Meet the Mayoral Candidate Who Believes Russia Will Vanquish the Antichrist

You haven't seen crazy until you've spent some time following the Moscow mayoral race.

On Friday, Mikhail Degtyarev, the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate, indulged in some apocalyptic thinking and said he believes Russia will lead the world in vanquishing the Antichrist.  But when it comes to Degtyarev's political shenanigans, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Meet the man who not only would like to lead Moscow in battle against Satan, but would also like to give women two days leave from work every month during menstruation.

For Degtyarev, the battle between good and evil is one that plays out in intensely nationalist terms. "I can say as a believer that I believe in the apocalypse from the point of view of faith. And I think we must prepare," Degtyarev said on Friday. "I believe that we'll defeat the Antichrist -- I'm sure of it -- and that Russia will lead the fight against the Antichrist."

But Degtyarev has no patience for the portended apocalypses of other religions. Late last year, he launched a campaign to stop Russian media from reporting on the possibility that the end of the Mayan calendar foretold the end of the world. "In our compatriots' interests, we ask you to pay attention to the dissemination of pseudo-scientific information about the end of the world in your media," he said in addressing the coverage.

Incidentally, Degtyarev serves as the deputy head of the science and technology committee in the Duma.

But Degtyarev isn't just a kooky crusader for Christ. He's perhaps best known for his initiative to give women paid leave during menstruation. Last month, he introduced a bill in the Duma that would require employers to provide their female employees two days off every month during what he called their "critical days."

"In this period, the majority of women experience psychological and physical discomfort," Degtyarev said at the time. "Often the pain for the fair sex is so intense that they are forced to call an ambulance."

The language of that legislation reads like something of an homage to male condescension: "Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colorful expressions of emotional discomfort. Therefore scientists and gynecologists look on difficult menstruation not only as a medical, but also a social problem."

Though Degtyarev is a fringe candidate in the coming Sept. 8 mayoral election (he's currently only polling at about 2.3 percent -- far behind the two leading candidates, the Kremlin-backed Acting Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny), his campaign puts a religious and socially conservative spin on a nationalist trend in Russian politics. The current mayoral campaign has been filled with anti-migrant rhetoric, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently embraced the Russian Orthodox Church in supporting legislation banning so-called gay propaganda.

Degtyarev's nationalism was on full display earlier this week during a visit to a traditional Russian bath house, where he made a shirtless appearance before the cameras clad only in a towel and a traditional Russian hat. In an interview, which you can view below, he declared that when the plague struck Europe, Russians were largely immune to the effects of the disease because of the restorative properties of the banya. Such are the powers, Degtyarev claims, of traditional Russian culture.



Can a Country Dodge the NSA by Rebuilding Its Internet?

Is the only way to escape the prying eyes of the National Security Agency to rebuild the Internet?

That appears to be the question on the minds of politicians in Brazil, where plans have been announced to build from scratch key parts of the country's web infrastructure that the country's leaders fear have been deeply infiltrated by the NSA. With a new communications satellite in the works and plans to lay fiber-optic cables connecting Brazil with Europe and Africa, Brazil's campaign raises a tantalizing prospect: shutting the door to American spies by reclaiming control of the Internet's physical components.

But will it work?

The Brazilian plan consists of two main elements: a new geostationary satellite for defense and strategic communications, and freshly laid underwater cables to carry data from Brazil to Africa and Europe. By launching the satellite, which will be intended for both civil and military use, Telebras, one of the telecommunications companies behind the venture, argues that "high-speed Internet will be extended to the entire nation and will ensure the sovereignty of its civil and military communications." Meanwhile, the underwater cables seek to undermine one of the NSA's key tools: tapping into the communications lines that serve as the backbone of the Internet.

According to documents provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has engaged in widespread spying activity in Latin America and has made Brazil a focus of its intelligence-gathering. The revelations have sparked widespread outrage in Latin America and have Brazilian politicians, already under pressure from intense street protests earlier this summer, scrambling to stand up to U.S. power. To that end, what Telebras calls communications "sovereignty" has received renewed attention. "Brazil is in favor of greater decentralization: Internet governance must be multilateral and multisectoral with a broader participation," Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo told a congressional panel.

That sentiment was on full display Tuesday, when Secretary of State John Kerry and his retinue arrived for a meeting in Brasilia -- only to be greeted by angry protesters yelling, "Go away, spies." In a news conference with Kerry, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said that allegations of U.S. spying risked "casting a shadow of distrust" between the United States and Brazil. Kerry promised that Brazilians would receive answers about the scope of U.S. activity -- not that the NSA's activities would be scaled back but rather that they would be explained. In a news conference last week, President Obama laid out a similar strategy for dealing with fallout from Snowden's revelations and outlined what amounted to more of a PR blitz aimed at shoring up support for the NSA rather than offering ways to curtail its powers.

Confronted with that reality, it's not surprising that politicians in Brazil, a country with aspirations for becoming a global power, should seek out ways to circumvent the NSA's ability to access to basic structures that make up the Internet. Whatever Kerry said behind closed doors, Brazilians were clearly not happy with it, and Bernardo threatened Wednesday that Brazil may take its case to the United Nations.

But how much Brazil can really do to avoid the long reach of the NSA? In his report for the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Glenn Greenwald revealed that Brazil was the NSA's biggest Latin American target. Have a look at the map below of global undersea cables, and you'll quickly understand why:

As you can see, Brazil serves as an important hub for cable traffic across the Atlantic. Hubs like these have been of crucial importance for the NSA's intelligence-gathering and, as is clear from this map, no such hub is more important than the United States. NSA Director Keith Alexander has described the fact that a huge amount of Internet traffic passes through the United States as the intelligence community's "home field advantage." So even if Brazil lays down its own fiber-optic cables and prevents the NSA from gaining access to those cables -- no small feat -- countless other nodes remain at which the NSA can tap into Internet communications.

So what does this all mean for Brazil's forthcoming satellite? Could it help protect the country from NSA snooping? In a word, no. Consider this: At its most basic level, a satellite is a fancy relay station that bounces information from one part of the earth to another. In the case of a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit -- the kind Brazil plans to launch -- it sits in a predetermined location above the earth and beams data back and forth. This is a tempting target for any hacker, let alone the supremely powerful hacker collective otherwise known as the NSA. For example, in October 2008, a foreign power -- probably China -- was able to gain control of a U.S. research satellite. The hackers never issued any commands to the satellite but could have done so had they wished. At a security conference in January last year, the Spanish cybersecurity researcher Leonardo Nve explained how he had managed to gain access to satellite-borne Internet communications with a few tricks and about $75 dollars in hardware. "What's interesting about this is that it's very, very easy," Nve said. "Anyone can do it: phishers or Chinese hackers ... it's like a very big Wi-Fi network that's easy to access."

Now, any sensitive Internet communication over such a connection will probably be heavily encrypted, but do you really think the NSA doesn't have the ability to break the encrypted messages that it's interested in?  Brazilian politicians are probably hoping so, but you shouldn't count on it.

Moises Avila/AFP/Getty Images