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Russian move to block Telegram creates wider access problems for Russian Internet users

Seraphim Hanisch

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Internet users in the Russian Federation may have noticed something different in the last week or two. Many Internet sites that were available in March are no longer available now, at least not without a VPN in use to set the user’s computer outside the Russian Federation.

Is this government censorship?

Hardly, at least not in the expected sense of sanctioning the West.

It is a very clumsy attempt by the Russian government to restrict access to Telegram. If one wants to call that move censorship it might be legitimate, but it still is not a move that has anything to do with tensions with the West.

In our newspiece dated 14 April, the Russian censorship authority Roskomnadzor (RKN) announced the forthcoming restriction against Telegram, Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov’s latest messaging enterprise. While the date that the ban was to take effect was not released, it apparently has been put in place now.

On 22 April, Pavel Durov had this to say on Twitter:

Pavel Durov was a co-founder of vKontakte (VK), a social network very similar to the American Facebook, but targeted at the Russian market.

The Russian government has taken issue with Durov’s Telegram network because its ability to encrypt communication end-to-end is so strong that encryption keys are required to crack it. This has created unwitting cover for ISIS personnel. and the point of view of the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) is that this is a threat to the security of the Russian Federation. When the FSB requested decryption keys for Telegram users in Russia, Pavel Durov refused to grant them.

Unfortunately, the FSB’s move to get Rozkomnadzor to restrict Telegram from being used within Russian territorial bounds was further complicated when the messaging network shifted its service to two giant American web hosts, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services, while at the same time repeatedly changing its IP address to skip ahead of Roskomnadzor. So RKN was unable to restrict Telegram by just blocking one or a few addresses.

To try to stop Telegram services from being accessible, RKN then blocked a rather wide range of IP addresses that belong to Google. When this happened, other sites that also use IP addresses in this range were cut off. 

The New York Times reported on some of the effects:

The collateral damage hit a variety of other sites, like Viber, another messaging app, as well as small businesses including a language school and a courier service, all of which suffered financial losses.

Volvo dealerships could not access their service records, according to press reports, and Kremlin museums had to suspend ticket sales. Roskomnadzor said it unblocked individual sites as soon as the agency became aware of a problem.

The Agora group of human rights lawyers, which represents Telegram in Russian courts, said in a statement that it had received 73 complaints about blocked websites. The organization planned to file a formal complaint with the prosecutor general’s office.

In addition to the virtual warfare, the two sides sparred publicly. Mr. Zharov told the independent Russian news outlet The Bell that his agency had been able to cut off one-third of the traffic to Telegram, while the company said the figure was 5 percent. The Bell suggested that traffic even rose on the day the initial blocks had been imposed.

Telegram has been sending messages to users encouraging them to use alternative means, including Virtual Private Networks, which effectively connect to the internet outside Russia, to evade the ban.

Mr. Durov is marketing this dispute as “digital resistance”, a move which has gained the support of Edward Snowden, the NSA-turned-political refugee.

However, while the feud between Pavel Durov and the FSB and RKN are making some news stories in the West, the Russian viewpoint is a little less sensational. As assessment by an expert in Internet and IT security in Russia shared this opinion with me:

The situation looks ugly for Russian IT, not because of the blockings themselves, but because the whole picture looks stupid when viewed from outside:

  • Durov fulfills the requirements of other governments but not the requirements of Russian government – for example blocking Telegram channels in Iran in December 2017.
  • There are problems with other IT services due to the mass IP bans set in place
  • Users of Telegram are told in glowing terms about the privacy that they are able to have, but usually do not use, such as the “secret chats” feature, which provides end-to-end encryption.

However, there is some logic here.

For many foreign IT companies, the Russian market is not a primary market; it is small. So, when they decide to adapt their services and products to the local laws and markets, they first try to understand how much this will cost. and then from this, they determine whether or not the market is really that important for them.

Russia in not at the top of the ratings for IT spending.

So, sometimes it is simply not profitable to adapt.

To that end, Durov is acting like an astute businessman. He is not interested in the Russian market (he said this in Twitter recently), the Russian segment of Telegram is just 6~7% of all the Telegram user base. Also, it is risky to be a Russian now while building an international IT company, as we see in similar situations, such as that with Kaspersky Lab.

Durov made a small PR appearance, showing that his office in Dubai.

He is not really aimed at the Russian market. But the hype gave him an international advertising campaign for free –  he is talented entrepreneur. Go to Pavel Durov’s Twitter feed and you can see this campaign in full swing presently.

To offer further perspective, you can find information about banning Telegram channels in Iran. The minister of communication of Iran asked Durov to block the channel in his Twitter and Durov did this. Iranian users number about 50-60% of the whole user base of Telegram, not 6-7% as in Russia.

Even though the unique value proposition of Telegram was the statement that “it is the most secure…”, there are already many popular messengers apps, such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype. So, it is impossible for Durov now to give up here – security is the main differentiator of his product. He may use this situation again to try and highlight that “Telegram is secured”, but in reality he is likely to cooperate with other governments.”

In a relevant development, Iranian officials said that their government officials are no longer allowed to use Telegram, They also said if Durov’s messenger app refuses to localize Iranian user data in Iran’s territory and if Telegram does not create a local office in the country, then Telegram will be banned in Iran.

Given that Iranian users form a huge part of the Telegram user base, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

 

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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