StopFake #162 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - 13 hours 52 min ago

This week we debunk fake claims that Ukraine’s autumn recruitment was a complete washout, that refugees will be resettled from Bavaria to Ukraine and tell you how Ukrainian film is making the propaganda machine apoplectic.

Categories: World News

Hybrid war as a challenge to the national security of Bulgaria

StopFake.org - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 14:08

By Mihail Naydenov, for Bulgaria Analytica

Hybrid war is not declared. Instead, it is just fought. The countries under attack are quite often unable to understand that they fall victim to hybrid influence. This is first of all a war of perceptions and the main assault is directed at this juncture. The aim is to keep as long as possible a state of ambiguity and confusion among the country’s leadership and society. The subversive role of local actors, who are supporting the aggressor’s activity, is particularly damaging in this context. The first task of such actors is to vigorously and even aggressively deny the presence of whatever hybrid activity is occurring against their own country. If this situation lasts for too long, it is possible that one day it becomes too late for the state under attack to be able to defend itself.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” says in “The Art of War” the Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu 25 centuries ago. Russia succeeded in achieving exactly this result in 2014 when it annexed Crimea. Russian special operations forces without any identifying markings, the so called “little green men”, supported by the forces of the Russian Black Sea Navy deployed in Crimea, in several days’ time occupied the peninsula, without meeting adequate resistance by the paralyzed Ukrainian security structures. Their operation was actively supported by local actors working in Moscow’s favor. In parallel, an active information campaign was carried out, predominantly targeting the local population and the Russian society. In order to cover up the movement of its military formations and to divert attention, Russia used the conduct at this time of a large snap exercise in proximity to Ukraine.

“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu says also. That is the reason why hybrid war is in the first place an information war. Nowadays media and social media in particular are the most effectively used manipulation instrument. Nevertheless, fake news is only the tip of the iceberg in the ocean of psychological warfare. Hybrid war starts undeclared and continuously submits public opinion to narratives and manipulated public messages that are fabricated and promoted by aggressors. As an example for such a false pro-Russian narrative in Bulgaria is the following: NATO is militarizing its Eastern flank in order to prepare to attack Russia. Under this logic the legitimate right and duty to beef up national and collective defense potential is distortedly presented to society as preparation to carry out aggression.

Hybrid war is also an enduring subversive activity initiated in peacetime against key sectors guaranteeing security and normal operation of any state. The impact is along the full spectrum of national power, known in NATO as DIMEFIL – Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence and Law Enforcement (also Rule of Law). Regardless that hybrid war is originally focused on the non-military spectrum, it can later on escalate and therefore include the application of military power. For instance, in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine Moscow first started its subversive activity by exercising influence on local politics, using local political and economic actors, and afterward it started to actively provide support to the pro-Russian separatists.

In the case of Ukraine, as well as in the case of Georgia in 2008, Russia tried to destabilize these countries by means of military intervention and as a consequence to prevent their Euro-Atlantic integration. What is more, in this manner Russia is trying to send a signal to other countries from the post-Soviet space that the same development would follow, if they take the road of reforms and seek membership in NATO and the EU. However, there are some cases in which the aspiration of Moscow is to attain this goal not through direct military intervention, which is not always conceivable, but by the use of local agents, in order to destabilize potential members of both NATO and the EU. As an illustrative example here can be pointed out the failed attempt of Moscow to plot a coup in Montenegro on 16.10.2016 with the aim of toppling the government, in order to prevent the accession of this country to NATO in 2017.

In hybrid warfare the full toolkit of „soft“ (non-military) and „hard“ (military) power could be exploited. In various combinations are employed either conventional/traditional or asymmetrical methods and means. Depending on the goals and the characteristics of the targeted country can be applied information, political, diplomatic, economic, trade, energy, military and other instruments. Corruption and organized crime can also be of use to exercise hybrid influence. Cyber-attacks are becoming an even more largely employed instrument and their application will grow in the future.

Hybrid impact could comprise both pressure tools and „stimuli“, i.e., the tactics of either „sticks“ and „carrots“. The „stimuli“ offered by Russia are mostly in energy, including nuclear, while energy resources are promised in exchange for following a political line which is favorable for Moscow. In the end, the „carrot“, particularly with reference to investments in nuclear energy, could lead to substantial long-term financial losses as well as to unhealthy dependence on Moscow. The attempts to reanimate the construction project of the “Belene” nuclear power plant in Bulgaria that most probably will turn out to be financially not profitable in perspective could be seen in this context. The “Belene” nuclear power plant will constrain the freedom of choice of the generations to come. This project, coupled with the gas pipeline project „South Stream“, is an additional attempt of Russia to bind Bulgaria in the energy sphere in the long-term. This opens up new avenues for subversion in both domestic and external policy. Energy and politics for the Kremlin in this case represent the different sides of the same coin.

Hybrid influence nowadays enjoys an incontestable advantage. It provides the actor, be it state or nob-state, which is initiating it with the opportunity to deny it long enough. The goal pursued is that such an actor is not identified soon enough and unambiguously as being guilty. This is already known, based on the experience with the annexation of Crimea, as „plausible deniability“. Some hybrid influences in the “soft” spectrum of power at present are difficult to be early and unmistakably defined as hostile actions carried out in preparation for an escalation to come. For example, this could be an information media and social media campaign, aimed at distorting public perceptions prior to elections or these could be attempts to intervene in the domestic politics of a given target country through providing support to a specific internal political actor. Actions of this type could be aimed at dividing and weakening the country under attack so as to lay the ground for penetrating its politics in the future. This is impossible not to have a negative impact on its foreign policy course, and even on its strategic orientation.

Under this logic it is possible to carry out a dynamic hybrid campaign against a member state of a collective defense alliance, including NATO. In such a case, because of the opportunity to be denied, the initial subversive activities of non-military character do not provide enough ground for resorting to a collective defense clause activated in case of an armed attack, such as the Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. In this manner the country under attack could be progressively enfeebled and finally captured from inside by using the “soft” power of economic/energy, political and information tools, until one day its allies face a fait accompli.

Given the today’s dynamics in the development of hybrid warfare as phenomenon, the influence on each state is unique and is including a different combination of methods and means. In some countries the resort to the use of “hard” power is swift and resolute, while in other cases the influence is attained by non-military tools with the purpose of de facto capturing the state institutions, without military power, primarily via economic means as well as by making use of the local corruption potential. Nowadays this is known under the term “state capture”, albeit in its initial usage its sense is narrower, focused on the business sector.

The “state capture” in this sense will be present when the aggressor achieves a sufficient level of influence on the internal and external policy of the country under attack. In some cases, for the country that is initiating hybrid warfare it would not be necessary to make the country under attack leave the alliances that it is a member of. It would be enough only to have a change in its policy. Furthermore, the targeted state could be transformed into a vehicle allowing the penetration of the aggressor’s influence in the alliances the former is member of, i.e., to be converted into a “Trojan horse”. This is the goal that Russia is aspiring to achieve nowadays with regard to Bulgaria.

The Russia domination strategy regarding Bulgaria is aimed at establishing a sufficient level of control over the development of the country with the aim of having Sofia unable to conduct an independent foreign and security policy as a member of NATO and EU. The essence of this strategy is “Bulgaria: Trojan horse” in NATO and in the EU. Its name is derived from the cynical remarks of the Russia Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov in 2006, who called Bulgaria the Russian “Trojan Horse in the EU”. Under this logic, Sofia could make part of both alliances, but on the condition that the Kremlin would have a sufficient level of influence over the policy decisions of the state. In this way, the Bulgarian membership in NATO and EU is more of an opportunity rather than a threat.

In carrying out this strategy Russia is systematically interfering in the internal political process in Bulgaria. This is exposed also by the openly cynical statements regarding Bulgaria and Bulgarian politics of Leonid Reshetnikov, director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies at the President of the Russian Federation in the period 29.04.2009-04.01.2017, who is also lieutenant-general (Retd) from the Foreign Intelligence Service of the country. Not only the words of Reshetnikov, but also the analysis of the Russian influence over Bulgaria after 2014, reveal the existence of a Russian subversive strategy on the political processes in the country. Reshetnikov explicitly recognized that there were Russian attempts to interfere into the presidential elections in Bulgaria in 2016. This is disclosed also by his meeting held in the summer of 2016 in Sofia with the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party Kornelia Ninova in connection with the nomination of Rumen Radev, who was elected president later on the same year.

It is not surprising that Moscow is trying to interfere in the Bulgarian political affairs. Russia is doing the same in in other NATO members, such as the USA, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain (the so called referendum for the independence of Catalonia), just to name a few. Moscow is pursuing its geostrategic interests in South Eastern Europe and Bulgaria is a key country for its strategy. Reshetnikov confessed that for Russia Bulgaria is the „gate to the Balkans,” that are traditional sphere” of the Russian economic, cultural and spiritual influence. According to him, without Bulgaria, Russia would have difficulty in reaching to Serbia, Montenegro and Greece and this is the reason why the country is of so high importance to Moscow. This is why Moscow is expected to go on with its offensive strategy with regard to Bulgaria. One of the goals pursued in its implementation is isolating from government the people who are working to make Bulgaria a more effective NATO and EU member state. This is the so called by Reshetnikov himself “cleansing” of the pro-European and pro-Western elite that is pejoratively labelled by him “the foam” of the Bulgarian nation.

The Russian influence in Bulgaria is now discernible in economy, and energy in particular, as well as in politics, including in the sphere of defense. The latter is still not paid enough attention to. Subverting these sectors is achieved also through subverting the rule of law. The unsatisfactory state of the rule of law is described in the annual Reports from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Bulgaria under the Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism.

The Russian policy towards NATO and the EU is revanchist. The Kremlin is seeking to restore the spheres of influence of the former Soviet Union. Nonetheless, as of today, Russia does not have a well-defined vital geopolitical project which is able to present an alternative to the Western model of democracy, shared values, security, development and prosperity that is now represented by EU and NATO. The so called Eurasian Union remains a conceptually vague and it is charged more with revanchist expectations, nostalgia for the USSR and authoritarianism, rather than with truly feasible content. This is why Russia is seeking to exploit above all the weaknesses of NATO and EU through destabilizing them. For hybrid warfare first and foremost exploits the weaknesses of the adversary. At this stage the Kremlin is capable of doing only this and it is doing it determinedly.

Today Russia is in quest of dividing EU and NATO, with the intention to provoke their weakening and even their potential disintegration. Such an outcome will result in the formation of a new “grey zone” of insecurity in Eastern Europe sandwiched between Russia and the West. Even if Russia does not manage to attain this goal, in the present day it is still acceptable for Moscow that the Central and Eastern European member states of NATO and EU continue to make part of these organizations. However, its objective is that these countries are weak allies, heavily penetrated by Russian influence, and hence to be useless members, living off the rest of the member countries. This is exactly the purpose of the Russian strategy “Bulgaria: Trojan horse” in NATO and in the EU.

In order to be able to realize the challenge that Bulgaria is facing today, first of all it should be taken into account that in its strategic documents Russia perceives NATO as the “main external military danger”. NATO, however, does not define in any of its official documents the Russian Federation as a threat. The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, approved by the President on 26.12.2014, points out as the “main external military danger” “the increase in the power potential of NATO”, coupled with the “military infrastructure of the NATO member countries getting closer to the Russian borders, including through further enlargement”.

Instead of hybrid war, the Russian military thinking uses the term “non-linear war”. This concept is explained by the Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces of the Russian Federation Army General Valery Gerassimov. In his opinion today the “rules of warfare” are substantially changed, and the role of non-military tools is growing in importance for attaining the strategic goals of the state. In many cases they are more effective than the power of weapons. It is worth mentioning that the term non-linear war appeared in a short story written by Vladislav Surkov, one of the closest advisors of Vladimir Putin, who published it under the name Natan Dubovitskiy a few days prior to the illegal annexation of Crimea. According to the author, in a non-linear war everybody is at war with all. There is no middle ground. There could be only victory or death.

Lead by this revanchist dualistic understanding of “victory  or death”, the Russian president Vladimir Putin today is seeking to subvert the foundations of democratic societies in Europe and North America. For achieving this, Russia employs overt or covert means and instruments in various domains – military, political, economic and informational. In a number of cases Russia is seeking “to weaken and subvert Western democracies from the inside by weaponizing information, cyberspace, energy, and corruption.”

