The FINANCIAL — Twitter has blocked a satirical account lampooning Igor Sechin, the powerful head of state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft and a longtime confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The account, @Igor_Sechin, was blocked inside Russia after state media watchdog Roskomnadzor complained to Twitter that it violated Russian privacy laws.
Frequently obscene and ferociously critical of the Kremlin, @Igor_Sechin is among a handful of popular Russian-language Twitter parody feeds based on personas and institutions in the Russian government.
Most of these accounts skewer Russian officials with irony, bile, or both. A notable exception is one claiming the identity of Kremlin presidential adviser Vladislav Surkov. That account features tweets that dovetail with the enigmatic official’s ideological underpinnings.
Here’s a look at five of these Twitter parody accounts, which collectively have garnered some 1.5 million followers.
Launched in 2010 under the presidency of Putin protege and self-professed Internet lover Dmitry Medvedev, @KermlinRussia shot to Internet fame by using word-play and repurposed Kremlin talking points to needle Russia’s ruling elite.
Inattentive readers could be forgiven for initially thinking the account is actually linked to the Kremlin. It features a majestic night photograph of the Kremlin and slyly tweaks the words “president” and “Russia” to describe itself as “The Official Twitter Account of the Persident of Ruissia.”
The masterminds of KermlinRussia, Moscow-based public relations specialists Katya Romanovskaya and Arseny Bobrovsky, initially remained anonymous but revealed their identities in a 2013 interview with the Russian version of GQ.
The parody feed has become an institution in the liberal-leaning Russian blogosphere, with 1.24 million followers as of April 30.
Adorned with the dour visage of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, this account lobs broadsides at Russian officials with a mix of satire, outrage, and schadenfreude over bureaucratic incompetence.
The account’s handle is a reference to the Russian-language acronym for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, “MID RF,” and like KermlinRussia, it often plays on the ironic pretense of being an official mouthpiece for the government.
Since the account was launched in October 2012, it has accrued more than 88,000 followers.
This account, called “Peskov’s Mustache,” is a reference to Putin’s longtime spokesman, the urbane and mustachioed Dmitry Peskov. The tweets rely more on wry barbs than overt denunciations of top Russian officials. The person behind the account, which has 84,000 followers, rarely breaks from the satirical premise that it is actually Peskov clicking the “Tweet” button.
It would be exceedingly difficult to believe that this account, which Twitter blocked in Russia this week at the behest of Roskomnadzor, is actually maintained by the Rosneft chief and Kremlin insider. Aside from the fact that Sechin is not known to have any sort of social-media presence, the person behind the account is relentless in pillorying Putin.
The account features an unflattering photograph of Sechin with a snarled upper lip (with a U.S. flag tucked in the corner), essentially making it obvious upon first glance that it’s a parody account.
In its April 30 write-up of the dustup over @Igor_Sechin, TJ Journal quoted Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky as saying that the agency likely moved to block the feed based on a complaint that the account violated privacy laws.
As Meduza notes, however: “Twitter’s terms of service require parody accounts to identify themselves clearly, so readers don’t mistake these accounts for the real thing. If the fake Sechin account violated this policy, however, it would have been suspended from Twitter worldwide, rather than blocked in a single country.”
In his interview with TJ Journal, Ampelonsky did not specify whether it was Sechin himself who appealed to Roskomnadzor.
No other Russian-language Twitter parody account has spawned as much confusion and speculation about the author’s identity as this one purporting to convey the musings of Surkov, a top Kremlin adviser who is seen as the main architect of Putin’s political system.
With some 114,000 followers, the person or persons behind the account hews closely to the Kremlin line when commenting on Russian domestic and international affairs, lending an air of credibility to the possibility that Surkov himself is involved.
Both The Washington Post and The Moscow Times have quoted — and then retracted or deleted — comments from the SurkovRussia account as if they came from the official himself.
Surkov has denied having any social-media presence, though he has said that he is familiar with SurkovRussia, calling its tweets “witty” and “humorous.”
“But they’re not mine,” he told Interfax in 2013. “I don’t have any blogs in social media. None. This is rather unusual for these times, but that’s how it is.”
But Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart Of The New Russia, notes that Surkov “likes to invoke the new postmodern texts just translated into Russian, the breakdown of grand narratives, the impossibility of truth, how everything is only ‘simulacrum’ and ‘simulacra.'”
Some on Twitter have speculated that Surkov himself is running a Twitter feed that pretends to be a fake Surkov account.
Whoever is behind the SurkovRussia account, however, has poked fun at the official, who is often referred to as the “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin and was born as Aslambek Dudayev to a Chechen father and a Russian mother.
“More than anything I despise people who change their faith, last name, nationality,” SurkovRussia said in a March 27 tweet.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty