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

Clumsy implementation of mass IP bans create a difficulty in accessing global Internet resources, in a move that is NOT based in propaganda

Seraphim Hanisch

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First appeared on RussiaFeed.com

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 dealershipscould 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 Bellthat 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 disputeas “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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EU and Japan ink free trade deal representing over 30% of global GDP

The free trade agreement represents a victory for free trade in the face of growing protectionism

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In a bid to preserve free trade and strengthen their trade partnership, the European Union and Japan have finished a free trade zone agreement that has been sitting in the pipeline for years.

The present global economic outlook provided the needed spur to action to get the ball rolling again and now it has finally reached the end zone and scored another point for free and open trade against the growing influence of protectionism, which has been creeping up with alarming rapidity and far reaching consequences in recent months.

Under the deal, Japan will scrap tariffs on some 94% of goods imported from Europe and the EU in turn is canning 99% of tariffs on Japanese goods.

Between the European Union and Japan, the trade deal impacts about 37% of the world’s GDP, making it one of the largest and impactful of such agreements.

The Japan Times reports:

Top European Union leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an economic partnership agreement Tuesday in Tokyo, a pact that will create a massive free trade zone accounting for 37 percent of the world’s trade by value.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hastily arranged their visit to Tokyo after Abe was forced to abruptly cancel plans to attend a July 11 signing ceremony in Brussels in the aftermath of flooding and mudslides in western Japan.

Japanese officials said the signing is particularly important to counter intensifying protectionism worldwide triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Negotiations on the pact between Japan and the EU, which started in 2013, had stagnated for a time but regained momentum after Trump took office in January 2017.

“We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Abe after they signed the agreement.

“The relationship between the EU and Japan has never been stronger. Geographically we are far apart, but politically and economically we could be hardly any closer,” Tusk said. “I’m proud today we are taking our strategic partnership to a new level.”

Tusk stressed that the EU and Japan are partners sharing the same basic values, such as liberal democracy, human rights and rule-based order.

Abe also emphasized the importance of free and fair trade.

“Right now, concerns are rising over protectionism all around the world. We are sending out a message emphasizing the importance of a trade system based on free and fair rules,” he said.

The pact will create a free trade bloc accounting for roughly 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Japan and the EU hope to have the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both parties, come into force by March.

Under the EPA, tariffs on about 99 percent of Japan’s exported goods to the EU will eventually be eliminated, while duties on 94 percent of EU’s exported items to Japan will be abolished, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The EPA will eliminate duties of 10 percent on Japan’s auto exports to the EU seven years after the pact takes effect. The current 15 percent duties on wine imports from the EU will be eliminated immediately, while those on cheese, pork and beef will be sharply cut.

In total, the EPA will push up domestic GDP by 1 percent, or ¥5 trillion a year, and create 290,000 new jobs nationwide, according to the government.

“The world is now facing raging waves of protectionism. So the signing ceremony at this time is particularly meaningful,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said earlier this month on condition of anonymity.

“The impact for Japan is big,” the official said.

Fukunari Kimura, an economics professor at Keio University, said the EU is now trying to accelerate the ratification process.

“This is a repercussion of President Trump’s policies. They will try to ratify it before Brexit in March of next year,” he said in an interview with The Japan Times last week.

But the deal has raised concerns among some domestic farmers, in particular those from Hokkaido, the country’s major dairy producer.

According to an estimate by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the EPA will cut national production in the agriculture, fishery and forestry industries by up to ¥114.3 billion a year, with Hokkaido accounting for 34 percent of the predicted losses.

“The sustainable development of the prefecture’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries is our top priority. We need to make efforts to raise our international competitiveness,” Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi said during a news conference July 10.

Japan and the EU had reached a basic agreement on the EPA in December.

Tokyo also led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in January 2017.

In March, 11 countries including Japan signed the so-called TPP11, or a revised TPP pact that does not include the U.S.

“The Japan-EU EPA is another important step for Japan to strengthen its trade relationship with key trading partners, and demonstrate that trade liberalization is alive and well, even if the United States is taking a different stance,” wrote Wendy Cutler, a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, in an email sent to The Japan Times last week.

“The EU deal also reduces Japanese dependence on the U.S. market and thus increases its leverage to resist unreasonable trade demands by the United States,” she wrote.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the EU, which accounts for 22 percent of the world’s GDP, was the destination for 11.4 percent of Japanese exports in 2016. In the same year, the figure for the U.S. was 20.2 percent and 17.7 percent for China.

