, direct, facilitate, and pay criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere," according to the indictment.
Russia's National Guard has created a new cyber division to monitor social networking sites. According to The Moscow Times, the new task force will be dedicated to surveilling the internet for "extremist content" that is posted online. The new unit reflects the Russian government's growing focus on stricter anti-terrorism measures, including the tracking of "extremist content" on the World-Wide Web. The division will reportedly be led by Larisa Goryachko, a former Interior Ministry official.
Senior Kremlin officials have declared that the Russian parliament will not be calling for an investigation into allegations of corruption leveled by opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation against Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The Moscow Times reports that members of the ruling United Russia party have labeled Navalny's claims a "fantasy," while associates such as Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy head of the Just Russia party, called it "fake news." Meanwhile, opposition parties such as the Russian Communist Party and the Liberal Democrat Party have also indicated that they have no intention of further investigating the issue.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen has introduced a bill that would empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT, a pro-Kremlin propaganda channel funded by the Russian government. Both RT and the Russian government have denied Shaheen's allegations, with RT stating that it is editorially independent of the Kremlin despite receiving official funding. At the same time, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the lower house of the Russian parliament has responded in kind, ordering a probe into whether CNN, the Voice of America and RFE/RL's Russian Service (known locally as Radio Svoboda) were in compliance with Russian laws.
Organizers of the "Crimea is Ours" event in Russia evidently paid "demonstrators" to participate in the pro-government event, reports Russia expert Paul Goble in his Window on Eurasia blog. Goble notes that organizers posted ads online (which were later removed) telling people they would be paid 400 rubles (about $7) if they attended the event for three hours. Earlier reports had indicated that Russian officials had ordered universities and government firms to dispatch people to the celebrations, setting quotas for how many people were needed to attend. It was reported that "no fewer than 2,000" people lined up to get paid for their participation in the event, and those who did get paid were upset that authorities weren't paying them more, given that participation in past events such as "Day of the Defender of the Fatherland" received around 450 rubles. Overall, some 150,000 Russians participated in the nationwide celebrations.