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On the cold, the clear afternoon of February 24, 2022—the day Vladimir Putin’s forces launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine—several Russian opposition politicians gathered in front of the Law, Order and Security building the splendor of Saint Petersburg. They came to formally ask permission to hold a protest against the war, which they knew would be denied. Among the group was Marina Matsapulina, the 30-year-old vice president of the Russian Liberal Party. Matsapulina understands that the gathering is a symbolic gesture—and it carries serious risks.
Nine days later, Matsapulina was woken at around 7 a.m. by someone knocking on the door of her apartment. She crept to the entrance but was too scared to look through the peephole, and she went back to her bedroom. The knocking continued for two hours, as Matsapulina kept seven friends from her party. telegraphy group chat. “They are incapable of breaking it,” she wrote vaguely.
But at 9:22 a.m., she heard a much louder noise. She had just enough time to lock the phone before the door slammed. Eight people surrounded Matsapulina’s bed. They included two city police officers, she recalls, a two-man SWAT team holding guns and shining flashlights in her face, and two agents from the Counter-Extremism Center or the Federal Security Service or the Federal Security Service. FSB – successor agency of the KGB. . The officers told her to lie face down on the floor.
They told Matsapulina that she was suspected of emailing the police station with fake bomb threats. But when she was placed in the Home Office’s investigative division, she said, a police officer asked if she knew the real reason she was arrested. She guessed it was for her “political activities”. He nodded and asked, “Do you know how we knew you were home?”
She said the officer told her investigators were monitoring her private Telegram chats as she wrote them. “You were there, sitting there, writing to your friends in the chat room,” she recalled his words. He continued to nonchalantly quote word for word some Telegram messages she had written from her bed. “’They can’t break it,’” he reads.
“And so,” he said, “we knew you were there.”
Matsapulina was speechless. She tries to hide her shock, hoping to learn more about how they accessed her messages. But the officer did not elaborate.
When she was released two days later, Matsapulina was told by her lawyer that on the morning of her arrest, police had searched the homes of about 80 other people with ties to the opposition and had arrested 20. , each charged with terrorism in connection with the bomb threat. A few days later, Matsapulina packed up and took a flight to Istanbul.
In April, after safely arriving in Armenia, Matsapulina recounted the incident on Twitter. She ruled out the possibility that anyone in her close group had cooperated with the security forces (they had also left Russia by then), which leaves two conceivable explanations for how the officers were working. Quan read her private Telegram messages. One is that they installed some kind of malware, such as NSO Corporation’s infamous Pegasus tool, on her phone. Based on what she gathers, the expensive software is reserved for high-level targets and is unlikely to be used by a mid-level figure in an unregistered party of about 1,000 members nationwide. .
The other “nasty” explanation, she wrote, “is obvious to everyone I think.” The Russians need to consider the possibility that Telegram, the supposed anti-authoritarian app co-founded by Saint Petersburg native Pavel Durov, is now complying with the Kremlin’s legal requirements.