It is known today that in Russia, under the conditions of an economy that is controlled by the Kremlin, in order to survive the business hinges on on the protection of the country’s leadership.  This opens up the way for the state authorities to exercise undue influence either over Russian companies doing business abroad, or over Western companies operating in Russia. Moscow is able to put pressure on business so as to make it finance its subversion of political processes elsewhere — by making contributions to an anti-NATO organization in Sweden, for example, or establishing anti-fracking groups in Bulgaria and Romania to fight developments that might threaten Russia’s dominance of the eastern European gas market.

The main obstacle to the implementation of the Russian subversion strategy today is not only the military potential of the Western NATO and EU member countries, but first and foremost their internal stability with regard to hybrid attacks. This stability is based above all on the rule of law. This is why in this context the main target is the rule of law. For where there is a sufficient level of law and order the Kremlin meets the greatest difficulty in its quest to subversively capture countries from within. Local actors sponsored by the Kremlin cannot easily operate with effectiveness in an environment that has a sufficient level of rule of law, free and based on clear rules market economy, transparency and vibrant civil society. The business connected to Russia nowadays operates best in an environment where institutions are weak and civil society is asleep. In this context the feeble components these days in EU and NATO are the former communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria.

This is the reason why, in addition to military measures, NATO and EU should focus on reinforcing the rule of law in their Central and Eastern European members as well as in the applicant countries. If it is deficient, the power instruments (internal security structures and military potential) of the NATO countries from Central and Eastern Europe will finally be useless. There could not be strong police, security and intelligence services as well as dependable armed forces, if there is not enough degree of rule of law. Its shortage undermines both internal security and defense of any member state and thus is making it an easy target for external powers.

In view of all the above said, it is necessary to determinedly counter Russian hybrid warfare waged against the NATO and EU members, including Bulgaria. In the wake of the illegitimate annexation of Crimea both organizations embarked on preparing to counter hybrid threats. Nonetheless, building-up such capabilities is above all a responsibility of the member states.

The foremost problem today is that not all NATO and EU members share a similar assessment of hybrid threats as a fundamental security challenge. Witnessed are variations in perceptions on either their character or their source. In general it is recognized that hybrid impact comes from both East (Russia) and (chiefly terrorism, regional instability in the Middle East and North Africa, mass migration). However, at present not all the NATO and EU countries share a similar view on the Russian revanchist policy. For example, the Baltic States, Poland and Romania judge the actions of Russia in one way, whereas Hungary, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Greece and Cyprus in a more different.

The activity in countering hybrid threats in NATO started in 2014. For strengthening the collective deterrence and defense potential as well as for effective protection of the member states important decisions were taken at the Summits in Wales (2014) and Warsaw. The Alliance’s approach in dealing with hybrid threats is based on the understanding of the necessity to focus the efforts in three main directions – prepare, deter and defend. At the end of 2015, the Alliance adopted its own strategy for countering hybrid warfare.

The EU is also investing efforts in this direction. The EU understanding is described in the Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response, 06.04.2016.

The EU and NATO have been developing cooperation in this field and the concrete areas of joint activity are defined in the Joint Declaration adopted in Warsaw in 2016.

The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE) was established in October 2017 in Helsinki by Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA. The Hybrid CoE will be the focal point of the best expertise in countering hybrid threats and it is intended to support the efforts of NATO, EU and the member states. The Hybrid CoE is open to other member countries. It is high time for Bulgaria to join this structure.

In light of all the above said, the real issue today is whether and to what extent Bulgaria is ready to counter hybrid threats.

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian politicians in general are still not able to assess hybrid threats in an adequate manner. At the state strategic level of government a sufficient level of shared understanding on the essence and sources of hybrid threats is still missing. Today the country’s leadership as a whole is neglecting the problem with the hybrid threats that are coming from the East. This is revealed also by the contradictory positions amongst the political leaders with reference to EU and US sanctions imposed on Russian entities and persons. The shift in the strategic military balance of power in the Black Sea in Moscow’s favor is also being ignored. On the other hand, there are many Bulgarian politicians who are ready to speak about hybrid influence as long as it originates from the South.

The objective findings on the Russian policy in the Report on the State of the National Security of the Republic of Bulgaria in 2016 represent a step in the right direction, albeit belated. Well-grounded are the statements that “the activity of Russia are a source of regional instability and are threatening our fundamental aim of having a united, free and peaceful Europe.” The Russian actions aimed at militarizing Crimea are mentioned together with “the durable shift in the geostrategic and military balance in the Black Sea”. Nevertheless, this report is only an initial step that must be followed by actions.

What is necessary to be undertaken by Bulgaria so as to prepare to effectively counter hybrid threats, regardless of the direction they are coming from?

To begin with, Bulgaria should adopt as early as possible a national strategy for countering hybrid threats. It must be harmonized with the NATO and EU corresponding documents in this sphere and be based on the updated National Security Strategy, which takes into account hybrid threats as a national security challenge. The document should be subject to periodic review and update in view of the dynamics of this problematics. The strategy should be updated every two years at the latest.   Preparing such a document, however, would not be a small challenge nowadays, taking into consideration the variety of attitudes among the main political actors, but there is no more time to put this off. A passive, wait-and-see position in a fundamentally changed security environment is detrimental to the national interests.

In order to put into practice such a national strategy for countering hybrid threats, the development of a sufficient institutional capacity is of decisive significance. This is a primary task of every institution related to national security (Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries, counter intelligence and intelligence services etc.). Within all of these institutions there should be a designated structure, charged with tackling hybrid influences and provided with enough human, financial and material resources.

It is also necessary to build-up an effective mechanism for interagency cooperation and coordination among all the state structures involved in this domain. In order to have this accomplished, first, there should be a designated strategic level coordinating structure that is charged with directing the activities, receiving and processing information, and, regularly reporting to the Government and to Parliament. Most logically, the role of such a body should be assumed by the Secretariat of the Security Council at the Council of Ministers. However, the Secretariat is yet to be provided with the needed resources. Just to remind that, under the current legislation in force, the national crisis management system is to be composed of national, institutional and regional situation centers. The Secretariat of the Security Council is supposed to function as a National Situation Center. This is still not put into effect.

Bearing in mind the growing danger of cyberattacks and the growth of their destructive potential, a stronger emphasis should be put upon building-up cyber protection and cyber defense capabilities, in active cooperation with NATO and the EU and the use of their experience and achievements.

With regard to the fact that hybrid warfare is first and foremost an information war, it is about time to pay more attention to developing the institutional capacity to carry out effective strategic communications directed both towards society and abroad. This is needed not only to counter foreign propaganda, media manipulations and fake news, but mostly to convey convincing positive public messages in support of the state policies.

In the context of hybrid attacks that can start with subversive impact in the civilian spectrum, it is necessary to work intensively to strengthen the resilience of the country in crises, particularly by covering the civilian aspects of resilience. “Each NATO member country needs to have the resilience to withstand shocks like natural disasters, failure of critical infrastructure and military attacks. Resilience is a society’s ability to resist and recover easily and quickly from these shocks, combining civilian, economic, commercial and military factors.”

To put into practice all the above recommended, a Crisis Management Law should be drafted and adopted. Such an Act should regulate the coordinated countering of hybrid threats. The current Law on the Management and Functioning of the System for the Protection of the National Security,that regulates the management and functioning of the system for the protection of the national security of the Republic of Bulgaria and the control over it, is only a framework law that is yet insufficient. Chapter three of this law only most generally outlines crisis management, and hence this must be written down in detail explicitly in a separate law, together with the ensuing secondary legal base.

In this respect, it is essential to develop and adopt a modern concept of escalation, in conformity with the best NATO practices. This means to clearly and unambiguously legally describe and delineate the powers and responsibilities of the institutions as well as the interaction amongst them in the four possible states – peacetime, increase in tension, crisis and war. This would necessitate not only legislation, but conceivably also constitutional changes, as under the current Constitution now present are the states of peace, war, martial law and “any other state of emergency”. This status quo is no longer answering the real needs of the national security system of Bulgaria as a member of NATO and EU in a fundamentally changed strategic environment.

Bulgaria faces today unprecedented challenges. Nevertheless, the country makes part of the Euro-Atlantic community of free nations. The NATO and EU membership guarantees not only security, but also opens up new avenues for development. To enjoy prosperity, Bulgaria needs to build-up a sufficiently high degree of rule of law as well as to strengthen its national security system as a part of NATO and EU. This will guarantee a reliable defense against any kind of external threats, including hybrid ones, regardless of their source and character. In order to have this, the political class must possess enough strategic wisdom that at the moment is yet to be proven. That is the reason why today Bulgaria needs a much more critically thinking and active civil society.

By Mihail Naydenov, for Bulgaria Analytica

Mihail Naydenov is a defense and international security expert. He is a member of the Atlantic Council of Bulgaria. Mihail Naydenov has been a civilian expert at the Defense Policy Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Bulgaria since 2001. He is experienced in defense policy formulation and implementation, analysis, speech-writing and conduct of Strategic Defense/Force Structure Reviews.

Categories: World News

Analyzing the Ground Zero. What Western Countries can Learn From Ukrainian Experience of Combating Russian Disinformation

StopFake.org - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 13:01

By European Values

A new Kremlin Watch Report by Kateryna Kruk, our Special Fellow, which analyses different ways in which Ukraine tried to combat Russian information attacks, covering the period from the annexation of Crimea until the end of 2017. Access it in PDF.

The following are the main lessons learnt from Ukrainian experience in fighting Russian disinformation:
  • Russian disinformation activities should be considered as a threat to the national security and the means of fighting them should be codified in the national security documents.
  • When creating a new structure to address information security, it is important to have sufficient political will and consensus between the leading political actors to ensure that it receives enough staff, budgetary allowances, and proper division of labour with existing institutions.
  • Coordination of efforts between state institutions, as well between state and civil society is the key to successful fight with disinformation.
  • Limiting access to online portals that share disinformation and propaganda, as well as harvest users’ personal data, is an effective measure to offset the capabilities of Russian disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion with target audiences.
  • In countries where television is a primary source of information, banning TV channels that spread propaganda and disinformation is an effective measure to decrease public exposure to manipulation attempts.
  • It is important for governments to communicate well not only with their own citizens but with foreign partners as well, especially when it comes to decisions that have potential international repercussions.
  • NGOs are more rapid in their reaction, have more flexibility in their budget and have higher creative potential, thus delegating tasks to such organizations, or at least leading close state-NGO cooperation is an important means of counter-propaganda strategy.
  • Preventing is always better than reacting, therefore conducting targeted information campaigns is highly recommended.
  • Review existing legislature and analyse the legal framework for countering disinformation and propaganda.
  • There should be various programs for increasing media literacy and experience sharing about countering disinformation available to journalists, civil servants, and individuals. Moreover, state should provide sufficient financial support for those initiatives.

By European Values

Categories: World News

Vladimir Putin Repeats Already Fact-Checked Claims

StopFake.org - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 07:26

Journalists raise posters to attract the attention as Russian President Vladimir Putin as he speaks during his annual news conference to Russian federal, regional, and foreign media at the WTC Congress Center in Moscow, Russia, 14 December 2017. EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV

By Polygraph Vladimir Putin

President of the Russian Federation

“There is no Russian army on the territory of Donbas but there have been created military-police formations, ready to repulse an offensive against Donbas.”

Source: Kremlin.ru, December 14, 2017 MISLEADING

This claim, and many others already fact-checked, misleads.

In his end of year news conference, President Vladimir Putin made claims about Ukraine, Crimea, the Russian state media as well as series of domestic issues – many of which Polygraph.infoFactograph.info and other news media have fact checked and, in some instances, debunked.

President Putin’s assertion the Russian Army is not involved echoes years of Kremlin’s denials of Russian involvement in the Donbas – despite evidence that “…is overwhelming and has been confirmed by numerous open-source investigations…” As the Polygraph.info fact check states: Key Ukraine separatists military and political leaders were Russian citizens. Foreign and domestic media documented the presence of Russian “volunteers” fighting for the self-proclaimed republics. International intelligence organizations like Bellingcat published evidence of Russian military presence, including social media posts of Russian soldiers themselves.

Ukraine, Luhansk regoin — Ukrainian soldier in the Donbas region, holding AK rifle

In addition, the presence of Russian tanks in the area has been documented and claims that the weapons were captured from Ukrainian army supply depots have been debunked.

On the question of whether Russia annexed Crimea legally, Putin cites the 1954 handover of the Crimea to Ukraine, which he said was illegal.

“I won’t say anything beyond this point. The people of Crimea determined their fate the way they did,” said Putin, apparently referring to the March 2014 referendum that showed 97 percent of Crimeans voted for independence from the rest of Ukraine and to become a part of Russia.

