Krem­lin is los­ing con­trol of news Mil­len­ni­als by­pass state me­dia and stay in­formed and con­nected via the In­ter­net

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Sabra Ayres Ayres is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

RAMENSKOYE, Rus­sia — Stepan Vy­boch is a 22year-old ecol­ogy ma­jor who started his own YouTube chan­nel to dis­cuss his views on Rus­sia’s big is­sues. Some of his videos are po­lit­i­cal. Others are snip­pets of events in Ramenskoye, the univer­sity stu­dent’s sub­ur­ban home­town about 30 miles south of Moscow.

Bright, tech­ni­cally savvy and po­lit­i­cally ac­tive out­side Moscow’s lib­eral cos­mopoli­tan cir­cles, Vy­boch is ex­actly the kind of mil­len­nial Rus­sian who has taken the Krem­lin by sur­prise.

Vy­boch has regis­tered with the Ramenskoye city gov­ern­ment to hold an an­ti­cor­rup­tion protest on Mon­day, one of about 220 demon­stra­tions planned across Rus­sia in re­sponse to op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny’s call for huge street marches. Protesters say they want an­swers to claims of gov­ern­ment-spon­sored cor­rup­tion raised in Navalny’s 50-minute YouTube video about Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev.

The video ex­posed what Navalny’s Anti-Cor­rup­tion Foun­da­tion says is an in­tri­cate cor­rup­tion scheme that has al­lowed the prime min­is­ter to amass lav­ish man­sions and feed an ex­pen­sive shop­ping habit. The video has been viewed more than 22 mil­lion times on YouTube, ac­cord­ing to Ser­afim Orekhanov, a Rus­sian jour­nal­ist who has been fol­low­ing the on­line cul­ture of Rus­sian youth.

Navalny, who says he hopes to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin for pres­i­dent in 2018, has urged his fol­low­ers to come out and sur­pass the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants seen on March 26, when tens of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors turned out across 80 Rus­sian cities. It was the big­gest street demon­stra­tion in Rus­sia since 2012. Hun­dreds were ar­rested that day across the coun­try, in­clud­ing Navalny.

Many of the par­tic­i­pants on March 26 were, like Vy­boch, in the 18-to-22 age group, a new de­mo­graphic of ac­tivism that sent shock waves through the Krem­lin.

The youth turnout showed the Krem­lin that its con­trolled mes­sag­ing on state-owned and con­trolled tele­vi­sion and news out­lets had missed a new gen­er­a­tion of Rus­sians, who see YouTube and so­cial me­dia net­works as their main source of news and en­ter­tain­ment, Orekhanov said.

Part of the suc­cess of Navalny’s YouTube chan­nel, known as Navalny LIVE, is the star him­self. Navalny, 41, isn’t just a talk­ing head or an old-school politi­cian. He doesn’t lec­ture, but in­stead gives straight talk in a way that is re­lat­able to a younger gen­er­a­tion, Orekhanov said.

“Tra­di­tional news is an old-fash­ioned con­cept to this gen­er­a­tion,” Orekhanov said. “YouTube has be­come what tele­vi­sion was to the older gen­er­a­tions.”

The Krem­lin has re­sponded with awk­ward at­tempts to quash youth in­volve­ment both in the streets and on­line.

Hu­man Rights Watch said there has been a gov­ern­ment cam­paign to in­tim­i­date Rus­sian stu­dents and young adults plan­ning to par­tic­i­pate, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent state­ment.

“Rather than re­spond­ing to le­git­i­mate pub­lic de­mands for ac­count­able gov­ern­ment, the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties are try­ing to quash the voices of the next gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers,” the group’s Hugh Wil­liamson said in a state­ment.

The State Duma, Rus­sia’s lower house of par­lia­ment, has in­tro­duced bills that would re­strict the use of so­cial me­dia by those un­der age 14 and ban the use of vir­tual pri­vate net­works, which can cir­cum­vent blocked web­sites. An­other law would re­quire on­line mes­sag­ing ser­vices to regis­ter with the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties, po­ten­tially ex­pos­ing their sub­scribers’ de­tails to gov­ern­ment sources.

Vy­boch said such in­tim­i­da­tion tech­niques only served to mo­ti­vate him more.

“The rea­son for the protest is to de­mand an­swers from the gov­ern­ment to these ques­tions about cor­rup­tion,” Vy­boch said. “But re­ally, my goal is to teach peo­ple how to get out on the streets and shout.”

Vy­boch’s gen­er­a­tion was born af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union and raised in a new world dom­i­nated by so­cial me­dia net­works and news video clips.

Young Rus­sians have learned to cir­cum­vent the Krem­lin’s grip on the me­dia to find news and en­ter­tain­ment through so­cial net­works and chan­nels such as Tele­gram, What­sApp, In­sta­gram, YouTube and Face­book.

“As long as we have the means to still do things with dif­fer­ent medi­ums, we should use them,” Vy­boch said. “Now it’s dif­fi­cult to see what could hap­pen in the fu­ture, so we must live in the mo­ment.”

The idea that Rus­sia has no in­de­pen­dent me­dia is not en­tirely true, said Sergei Smirnov, the ed­i­tor of Me­di­a­zona, an in­de­pen­dent news por­tal ded­i­cated to cov­er­ing court cases and break­ing news. The site has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for un­bi­ased and con­sis­tent cov­er­age of both high-pro­file cases, such as those in­volv­ing Navalny, and smaller cases in­volv­ing Krem­lin crack­downs on dis­sent­ing voices.

Un­like the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, the Krem­lin isn’t able to shut down the en­tire In­ter­net, Smirnov said. “They sim­ply don’t have that tech­nol­ogy or ca­pa­bil­ity.”

But what it can do is pres­sure ad­ver­tis­ers to stay away from cer­tain me­dia, lim­it­ing sig­nif­i­cant sources of rev­enue. One of Rus­sia’s most pop­u­lar in­de­pen­dent news out­lets, Rain TV, re­cently moved to a sub­scrip­tion-based pay­wall sys­tem, some­thing that more sites are look­ing into.

“In that sense, our prob­lem as in­de­pen­dent me­dia is not with the Krem­lin si­lenc­ing us,” Smirnov said. “It’s with money. Like all jour­nal­ism, we need more money.”

In his most re­cent YouTube video, Vy­boch sits at his desk and talks to the cam­era about the new Rus­sian film “Love­less,” which won a jury prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

The dra­matic film has been called a com­men­tary on the fail­ures of the Rus­sian state, and Vy­boch, speak­ing to his YouTube sub­scribers, quickly draws par­al­lels to the film and the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion both in his city of 150,000 and in Rus­sia.

“Dis­cussing this movie can also help us to un­der­stand that it all is very in­ter­con­nected — cor­rup­tion, do­mes­tic prob­lems,” he said to the cam­era. “Con­sid­er­ing this might help find the roots of our prob­lems. And those roots are all com­ing from one place. Come to the protest on June 12 at 14:00. Let’s talk, ar­gue, let’s get to the roots of these prob­lems.”

Evgeny Feld­man As­so­ci­ated Press

RUS­SIAN op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny, speak­ing in Perm last week, has urged Rus­sians to at­tend mass anti-cor­rup­tion demon­stra­tions Mon­day.

Pavel Golovkin As­so­ci­ated Press

NAVALNY, on screen, made a YouTube video de­tail­ing what he calls an in­tri­cate cor­rup­tion scheme.

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