Cyberspace Pierces Putin's Mystique

James Brooke

Russians again elected Vladimir Putin president on Sunday.  But his third term as president promises to be very different than his first two.  Russia's rapidly expanding Internet is piercing the Putin image as a 21st century czar.

Vladimir Putin is not on trial.  It is an anti-Putin attack video prepared days before Russia's presidential election.

Watched by more than three-million people, this 50-second fake news clip shows how Russia's political warfare is moving to cyberspace.

Half of all Russian voters are now on the Internet, a phenomenon that was marginal when Mr. Putin left the presidency, in 2008.

Konstantin von Eggert, a Russian television and radio journalist talks about the impact of the Internet. "It definitely lifts the taboo, that I think has been pretty much already lifted, on this image of an untouchable, omnipotent, knowledgeable leader who always knows best," he said.

Putin supporters strike back with this music video "VVP" - the initials of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Tajik crooner Tolibjon Kurbankhanov sings:

"VVP - he saved the country
VVP - he protects us
VVP - raised up Russia"

"Russia Without Putin" offers a nightmare scenario of Russia without a modern day czar.

NATO troops occupy Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost region.

China pushes north and occupies a big chunk of Siberia.

Japan occupies Russia's Pacific Coast port of Vladivostok.

Money printing makes the ruble worthless.

Electricity is rationed.  Anarchy reigns in Russian cities.

The West responds, awarding opposition leader Alexei Navalny the Nobel Peace Prize.

Concluding with the opposition slogan "Russia Without Putin," the video adds: You are welcome."  

Von Eggert sees the internet speeding up and freeing Russia's political debate. "The spread of the Internet in Russia undermines the ability of the government to impact the day-to-day agenda and to impose its views," he said.

In a counterattack, "The Real Putin" focuses on the yachts and palaces associated with Mr. Putin and his associates in the energy business.

This video focuses on corruption - a leading Russian complaint against the Putin government.

Using humor Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian celebrity, mocks filmed endorsements of Mr. Putin.

To combat charges that protesters are big city snobs, opposition sites promote a song by two veterans of Russia's elite paratrooper core.  They sing a bitter ballad:

"You are no different from me, a man and not God.  I'm no different from you, a man, not a sod; We will not let you keep lying.  We will not let you keep stealing."

This May, Vladimir Putin returns to the Kremlin.

But, thanks to the Internet, he will rule a Russia that is more skeptical, and more informed, than ever before.

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