In October 2016, Putin addressed the All-Russia People’s Front party, speaking of “active and engaged people in Crimea” who “took their future into their own hands and decided themselves how and where they want to live.”

Crimea– A Ukrainian woman speaks with an armed man in military uniform, believed to be Russian soldiers, block the Ukrainian navy base in Novoozerniy village, March 3, 2014

The UN labeled the Crimean vote invalid, in a resolution that cited the “Russian troops and armoured vehicles” that moved into Crimea the month before. Polygraph.info labeled President Putin’s 2016 comments “False,” quoting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasumssen as saying in 2014 that the annexation of Crimea was “a referendum at gunpoint.”

Taking questions on U.S. politics at his marathon news conference, President Putin rejected allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

“You know this is all fabricated by the people who are in opposition to Trump to make his work illegitimate,” said Putin. He went on to compare the political turmoil to the bilateral dispute over Russia’s state-funded news services – RT and Sputnik.

Putin characterized the Russian involvement in the U.S. media marketplace as “minimal compared to what American global media is doing around the world and here in Russia. And that seems to be a threat,” he said. In Russia, VOA and RFE/RL, U.S. government broadcasters, are banned from television and radio while RT is carried on many U.S. commercial cable TV systems and Sputnik operates openly — including on a radio station in Washington, DC.

In November, RT and Sputnik registered as foreign agents, under U.S. government pressure to do so. The Executive Committee of Correspondents at the U.S. Capitol quickly revoked the credentials of the two broadcasters to cover Congress.

Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Editor-in-Chief of the RT (Russia Today) Margarita Simonyan at the exhibition to mark the channel’s 10th anniversary, Moscow, December 10, 2015

In a series of exhaustive fact checks of RT’s foreign agent filing, Polygraph.info established the official direction to the broadcaster from Putin included “propagating and promoting the formulation of Russia’s positive image globally” and that the two broadcasters are part of a government-owned “pyramid” of entities.

During a Congressional hearing in March, Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, offered this assessment of RT’s operations: “[The] Kremlin is waging an international disinformation campaign through the RT propaganda network which traffics in anti-American conspiracy theories that rivaled the extravagant untruths of Soviet-era Pravda.”

Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Editor-in-Chief of the RT (Russia Today) Margarita Simonyan at the exhibition to mark the channel’s 10th anniversary, Moscow, December 10, 2015

On Thursday, Putin said the U.S. and Russian governments should quit quarreling.

“We need to learn from it and move on and not attack each other like wild animals. We need to think about it and learn our lessons,” he told reporters in Moscow.

By Polygraph

© 2017 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved

Categories: World News

Kadyrov Denies Chechen Battalions In Syria

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 08:43

By Polygraph

Ramzan Kadyrov

Head of Russia’s Chechen Republic

“The domestic media are disseminating reports about the ‘sending’ to Syria of ‘servicemen’ from the Vostok and Zapad Battalions. I can say with confidence that there are no Vostok or Zapad battalions in the Chechen Republic.”

Source: Ramzan Kadyrov’s Instagram Account, Dec. 8, 2016

PARTIALLY TRUE

…technically true, but doesn’t mean no Chechen fighters in Syria.

The Russian business daily Kommersant reported December 8 that “Chechen Spetsnaz [Special Forces] from the Russian Defense Ministry’s Vostok [East] and Zapad [West] battalions” were being sent to Syria to guard Russia’s Hmeimim air base, citing a source at the Russian military base in Khankala outside Grozny.

That same day and again on December 21, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied the claim on his Instagram page. He said the battalions had been disbanded.

Separately, Caucasian Knot, a regional independent news site, cited a Chechen law enforcement source as saying 500 soldiers “mainly from among local residents serving in Russian Defense Ministry divisions” were sent from Chechnya to Syria in “compulsory-voluntary” fashion. In its December 9 article, Caucasian Knot also noted that Vostok and Zapad had been disbanded, but added the soldiers deployed to Syria had once served in these battalions.

In fact, a number of experts have also reported the demobilization of Vostok and Zapad. The original Vostok was disbanded after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. In 2014 a Vostok unit was reconstituted to fight alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Commanded by Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a former Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) intelligence officer, this fighting unit was not the same as the original Vostok Battalion.

Mairbek Vatchagaev, a North Caucasus analyst at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, has pointed out that since the old Vostok was led by Kadyrov’s “worst enemy” Sulim Yamadaev, a rival warlord assassinated in 2009 after years of clan warfare, Kadyrov would be unlikely to keep the name of that battalion within Chechnya.

To be sure, the Vostok in the Donbas had Chechens in it for a time, but it was not clear if they had ties to Kadyrov. Their presence was confirmed in various sightings by journalists and also reports of their deaths on the battlefield. Eventually, Kadyrov ordered all Chechen volunteers to return home, tacitly admitting their role in the Donbas.

Kadyrov stopped short of admitting any such role for his troops currently in Syria, while maintaining that any soldier who happened to be serving in the Chechen Republic (i.e. of Chechen or other origin) could be sent to Syria to “guard airfields.” But then he implied Chechens had not yet been sent to Syria after saying he was “ready at any minute” to fight international terrorism and “would be happy and proud to get an order from the Russian Armed Forces Supreme Commander-in-Chief to immediately go to Syria and fight the scum.”

Even if Chechens aren’t being deployed to Syria, it’s unclear whether Moscow would want them anyway. The Kremlin may view them as a security risk given that hundreds of Chechens fighters have joined Islamic State. Chechens were not even drafted into the Russian army for years following two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s. They were readmitted in 2015, a year after an appeal by Kadyrov.

Along with its article, Kommersant republished a video originally uploaded December 6 by RFE/RL’s Kavkaz.Realii to YouTube which has not appeared in reverse search. It shows dozens of men speaking Chechen wearing the distinctive red berets of the Russian Defense Ministry’s special forces, or Spetsnaz, gathering in a yard that appears to have the red and white buildings known to be present at the Khankala air base in Chechnya. By contrast, Chechen Interior Ministry Spetsnaz have usually been seen dressed in black berets.

Five policemen were reportedly arrested in Chechnya over the video, suggesting Kadyrov may have wished to cover up Chechen fighter involvement in Syria.

Caucasian Knot also reported December 13 that twelve Defense Ministry soldiers serving at the Khankala base were discharged after refusing to be deployed to Syria. All of them were reportedly local residents.

Though Kadyrov is now denying Chechen special forces are on the ground in Syria he has admitted as much in the recent past. Kadyrov made the admission during an interview with state-run Russian TV in February 2016.

Later, the Chechen government backpedaled from the claim, saying the fighters were not Spetsnaz but young volunteers.

Kadyrov may be technically correct that no Chechens are fighting in Syria as part of the “Vostok” or “Zapad” battalions. This, however, doesn’t mean Chechens aren’t on the ground in Syria. In fact, all the evidence suggests they are.

By Polygraph

© 2017 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved

Categories: World News

Facebook Criticized After Finding Little Evidence Of Russian Meddling In Brexit Vote

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 07:32

By RFE/RL

A top British lawmaker has accused Facebook of failing to thoroughly investigate whether Russia attempted to influence last year’s vote to leave the European Union after the social media giant said it found only three suspicious advertisements.

Damian Collins, chairman of the British Parliament’s culture and media committee, said on December 13 that Facebook limited its investigation to only one source of advertisements: the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg facility that U.S. intelligence agencies have said was the troll farm the Russian government used to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election.

“It would appear that no work has been done by Facebook to look for other fake accounts and pages that could be linked to Russian-backed agencies and which were active during the EU referendum, as I requested,” Collins said.

He repeated his request for Facebook to conduct a comprehensive search for “any adverts and pages paid for or set up by Russian-linked accounts” that were active before and during the June 23, 2016 vote to leave the EU, which passed by a narrow margin.

Facebook disputed Collins’ characterization of its search, saying it took his request “very seriously.”

In a letter to Britain’s Electoral Commission, Facebook said it found 470 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, and said the agency had spent only 97 cents on three ads seen by British audiences during the Brexit campaign.

Facebook said each of the three ads actually were targeted to U.S. audiences and concerned immigration, not the referendum on whether Britain should pull out of the EU. It estimated that the ads delivered “approximately 200 impressions to U.K. viewers over four days in May 2016.”

The issue of immigration was an important one in the British vote as well as the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.

British citizens who voted to exit the EU and U.S. citizens who voted to elect Donald Trump as president frequently cited competition for jobs from immigrants and the payment of welfare benefits to immigrants as reasons for their choice.

Researchers have said the Internet Research Agency employs hundreds of people to post content on such socially divisive issues as immigration on social media in what appears to be a Kremlin strategy to foment discord in the West.

Some of the Russian ads and posts that Facebook said earlier this year reached as many as 126 million American users during the presidential campaign carried messages linking immigrants to crime and lost jobs.

Russia denies meddling in Brexit or the U.S. election.

While Facebook said it found little evidence of Russian efforts to influence the Brexit vote on its network, the media giant said Russian operatives spent $100,000 on advertising aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election.

The New York Times reported on December 13 that another soon-to-be-released study by the Oxford Internet Institute investigating whether Russian operatives used Twitter and YouTube to try to influence the Brexit vote also found little evidence of meddling.

The author of that study, Oxford Professor Philip Howard, told the Times that “Russian activity during Brexit seems to have been minimal… The real source of misinformation about the Brexit debate was homegrown.”

The Times said Russia’s English-language Sputnik and RT media outlets were very active during the Brexit campaign, however, pushing the agenda of British parties calling for an exit from the bloc.

By RFE/RL

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and the New York Times

Categories: World News

Weaponising the Olympics

StopFake.org - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 16:55

By UA vs Disinfo

On 5 December, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang 2018. The reason was the systemic manipulation of anti-doping rules in Russia during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi three years ago. Individual athletes from Russia may still compete under the Olympic Flag.

The first reaction of the disinformation campaign was targeted for the home audience in Russia, in order to round up people to defend the besieged fortress and prevent any inner criticism or demands towards the authorities.

Talking about the Olympics in militaristic terms was the way to get the message through. The Winter Olympics ban “is a war against Russia”, we learned, as well as that “the Olympics have never been about sport, but war”. The claim about “the IOC humiliating Russia” was repeatedly used on Russian state TV news programmes. The individual athletes who would even consider taking part in the Olympics not under the Russian flag were framed as “unpatriotic” and a conspiracy was spread that this is an operation prepared by the West to discredit Russia ahead of presidential elections in 2018.

The Disinformation campaign’s next step was to appeal to the international audience. Here, the main line was to discredit the investigation of Russia’s state supported doping system with the claim that the Olympic ban is not about sport or doping, but about Russophobic Western elites who lobby for an “endless war”.

The war rhetoric couldn’t be further from the idea of the Olympics as a way to build ”a peaceful and better world through sport”, as the relevant resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly states. And – as is quite usual with the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign – it also couldn’t be further from the actual facts. The tradition of “the Olympic Truce” is in fact almost three thousand years old.

“Gastronomical genocide in Greece” – no, the EU is not banning kebabs

The ‘geniuses’ from the European Parliament and the European Commission are seriously considering banning both gyros and kebabs in the country which is called ‘the cradle of civilisation’, the Serbian edition of Sputnik wrote in an article dubbed ‘The Greek scenario for Serbia’. Serbia should hence consider well whether it will enter into marriage with the EU out of love or out of interest. In any case, Sputnik writes, it would be as if a victim marries his or her rapist, since the oriental influences in the Serbian cuisine originate from Greece, which is now threatened by a ‘gastronomic genocide’. Genocide is a recurring theme in the pro-Kremlin media; most recently recognised in its ‘linguistic’ form in Latvia, but seldom does it correspond to its actual definition.

A screenshot from Sputnik Serbia; “the Greek scenario for Serbia.”

This is not the first time that pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets develop this type of claim. In 2016, traditional European cuisine was described to be ‘under attack of Muslim citizens’.

Of course, the EU is not banning kebabs. The disinformation was spread as the European Parliament’s Health Committee raised concerns about the impacts of phosphates that are used as food additives.

It is also hard to see why Serbia would be suffering from Stockholm syndrome as a victim of an EU rapist, as Sputnik suggested. Serbia has stated that its strategic goal is EU accession, and Serbia is guaranteed the status of an EU candidate country.

No white phosphorous in Ukraine

On 9 December, French Twitter users were informed that the Ukrainian army had supposedly shelled a water-treatment facility in Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern city of Donetsk with white phosphorous.

