Many Russians were happy to exchange the freedoms of the 1990s for a stream of oil money and a concept of ‘order’ guaranteed by a paternalistic leader. Following western sanctions, a massive expansion of the military industrial complex secured the loyalty of oligarchs and compensated for the loss of superpower status. Putin’s popularity may be wavering, but the demands he caters to are stronger than ever.
Russian investigative journalist, co-founder and editor of Agentura.ru, a watchdog of the Russian secret services’ activities. Has been covering security services and terrorism issues since 1999. Co-authored with Irina Borogan: The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security Stateand the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (2010); The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators(2015) and the New Online Revolutionaries (2015). An edition of the Red Web, with a new chapter on the US election and the Russian interference in 2016, was published in August 2017
The nascent internet played a key role in defeating the military coup in Russia in 1991, writes Andrei Soldatov. However, the democratic promise of the web was never fulfilled. In the 2000s, it became a means of escape for a disaffected middle class closed out of the political process. The failed protest wave of 2011–2012 bore the mark of this ‘lost decade’. Meanwhile, in the era of political trolling, online participation has come to mean something very different.
Not content with controlling service providers and intimidating users, the Kremlin is turning to China for technology to filter Russian cyberspace. Beijing is all too willing to lend a hand.
Russian hackers were able to interfere in the US election because of public receptivity to anti-establishment messages. Investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan argue that distrust in traditional media provides fertile ground for Russian disinformation.