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What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Russia’s Contested Elections

This report was published in conjunction with SecDev

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As the Russian government gears up for presidential elections in March, the BBC should brace for a barrage of cyberspace interventions, including legislative and regulatory clampdowns, DDoS attacks on the broadcaster’s website, and the intimidation of journalists and sources expressing opposition online.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, authorities are keenly aware of the power of cyber-activism – all the more so since government opponents used social-media outlets such as online blogs and Twitter to organize massive demonstrations after the December 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia. Throughout the election period, Russian authorities showed that they are poised to actively contest the opposition in cyberspace, launching cyber-attacks, posting online propaganda and threatening critics.

These tactics will increase in the lead-up to the March 4 election: While President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win, his party suffered signi cant losses in the December election, and supporters can be expected to take vigorous action to ensure a decisive victory this time.

At present, Russian of cials do not lter the internet extensively, but the BBC can expect to see interventions such as website shutdowns, hackers’ attacks and the use of fake pro-government websites. Similar strategies have been employed in other CIS states. They have also been deployed in con icts with neighbouring states such as Georgia and Estonia in recent years, and now more than ever, authorities recognize cyberspace as a critical battleground.2 Moreover, they have in recent years shown a new sophistication in information-control methods that marks a new era of post- Soviet information control.

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