The tweet was linked to an article in Novorossia Today, a website run by the pro-Russian separatist rebels in East of Ukraine. The report embedded a video of the purported attack.

The claim, has, however, been directly disproved by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine.

On 8 December, an SMM camera at the Donetsk water-treatment facility did indeed record ceasefire violations. But the OSCE said in its daily report that the projectiles flew from east to west, not west to east. The OSCE also made no mention at all of white phosphorus.

By UA vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine To Accept 20,000 Refugees Instead Of Germany

StopFake.org - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 10:47

Citing a Bavarian newspaper, last week scores of pro-Kremlin media claimed that Ukraine would accept 20,000 refugees instead of Germany with headlines such as Why does Poroshenko need militants from Asia and Africa?

Citing a German publication called Kraichgau News, Russian media claim that by the end of 2018 Ukraine will accept no less than 20,000 refugees most likely those who are currently in Bavaria. This deal allegedly resulted from an agreement with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and its German counterpart and Ukraine is actively preparing for the reception of such a large number of people.

Website screenshot RIA

This fake began to be widely republished in Russian media during the recent EU Eastern Partnership summit at the end of November. The Eastern Partnership is a European Union program launched in 2009 in the framework of European Neighborhood Policy and addressed to six countries in Eastern Europe: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Kraichgau News is neither Bavarian nor is it a newspaper. It is an internet portal where anyone can post their information based in the Baden-Württemberg area. A user calling themselves Kerstin Neumann who wrote the article that Russian media cite registered with the Kraichgau News portal one day before publishing her fake story on November 1.

Replying to StopFake’s inquiry about these claims, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry confirmed that German diplomat  Dorothea Metschkowski. who specializes in human rights, recently presented a human rights project in Kyiv aimed at fostering tolerance towards refugees in Ukraine. All other claims about refuges are patently false, the ministry said.

While Ukraine is actively cooperating with Germany on human rights issues, there is no agreement between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees.

Categories: World News

Attempt No 2. Russian propaganda seeking to “dismiss” Angela Merkel again

StopFake.org - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 07:29

Photo: nzz.ch

Igor Solovey, for LB.ua

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s days in big politics are reportedly numbered, according to Russian media. However such predictions are unfounded given that publicists have long been using phrases like “it is time for Merkel to go” as tropes (meaning we want someone else but we do not know whom). Russian propagandists are taking cue from the Kremlin strategists seeking to divide Europe by toppling its strongest leader.

Elections are over, buckle up

The September parliamentary elections in Germany did not lead to the removal of Angela Merkel, whom the Kremlin hates. However, both the CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) got the worst results in the post-war history, which prompted many analysts to conclude that the elections in Germany were won by Putin. Although relevant headlines were deliberately dramatic, it is still a fact that the ring-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is openly pro-Moscow, turned out to be the third most popular political party.

It is an open secret that the Christian Democrats lost their traditional voters because one of the main issues during this election campaign was the migration crisis, which I covered below.

In this context, it should be noted that this problem is still a useful tool for attacks on Chancellor Merkel. When the present the chancellor formally won the election, it became obvious that there are many people who would like to continue to destroy the unity of Europe by attacking its most consistent defender.

What is the purpose? Ultimately, to get pro-Russian forces, individual politicians and “Putinverstehers” involved in big German politics (in all federal states). Or at least to generate messages required by Moscow in the German political domain (while creating the necessary information background). At most, to build serious political influence in the country.

Angela, all is lost!

Several months after the elections in Germany, some areas of Kremlin sympathizers’ work became visible. In particular, the pro-Russian lobby has been making every effort to ensure that the chancellor finally loses her political position and later her post (it would give them new strength to ruin the EU sanctions policy against Moscow).

And now Russian propagandists are acting in advance to persuade the common audience that Merkel does not have much time left. A little less than the West at all.

Photo: Vzglyad.ru (screenshot)

“Angela Merkel won the election but failed the negotiations to form a new coalition. Even if she succeeds in forming her fourth government, it will not last long, and her party will be represented by a different leader in next elections. While it is difficult but possible to find a substitute for Merkel in terms of Germany’s domestic agenda, there is a huge problem with the pool of candidates for another role she was tried for,” the Vzglyad website close to the Russian presidential administration says in the article with the eloquent title “The crown of the West proves too big for Angela Merkel”.

Dni.Ru, yet another “dump”, is even more categorical. The headline promises that “the days of Merkel are numbered”. “The political career of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to an end. The unconvincing score in the parliamentary elections and the inability to form a new government are to blame,” reads the article lead. However, given the pace of “Merkel’s fall”, they did not have time to write a separate article, so they had to use the one from Vzglyad.

Photo: Tsargrad TV website (screenshot)

The most professional were the employees of the Tsargrad website (or their handlers, it does not matter). So, on 22 November, they published their own article entitled “Power in Germany handed to Steinmeier.” “There is no longer any such post as ‘Angela Merkel’. ‘The world’s most powerful woman’ is now only the acting chancellor of Germany and her fourth term is very unlikely,” one Sergey Latyshev shares his “insight”.

Photo: Antifashist website (screenshot)

The anti-Ukrainian portal Antifashist chipped in as well. I would like to remind you that it was supposedly created by the Russian special services specifically with a view to employing pro-Russian fugitives from Ukraine. In Moscow, they have rallied around the Committee for the Salvation of former Ukraine of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. So, according to this website, it was a bad idea to pay migrants an allowance so that they could return home: “Austrians are poking fun at Merkel’s policy: Germany is ready to pay 3,000 euros each of the leaving migrants.”

As an example, the website justifies Austria’s isolationism: “Austrians may allow themselves to make light of the neighbouring country because there are sound politicians in Vienna who protected Austria from the migration tsunami, which was prompted by Merkel’s ‘open border’ policy.”

These are just a few examples, there are plenty more Russian media reports on the matter.

So, as Vysotsky said in one of his songs, Merkel “just needs to get a shot and fall to the bottom of a well”. Although she is unlikely to know about Tsargrad’s “exclusive” reports. After all, they conclude that the political career of a leading world politician who has just won the election is about to end simply because the government formation has taken more time than expected.

Continuous “suicide”

There is no secret that Moscow began “to bury Merkel” (as well as the whole united Europe) in 2015 after Germany, as the undisputed leader of the European Union, slapped Russia with sanctions over its occupation of Crimea and invasion in Donbas.

Over the time, the restrictions on the aggressor state have not been cancelled but consistently tightened. So, faced with the fact that most countries are not going to turn a blind eye to the paroxysms of the “evil empire”, the Russian Cheka resorted to the experience of its predecessors and decided to “foment the world fire” to “upset all the bourgeois”.

Russia officially became a party to the conflict in the Syrian war by bombing Syrian cities, as a result of which a controlled flow of refugees from the Middle East rushed to Europe. This led to the migration crisis, the resolution of which completely fell on Merkel as the leader of the leading country of united Europe and forced her to make unpopular decisions.

Naturally, amid the migration crisis, Europe was hit by terrorist attacks for which ISIS claimed responsibility (ISIS was reasonably suspected of having links with the Russian special services).

Last year, acts of intimidation reached Germany. Of course, on the eve of the parliamentary elections, which later … Read above.

Obviously, the German rightists with a clear Moscow trail got particularly active during this period. And because there is never too much of a good thing, the memorable “girl Liza” could not but make an appearance and make the Russian federal mass disinformation media so “compassionate”.

Having read what I have said above, one can certainly continue to believe that “sanctions do not work” and that “Iskanders are not afraid of sanctions”. However, the wind sown by Russia will continue to reap the whirlwind which will kill further and further. If only virtually and political careers only.

Igor Solovey, for LB.ua

Igor Solovey is a World editor at LB.ua

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine’s Autumn Recruitment a Washout

StopFake.org - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 00:46

Pro-Kremlin media are ablaze with fakes declaring Ukraine’s autumn recruitment campaign is a complete failure. Citing the Ukrainian military’s Facebook page, they claim there is a 70 percent no show rate. Although there have been some snags in the campaign, the Ukrainian military press service says the latest recruitment drive has been overwhelmingly successful.

Website screenshot tvzvezda.ru

Website screenshot pravda.ru

Russian site Tsargrad TV declares that “Ukrainian recruits have died out”, “Couch army. Ukrainians massively evading recruitment” RIA Novosti hail, while Pravda writes ironically “the strongest army in the world can’t find 70 percent of its recruits”.  Many declared the recruitment drive an utter failure before it even ended.  Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda eagerly followed suit, as did Vesti, Politnews, Voyennoye obozrenye, Versia, Channel five and many others.

Website screenshot kmu.gov.ua

Website screenshot @UkrainianLandForces

Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers reports that the latest recruitment drive aimed to attract 12,460 persons for contractual military service, 2,000 more than in previous drives.  According to the Ukrainian Land Forces press service, recruitment centers throughout the country report that goal has been met with 8,360 recruits going into the Ukrainian army, 3,500 into the National Guard and 600 into a specialized military transport service. Contrary to reports of problems, snags and washouts in the Russian media, the recruitment drive went very as far as the Ukrainian military is concerned.

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: Spain will acknowledge “misinformation campaigns” as a threat to national security

StopFake.org - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 19:30

Topics of the Week

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the US won’t lift sanctions against Russia until the Kremlin withdraws Russian forces from Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Tensions between President Trump and his national security team continue to grow.

Spanish authorities are to pass a new National Security Strategy that, for the first time, will mention “misinformation campaigns” as a threat to the country’s security. Despite the fact that Russia is not named as a culprit, it seems the document will also set out specific measures to counter the threat.

Both state and non-state actors attempted to influence the German election, concludes a study written by experts including Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev. We are seeing a rapid expansion of transnational networks of disinformation and toxic speech, which can operationalize activity around elections.

Good Old Soviet Joke

A train bearing Stalin, Lenin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev stops suddenly when the tracks run out. Each leader applies his own unique solution. Lenin gathers workers and peasants from miles around and exhorts them to build more tracks. Stalin shoots the train crew when the train still doesn’t move. Khrushchev rehabilitates the dead crew and orders the tracks behind the train ripped up and re-laid in front. Brezhnev pulls down the curtains and rocks back and forth, pretending the train is moving. And Gorbachev calls a rally in front of the locomotive, where he leads a chant: “No tracks! No tracks! No tracks!”

US Developments Trouble in paradise: partisanship threatens to derail congressional probes

It appears that of the three congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, only one is on track to reaching bipartisan consensus. The Senate Intelligence Committee is the only committee where Republicans and Democrats have succeeded in working together without major disagreements or tensions. By contrast, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee are both plagued by severe partisan in-fighting.

Most recently, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), blasted his Democratic colleagues for blocking investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration’s potential misdeeds. He claimed that “true bipartisan oversight is impossible unless it is a two-way street” and blamed Democrats for being “unwilling to ask hard questions and force answers from their own political allies”.

These deflection attempts and finger-pointing come amid growing claims from GOP lawmakers – particularly House Republicans – that Robert Mueller’s special investigation is biased against Trump, and that Hillary Clinton was not subject to the same level of scrutiny for the Uranium One deal and her personal email use. (One can reasonably argue that this is GOP whataboutism: Clinton’s email investigations have been rigorously documented with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and the conspiracy theory that she sold uranium to Russia in exchange for a donation to the Clinton Foundation has been repeatedly debunked.)

These escalating partisan tensions mean that bipartisan reports summarizing committee conclusions are unlikely to happen in either the House Intelligence or Senate Judiciary committees. Instead, the Democrats and Republicans are likely to publish individual reports with differing findings.

More strong words from Sec. Tillerson

The Secretary of State’s language concerning Russia is growing tougher by the day. Last week’s Kremlin Watch Briefing reported Tillerson’s chiding of Russia’s “malicious tactics” and hostilities towards its neighbors and other liberal democratic states as “not the behaviors of a responsible nation”. Last Thursday, Tillerson upped the ante, declaring that the US will not lift sanctions against Russia until the Kremlin withdraws Russian forces from Crimea and eastern Ukraine. At a meeting of the OSCE, he decisively laid the blame on Russia for escalating violence in Ukraine. In a press conference, he said: “We’ve made this clear to Russia from the very beginning, that we must address Ukraine. It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do.” Tillerson also emphasized that the US would not recognize Russia’s takeover of Crimea, saying: “We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea. Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”

These comments are a welcome deviation from the rhetoric we have come to expect from the Trump White House. The tensions between the President and his national security team continue to grow, and while this is good news for those hoping to see stronger US direction on Russia, it remains to be seen how these power dynamics play out, and whether executive policy will fall in line.