In 2016, Japan’s exports to the EU totaled ¥8 trillion, while reciprocal trade was ¥8.2 trillion.

The deal provides tariff relief for both parties and can improve the quantity of trade between them, expand the economy and create many jobs. It also helps to further diversify their trade portfolios in order to mitigate the prospect of a single global trade partner wielding too much influence, which in turn provides a certain amount of cover from any adverse actions or demands from a single actor. In this way, current trade dependencies can be reduced and free and diversified trade is further bolstered.

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The man behind Ukraine coup is now turning Greece against Russia (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 57.

Alex Christoforou

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On July 11, Greece said it would expel two Russian diplomats and barred the entry of two others.

The Duran reported that the formal reason is alleged meddling in an attempt to foment opposition to the “historic” name deal between Athens and Skopje paving the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership. Moscow said it would respond in kind.

Nothing like this ever happened before. The relations between the two countries have traditionally been warm. This year Moscow and Athens mark the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Hellenic Republic. They have signed over 50 treaties and agreements.

Greek news daily, Kathimerini says the relationship started to gradually worsen behind the scenes about a couple of years ago. What happened back then? Geoffrey Pyatt assumed office as US Ambassador to Greece. Before the assignment he had served as ambassador to Ukraine in 2013-2016 at the time of Euromaidan – the events the US took active part in. He almost openly contributed into the Russia-Ukraine rift. Now it’s the turn of Greece. The ambassador has already warned Athens about the “malign influence of Russia”. He remains true to himself.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris connect the dots between the Ukraine coup and Greece’s recent row with Russia, and the man who is in the middle of it all, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.

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Via Sputnik News

Actions similar to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Greece do not remain without consequences, said spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.

“We have an understanding that the people of Greece should communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged,” Zakharova said at a briefing.

“Unfortunately, of course, we are talking about politics. Such things do not remain without consequences, do not disappear without a trace. Of course, unfortunately, all this darkens bilateral relations, without introducing any constructive principle,” she added.

On July 11, the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported that Athens had decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban two more from entering the country over illegal actions that threatened the country’s national security. The publication claimed that the diplomats attempted to intervene in a domestic issue, namely the changing of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the Republic of North Macedonia, the agreement for which was brokered by Skopje and Athens last month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has vowed to give a mirror response to Greece’s move.

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Russia just DUMPED $80 billion in US debt

The US Treasury published a report naming those countries that are the largest holders of US bonds. The list includes 33 countries, and for the first time Russia is no longer in it.

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Russia has stopped “inching towards de-dollarization” as I wrote about on July 3rd, and has now energetically walked out of the list of largest holders of US government bonds, hence this update. For the two months ending in May 2018, Moscow has offloaded more than $80 billion in US Government debt obligations.

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The $30 billion “minimum” listing Rubicon has been crossed by Russia.

As of the end of May, Russia had bonds worth only $ 14.9 billion. For comparison: in April, Russia was on the Treasury list with bonds totaling $48.7 billion. Even then it was offloading US$ debt securities as Russia owned in March over $96 billion. At the end of 2017, Russia had US treasury securities worth $102.2 billion. It is anyones guess what Russia will own when the June and July figures are released in August and September – probably less than today.

This simply serves as a confirmation that Russia is steadfastly following a conservative policy of risk diversification in several areas such as financial, economic, and geopolitical. The US public debt and spend is increasingly viewed as a heightened risk area, deserving sober assessment.

So where have all the dollars gone? The total reserves of the Russian Central Bank have not changed and remain at approximately the equivalent of $ 457 billion, so what we are seeing is a shift of assets to other central banks, other asset classes, just not US$ government bonds.

During the same time (April-May) as this US$ shift happened, the Russian Central Bank bought more than 1 million troy ounces of gold in 60 days, and continues.

For comparison sake, the maximum Russia investment in US public debt was in October 2010 totaling $176.3 billion. Today it is $14.9 billion.

The largest holders of US government bonds as of May are China ($ 1,183.1 billion), Japan ($ 1048.8 billion), Ireland ($ 301 billion), Brazil ($ 299.2 billion), Great Britain ($ 265 billion).

Using the similar conservative metrics that the Russian Central Bank has been rather successfully applying through this geopolitically and economically challenging period with the US and the US Dollar, it may not stretch the imagination too much that other countries such as China may eventually follow suit. Who will finance the debt/spend then?

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