20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights, Republic reveals the details behind Humpty-Dumpty, a group of the most infamous political hackers in Russia; The New Times interviews Oleg Vyugin, former head of Russia’s Federal Financial Markets Service; Ivan Davydov discusses Natalya Poklonskaya’s attack on film director Aleksei Uchitel and his new movie about Nikolai II; Irina Chetverikova analyzes the consequences of the decriminalization of domestic violence in Russia; and Forbes.ru writes about the growing demand among Russians for London premium real estate. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Three Russian hackers will be tried for treason. Photo: Sergei Konkov / TASS.


Republic.ru: The End of Humpty-Dumpty: Who Is Behind the Most Infamous Political Hackers

  • One of Russia’s most notorious hacking scandals of recent years has, it seems, come to a close. The FSB arrested Vladimir Anikeev, who is believed to be behind the group “Humpty-Dumpty” that rose to fame in 2014 after publishing emails and other sensitive information belonging to high-ranking Russian officials.  
  • Members of the group revealed in an encrypted interview that they have many “sympathizers” in the presidential administration and in government.  
  • The group’s organizer, under the pseudonym Lewis, supposedly met with a journalist from Republic in Bangkok, Thailand. However, it was forbidden to record the conversation and reveal the man’s identity.  
  • Later, Lewis disclosed to a journalist from Meduza that “Humpty-Dumpty” is just a side project. The main purpose of their organization is to obtain information for money. He also revealed that the team consists of about a dozen people with a regular client base.
  • Humpty-Dumpty reached its peak in 2014. The group targeted Igor Strelkov, the DNR commander, leaking his email inbox online and exposing various personal details. Other victims include Evgeniy Prigozhin and his “Troll Factory,” whose employees actively write pro-government commentary on social media sites.  
  • The group also collected various materials supposedly belonging to Dmitri Medvedev, including his email inbox and telephone information.
  • Furthermore, the archive contains documents concerning the Moscow mayoral elections in 2014, as well as information regarding the involvement of Konstantin Malofeev, the so-called “Orthodox oligarch,” in the Donetsk People’s Republic.  
  • In 2015 the Humpty-Dumpty blog produced half as many posts as the previous year because the hackers had begun to put the information they had gathered up for sale on joker.buzz. The group had considered creating a platform similar to Wikileaks, an organisation with more of a political motive.
  • However, at the end of October 2016 the story of Humpty-Dumpty was closed for good when the FSB detained Anikeev. The fatal moment came when Anikeev decided to publish the contents of Vladislav Surkov’s email inbox, including a document that implicated Surkov in the politics of Ukraine’s conflicted eastern regions.
  • It was only after his arrest that “Lewis” began working with Sergey Mikhailov, the head of the FSB’s information technology center.  
  • Humpty-Dumpty continued its work even after the arrest of their leader; their Twitter account was active up until December.  
  • Novaya Gazeta wrote that the FSB had come to the conclusion that the U.S. had received information from Mikhailov about the Russian company King Servers, which was supposedly used to carry out attacks on the U.S. electoral system.
  • Former hacker and FSB employee Dmitri Dokuchaev was identified as one of the key operatives, as well as Ruslan Stoyanov, head of cybersecurity of Kaspersky Lab.  
  • Further investigation revealed a number of others connected with Humpty-Dumpty resident in Thailand, and another from the Baltics.  
  • Stoyanov, Mikhailov and Dokuchaev will be tried for treason.  

Republic.ru, Конец «Шалтая-Болтая». Кто стоит за самыми известными политическими хакерами, Дмитрий Филонов, 30 января 2017 г.


The New Times: Oleg Vyugin: “2017 Is the Last Year of Calm”

  • The editor of The New Times interviews Oleg Vyugin, member of the board of Binbank, professor at the Higher School of Economics, and former head of Russia’s Federal Financial Markets Service.
  • On sanctions removal: Trump will only ease sanctions if he’s going to receive something in return. He is a businessman, and in business no one does anything for free. While people of all political persuasions in the U.S. oppose forgiving Russia, many in Trump’s administration are openly calling for a purely pragmatic relationship with the country.
  • The sanctions that can be realistically removed are sectoral—those that affect access to technology and Western financial resources.
  • On the sanctions impact: If sanctions are not removed, the result for the Russian economy will be technological regression.
  • On oil prices: Prices will fluctuate around $40-45 per barrel. It’s worth keeping an eye on oil stocks and reserves of oil products. If they start to decline, then the price of oil will rise.  
  • On the Trump factor for oil markets: Expect the U.S. to start selling oil. For Trump, it’s a serious political lever against the Middle East and Russia. It’s hard to second-guess Trump, but he likes the idea of increasing American oil production.  
  • On whether globalism and the EU are good for Russia: Yes, these two factors make it easier for Russia to trade, but for that Russia needs to integrate into European structures. On the other hand, if Russia were to become part of the global economy, it would lose its best and brightest—they would simply leave.  
  • On the main risks for the Russian economy in 2017:  2017 will be largely risk-free, mainly because during 2015-2016 the economy adapted to low incomes and a radical reduction of the country’s wealth. Now the mood is changing: the ruble and oil prices have stabilized and the economy could even grow by 1-2 percent.
  • 2017 will be the last year of calm when the budget is doable. But in 2018, if the price of oil does not rise, it’s not going to work at all.  

