Encyclopedia in the service of the Kremlin. The Russian version of Wikipedia steals entries and turns them into propaganda.

In 2024, a new version of Wikipedia called Ruviki was launched in Russia following the online encyclopedia Runiversalis and Znanie. However, unlike the original, Ruviki has an extreme degree of censorship. A former experienced Russian Wikipedian was involved in creating the new project and mentioned that he received funding from serious investors. Our Russian-language portal, Vot Tak, investigated how Ruviki modified articles about Ukraine, repression, and terrorist attacks in Russia.

Russian citizens access Wikipedia almost 334 million times monthly, making it a highly popular website. However, due to the full-scale war in Ukraine and the implementation of war censorship policies, the Russian government believed that the existing Wikipedia platform had become a tool to spread anti-Russian propaganda. Consequently, in 2023, they created a domestic equivalent of the online encyclopedia, Ruviki.

When the beta version of this encyclopedia launched in June 2023, Ruviki had 1.91 million Russian articles copied from the official Wikipedia archive, excluding articles banned in Russia.

According to Maksim Kuzakhmetov, a historian and Wikipedian from St. Petersburg, the idea of creating a sovereign online encyclopedia that contains only information approved by the Russian authorities was conceived long ago. He notes that 15 years ago, there were discussions about blocking Wikipedia due to inaccurate information and the need to develop a Russian patriotic version of the encyclopedia. Kuzachmetov also mentioned that the content of Ruviki was discovered to be 99 percent plagiarized.

The number of ideologically approved articles has reached 1.98 million. However, materials related to the war in Ukraine and oppression in Russia have been either completely absent from the Russian encyclopedia or heavily censored, shortened, or distorted. Furthermore, all information from independent sources, including links to media materials labeled as foreign agents, has been removed from the articles.

There are no articles on the Russian version of Wikipedia about the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories, anti-war protests in Russia, or war crimes committed by the Russian army, such as torture, sexual violence, shelling of civilians, and deportation of Ukrainian children. For instance, the article about the city of Bucha does not mention the massacres of civilians committed by the Russian military.

The coverage of certain events related to Russia, such as Prigozhin’s mutiny, the recruitment of prisoners for war, and the poisoning and death of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, was limited to several paragraphs instead of full-fledged articles, as on Wikipedia. Additionally, articles about protests and human rights in Russia have been noticeably shortened.

The Russian language version of the article “Protests in Defense of Alexei Navalny (2021)” is 17 times longer than the same article in the new encyclopedia. However, there are some differences between the two versions. In the Ruviki article, Alexei Navalny is referred to as a blogger, and specific information about officers’ violence, dozens of repressive criminal cases against protesters, and pressure on activists, human rights defenders, and politicians are left out.

The Ruviki article “Political Prisoner” is nearly five times shorter than the Wikipedia article on the same topic. Interestingly, the article on Ruviki does not mention any Russian political prisoners who were convicted in show trials. Additionally, materials about political detainees such as Azat Miftakhov, Sasha Skochilenko, the “Sieti case,” and the “Tyumen case” are either silent about torture or state that violence has not been confirmed.

The content of certain materials shows alignment with the Kremlin’s propaganda narrative. It can be seen in the way some events are described. For instance, the murder of military blogger and propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky is referred to as a terrorist attack, the annexation of Crimea is described as unification with Russia, and the poisoning of Navalny is labeled as alleged.

Terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, the Kremlin’s version

On March 16, 2024, a terrorist attack occurred at Crocus City Hall near Moscow. Following the tragedy, the Wikipedia page about the incident became the most-read article on the platform. However, the Russian version of the article included a heavily edited description that focused on a Ukrainian trace in the attack. This propaganda was given as the basic one and was even included in the recommendation section on Ruviki.

At the beginning of the information on Wikipedia, it was written that “the Afghan branch of the international terrorist organization Islamic State took responsibility for the attack.” Only at the end of the article, in the “Other versions” section, it was written that “Russian propaganda accused Ukraine of participating in the attack.”

