Russia's mysterious Internet group “Shaltai Boltai” (also known as “Anonymous International”) has signaled it will soon leak a treasure trove of compromising information about prominent figures responsible for the Kremlin's ideological policies.
Earlier today, December 10, the group released a candid photograph of a woman resembling Kristina Potupchik, the former spokesperson for the pro-Putin youth organization “Nashi,” now a member of Russia's Civic Chamber, a Kremlin-friendly government oversight committee. (In a tweet today, Potupchik seemed to confirm that it is indeed her in the picture.) Potupchik appears to be sitting at a desk beside a purse packed with cash.
According to the independent news website The Insider, which says it spoke to a Shaltai Boltai representative, the photograph was taken in the office of Timur Prokopenko, former head of the pro-Putin youth group “Molodaya Gvardiya” (Young Guard), now an official in the Kremlin.
Shaltai Boltai isn’t able to say exactly how much money was in the purse, but it told The Insider it was at least 15 million rubles (roughly $300,000). “The money was given to her to finance her various activities,” the group told The Insider. “[Potupchik] worked full-time for the Presidential Administration, creating social media, paying bloggers and commenters, and organizing events.”
Two hours after leaking the image of Potupchik and the bag of money, Shaltai Boltai tweeted another photo of her, this time showing her wearing the Medal of the Order “For Merit to the Fatherland.” The group explained the image with a crude sexual innuendo:
— Shaltay Boltay (@b0ltai2) December 10, 2014
They hung this medal on Kristina Potupchik for Crimea, but she says they really gave it to her for opening a different hole. :)
Potupchik allegedly received the medal for her role in helping manage Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea. Indeed, earlier this year in April, President Putin secreted bestowed this award on 300 pro-Kremlin journalists for their “objective coverage” of the events leading up to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. (Presumably, this is the photograph a Shaltai Boltai representative showed BuzzFeed reporter Max Seddon in June, when Seddon scored a rare face-to-face interview with one of the group’s members.)
The group told The Insider these photos are at once a “greeting card and a sneak peek at what’s to come.”
Reporting for the website Znak.com, Ekaterina Vinokurova speculates that the attack on Potupchik and the promise to leak similar information fits Shaltai Boltai’s track record for pursuing officials tied to Russia’s policies in Crimea and Ukraine. In the past, Vinokurova says, Shaltai Boltai’s information leaks (sometimes referred to ask “hacks,” though the group says it’s handed the information it publishes) have targeted the Kremlin’s chief ideologists. The photograph incriminating Potupchik and Prokopenko, Vinokurova says, seems to be part of a wider campaign against Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin.
There are several theories about Shaltai Boltai’s identity, based mainly on estimations of whom they've spared, and who stands to gain from their attacks. Who is truly behind the group, however, remains a mystery.