Russia’s aggressive policy against freedom of speech is intensifying. Anyone is at risk of becoming an information agent in Russia, even those who have a blog on social networks or receive help from relatives from abroad.

Public opinion is an extremely changeable thing. On the one hand, it can be formed in an open debate, where society lives by democratic laws. On the other hand, it can be deliberately manipulated to maintain total control over citizens. Now it is hard to believe that in the early 90’s only 10% of Russian citizens had a negative attitude towards the United States. And for 30 years of purposeful propaganda, for example, this figure is already 71%. During all these years, the situation with freedom of speech in Russia is constantly deteriorating.

The Putin regime is confidently drifting towards the North Korea, seeking to control the entire information space

The RF Federal Security Service (FSB) has approved a list of non-secret information in the military and military-technical spheres, which “can be used” against Russia’s security when received by foreigners, stateless persons and other organizations.

It is obvious that this ban is aimed primarily at facilitating hybrid operations with the use of armed forces, namely, to conceal their participation.

The efforts of top Russian propagandists, who receive insane amounts of money for professional manipulation, are not enough to keep the Putin regime. As long as the Internet lives its life, not the Kremlin’s rules, Russia’s rulers cannot unwind. Therefore, Roskomnadzor has already begun to create a register of social networks that will be under the close supervision of the authorities: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube.

The next stage is to disconnect the Internet segment of the Russian Federation from the world wide web in general. Something similar with great restrictions on the Internet has been introduced in China.

How Russia uses gas to achieve its geopolitical interests and what should Europe be ready for?

The rapid rise in prices for natural gas on the EU market over the past 2 months has become a key issue for the European Union, which has every chance to overcome the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.

It’s strange enough, but Russia is trying to be a “good policeman” in this situation.

Russian gas wars with Ukraine

Russia has long used methods of economic pressure on governments to pursue its own interests. The gas conflicts between Russia and Ukraine date back to the early 90s, and during that period there were a lot of them. All of them came down to the fact that at a time characterized by certain tensions between two countries, Russia resorted to economic blackmail, the tool of which was natural gas. For example, in 2004, after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which marked the pro-European vector of Ukrainian foreign policy, the Russian leadership realized that the times of “benefits” ($ 50 / thousand m2) for the former “fraternal republic” must be stopped. Until the last moment, the Ukrainian leadership was not ready to pay more and Gazprom, citing paragraph 4 of the gas supply agreement, according to which gas prices are determined annually, suspended supplies on the night of January 1, 2006. Gazprom has accused Ukraine of “embarking on unauthorized gas extraction” for European consumers. Even then, ordinary citizens of the European Union for the first time felt the warning about the real possibility of freezing.

Russian-Belarusian gas relations

Belarus couldn’t avoid the stimulus by gas coercion. Russia’s attempts to prevent Belarus from withdrawing from its sphere of influence (or even control) by Belarus joining the Customs Union and creating a Union State have always been accompanied by measures of economic coercion. In particular, in June 2010, Russia reduced gas supplies to Belarus by 60%. The formal reason for the dispute then was allegedly the debt of Belarus to Russia for gas consumption of $ 200 million. Belarus, in turn, insisted that Russia owed this amount for gas transit. For most Russians and Belarusians, this situation was strange, because the conflict took place between two fraternal states. However, most experts at the time were inclined to think that the reason for the conflict was delaying by Belarus its membership in the Customs Union formed by Russia.

How Russia will be able to capitalize on the current situation on the EU gas market?

Recently, Vladimir Putin made his own assumption about the reason for the rise in gas prices. He accused the European Commission of erroneous actions, emphasizing the erroneousness of the decision to close long-term contracts for gas supplies and reorient to exchange trade in fuel. This is the conclusion that Russia is trying to achieve.  It’s a well-known fact that the transition to stock trading has forced Russia to lose its monopoly position in the EU gas market. However, today’s crisis, caused by many factors, including epidemic of coronavirus, could help Mr. Putin encourage European leaders to review the current state of the energy market.

Putin also said that the Russian side sees speculation on the transit of gas through Ukraine, but adheres to its obligations to pump gas to Europe, after which gas futures prices fell slightly. However, Europe should remember that Russia uses gas as a tool of hybrid influence on the leadership of countries and alliances, and Putin’s words can never be taken seriously (let us remind ourselves his statements in 2014 that there are no Russian troops in the Ukrainian Crimea, which he himself denied in the film “Crimea. The way to the family” in 2015).

Thus, Europe should be on guard and prepare for possible gas surprises and manipulations regarding the future of Russian gas for Europe. Russia will insist on its terms and may resort to the dirtiest provocations, such as cutting supplies during the coldest period, and accusing unprofitable EU leaders as well as Ukraine.