Geopolitics

Two Years That Changed Russia: What Even A Putin Victory Cannot Undo

Op-Ed: A few years ago, even if its people didn't realize it at the time, Russia was poised for a new wave of civil action. Though Sunday's elections may not bring new faces, the nation is forever changed.

The movement swells (Andyindesign)
The movement swells (Andyindesign)
Stanislav Kucher

MOSCOWThe launch two years ago of Kommersant FM, our newspaper's radio station, coincided with some marked changes in Russia. No longer willing to be sheep, many Russian citizens began taking to the streets. There was a wave of protests around the country, which led to rallies on March 31, 2010 that attracted a record number of people and led to a change in the governor of Kaliningrad.

Our editor-in-chief prefers that we don't repeat things. But with Sunday's nationwide election nearly upon us, I thought I could make an exception and remind our readers of what Kommersant said back when we inaugurated the radio station.

"People, we need to have a serious societal discussion of everything that is new: new values, new heroes, new politics and new possibilities. If you can write on the Internet, then write. If you can discuss these themes in a club, then participate, argue, prove your points. To our colleagues on television, it is high time to allow live programs, create a space, invite new people, find new heroes and leaders."

We were by no means the only people to come up with these ideas. If you will excuse the modesty, we were like surfers, just catching the wave. And we rode that wave up to the current presidential elections.

Over the past 24 months, Russian society has matured to such an extent that it may only be years from now that we're really able to appreciate the scope of the changes. True, the opposition has failed to rally around one, united leader. But many people who were still sheep five years ago have now woken up to their own power and ability to change the world. I am an optimist: I think the people will eventually achieve what the opposition has not yet managed to do.

A case for staying "calm and stubborn"

Over these two years, the government has also shown us two very important things. The first one is certainly negative, but the second one is positive. First of all, and this is the bad news, the ruling regime has shown on several occasions that it does not want to make changes of its own accord. But it is clear now that under pressure from below, the regime does eventually budge. Moreover, everything that those of us who want to live in a normal, modern country with a decent government have achieved was accomplished without bloodshed. And that is also an achievement that is probably impossible to correctly appreciate at the moment.

I mention this particular accomplishment as a reminder that a spoonful of tar ruins a jar of honey. One person can ruin the mood for a dozen cheerful people. The coming days will be a serious challenge for anyone who cares. Even Prime Minister Putin has spoken about the possibility of "victims," meaning there are people out there who want to spill blood. People should do what they can to avoid becoming victims. It is easy to provoke, but violence could erase all of the advances we have made in the past two years.

That is why I urge everyone to be "calm and stubborn" over the next couple of days. Don't be afraid of anything, think positively and act in such a way that later, when you tell your children about it, you can hold your head up high.

Read the original story in Russian

Photo - andyindesign

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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