New Times, Олег Вьюгин: «2017-й — последний спокойный год», Артем Торчинский, Евгения Альбац, 30 января 2017 г.


InLiberty: Attorney General’s Story

  • Author: Ivan Davydov, journalist and author.
  • Davydov discusses a somewhat absurd story that has been gaining traction in the Russian media. Former Crimean Attorney General and current Russian Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya picked a fight against Aleksei Uchitel’s recent movie “Matilda,” which shows the last Russian Emperor Nikolai II having an affair with a ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya (before he became Emperor, however).
  • Poklonskaya saw the movie and filed a request to the prosecutor’s office to investigate it, since, in her opinion, the movie contained slander and violated Nikolai II’s privacy rights. She also pointed to potential incitement of hatred and even the charge of insulting religious feelings.
  • Davydov notes that Poklonskaya was assigned an important role by the Kremlin—a link that puts the return of Crimea into the neo-imperial propaganda context. However, the author finds her actions absurd and laughable.
  • The case in question illustrates well what the Kremlin is trying to do with Russian history. The temptation to encroach on the historical field and turn it into a propaganda tool (as it was in the Soviet times) is too strong.
  • But whereas Soviet propaganda interpreted history as a series of developments that predetermined the emergence of the Soviet Union and relied on the idea of the glorious Communist future, Putin’s propaganda aims to rewrite the past. It is the past that needs to look bright and spotless; therefore, any attempt to point out any flaw is deemed to be the underhand scheming of state enemies.
  • The Russian state tends to accuse anyone who dares to open their eyes and speak up about the past of being publicly divisive. And these accusations will only gain momentum in the run-up to the centennial of the blood-soaked Bolshevik Revolution.
  • Davydov concludes that the real threat here is the state’s enslavement of the past, which could indeed split modern society. First, the past is whitewashed, and then any dissenters are labeled enemies of the state.

InLiberty, Прокурорская история, Иван Давыдов, 31 января 2017 г.


Vedomosti: Socio-Criminal Regulation

  • Author: Irina Chetverikova, fellow at the Institute of Administration of Law (European University at St. Petersburg).
  • Russian Duma recently passed legislation that decriminalized domestic violence for first-time violators.
  • Chetverikova notes that the low level of discussion of this problem showed that deputies do not recognize domestic violence as a social issue; moreover, it is perceived as almost a norm of family relations.
  • The author argues that passing this law, despite its controversy, does not change the reality: anyone who deals with this issue (psychologists, social workers, human rights activists) knows that the police are highly reluctant to accept reports filed by victims of domestic violence.
  • According to the police, in more than half of the cases, victims withdraw such reports, which undermines the police performance statistics.
  • Moreover, regardless of the amended law, previously the toughest punitive measure taken against those found guilty in domestic violence cases was only six (or in an earlier version of the law, three) months’ imprisonment.
  • In practice, judges would sentence perpetrators to fines (in 70 percent of cases) or compulsory community services (in 30 percent of cases). None of these measures makes the victim’s life any easier, as the fines are usually taken from the family budget, thus essentially punishing all parties to the conflict.
  • According to Chetverikova, a much bigger problem than decriminalization of domestic violence is the lack of protective social infrastructure, e.g. crisis centers, shelters, psychological consulting, and free legal assistance. In Russia, there are no such protective legal tools as restraining orders or temporary suspension of parental rights.
  • The author concludes that Russian legislators are only concerned with amending the Criminal Code, but don’t understand the real consequences of their actions.

Ведомости, Социально-уголовное регулирование, Ирина Четверикова, 2 февраля 2017 г.


Forbes.ru: Return of the Oligarchs: London Gets Interesting for the Russians Again

  • January 2017 marks a remarkable threefold increase in demand for London premium real estate among wealthy Russians. Following the Brexit referendum, Russian investors began researching the market and since last summer have been waiting for it to cool down.
  • Once the British government’s plans to leave the EU took shape and were officially announced at the 2017 Davos Forum, the delayed demand returned in full, encouraged by the fact that the pound had lost about 40 percent of its value to the ruble.
  • The highest number of requests are about apartments priced at 1-3 million pounds, but the demand for expensive homes (worth up to 20 million pounds) has spiked as well. Among the most popular London neighborhoods among Russian buyers are: Kensington, Belgravia, Chelsea, Westminster, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and Mayfair.
  • According to Forbes.ru, Russians are purchasing London real estate for personal use, for their children, and as a conservative investment.
  • Forbes.ru estimates that now is a good time for such an investment, as by 2020 real estate prices in London are projected to increase by 20 percent.

Forbes.ru, Возвращение олигархов: Лондон вновь начал интересовать россиян, Марина Кузьмина, 31 января 2017 г.


 Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.