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Russia

Where The Web Thugs Are: Inside Russia's Cyber Underworld

The Russian hacking community is as ambigious as the country itself: admired and feared, all at once. A reformed hacker takes us into the bowels of the criminal Deep Web.

Russian gamers at a Kaspersky-sponsored event
Russian gamers at a Kaspersky-sponsored event
Mehdi Atmani

MOSCOW — Whether an organized crime expert or a solitary con man, an intelligence services agent or the Kremlin's cyber soldier, Russian hackers are often at the heart of Internet fantasies. An ambiguous and protean figure, the hacker has as many faces as Russia itself. The country, from which many of these nefarious crimes originate and where Edward Snowden remains in asylum, is both a nation of cyber censors and IT experts. Welcome to Russia's Internet underworld.

The 28-year-old hacker I'm interviewing establishes the rules of the game. He won't give his name — only his pseudonym, "X311" — and won't answer all of my questions. "If I reveal too much, it could go badly for me," he says. A strong code of silence prevails in the Russian hacking world. It took me recommendations from about 10 mutual acquaintances for "X311" to finally agree to speak to me.

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Geopolitics

Fall Of The Empire? Ethnic Separatism On The Rise In Russia

Far from being a unified state, Russia is full of federal subjects — many of which have spawned separatist movements. Moscow, far from Siberia or the Caucasus and focused on Ukraine, is finding it harder to contain them.

Kalmyks attend the unveiling ceremony of a Buddha statue in Kalmykia, Russia

Pavel Lysyansky

They began to show up more and more in 2019: people were displaying symbols of separatism at protests in different regions of Russia. One example that marked this movement were the flags of the Ural People's Republic at protests during the spring of 2019 against the construction of a temple in Yekaterinburg, the industrial city in the Ural mountains 1,100 miles east of Moscow.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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