2 December 2021
by Andrey Kazantsev, is a civic and environmental activist from Moscow currently living in the US
I am one of a group of Russian opposition civil society activists who are working to create a free-to-update open list of accomplices of the Putin regime and their crimes named The List. The List is a platform where concerned people collect information about those who commit violations – in some cases atrocities – in order to support the Putin regime or while in the service of the regime. Here is some more information about the idea, the project, the community, and the help we need.
How did the idea come about?
There are many accomplices of Putin’s power who commit offenses against human rights – it’s impossible to remember all of them. The regime rests not only on a hundred top officials, but also on thousands of “cogs in the machine,” many of whom “just follow orders.” According to our estimates, there are about 15-30 thousand such people. They commit atrocities every day and are quickly forgotten in the news stream. If you follow Russian news carefully enough, you have probably noticed that.
At the same time, opposition organizations in Russia have been defeated and any kind of protest is prohibited and suppressed through legal or illegal means by authorities. In such conditions, Russian people have no opportunity to fight for a brighter future, except on the Internet.
Before starting, we conducted a survey and received a very positive response to the idea from the community. A poll of a large opposition community revealed that about 90% of respondents were in favor of such a list. Moreover, many people wrote that they already maintain similar lists on their own. Some of the people sent us their materials and dossiers on Russian local officials for us to publish. Once, we got dossiers with evidence against around 400 regional officials and other offenders from a dissident who was about to flee from Russia under politically motivated prosecution and wasn’t sure he would succeed. The mandate from Russian society was obvious.
Why is this needed?
As it is, the villains and their crimes are simply forgotten – this should not be so. The information collected in The List will be useful when independent courts and honest investigative bodies appear in Russia. In addition, the information already collected in The List will help to exert public pressure on the accomplices of the regime, especially outside the big cities. The presence of groupings by parameters in The List will highlight the connections between offenders and will help journalists and investigators to make interesting new discoveries. Moreover, the emergence of such a reputational tool as The List will provide another reason not to commit crimes to those who have not yet committed any.
There are similar projects. Why another one?
The first reason is that existing analogous projects have different goals. For example, the Free Russia Forum’s project Putin’s List is primarily aimed at preparing materials for the sanctions lists of Western countries. It will never have ordinary police officers, judges, election officials, or local officials. On the other hand, an accomplice of any level can be added to The List.
The second reason is that it is difficult to enter information into existing projects. You need to form a whole dossier or contact someone to participate, or something else that complicates the work and scares off potential participants. Therefore, their bases are small. But participants will be able to enter information into The List themselves with a few clicks. All you need is any known information about the accomplice, a short description of their crime, and a link to a credible media outlet (or other evidence, such as a photo, video, or scanned document). It only takes 5-10 minutes.
The third reason is that existing projects usually belong to a party or movement. People, even people with oppositional views, may have different attitudes towards these parties and therefore do not want to cooperate with the projects. The List does not belong to any party or movement – it is created and supported from the very beginning by very different people with one general principle: evil should not be forgotten.
The fourth reason is that existing projects are, de facto, managed and created by a very limited circle of people, sometimes only one or two. When these people leave the project, the project dies. The List is going to be created, maintained, and supported by an open community, just like Wikipedia.
How is The List going to work?
Like Wikipedia, but simpler. Anyone will be able to create a page or add information about an offender with the click of a button; no need to register. The requirements for adding an offender are very simple: a person + what crime he or she committed for the sake of the regime or whether he or she was in the service of the regime + proof (link to a trustworthy media outlet, photo, scan, etc.). The page will be immediately published with a “Not verified” status. It can still be supplemented or corrected afterward.
After publication, an experienced community member, who is in the role of a moderator, will check the page and change the status to “Verified,” or fix the page or delete it if the page does not meet the above criteria. Even if the information about the offender is incomplete, the original poster or another community member can add more complete information later on.
In addition, there are several types of grouping criteria. For example, you can view entries by city, by event, and/or by organization to which the offender belongs. This allows you to see the connections between offenders. There is also a map; by clicking on a city on which you can see all the offenders in your city, grouped by criteria, which is very convenient for residents of small cities throughout Russia.
Users will be anonymous. In addition, anyone can download the database and safely keep it for themselves.
Couldn’t spam or slander emerge in the database if anyone can enter information anonymously?
Although anyone can post information anonymously, experienced community members will check and correct or delete this information. Spam may exist only until the first check. Spammers will be blocked.
Is this legal?
From the point of view of the legislation of Western countries such as the USA and Canada, yes, it is legal. From the point of view of Russian legislation, if you follow the letter of the law, it is also legal. However, in Russia, as you know, very few people care about the letter of the law. If the authorities want, either law enforcement officers will find a more or less suitable existing law, or legislators will come up with a new one. Therefore, in The List we pay special attention to the anonymity and safety of users.
There is political censorship in Russia, including on the Internet. The List will definitely be blocked. What happens after blocking?
Blocking would certainly affect List pageviews, but it will not kill the project. This will not be the first site blocked in Russia. Many people, especially in the opposition community, know how to use VPNs and other tools for bypassing blockings, and have been using them for a long time. The List will also have pages in social media where new materials and project news will be published. Social networks in Russia have not yet been blocked.
Also, The List will be presented in messengers, particularly in Telegram, which is extremely popular in Russia, especially among opposition groups. In addition, The List will have a bot in Telegram that allows users to add information to the List, and a mobile application. In the future, the issue of access through distributed networks will be worked out too.
Who is on the project team?
The project was created and is being developed by Russian volunteer activists and IT specialists from around the world. The work on the project is organized in such a way that not everyone knows each other. Everyone knows only those few people who are needed to carry out his or her exact task. The project includes very different people from different movements and communities. All of them are united by two principles: they are not indifferent to the fate of Russia, and they believe that the evil done by the regime should not be forgotten. Most of the participants are people living abroad, since in Russia many are simply afraid. We include people from Russia in the team only if we understand that they are able to anonymize themselves very well and protect themselves. This is our principled position.
What phase is the project in now and what do you need to go ahead?
We have been working on the project since March exclusively on a voluntary basis. For now, we developed a beta version of the website and tested its main functionality. We got feedback from the people who were involved in testing and now we must fix and change some things, as well as add some useful features. In addition, we must solve some safety issues before we launch the website to protect our users in Russian territory.
For some things we probably will have to involve not only volunteers, but also professionals with some unique competencies. For that reason, we are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign and attract sponsors to be able to pay for the service of the professionals.
Anyone who is interested in the project can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, join our Facebook page @ListRussia, or text us at parlance:matrix.org.
We will be happy to get any support from concerned people who share our values.