IRKUTSK, Russia — It was late one afternoon in January when a squad of plainclothes police officers arrived at the headquarters of a prominent environmental group here. They brushed past the staff with barely a word and instead set upon the computers before carting them away. Taken were files that chronicled a generation’s worth of efforts to protect the Siberian wilderness.Not that authorities won't find another pretext to beat on hippies: that's what they do. Still, Microsoft software is wholly unnecessary (and of course so is my Mac software).
The group, Baikal Environmental Wave, was organizing protests against Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to reopen a paper factory that had polluted nearby Lake Baikal, a natural wonder that by some estimates holds 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
Instead, the group fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.