Soon the calendar will turn to 2015 – a new year will begin, but it will be business as usual for Russia as the Kremlin persists in the inexorable drumbeat of totalitarianism. Reeling under the weight of international sanctions, the collapse of oil prices, and the precipitous decline in the rouble, Russia is taking steps to keep its citizens in the dark.
To ensure that his popularity doesn’t experience a similar fate as the economy, Putin has marshaled his forces against the media lest people get a glimpse of the seeds of unrest which will be sewn in the streets next week. In response, the Russian government is seeking to prevent outlets like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google from documenting the protests.
The protests are ostensibly in support of the anti-corruption gadfly, Alexei Navalny, but the discontent runs much deeper than that. Many Russians are tired of the government’s attempts to stifle dissent and free speech critical of its actions which roused international ire. Meanwhile, the Russian government is eager to deflect attention from its failure to diversify the economy over the past 15 years of Putin. Its malfeasance will make the next few years difficult for the average Russian at the expense of Putin’s cronies who continue to prosper.
When the protest rallies were announced last week, a prosecutor from Russia’s communication regulator issued block orders to the tech giants. While initially compliant, the social networks backtracked when it became apparent that the news surrounding the demonstrations was so popular.
Much to Moscow’s chagrin, videos and tweets promoting the rally will be shown. It’s still possible that the Russian government will borrow a page from the Turkish government’s playbook and completely block the sites in the country. But it might be too late. For as governments are quickly learning, often times drastic actions yield counterproductive results. In this case, blocking the services may only draw more attention to the protest.
This is only the latest in a series of incidents which have ratcheted-up tensions between Western tech companies and the Kremlin. As a result, Google recently closed its offices in Russia. On the other hand, the Russian government is attempting to make companies store user data on servers within the country.
It is apparent that the Kremlin will try to mask its many missteps of the past by keeping its citizens in the dark while blaming the west for its economic plight. It is a strategy which will only serve to isolate it further from the rest of the world. The hope is that the tech companies maintain their resolve to be beacons of light for Russians thirsting for the truth.