Russian trolls posed as US news outlets on Twitter

The Independent reports that dozens of Twitter accounts that appeared to be local US news sources – frequently in swing states, including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – were actually operated by Russian trolls from the infamous St Petersburg Internet Research Agency. Together, these accounts acquired more than half a million followers. Moreover, more than 100 (legitimate) news outlets published stories containing the imposter Twitter handles in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Some were even tweeted by high-level public figures, including an unnamed top presidential aide. According to Twitter, these accounts have now been suspended – in sum, the company identified and suspended 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Anti-Russian conspiracy

Last week, the International Olympic Committee ruled to impose sanctions on Russia for its systematic doping and banned the country from the upcoming Winter Olympics. Evidence of this charge has been straightforward and conclusive – Russia has systematically manipulated the anti-doping system on a historically unprecedented scale. It has also been proven that Russia conducted manipulations at the anti-doping laboratory at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Predictably, Russia has denied all accusations. But the way Russian media have framed the incident is a perfect example of how individual events are distorted to fit pro-Kremlin narratives and bolster patriotic consciousness in the country. According to the Russian media, the IOC decision is first and foremost a blow against Russia or, as Russian Olympic champion and Duma member Irina Rodnina put it, “They have driven a wedge between Russia and the rest of the world.”

The same sentiment was echoed across all major Russian TV stations, newspapers, and websites. Indeed, in the mainstream media, there is no discussion whatsoever about whether country actually did something wrong. Instead, Russian journalists merely regurgitate the line that the IOC ban is yet another confirmation that Russia is encircled by enemies. There is no discussion about domestic investigations or questions asking whether the doping scandal even took place. Every evening last week, all major talk shows discussed the West’s plans to undermine Russia and global conspiracies aimed at diminishing Russia’s global influence. Remarkably, the IOC ban became a top news in the Russian media sphere, even overshadowing the alleged liberation of Syria from ISIS, thanks to Russian efforts.

Apart from their hysterical indulgences in global anti-Russian conspiracies, Russian media and various experts have actively debated whether ‘clean’ Russian athletes should participate under the neutral Olympic flag. Predictably, Russian ‘journalists’ have opined that this would amount to national treason and that Russia should boycott the upcoming Olympic Games.

The narrative is unusually outrageous and one-sided, even by Russian standards: no major voice has raised concerns that perhaps Russia did indeed do something very wrong to deserve this ban. United in their ‘patriotic sentiment’, educated adults would rather partake in conspiracy discussions and plots instead of admitting a reality check of their own country.

Policy & Research News

A spy in the European Parliament

Hungarian prosecutors indicted MEP Bela Kovacs of spying on the European Union “in the interests of a foreign state and on behalf of the secret services.” They did not clearly state which country Kovacs worked for. However, the intelligence community in Hungary noted he has been in regular contact with Russian diplomats and visited Moscow on a monthly basis.

Kovacs comes from the strongest Hungarian opposition party, Jobbik, which is known for supporting the Kremlin’s foreign policy and repeating stereotypical disinformation narratives. Its representatives praised the so called ‘referendum’ in Crimea as a “triumph of a community’s self-determination” and compared the situation there to Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

A spy in the Polish energy sector

In October 2014, Mr. ‘Stanisław Sz.’, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, was arrested by Polish authorities, at the time for undisclosed reasons. Eventually, the Warsaw district court found him guilty of cooperation with the GRU in gathering classified information about the Polish energy sector. Last week, the Warsaw appeals court ruled that his sentence will be prolonged from four to seven years in jail.

Spain will include the “misinformation” threat in its new security strategy

The Spanish government has not treated disinformation campaigns and hostile influence operations as a priority for a long time. However, things may be slowly changing following the Catalonian independence referendum, which witnessed considerable Russian meddling on social media. Spain’s Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs admitted that about 50% of social media accounts that tried to influence the public with pro-separatist content came from Russia.

Currently, Spanish authorities are poised to pass a new National Security Strategy that, for the first time, will mention “misinformation campaigns” as a threat to national security. Although the document does not mention Russia as a culprit of such campaigns, it seems that specific measures will also be laid out to counter the threat. The Strategy also touches upon the interference efforts during the Catalan crisis, and also during the Brexit referendum.

This is an important step that might launch broader efforts in Spain to prepare and implement a more comprehensive strategy to tackle influence operations. It could also encourage different groups at the levels of political and civil society to develop new initiatives. It therefore appears that Spain is joining countries like the Netherlands and France which ‘awakened’ after they directly felt the impact of the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts to destabilize their societies.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion ‘Make Germany Great Again’

Kremlin, Alt-Right and International Influences in the 2017 German Elections

This report, written by well-known experts including Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, focuses on the Kremlin’s and other foreign attempts to influence the 2017 German elections. Specifically, it explores how these efforts differed across three audiences in Germany: the nationalist right, the Left, and the Russian-speaking population. The authors used an innovative combination of methodological approaches: they combined social media monitoring and analysis, broadcast media monitoring, and on-the-ground reporting, all guided by in-depth subject matter expertise.

The German nationalist right is mainly associated with the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which maintains strong links with Russia. German far-right audiences rely heavily on social media for political information, which makes them more likely to believe fake news stories and more likely to read and share information that comes either from Russian or international alt-right sources. The German far-right and Kremlin-affiliated media showed a clear bias in favor of the AfD. Moreover, a pro-Kremlin botnet was active during the election campaign.

The Left’s relationship with the Kremlin is more complicated, with some left-wing movements being critical of Putinism. However, the most significant left-wing party in Germany, Die Linke, has grown closer to the Russian government in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and is clearly aligned with the Kremlin’s narratives. These narratives are also reflected by far-left social media, though not in the same volume as by the far-right. The German Left as a whole is more resistant to disinformation. Nevertheless, there is some evidence of a ‘cross-front’ of left and right, as previously witnessed in the 1930s.

The findings regarding Russian-speaking Germans suggests that integration of this community has been far from successful. Politically, they affiliate mostly with the AfD, which was the first and only political party to have a Russian-language campaign strategy. Their opinion is notably shaped by Kremlin-affiliated media, which has significant reach within Russian-German audiences.

In conclusion, the report revealed that both state and non-state actors attempted to influence the German election. In a wider political context, we are witnessing a rapid expansion of transnational networks of disinformation and toxic speech, which can operationalize activity around key events such as elections. In order to fight this issue, the authors offer various recommendations for civil society, policymakers, and media. Have a look at the report to find out more.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

RT’s Editor-in-Chief: FARA Registration, Capitol Hill Denial of Credentials Restricts ‘Journalistic Work’

StopFake.org - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 17:51

Russian President Vladimir Putin and RT’s Editor-in-Chief of RT Margarita Simonyan attend an exhibition marking RT’s 10th anniversary in Moscow, December 10, 2015

By Polygraph

Margarita Simonyan,

RT’s editor-in-chief

“To all the self-righteous defenders of ‘freedom of speech’ who oh-so-ardently proclaimed that FARA registration places no restrictions whatsoever on RT’s journalistic work in the US: Withdrawal of Congressional credentials speaks much louder than empty platitudes. And to borrow from Orwell, all ‘foreign agents‘ are equal, but looks like only RT is denied congressional accreditation on the basis of FARA status, while the likes of NHK and China Daily carry on business as usual, and U.S. officials continue to claim that the forced FARA registration for RT America’s operating company isn’t at all discriminatory.”

Source: RT, November 29, 2017 Misleading: The claim is misleading, though it is true registration has resulted in loss of credentials.

In a letter dated November 21, the Executive Committee of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries at the U.S. Congress notified RT that it had voted unanimously to withdraw the Russian government-funded international broadcaster’s credentials after the U.S. Justice Department forced RT to register as a foreign agent earlier that month.

RT posted the letter on its website. It reads: “The rules of the Galleries state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed ‘by any foreign government or representative thereof.’ Upon its registration as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), RT Network became ineligible to hold news credentials.”

The U.S. Congress created the original press gallery in the late 19th Century, to take the responsibility of journalist accreditation from the shoulders of the House Speaker, the elected leader of the House of Representatives. In 1939, Congress established the Radio-Television Correspondents Galleries to handle broadcast media accreditation. The Galleries are under the control of separate committees of correspondents, which decide on which news outlets qualify for press credentials. The Galleries handle “accreditation, liaison, distribution of information, management of logistics, and enforcement of rules.”

The decision means that RT is no longer able to access the press galleries of the U.S. Congress, and assign reporters to attend congressional sessions, hearings and news conferences.

RT’s Accusations

Commenting on the decision, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan stated: “To all the self-righteous defenders of ‘freedom of speech’ who oh-so-ardently proclaimed that FARA registration places no restrictions whatsoever on RT’s journalistic work in the US: Withdrawal of Congressional credentials speaks much louder than empty platitudes.”

RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan (L) and state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov attend the 3rd Russia-China Media Forum in Moscow, July 4, 2017

She continued: “And to borrow from Orwell, all ‘foreign agents‘ are equal, but looks like only RT is denied congressional accreditation on the basis of FARA status, while the likes of NHK and China Daily carry on business as usual, and US officials continue to claim that the forced FARA registration for RT America’s operating company isn’t at all discriminatory.”

In its piece criticizing the decision, RT quoted George Galloway, a former British lawmaker who is now one of its broadcasters, as saying: “You make someone register as a foreign agent, and then you ban them because they are foreign agents. It is the ultimate Catch-22.”

RT also quoted Richard Black, a Republican Virginia state senator, as describing the decision as absolutely censorship.”

Polygraph.info previously fact-checked similar statements, including by Simonyan (fact-check 1, fact-check 2, and fact-check 3), made in the context of the outlet’s registration as a foreign agent.

Criticism of RT

Objecting to its registration under FARA, RT has been portraying itself as a bona fide media outlet engaged in journalism. However, many experts accuse it of spreading propaganda, as well as socially- and politically-polarizing content, on the Kremlin’s behalf.

Then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks with Margarita Simonyan in Sochi, August 26, 2008

Asked by the newspaper Kommersant in a 2008 interview why Russian taxpayers should finance their government’s foreign-language media, Simonyan replied: “Well, roughly speaking, for the same reason the country needs the Ministry of Defense.” RT, she added, led an information war against the entire Western media during Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 and stands ready to do so again if needed.

Asked how RT’s governmental objectives fit with journalistic integrity, she said: “Well, the same way as for all the other channels. There is no impartiality.”

A January 2017 U.S. intelligence report probing Russia’s alleged interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election concluded that RT “conducts strategic messaging for [the] Russian government” and “seeks to influence politics, [and] fuel discontent in the U.S.”

U.S. Congress returns from Thanksgiving amid ongoing investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Washington, D.C., October 24, 2017

According to Charles Lewis, a professor at American University’s School of Communication and executive editor of its Investigative Reporting Workshop, over the past year RT “has been found to have worked in direct and obvious tandem with the Russian government at the same time as its apparent interference in the recent 2016 presidential election.”

As such, he says, RT “no longer has the appearance or the apparent reality of just another international, foreign government-funded broadcast organization.”

On November 13, RT complied with the U.S. Department of Justice order to register as a foreign agent.

New Developments, Similar Allegations

Following the Gallery’s executive committee decision, the Russian broadcaster aimed harsh criticism at the U.S. government, hinting it was a violaton of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment free speech protections.

On November 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill allowing designation of news outlets receiving foreign funding as foreign agents. Authorities have designated nine U.S. outlets, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as Polygraph.info’s partner Factograph, as foreign agents and banned their journalists from the Russian parliament.

Russia’s lower house of parliament adopts a law allowing for designation of news outlets as foreign agents in response to RT’s registration as a foreign agent under FARA

The decision to strip RT’s news credentials came after the U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert stated just a day earlier that “FARA does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate.”

The U.S. Justice Department, which administers the FARA filings, states that foreign registration “does not inhibit freedom of expression” or “restrict the content of information disseminated.” It merely “requires public disclosure of certain activities and relationships through registration by ‘agents of foreign principals’ with the Justice Department…it requires only registration, labeling of informational materials and broadcasts, and recordkeeping.”

In addition, FARA “does not restrict registrants from operating,” the U.S. Justice Department says. “Other U.S. agents of foreign media entities are currently registered under FARA and continue to operate freely in the United States.”

