An Absurd Signal: Pokémon Confirms Russia’s War Footing

Yesterday, on June 18, The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation Yle reported that the hit game Pokémon GO had received harsh criticism in Russia, with statements against the game given by members of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. The game is portrayed as threatening Russian spiritual values and internal security. The Russian internet media Meduza also reports the same:

Several Russian officials, in fact, have stated plainly that the mobile game about capturing, battling, and training virtual creatures, called Pokémon, bear traces of Western intelligence agencies and the Devil himself. Meduza presents five quotes by Russian officials about this nefarious global diversion.

’The Devil has arrived through this mechanism’ The Russian authorities weigh in on Pokémon Go. Five quotes.” Source: Meduza.

Putin To Ban Pokemon GO From Russia Due To Links To CIA. Source: Illustration: Baxter Dmitry.

A Western way to view this would be to sneer and laugh out loud. Especially Finns, being the home of Supercell’s games and Rovio’s Angry Birds, will probably just shake their heads. The Russian crazy fuss about Pokémon GO is hard to fathom. I’d be more than happy to join this crowd and laugh about it.

The hysteria is however symptomatic to a society suffering from securitization blown out of proportion. The Russian government is working hard to update their policies, strategies and doctrines, especially when it comes to threat assessments and definition. When the executive, i.e. the president and the government of the Russian Federation, mentions a danger or threat , the legislative, i.e. the Duma, almost immediately starts to churn out statutes to neutralize the dangers and threats by the writ of law.

This latest reaction from the Duma is a clear sign of the very direct connection between the government and the Duma. While it is highly doubtful that Pokémon GO would (or even could) be banned, the tones and choices of words commenting the game and the dangers it entails, speak volumes about a state where the leadersip and representatives view the world and society through a lens of security concepts and threat perceptions laid out in policy, strategies and doctrines.

The Russian Military Doctrine, updated in December 2014, describes the security environment as follows:

There is a tendency towards shifting the military risks and military threats to the information space and the internal sphere of the Russian Federation. At the same time, despite the fact that unleashing of a large-scale war against the Russian Federation becomes less probable, in a number of areas the military risks encountered by the Russian Federation are increasing.

Russian Military Doctrine 2014, 11. Source: The Embassy of Russia in UK. ”The Embassy of Russia in UK

From this, an internal military risk is identified:

The main internal military risks are […] subversive information activities against the population, especially young citizens of the State, aimed at undermining historical, spiritual and patriotic traditions related to the defense of the Motherland;

Russian Military Doctrine 2014, 13 c. Source: As above.

It should be noted that this risk has already been reduced by putting in place legislation that protects patriotic and spiritual traditions and history, and also charges authorities with the mission of patriotic fostering of young citizens. The wording of the risk above is very similar to the commentaries regarding Pokémon GO.

In interviews, the first deputy chairman of the Federal Council’s Committee on Defense, Franz Klintsevich, State Duma deputy Vadim Dengin, and State Duma deputy Evgeny Fedorov, inter alios, raise their concerns on Pokémon GO regarding:

  • mental deprivation,
  • destabilization of the security situation in Russia,
  • foreign intelligence gathering,
  • orchestration of [color] revolutions and
  • disrespect to the places and sentiments related to the defence of the Motherland or religious worship, and
  • the impact on the functioning of the state (effects on bureacracy).

The best short list of notable comments on the game can be found with Meduza.

Sadly, this post doesn’t represent anti-Russian war rhetoric, but is rather an observation of an authoritarian Russian policy that violates human rights and curbs democracy at every opportunity presented. The observation relies on Russian military doctrine, Russian policy and strategy documents and statements, and the laws passed by the legislative branch.

The Russian siloviki leadership has put the state and people on  war footing. The signals are quite clear and overt, but often so absurd that we refuse to believe what we see and hear. Think about it: Pokémon GO as a confirmation that the Russian regime lives in a world of omnipresent menacing military threats and is ready to protect Russia from these threats even when they are completely irrational?!

Pokémon GO?! Russia NO!


The views expressed here are the author’s opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the Finnish Defence Forces or any other government authority.

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