Friday, April 17, 2020

Pandemic Allowing Moscow Authorities to Become Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ to City’s Residents, Zakharov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – Ever more Muscovites have been ignoring self-isolation orders; and in response, officials in the Russian capital say that the investments they have made over the last decade in making the Russian capital “an intelligent city” can be used to monitor and enforce the restrictions they have imposed. 

            But this use by the police of cameras and other monitoring devices shows how easily a city like Moscow can shift from “an intelligent city” into an Orwellian “big brother” capable of imposing what looks more and more like house arrest and other forms of totalitarian control on the population, Andrey Zakharov says (

            In a 7200-word article, the BBC Russian service investigative journalist describes how this is happening, how various kinds of monitoring devices combined with a willingness by the authorities to combine them with widespread use of police power can be used to suppress the freedoms Russians have come to expect. 

            One raising this alarm is Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, who suggests in Eesti Paevaleht that while the Russian authorities are pose as defenders of the Russian people, they in fact have been erecting  “a digital concentration camp” for them (; in Russian at

            After many Muscovites demonstrated that they weren’t going to self-isolate voluntarily for long, the city government today introduced “restrictions for residents unprecedented for the capitals of other countries,” the Russian regionalist says, exploiting the pandemic to impose the kind of Orwellian controls the BBC’s Zakharov refers to.

            The new system of “electronic passes” will give the powers that be additional opportunities to harass the population and to intensify their feelings that self-isolation at home is in fact just another form of “house arrest” and that the powers are using the pandemic not to protect them but for more nefarious purposes.

            But this Muscovite effort, Shtepa says, has a consequence that the powers that be in the city do not appear to be conscious of: It will underscore that despite Moscow’s greater wealth, many smaller cities which lack the funds for such arrangements have more freedom. Their rulers don’t have the money to make their cities “intelligent” or “a concentration camp.”

            That could change the center of gravity of Russian protest and Russian politics, but it is certain that “the Muscovite ‘digital concentration camp’ as many already call it, in reality will lead not to medical security of its residents … but to their final loss of the remnants of civic rights and freedoms” they now have.

            And if that should turn out to be the case, Shtepa argues, “then it is possible that the sad predictions of some will prove true and that the pandemic will eventually pass but the limitations the authorities are imposing will remain in place and even grow -- as has already happened many times in Russian history.”

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