On Ruviki, the narrative is constructed oppositely: ISIS’s responsibility for the terrorist attack is described as unconfirmed data actively shared by many Western media outlets.

The authenticity of ISIS’s confession has been questioned. Nevertheless, the White House also blamed the terrorist attack on the Islamic State. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the US is trying to convince the world that Kyiv is allegedly not involved in the Moscow terrorist attack and that ISIS fighters were responsible for it – we read on Ruviki.

The article in question censored information about the involvement of Islamic militants without providing any evidence. Moreover, it failed to mention the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments in Russia, the use of torture to extract information from suspects, including electric shocks and beatings, and even the cutting off of an ear of one of the accused. The article also neglected to report on the warning given by American intelligence about a potential terrorist attack in Moscow or the threats made against public lawyers who defended the accused.

As a result, the censored Russian version is two and a half times shorter than the Wikipedia version. The article cannot be edited—the page, as we read, is edit-protected to avoid vandalism in the texts. The edition is also unavailable, among other things, for articles about Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, Vladlen Tatarsky, or the invasion of Ukraine. However, the edit function is available in articles on non-political topics.

We do not fulfill a state order. And the mysterious, serious sponsors of Ruviki?

In 2023, Vladimir Medeyko, Director of Wikimedia RU, founded Ruviki. Before that, he had been part of the Russian-language Wikipedia team for 20 years before he left due to the fear of losing his job at the Faculty of Psychology at Moscow State University. However, when his colleagues found out that Medeyko was involved with Ruviki as the director of Wikimedia RU, they were outraged. Their anger was compounded by the fact that the competing project was created in the interests of the Russian government.

According to Medeyko, he attempted to reform Wikipedia from within more than a decade ago and later secured funding for his new project. Although he received funds from some serious investors, he has refused to disclose their names, as he is not authorized to do so. According to Medeyko, these investors are strong advocates of free content and public access to knowledge.

I have emphasized many times that this is not state money. We do not fulfill a state order; we are a market partaker – said Medeyko.

According to Wikiganda, VTB Bank, one of Russia’s largest state-owned banks, may finance the project.

We need to create an alternative and block Wikipedia

Vot Tak’s calculations reveal that Wikipedia has been fined 16 times for refusing to remove specific materials, resulting in approximately 319,000.00 USD in fines. These fines include lawsuits related to articles about the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, the shelling of a hospital in Mariupol, war crimes committed by Russian troops in Bucha, and the destruction of the Drama Theater in Mariupol. In addition, Wikipedia was also fined for failing to remove the lyrics of the song “Kill the Cop” by the St. Petersburg band Psyche (Russian: Psiheya), which was included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials by a Moscow court in September 2010.

In April 2023, Valery Fadeyev, who serves as the Head of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, called for the immediate creation of a national equivalent of the online encyclopedia in Russia. He also suggested blocking the original encyclopedia, which he considered an ideological and politicized product. His initiative later received support from the Kremlin.

According to Russian law, Wikipedia can be blocked at any time without needing any additional decision since it was added to the register of the Roskomnadzor (Federal Supervision Service in the Sphere of Communication) in 2012. Artem Kozlyuk, the Head of the opposition organization working for internet freedom, Roskomsvoboda, has pointed out that certain technical conditions make this possible:

-Everything suggests that we will soon see the entire Wikipedia placed on the list of prohibited sites. They may start blocking it using various technical methods as early as next year.

According to Kozlyuk’s estimates, only 20-30% of users will leave in case of a blockade. Wikipedian Kuzachmetov agrees with this assessment: – The allocation of billions for the project is unlikely to yield significant results, as it is impossible to compete with the tens of thousands of people who contribute to Wikipedia. Furthermore, Kozlyuk claims that government and educational institutions may have no other choice but to switch from Wikipedia to their national equivalents.

Users seeking socio-political information will face a dilemma: either use special means to access the blocked Wikipedia or switch to Ruviki, which is controlled by one country and not a free source of knowledge.

Alyona Lobankova/vot-tak.tv, ksz, jb/belsat.eu

Translated by PEV