Moscow correspondent of the Time Magazine Simon Schuster reported on Putin's regime in Russia:
- I was born in Moscow and we emigrated from Russia when I was seven. I grew up in San Francisco. Sometimes in conversations with my parents back home, I tell them the kinds of stories I am working on and they tell me to get the hell out there. Bear in mind their perception of Russia is still shaped by their memories of the Soviet regime, so they have a hard time believing anything has changed. They tried so hard to get me out that it's often hard for them to understand why I've gone back and started poking the government with a stick, as Navalny would say.
It's always important when comparing the KGB and the present day security service, the FSB, to remember the following: In the days of Stalin the KGB was responsible for mass-murders, Gulag prison camps and sent hundreds of thousands if not millions of Russians to their deaths. We are no longer living under Stalin's regime by any means. But I think it is fair to compare the present day security services to the late Soviet period.
The similarities lie in the way the FSB defines its enemies and goes after them. The tactics they've also recently engaged in have changed, at least in the sense that they are not trying to be subtle about what they're doing (it is not true: this gang has not yet admitted both Litvinenko's murder and the terrorist attack on Polish presidential plane at Smolensk on April 10, 2010 - KC).
The FSB have been targeting and intimidating western diplomats. What do you think they are trying to achieve with this? There is a general ideological turn away from cooperation with the west, focusing instead on Asia, and the near abroad, which is the former Soviet Union. I think the idea of shutting Russia off from foreign influence is at the core of this new law that was in fact enacted on November 14, the law on treason, where the legal definition of state secrets and of treason has changed. It's hard to put it in a nutshell, but it's made it a lot scarier for Russians to interact with foreigners of any kind.
Foreign journalists in Moscow usually live under the assumption that everything is tapped: phones, apartments, offices. Some friends and I have decided to pitch in for a bug detector to check our apartments. I'll let you know what we find.
I asked Russian activists how they deal with FSB surveillance, and of course they are not going to tell you how they deal with it, because it would reveal their secrets. But they do have a habit of removing the battery from their mobile phone when they meet at cafes or around kitchen tables; they believe that it prevents the FSB from using their phone to spy on them. It's almost compulsive. Likewise, they don't like to discuss things over the phone, they often prefer to meet in a public place and walk around.
Generally their aim is to conduct their activism and opposition work in a way that not only avoids breaking the law, but uses the law to fight back against the government. By being as open as possible they try to show how the government is violating its own laws by conducting this kind of surveillance.
As how the surveillance culture impacted the average Russian, I interviewed a retired officer of the FSB. He said the guys who are being watched are involved in politics, while 99% of the Russian population couldn't care less about politics. So it doesn't affect them.
Also, it's important to remember that the average Russian still remembers the experience of the Soviet Union, so they tend to take surveillance of dissidents as a given. If you ask average folks if they are outraged by it, they look at you as if you are a fool (slaves are slaves - KC).
The Russian opposition is a very diverse group of people, running the gamut from hardcore nationalists to anarchists and every kind of liberal in between. Among them you can find pretty strong anti-Americanism. For instance, many of them remember the NATO bombings of Serbia and Kosovo as hurting their Slavic brothers.
Navalny lacks perhaps in charisma he makes up for in organizing abilities. He is very good at what he calls poking them [the government] with a sharp stick, by which he means exposing specific details and evidence of corruption.
Department of Monitoring