News Brief

Russia bans website critical of Putin

Launched in 2015 by Artem Kruglov, “Putinism as it is” was a blog dedicated to unmasking what the Putin government actually represented, instead of what the Kremlin propaganda machine described it. It became a place for critics of Moscow to read allegations of the president’s connections with criminals and illegal activities.

Until this week. When curious Russians tried to open the site, all they got was a message saying that the site “has been blocked by the order of Russian government,” meaning that Roskomnadzor — Russia’s media and communications watchdog — has banned the webpage in it’s latest efforts to cleanse the Internet of information the authorities disapprove of.

The blog reported that the ban came after a decision by the Solntsevo District Court as part of the lawsuit filed last December by Sergei Mikhailov, a businessman widely believed to be one of the leaders of the Solntsevo mafia established in the 1980s’ Russia. But despite widespread legends and stories about the group, Mikhailov both denies his involvement in the crime syndicate and claims the organization doesn’t even exist “as it’s not registered anywhere.”

In December the court ruled in his favor, finding that Mikhailov wasn’t part of the Solntsevo crime syndicate and prohibited publishing any information that indicated otherwise. Writers at Putinism As It Is have continued publishing material that depicted Mikhailov (often referred to as “Mikhas”) as one of the top figures of the gang. Some stories purport to show how the gang reportedly earned money by racketeering and blackmailing and then moved to trafficking in arms and drugs.

“Mikhas, Japanchik and Khachidze [other members of the gang] bought goods [cocaine], and St. Petersburg brotherhoods secured them the sea roads,” reads one of the articles on the website, adding that “Mikhas and Jemal [Khachidze] continued with their drug business under Putin as before.”

The government has denied this fact. It’s not clear exactly what relationship Mikhailov has with senior Russian officials. He has bragged about a watch that he claims he’s received as a present from President Putin. Ties between Solntsevo and Russian authorities are mentioned in the 2010 WikiLeaks trove of State Department cables. Those U.S. documents say Russia’s Federal Security Service provides Solntsevo with strong protection.