Membership Rules of the Galleries

The Gallery executive committee’s RT decision invoked its own rules which “require all Gallery members to be bona fide news gatherers and/or reporters whose chief attention is given to—or more than one-half of their earned income derived from—the gathering or reporting of news.” Gallery members must not be employed “by any foreign government or representative thereof” or be “engaged in any lobbying activities.” The Galleries also rely on “additional criteria” set by the Speaker of the House and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration” to approve membership applications.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are sworn in on the House floor on the first day of the new session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are sworn in on the House floor on the first day of the new session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017

The chairman of the executive committee did not return calls from Polygraph.info, but on December 8, Gallery executive committee put out a statement on the RT claim that NHK, Japan’s publicly funded TV agency, was also a foreign agent.

“This is not accurate,” said the executive committee, in an e-mailed statement. “The company in question, NHK Cosmomedia America, Inc., is a separate entity that has never been issued credentials by the Congressional Radio-TV Correspondents’ Galleries.”

China Daily is not listed as a credentialed publication by the U.S. Senate Press Gallery, which approves traditional print media. News reports indicate China Daily has filed as a foreign agent, although Reuters reports China People’s Daily has not.

People’s Daily is, in fact, listed on the press gallery Web site as a credentialed organization and as the foreign principal under the title of People’s Daily Overseas Edition in a FARA registration record, according to a report from RFE/RL and FARA website.

RFE/RL further reports that the most recent Justice Department compliance record, published in early 2017, listed NHK, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and China Daily.

A search on the FARA website leads to a FARA registration document identifying NHK as a registrant, though it is not clear if that registration remains active.

Finally, the list of members with admission to the daily press galleries as of February 2016 includes NHK, China People’s Daily, and Canadian Broadcasting Corp, though it is unclear if the list is up to date.

To add a complication, a source on background tells Polygraph.info the credentialing rules of the two correspondent organizations vary.

First Amendment experts debate whether the correspondents’ decision on RT constitutes censorship or violates the First Amendment, and whether FARA restricts the operations of media entities designated as foreign agents.

Censorship, First Amendment, and FARA Related Considerations

It is not censorship, says Lata Nott, executive director with the Newseum’s First Amendment Center, “since RT is still free to publish the stories that it wants to publish. It probably doesn’t infringe on the First Amendment—the press galleries aren’t really considered public forums so RT’s freedom of assembly isn’t being violated.”

“Censorship generally means restricting the publication of specific content,” says Gregory Magarian, a professor of law at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. “This situation doesn’t seem to fit that definition,” though he did say it’s possible RT could claim the executive committee violated free speech principles.

“The general public can’t access the press galleries so it’s probably not unconstitutional for RT to be denied access to them as well,” said Nott of the Newseum, who points out the U.S. Supreme Court “has been pretty clear that a media outlet’s right to information isn’t any greater than the general public’s.”

“I would argue that discriminating against RT violated the First Amendment, but I would probably lose,” Magarian agreed. “Courts give the government a lot of latitude to regulate foreign actors. In addition, courts are leery of second-guessing Congress’s control of its own proceedings.”

The experts say while the FARA law, itself, doesn’t sanction a foreign government media company, there appears to be nothing barring the correspondents’ executive committee action.

By Polygraph

© 2017 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved
Categories: World News

StopFake #161 with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:59

Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic representation office in Helsinki. Ukrainians unhappy with people displaced by the war in Donbas. UN won’t with throw money into Ukraine’s government black hole.

Categories: World News

Trump was ‘Russia’s friend’ in Russian media for only a very brief period, new study says

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 19:34

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Many assume that Donald Trump was portrayed in the Russian media as Russia’s friend until last summer when it became clear that he would not be willing or at least able to deliver any improvement in Russian-American relations; but that view is incorrect, according to two scholars at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

Instead, Anastasiya Kazun and Anton Kazun say the Moscow media was largely neutral or hostile to Trump before the election, treated him as a friend of Russia for only the first three months after his election, and now have returned to an almost uniformly hostile evaluation of the American president.

In a new study using content and agenda-setting analysis, entitled “A Friend Who Was Supposed to Lose: How Donald Trump was Portrayed in the Russian Media,” the two say that the Moscow media have treated the American president very differently over the course of three periods (publications.hse.ru/preprints/211786222 and iq.hse.ru/news/212732033.html).

“Before the election,” Kazun and Kazun write, “the tone of articles about Trump in the Russian media was more neutral or negative than positive;” and he was discussed mostly as the unpredictable opponent of the candidate, Hillary Clinton, Moscow expected to win. But after Trump won, “the situation changed,” with Trump becoming “Russia’s friend.’”

“But this positive news about Trump predominated in the Russian media for only three months,” the two say. “In February 2017, negative articles [about him] were more numerous than positive ones” – and by June, “it was already practically impossible to find positive publications about the new American president.”

Public opinion, the scholars say, tracked along with what the media outlets were saying. “When Trump won,” Russians and the Russian media experienced what can be called “the honeymoon effect,” a brief rise in the popularity of a politician after an election, with many Russians assuming that relations between Moscow and Washington would now improve.

But the new US president rapidly lost his positive image in the media and in the population, they write, but not because of sanctions as some think given that Russians accepted the Kremlin’s message that Western sanctions were either having a positive impact on Russia or no impact at all.

The most probable cause of this shift is that public opinion followed “the metamorphosis of Trump” offered by the media and that shift in turn “reflected the position of the authorities.” That is the case even though the state doesn’t control all media, but it controls enough that even the more independent parts follow its lead in the way many subjects are treated.

Initially, government outlets suggested Trump could and would lift sanctions and improve relations, but when he didn’t, the media had to come up with a different explanation of that and of him, Kazun and Kazun say. Had Clinton won as Moscow expected, explaining the continuation of sanctions would have been easy, but with Trump, it was a problem.

“It is possible,” the two researchers say, “that the elites themselves for a certain time believed in the possibility of positive changes … but when these hopes did not prove out, the new [US] president quickly lost the media image of ‘the friend’ of Russia” and as the media changed so too did the attitudes of the population as a whole.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Illustration by iq.hse.ru

Categories: World News

Russian Colonel General Identified as Key MH17 Figure

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 19:29

By Bellingcat

Русская версия этого расследования опубликована изданием The Insider.

A joint investigation between The Insider and Bellingcat used open source research, investigative journalism, and forensic voice analyan sis to determine the identity of “Delfin,” a key figure sought by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17). The investigation has identified, to a high degree of certainty, Delfin as Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev, currently serving as the Chief Inspector of the Central Military District of the Russian Federation.

Photographs, videos, and audio files related to this investigation can be found here.

On 28 September 2016, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), published a call for witnesses regarding two key individuals in the downing of the airliner: “Delfin” and “Orion,” with the first name and patronymics of (respectively) Nikolai Fedorovich and Andrei Ivanovich. In their call for witnesses, the JIT also published a number of intercepted telephone calls between these two individuals, where they address each other by their first names and patronymic (a transcript of the calls can be found in English and Russian).

There are a number of details surrounding Delfin and Orion that are unclear, including their exact role in the downing of MH17, but the fact that the JIT has specifically requested information on them implies how they are key persons of interest in the criminal investigation of the tragedy. Now, over a year after the JIT’s call for witnesses, a long-running investigation that combines open source research, investigative journalism, and two independent forensic analyses has determined Delfin’s identity: Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev, currently serving as the Chief Inspector of the Central Military District of the Russian Federation.

The Insider spoke with Colonel General Tkachev immediately prior to publication of this report. He denied having been in Ukraine in 2014 or even traveling outside Yekaterinburg since 2012.

Forensic Voice Analysis

After concluding that Colonel General Tkachev was by far the most likely candidate to be Delfin (see the subsequent sections of this investigation for a detailed breakdown of this determination), Bellingcat and The Insider sought samples of Tkachev’s voice among open source materials. The only publicly available voice sample was a brief utterance during a 2017 ceremony at the Yekaterinburg Suvorov Military School, accessible via two videos.

However, a far longer sample of Tkachev’s voice was needed to cross-reference it against Delfin’s voice in the JIT’s call for witnesses. In order to obtain this audio, The Insider conducted two telephone conversations with Colonel General Tkachev under the cover of writing a story on the Yekaterinburg Suvorov Military School, where Tkachev serves as chairman of the newly established Board of Trustees for the school (archive). Below, you can listen to three audio tracks that have been cropped to isolate only the voice of Tkachev/Delfin: the JIT’s call for witnesses, and the two calls between Tkachev and The Insider. Additionally, a video below comparing the two voices is embedded below. These files can also be accessed here.

Bellingcat and The Insider reached out to two organizations to perform forensic voice analysis: the National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado at Denver (UC Denver) and the Forensic Science Centre of Lithuania (FSCL). The two organizations acted and reached their conclusions independently of one another.

UC Denver Analysis

The National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado at Denver conducted a forensic speaker comparison based on the industry-standard Likelihood Ratio (LR) analysis. In their test, they used the software package BATVOX from AGNITIO/NUANCE.  The analysis compared voice and phoneme characteristics of two sets of samples: Sample A included five conversation segments published by the JIT in September 2016, and Sample B included two conversations conducted by The Insider in the course of interviews with Colonel General Tkachev in October and November 2017.

The speaker comparison generated a Likelihood Ratio (LR) of 428.

Figure presenting the results of the automatic statistical analysis using BATVOX, the LR-value is stated top right. The red curve corresponds to the comparison between different speakers, the blue curve corresponds to the known speaker (Tkachev), the green bar corresponds to the unknown speaker (Delfin) and is inside the suspect’s distribution. Provided by the National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado – Denver.

The conclusion of the University of Colorado Denver speaker-comparison test was summarized as follows:

“It is 428 [times] more likely that the speaker Delfin is the same as the speaker in ‘call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac’ [note: filename of the first call between The Insider and Nikolai Tkachev. The final digits have been censored, as they are the telephone number of Col. General Tkachev], than the speaker Delfin is any other speaker. The analysis supports the hypothesis that the speaker Delfin is the same as the speaker in ‘call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac’.”

The value of 428 is a reference to the likelihood ratio of the two voices matching, providing what the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes would call “moderately strong support” for the hypothesis that Delfin and Tkachev are the same person behind the calls.

In real-life terms, it means that it is 428 times more likely that voice from Sample A (Delfin) matches the voice from Sample B (Tkachev), than that it matches any randomly selected person from the reference universe. In this case, the reference population is defined as “Russian-male speakers”, and is based on a representative group of 42 different speakers (against a minimum recommended sample of 30 different speakers per group).

Prior to conducting the comparison, the UC-Denver system was calibrated using samples from 100 different Russian speakers recorded in normal conversational style under different quality and noise conditions, all of them with a Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) greater than 15 dB, and between 30 seconds and 2 minutes net speech. During such calibration, two measures were obtained: first, an inter-variability LR (i.e., the likelihood ratio that any two random voices among this reference group of 100 belong to the same speaker), and second, the intra-variability LR (i.e. the computed likelihood ratio that any two voices in fact belonging to the same speaker, are the same). The inter-variability LR score was 78, while the intra-variability LR score was 181.

It is against the backdrop of this latter LR score (181), says Dr. Catalin Grigoras, director at National Center for Media Forensics, that the score of 428 should be assessed.

For reference, the voice segments from Sample B (Tkachev) were also tested against all male speakers in all other intercepted telephone conversations published by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in the period of 2014 to 2016. In these reference tests, Tkachev’s voice did not score a LR higher than 1 (i.e., no statistical relevance) with any sample except that of Delfin. As a reference test of what a definitive negative result would be in UC-Denver’s analysis with BATVOX, a test was run comparing Tkachev’s voice and the voice of The Insider’s interviewer, producing a LR of 0.2043.

Dr. Grigoras stated that the LR from the BATVOX test must be evaluated in correlation with other evidence collected in the case, which may further increase its significance. Based on a LR of 428, Dr. Grigoras exemplified this with the concept that if there were 428 potential randomly picked up suspects, a similar match would occur only once. If, however, the suspect population is restricted further, say to only Russian males aged over 50, holding a high military rank, and having the name and patronymic “Nikolai Fedorovich,” the effective overall LR assessed by the investigators should rise sharply.

Dr. Grigoras added that it is always highly recommended to correlate one evidence (in this case, the automatic speaker recognition results) with some other forensic analysis (e.g. phonetics, fingerprint, DNA, etc.) or evidence (e.g. voice line ups, witnesses, GPS, etc.).

A write-up of the UC Denver analysis provided by the National Center for Media Forensics can be accessed here. The full forensic report will be sent to the Dutch-led JIT.

