On June 16, 2011, Eduard Bagirov, a Russia-based blogger and writer of Azeri origin, was arrested in Moldova. Eleven days later, the Moldovan prosecutor's office made the reasons for Bagirov's arrest public: he was being accused of assembling a criminal group and organizing the April 2009 mass riots in Chişinău, which are often referred to as the first “Twitter revolution.” Bagirov was facing from four to eight years in prison on the charges that were formally put to him on October 12.
An Internet troll to change Moldova
Back in April 2009, tens of thousands of protesters went to the streets to demand the recount of the Moldovan parliamentary election votes. The protests led to a political crisis that eventually put an end to the 8-year domination of the Communist party and turned Moldova towards European integration. (Global Voice's 2009 posts on the protests are here, here, here, and here.)
Political arrests – including the arrest of Natalia Morar, an organizer of the initial demonstrations and an investigative journalist expelled from Russia by the FSB -followed; most of the criminal cases against the activists, however, were closed by the new administration.
Some of the unfinished ‘affairs’ lay dormant, though, waiting to resurface.
Prior to the 2009 events, Bagirov had been a frequent guest in Chişinău and is known for a number of statements [ru] that some observers consider an admission of his role in the post-election situation. In this interview, he claims [ru] his direct involvement:
В Республике Молдова я и еще несколько активных ребят в полгода (ну, чуть больше, строго говоря) поменяли государственный строй — навсегда убрали в прошлое коммунистов
The debates, regardless of whether Bagirov's claims are true or are nothing but irresponsible bragging, continue.
For example, Ilya Barabanov, a renowned investigative journalist at The New Times (and also, at least temporarily, Natalia Morar's husband: read the story of Morar's expulsion from Russia here), wrote [ru]:
поверить в то, что Эдуард Багиров действительно организовывал революцию в Молдавии может, наверное, только сумасшедший пеликан.
С другой стороны, выбранный срок заключения – 3 дня – может говорить о том, что его хотели изолировать именно на время предстоящих выборов. В воскресенье в Кишиневе пройдет второй тур выборов мэра, в котором действующий мэр-либерал Дорин Киртоакэ попытается победить коммуниста Игоря Додона, который обошел его в первом туре на пару процентов, но до 50% не дотянул.
Я примерно представляю, как топорно работают в том регионе ФСБ России и Администрация президента, так что могу предположить, будто Багиров действительно выполнял в Кишиневе некие поручения, пусть и не столь масштабные, как организация государственного переворота)))
On the other hand, the chosen term of detention – 3 days [which was extended first to 30 days and then 30 more] – says that they wanted to isolate him for the time of the upcoming elections. This Sunday in Chisinau, there will be the second round of the mayoral election, in which the current liberal mayor Dorin Kirtoake will try to defeat a communist Igor Dodon, who was a few percentage points ahead of him in the first round, but failed to reach the [winning] 50 percent.
More or less, I can imagine how crudely Russia's [Federal Security Service] and the Presidential Administration work in that region, and I think it's quite possible that Bagirov was indeed carrying out some assignments in Chisinau, though nothing as wide-ranging as the organization of a coup d'etat)))
Later Barabanov claimed [ru] that Bagirov became interested in Moldova only to get closer to Natalia Morar and to find compromising information about her.
Who is Mr. Bagirov?
Why did Ilya Barabanov mention the Russian security services and the top political management of Russia?
The key here is the personality of Bagirov himself: an Internet hooligan, the ‘All-Russia troll,’ a provocateur. Before the Moldovan events, Bagirov had been widely known for trolling, physical violence threats and a rather aggressive digital behavior mixed with hate speech. He is also close to Konstantin Rykov, “one of the first professional Russian Internet producers” and an MP responsible for the ruling party‘s digital campaigns, and Sergey Minayev, a pro-Kremlin publicist, with whom Bagirov runs litprom.ru, a digital literary community.
Andrey Malgin, an investigative blogger and former journalist, described [ru] Bagirov the following way:
Выйдя с зоны, Багиров, по всей видимости, стал милицейским провокатором. Именно в этом качестве он, как приманка для “русских националистов”, нес в инетах чудовищную “исламистскую” пургу, которая сейчас широко цитируется […]. Думаю, реакция на эти высеры тщательно отслеживалась. […]
Целый месяц перед прошлыми парламентскими выборами у него, как и у других рыковских, на юзерпике красовался Путин, и он ездил на агитационном автобусе по провинциям, агитируя за “Единую Россию”. И именно в качестве провокатора он последние два года регулярно наезжал в Молдавию, где мутил воду и был взят за задницу.
For the whole month before the previous [Russian] parliamentary elections [in 2007], he, as well as other Rykov's men [it is believed that Rykov has a team of digital provocateurs like Bagirov], had a userpic with Putin and went to the provinces in a campaign bus, calling to vote for the United Russia. As a provocateur, he'd been coming to Moldova for the past two years, stirring trouble, until finally he was [captured].
Bagirov, however, denies [ru] the accusations (and, indeed, has a convenient justification):
Уже десяток лет эти тексты взрывают мозг сотням тысяч шовинистски настроенным хомячкам из интернетов. Я горжусь этими текстами. Они – мой несомненный писательский успех. Их разнесли по всему интернету, и тычут мне ими в глаза при любом удобном и неудобном случае.
Detention and escape from Moldova
The Russian press and bloggers noticed Bagirov's detention almost immediately. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, issued a statement demanding Bagirov's release only on Sept. 27. Three days later, OSCE also issued an official statement to free Bagirov due to the “the unclear circumstances around his case” that “might have an enormous chilling effect on the media community in Moldova and beyond.”
On October 12, the investigation was over and the trial scheduled. On Oct. 13 Bagirov was released, but placed under house arrest. On October 18, Bagirov “with the help of his friends” left Moldova via Transnistria, a breakaway territory of Moldova, to Odessa, Ukraine, and then returned to Moscow.
Despite knowing that Bagirov might be a police or FSB provocateur, even Russian liberal bloggers (Oleg Kozyrev, Rustem Adagamov/drugoi, Alexey Navalny, among others) stood up to defend him. Some bloggers claimed they support Bagirov because he's a Russian citizen, some – because he is a blogger.
Prominent Georgian blogger cyxymu wrote [ru]:
блоггеров сажать нельзя)
LJ user za_rij responded [ru]:
Ога. Типа “я блоггер – ведь у меня есть аккаунт в ЖЖ, на лирушечке и даже на фейсбуке. Меня сажать нельзя, я в домике!”
Many bloggers viewed Bagirov's case as an episode in a fight between an extravagant Internet hooligan and the repressive government of a small neighbor country. The issue that Bagirov could be, indeed, a provocateur has been raised by only a few bloggers. The group identity of the blogger elite has won over the critical thinking.
Bagirov's case once again shows how relatively easy it is to present false information in online space: his provocative statements that he himself describes as ‘literary success’ – thus avoiding responsibility and winning popularity – may in fact allow the security services to monitor other bloggers’ comments and reactions.