Photograph taken by blogger-activist Roman Dobrokhotov showing an area of Astrakhan opposite his hotel in the center of the city.
Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum is in Astrakhan this week, and has filed two devastating reports that drive the final nail into the coffin of the lie that Russia has a vibrant Internet.
First, Birnbaum reports on how nobody outside Moscow has the vaguest clue who Alexei Navalny is, then he reports on how nobody in Astrakhan knows that mayoral contender Oleg Shein is on a hunger strike to protest what he believes was a rigged election that caused him to lose.
He notes that people in Astrakhan, a giant city of 500,000, have virtually no viable access to the Internet, hence they know neither Shein nor Navalny — and Astrakhan is of course a typical Russian city, not an aberration, which is why nobody anywhere outside Moscow knows Navalny.
This comes as no surprise to us, of course, since we’ve been reporting on Russia’s Potemkin Internet for years now. And it should surprise nobody else either, not if they are aware of Russia’s puny household incomes and creaking infrastructure. Most Russians simply can’t afford Internet access, and even if they could their browsing experience would not encourage them to use it and their level of civic activism would make it even less likely that they would use Internet access to defend their citizenship rights.
It is, quite simply, a myth that freedom on the Russian Internet may save Russian democracy. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. It’s because the Russian Internet is accessed by virtually nobody that there is some freedom there, more at least than in the rest of neo-Soviet Russia. The Kremlin simply doesn’t care much about the Internet because it knows hardly anybody can or will use it. Were it otherwise, the Kremlin would quickly snuff it out.