Vladimir Putin is building a propaganda network of friendly blogs, The Washington Post reports.
Allies [of Putin] are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network -- one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control.
An example: After an April 14 opposition march in which 170 were arrested, a pro-Putin blogger named Pavel Danilin and his "Young Guard" team started blogging about a small pro-Kremlin march.
They linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts about the pro-Kremlin march had crowded out all the items about the opposition march on the Yandex Web portal's coveted ranking of the top five Russian blog posts.
"We played it beautifully," Danilin said.
A number of private entrepreneurs are also taking pro-Putin messages to the Net. But it's not clear if they are being guided by the Kremlin.
The main champion of this ideal is 28-year-old businessman Konstantin Rykov. The pearl of Rykov's media empire is the two-year-old Vzglyad ("View") online newspaper, which features a serious-looking news section with stories toeing the Kremlin line and a lifestyle section that covers the latest in luxury cars and interior design. Surveys rank Vzglyad as one of Russia's five most-visited news sites.
Kremlin officials deny any involvement. "It is a general habit of everyone to connect every popular occurrence and success with the Kremlin," deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said when asked about Rykov. "In reality, it is not so."
But Russia's free market leans decidedly pro-Putin. Gazeta.ru, the country's most respected online news source was sold to a Putin loyalist. Alexander Mamut, a tycoon with Kremlin ties, bought the rights to develop a Russian-language LiveJournal.
"Mr. Rykov is pro-Kremlin. Mamut and Sup are pro-Kremlin. The social networks are all being bought by pro-Kremlin people," Ruslan Paushu, 30, a popular blogger who works for Rykov, said in an interview. "Everything's okay."
Beyond all this, a new twist. Putin has plans to build a separate information network for former Soviet republics only.
Wolfgang Kleinwaechter, special adviser to the chairmen of the Internet Governance Forum, a group convened by the United Nations, said some Russian officials he has spoken to are considering a separate Internet, with Cyrillic domain names, and appear to be studying China's Internet controls.
Peskov, the deputy presidential spokesman, said in an interview that a Russia-only Internet was still in the "investigative phase," adding, "I don't know if it's more than thinking aloud."
"It's not meant to get rid of the global network," he said. "It's a discussion of creating an addition."