FSCL Analysis

The Forensic Science Centre of Lithuania conducted analysis on each call individually to match them with the two calls conducted by The Insider. The analysis was conducted by, as described by the FSCL:

“The head [Dr. Bernardas Šalna] of the phonoscopic forensic examination department, with an expert qualification in ‘speech, voice and sound and their recording tools criminal investigation’ as well as 25 years of experience in forensic examination; as well as Žavinta Pikutienė and Elena Šalnaitė – department’s senior experts with higher education in physics, expertise in ‘speech, voice and sound and their recording tools criminal investigation’ with respectively 23 and 20 years of experience.”

The team “compared the speech and voice peculiarities of persons X [note: Delfin in the intercepted phone conversations] and Y [note: Col. General Tkachev in his two conversations with The Insider].” The voice of Delfin was judged to be a highly probable match in the second and fourth calls, and a probable match in the first and fifth calls. In the third call between Orion and an unidentified interlocutor, analysts at the FSCL determined it was highly probable that Tkachev was not the unidentified interlocutor, who was known to not be Delfin.

For the first call, from the beginning of the call for witnesses video until 0:48, the FSCL determined the following:

It is probable that in the recording MH17 – Call for witnesses (v2).aac from 0s to 48s, the participant of the recorded phone conversation (in the transcript Аудиофайл [audiofile] 1 marked as C) is the same person Y, whose voice and speech examples were provided in the recordings call_11-25-36_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: first call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider] and call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: second call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider].

The following graphic was included in the FSCL’s report to demonstrate the spectrum of amplitude in the voices of Delfin (blue) in the first call and Tkachev (green).

For the second call, in the call for witnesses video from 0:48 to 2:04, the FSCL determined the following:

It is highly probable that in the recording MH17 – Call for witnesses (v2).aac between 48s and 2min 4s, the participant of the recorded phone conversation (in the transcript Аудиофайл [audiofile] 2 marked as B) is the same person Y, whose voice and speech examples were provided in the recordings call_11-25-36_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: first call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider] and call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: second call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider].

The following graphic was included in the FSCL’s report to demonstrate the spectrum of amplitude in the voices of Delfin (blue) in the second call and Tkachev (green).

For the third call, in the call for witnesses video from 2:04 to 3:06, the FSCL determined the following:

It is highly probable that in the recording MH17 – Call for witnesses (v2).aac between 2min 4s and 3 min 6s the participant of the recorded phone conversation (in the transcript Аудиофайл [audiofile] 3 marked as A) is NOT person Y, whose voice and speech examples were provided in the recordings call_11-25-36_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: first call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider] and call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: second call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider].

The following graphic was included in the FSCL’s report to demonstrate the spectrum of amplitude in the voices of the unidentified interlocutor of Orion (blue) in the second call and Tkachev (green).

For the fourth call, in the call for witnesses video from 3:06 to 3:46, the FSCL determined the following:

It is highly probable that in the recording MH17 – Call for witnesses (v2).aac between 3min 6s and 3 min 46s and in the recording signal-2017-11-23-133239.wav the participant of the recorded phone conversation (in the transcript Аудиофайл [audiofile] 4 marked as B) is the same person Y, whose voice and speech examples were provided in the recordings call_11-25-36_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: first call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider] and call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: second call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider].

The following graphic was included in the FSCL’s report to demonstrate the spectrum of amplitude in the voices of Delfin (blue) in the fourth call and Tkachev (green).

For the fifth call, in the call for witnesses video from 3:46 to 5:57, the FSCL determined the following:

It is probable that in the recording MH17 – Call for witnesses (v2).aac between 3min 46s and 5min 5,57s, the participant of the recorded phone conversation (in the transcript Аудиофайл [audiofile] 5 marked as B) is the same person Y, whose voice and speech examples were provided in the recordings call_11-25-36_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: first call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider] and call_13-11-46_OUT_8912256****.aac [note: second call conducted between Tkachev and The Insider].

The following graphic was included in the FSCL’s report to demonstrate the spectrum of amplitude in the voices of Delfin (blue) in the fifth call and Tkachev (green).

The full report from the FSCL is expected to be published next week. The full forensic report will be sent to the Dutch-led JIT.

Delfin’s Role in Ukraine: The JIT’s Intercepted Calls

On the third anniversary of the downing of MH17, Bellingcat called for a deeper, crowdsourced investigation into establishing the identities of Delfin and Orion. Bellingcat and The Insider, followed a number of iterative steps in order to narrow down the potential candidates for the identity of Delfin before zeroing in on Colonel General Tkachev.

The starting point of this investigation was the JIT’s call for witnesses from 28 September 2016, where a man, addressed by the first name and patronymic Nikolai Fedorovich, was identified as using the call-sign “Delfin.” Notably, names used in communications between military commanders in the Donbass are often noms de guerre , and cannot be assumed to be authentic. For example, while he served a the military intelligence commander in Donetsk, Sergei Nikolaevich Dubinsky used interchangeably the call sign “Khmury” and the nom de guerre “Petrovsky,” despite “Petrovsky” not being part of his real name.

However, in the first of five intercepted calls published by the JIT, an atypical miscommunication occurs: Delfin’s interlocutor misaddresses him as “Fedor Nikolaevich,” reversing his name and patronymic. Seemingly instinctively and tersely, Delfin corrects him, suggesting it is likely his real first name and patronymic. Additionally, throughout each of the calls with Delfin, there is a consistent context of Delfin being the superior commanding officer, as each interlocutor refers to Delfin in the courteous Russian plural (vy), while Delfin refers to them in the singular (ty) form. Below, the Russian transcript (provided by the JIT) shows this exchange between Delfin and Orion, along with an English translation [note: The JIT’s English translation lacks some key nuances, such as a mistranslation the Fedor Nikloaevich – Nikolai Fedorovich mix-up].

C (Nikolai Fedorovich, Delfin): Hello?

B (Andrei Ivanovich, Orion): Yes, good day!

C: Andrei Ivanovich?

B: Hello, Fedor Nikolaevich!

C: It’s Nikolai Fedorovich. Greetings [using ty].

B: Nikolai Fedorovich, yes… good to hear you [vy].

C: Well, so? How are things there? Are you [ty] ready to meet [inaudible]?

B: And you [vy], are you getting ready to come here?

Throughout the other calls with Delfin, his outranking of his interlocutors can be heard in his tone and manner of speaking, along with the grammatical markers. Furthermore, we know that he was not familiar with the geographic circumstances around the current battles. At one point in a conversation, Orion has to correct a geographic assumption that Delfin made related to an airfield (likely the Luhansk Airport, which saw heavy fighting in mid-July 2014).

C (Andrei Ivanovich, Orion): Yes, Nikolai Fedorovich.

B (Nikolai Fedorovich, Delfin): So, the convoy has been confirmed. Where can the convoy come from?

C: I don’t know where it’s coming from. Maybe from the west?

B: Yes somehow from the west. From the west. A fucking kilometer and a half from the airport.

C: From the airport?

B: Yes.

C: It can’t be a kilometer and a half from the airport because there’s a village there, there are positions there. Probably… I don’t know. We’ll try something now. We didn’t have a signal until now, unfortunately. Hello.

B: Aha. Yes, yes yes.

Delfin’s Role in Ukraine: Separatist Digital Sources

A separate channel for gathering information about Delfin’s involvement in the war in the Donbas was through a number of pro-Russian/separatist sources, most notably the blogger “Colonel Cassad,” or Boris Rozhin, and an interview with Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, published in 2014-2015. These sources indicate that Delfin was a high-ranking Russian commander who was stationed, at least part-time, in Krasnodon for a brief period in the summer of 2014. Delfin was described as having been tasked with the re-organization and consolidation of the decentralized military units in the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).

The city of Krasnodon is notable in the context of MH17 due to the fact that the Buk that downed the passenger plane reportedly crossed the Russian border near Krasnodon both on its way into and out of Ukraine, making the logistical and organization role in Krasnodon potentially key in the procurement and transport of the weapon.

In a 5 November 2014 interview (archive) between infamous separatist commander Igor “Strelkov” Girkin and controversial Swedish-Russian commentator Israel Shamir, Girkin describes meeting Delfin and details his background and duties. At the end of the interview, Rozhin/Cassad added further notes about Delfin and his colleague “Elbrus.”

Interviewer: But there was a military leader known under the call sign ‘Delfin.’

Girkin: I met him in Krasnodon a month before my departure. He, of course, is a good military specialist, but all of his military experience is in commanding regular troops, where there’s discipline, unconditional submission. And here, there is partisan warfare, scattered units. He did all that he could, but he was not able to take full command. He was only able to coordinate between separate units.

[from Colonel Cassad] P.S. I can clarify that ‘Delfin’ and ‘Elbrus’ were involved in the coordination of separatist units in the LNR and partly in the DNR [self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic]. One was in Krasnodon, the other in Luhansk. This coordinating headquarters was opened after a Bezler [note: separatist commander Igor ‘Bes’ Bezler] visit to Moscow. As far as I know, ‘Delfin’ himself came with the rank of kombrig later ‘on vacation.’

Girkin himself “retired” from the DNR on 14 August 2014 and left Ukraine for Russia soon after, meaning that Girkin met Delfin in mid-July, around the time when MH17 was downed.

The Insider contacted Igor Girkin in order to obtain more information on the situation in Krasnodon in summer 2014 and, in particular, Delfin and his role in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.

When asked about the situation in Krasnodon, Girkin confirmed that there was a base in the city that was established in early July. This base was comprised of “senior, retired ‘General staff’ experienced generals,” including Delfin, who Girkin believes were likely independent from the directives of Vladislav Surkov, Russia’s envoy to the Minsk agreements who is widely regarded as a lead Kremlin overseer of the so-called “republics” of eastern Ukraine. When asked about Delfin in particular, Girkin said that he believes that he was “some kind of a general” who is no longer involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In a 3 January 2015 blog post (archive), Colonel Cassad described the chaotic situation in the LNR during summer 2014, describing Delfin as a figure sent by Moscow to bring order to the situation in Luhansk.

“The shooting and murders in the LNR are an entirely logical reflection of the more anarchic nature of the local republic (in comparison with the DNR), where in the summer there were more than twenty different military formations in Luhansk that were not subordinate to anyone. Neither Bolotov [note: now-deceased leader of the LNR from May to August 2014] nor those who were sent from Moscow (this was in fact the reason why ‘Elbrus’ and ‘Delfin’ failed) were able to handle this. “

In a 24 May 2015 blog post (archive), Colonel Cassad described Delfin as a “vacationer-curator” who came from Russia and whose task was to “mold out, from the amorphous separatist units, a more-or-less functioning army structure” in the LNR [self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic]. In a 14 September 2015 blog post (archive), Colonel Cassad mentions that Delfin and Elbrus failed in their attempts to coordinate the disparate LNR military units through Krasnodon.

“Of course, there were failures along the way. An attempt to coordinate the actions of the separatist militias through Krasnodon failed when Delfin and Elbrus couldn’t handle the huge conglomeration of ragtag militias.”

Note that vacationer is a term used for Russian “volunteers” in the Donbas, often active Russian servicemen; curator is a term for Russian military and intelligence officials involved in shaping and providing guidance to the self-declared separatist republics in eastern Ukraine. Speaking with The Insider about Delfin, Rozhin gave further details about the functions of these “vacationers”:

“These high-ranking ‘vacationers’, that is to say officers who were officially on vacation, came in order to improve the organization [of the separatists]. ‘Delfin’ and ‘Elbrus’ were among them. ‘Delfin,’ as far as I remember, was of the rank of general and was involved in the operational management of separatist units from Krasnodon. At the time, it turned out badly there due to the fact that the army was at the time still not in its full form.

When they tried to break down the units into one grouping, they came up against opposition from the commanders themselves. Based on this experience, which weren’t the best, conclusions were drawn and when the separatists were reorganized to a brigade level, they began a very severe selection of staff structures. The most sensible ones were made the heads of the staff brigades and gradually the vertical [leadership structure] was set. It took a year, and another year.

But all of this was already after ‘Delfin,’ who actively led in the period of August-September, when the ‘Northern Wind’ was actively blowing [note: the ‘Northern Wind’ refers to the period of massive Russian military intervention in the war in the Donbas]. Somewhere around October-November, ‘Tambov’ had already appeared — the very same general who led the encirclement of Debaltseve. If you wish, you can now find this person. He now leads the Combined Arms Army in Russia.”

Here, Rozhin is speaking about Lieutenant General Sergey Kuzovlev, born in the Tambov Oblast, giving rise to his eponymous call sign. In the beginning of 2014, he was awarded the rank of Major General. At the end of August 2015, the Ukrainian SBU [state security service] stated that Kuzovlev led the 1st Army Corps of Russian troops in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine from the autumn of 2014 until the winter of 2015. In March 2017, he was appointed as commander of the newly formed 8th Guard Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District. The fact that Lieutenant General Kuzovlev was publicly named as a commander of armed forces in eastern Ukraine and then continued to rise in the ranks of the Russian military was instrumental in Bellingcat and The Insider’s search for the identity of Delfin, as it implied it was not only reasonable, but likely that a high-ranking general of the Russian Armed Forces would have had a direct role in the management of the so-called DNR and LNR in the summer of 2014.

The Most Likely Candidate Emerges

Combined with the open source references to Delfin from the Colonel Cassad and Igor “Strelkov” Girkin materials, we were able to make further conclusions about who Delfin was: a fairly high-ranking Russian military commander and likely a general, thus likely over 40-50 years old. Furthermore, he served a short stint with at least an occasional physical presence in Krasnodon, but was unsuccessful due to his experience being incompatible with the task. Though Girkin clearly had respect for Delfin’s expertise and experience, he found it lacking for the specific circumstances of the Donbas.

Our working hypothesis in the search for Delfin led us to a number of likely details that would narrow down the search:

  • A Russian officer with the first name and patronymic Nikolai Fedorovich, who may be active, retired, or in reserve.
  • Most likely holding a rank of general due to the seniority expressed to him in the telephone conversations and from Igor Girkin, who is otherwise generally derogatory towards other military commanders. With the reference that Delfin was a “kombrig” (brigade commander), reflecting Cassad’s specific recollection of Delfin as a general. There are a number of Russian generals (including Lieutenant and Colonel Generals) who served roles very similar to that of Delfin in the Donbas, including Colonel General Istrakov and Lieutenant General Kuzovlev.
  • A commander with significant high-level military experience that may have appeared to be applicable to the Donbas, but did not suit the circumstances of the disorganized state of Luhansk-based units in the summer of 2014.
  • A man who clearly had the trust of high Russian military and/or political command, suitable for receiving a role of such a military restructuring mission in the notoriously disorganized self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic.

Among the open source information accessible online, there is only one living Russian army general with the first name Nikolai and the patronymic Fedorovich: Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev.

Tkachev’s Timeline: 1980-2010

Tkachev’s official biography and his Russian Wikipedia page (the veracity of which he has confirmed in his interview to The Insider, with small corrections) describes a long military career starting in 1980. During the Soviet period, Tkachev rose through the ranks in commanding positions in East Germany, western Ukraine, and the Soviet Far East. As of 1992, he served as infantry division commander in the Leningrad military district.

Per his official biography, Tkachev took part in both the first (1994-1996) and second (1999-2000) Chechen wars. Limited public available links Tkachev to the 131st Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, the Russian unit that spearheaded the New Year’s Eve assault on Grozny during which it lost 215 members, including 24 officers. A photo dated 1998 on the Russian Wikipedia’s entry for the 131st Brigade shows Tkachev alongside other commanders at the 80th anniversary of the brigade’s founding in Maikop.

Tkachev standing to immediate left of Anatoly Dorofeev (middle, white hat), among commanders. Source: Wikipedia / ALDOR46

Public corporate records show Gen. Tkachev lists as “chief executive officer” of military unit 20650 founded on 15 September 1995 and liquidated on 8 September 2014. Unit 20650, headquartered in Krasnodar, was indeed part of the 131st Brigade, as can be seen from casualties records. While military units in Russia are rarely incorporated, military unit 20650 was party to a legal dispute over land use, in which its entitlement to perpetual use of land was challenged, and it is plausible that it was incorporated to facilitate the legal position of the Ministry of Defense.

As of 2000, Tkachev served as deputy commander of the Urals District armed forces, and in 2005 he became deputy commander and Chief of Military Staff of the Siberian Military Unit. From 2006 to 2008, Tkachev was chief commander of the Vostok (East) Regional Arms Command Center, an experimental supra-regional command structure that was discontinued after 2008.

Colonel General Tkachev (far left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007. Source: Kremlin.ru

During his term at Vostok, Tkachev took part in the 2007 elections for local parliament in the Republic of Buryatia, on a ticket of the ruling United Party.

Tkachev’s Timeline: 2010-2013

The Kremlin press service announced in 2010 (archive) that Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev was officially dismissed from military service, accompanied by decree №1532 (archive) signed by then-president Dmitry Medvedev on 10 December 2010. However, Tkachev did not truly retire, as he continued to fulfill military duties elsewhere.  In 2011, Colonel General Tkachev became Russia’s Head Military Advisor in Syria until the advising apparatus was dissolved in 2012. The Russian Wikipedia page on Russian military advisers to Syria lists Tkachev’s service starting in 2010, but Tkachev clarified in a call with The Insider that he actually served from March 2011 to August 2012, consequently also confirming his role in Syria.

The well-known Russian military blogger el-murid (Anatoly Nesmeyan) wrote on Tkachev in a 2015 post (archive), saying that “The last leader [of the Russian military advising apparatus in Syria] was Colonel General Tkachev.” In a 7 August 2012 video from the anti-Assad group “Damascus area military command,” a photograph appears at 1:19 of Colonel General Tkachev alongside Russian Major General Vladimir Kuzheev and assassinated Syrian Minister of Defense Dawoud Rajha. In the video, anti-Assad rebels claim to have killed Major General Kuzheev, showing his identification card, but with Kuzheev giving an interview shortly after his “death,” it became clear that this claim was false. Like Tkachev, Kuzheev was dismissed from military service in 2010 before working in Syria.

Russian Colonel General Tkachev (left), former Syrian Minister of Defense Dawoud Rajha (middle), Russian Major General Kuzheev (right). Screenshot from video uploaded by anti-Assad group “Damascus area military command”

Colonel General Tkachev’s service in Syria ended soon after the assassination of the Syrian Defense Minister in August 2012. In a conversation with The Insider, Tkachev said that he became the Chief Inspector of the Central Military District after arriving back in Russia from Syria in 2012. There is no open source information regarding Tkachev’s activities throughout 2013.

Tkachev’s Timeline: 2014

There are no media appearances or official statements related to Tkachev from his return from Syria until 9 May 2014, when he was visible in two videos showing the Yekaterinburg Victory Day parade.

Left/Top-Right: Tkachev at the Yekaterinburg Victory Day Parade in 2014; Bottom-Right: Tkachev in 2016

Afterward, there are no sightings of Tkachev in Russia until 23 August 2014 (archive), where the Colonel General was photographed at a meeting for the Ataman of the Orenburg Cossack Host Society. In the description of the meeting, Tkachev is named as the “Chief Military Inspector of the Central Military District.” This marks the first time that Tkachev has been publicly mentioned in this role, though he assumed the position in 2012 after his return from Syria.

Tkachev attended another meeting with the Cossack Host Society on 20 September 2014 (archive), where he was in a more formal military uniform. He made an additional visit to the organization on 18 December 2014 (archive) for a cadet reception.

There are no public appearances by Tkachev from Victory Day in 2014 until his reappearance in August and September 2014, where he was fairly frequently noted at gatherings in the Central Military District. During this gap, Tkachev, using the call sign Delfin, attempted to organize and command military formations in the LNR, working at least part-time in Krasnodon.

Tkachev’s Timeline: 2015-2017

From 2015 until the current day, Tkachev has made frequent appearances in regional media. For example, on 21 June 2015 (archive), he appeared at a graduation ceremony at the Yekaterinburg Suvorov Military School, and later gave a speech at the same school on 6 May 2016 (archive). On 24 November 2016 (archive), a report was published showing Tkachev in a regular military uniform and his name and rank of Colonel General displayed. On 25 June 2017 (archive), Tkachev held a speech for graduates at the Yekaterinburg Suvorov Military School, with a description and series of photographs of the events published in the Russian Ministry of Defense’s website. No public recordings of his speeches could be found during the investigation.

Tkachev in Yekaterinburg in 2016, with enhancements showing his name and the colonel general insignia (three stars).

Tkachev giving a speech to graduates at a Yekaterinburg military school in 2017.

Clearly, Colonel General Nikolai Tkachev is still active in his service to Russia and its military, and has been since he served as a commander and organizer of “LNR” separatist forces in the summer of 2014.

Concluding Remarks

Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev, “Delfin”, is the senior-most Russian officer who has been linked to the downing of MH17. Unlike Sergey Dubinsky and Igor Girkin, Tkachev was, and still is, an active functionary in the Russian military through his ongoing role as Chief Inspector of the Central Military District. His exact role and importance for the MH17 case has not been made public so far by the JIT.

Available open source information suggests that person behind the pseudonym “Delfin” is a former or current Russian army officer of higher rank, likely a general. Furthermore, his words indicate that his name is Nikolai Fedorovich. Only Colonel General Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev matched these characteristics; however, before conducting forensic audio analysis, there was no direct evidence showing Tkachev’s direct link to the LNR and the war in the Donbas. The voice sample collected by The Insider was analyzed to firmly establish the link between Delfin and Tkachev. As shown by multiple reports, his collaboration with the Luhansk People’s Republic took place during the period when MH17 was downed.

Per his own words in the recent telephone conversation with the Insider, Tkachev served the Russian Armed Forces on 17 July 2014 as the Chief Inspector of Russia’s Central Military District, and continued these duties immediately after the downing and his permanent return to Russia.

By Bellingcat

If you have any information about Delfin or Orion, please contact the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team.

Categories: World News

Russia Claims U.S. Intelligence Agencies Trying To Recruit Russian Journalists

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 18:34

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

By RFE/RL

Moscow on December 6 accused U.S. intelligence services of trying to recruit Russian journalists working in the United States.

“Recently Russian journalists, including those in the United States, have come under great pressure from the special services, notably through attempts at recruitment,” Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.

“This is an aggression. An aggression in terms of intelligence not only towards Russia, but also an encroachment on freedom of expression throughout the world,” she was quoted as saying.

Zakharova claimed that one Russian journalist in the United States, who she did not name, was pressured to cooperate with U.S. intelligence agencies through bribes and psychological tactics.

When those did not work, she said U.S. agents directly threatened the journalist and tried to contact his family.

Her accusations came the same day Russian lawmakers voted to ban U.S. media that Moscow has labelled as “foreign agents” from entering the lower house of parliament.

The ban was a reaction to a recent move by the U.S. Congressional Press Gallery to strip Russian state-controlled television network RT of its credentials.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s website said there are around 20 American media outlets accredited to work in Russia, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and RFE/RL affiliated services.

Those branded “foreign agents” have to present themselves as such on all paperwork and submit to intense scrutiny of their staffing and finances.

By RFE/RL

Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS

Categories: World News

New Laboratory for Russia’s Internet Censors

StopFake.org - Sat, 10/14/2017 - 00:11

By Coda Staff

Russia’s internet censor is building its own digital laboratory to test and develop its own methods for blocking websites and other online activity, according to Izvestia. A new subdivision of the communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, will run the laboratory, as well as organize online exercise drills to prepare staff to enforce new internet regulations coming into force next month.

A key concern is to find ways to block internet users who have found ways to circumvent Roskomnadzor’s existing restrictions.

In July, President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation prohibiting owners of virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers from allowing users to access content blocked in Russia. The new law also grants Roskomnadzor the power to bar websites that offer instructions on how to get round internet restrictions.

Roskomnadzor director Alexander Zharov told Izvestia that the new subdivision is targeting users who “violate the logic of the blocking system.” He said the agency is also “cooperating” with Russian internet security companies to monitor suspected violators.

It is the latest sign of Roskomnadzor’s growing importance to the Kremlin’s information control strategy, as Coda Story reported last month. The agency now blocks tens of thousands of websites, including opposition sites that call for demonstrations.

And under a law currently being discussed in the Russian parliament, Roskomnadzor will also be able to censor any material produced by so-called “undesirable” foreign entities.

By Coda Staff

Categories: World News

Fake: Crimea Hosts International Ukrainian Diaspora Congress

StopFake.org - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 14:51

Russian and Crimean media reported last week that an international congress of Ukrainian diaspora organizations was held on the Russian occupied Crimea peninsula. The congress declared that it wanted to collaborate with what they called “constructive segments of Ukraine’s population”. Organizers claimed representatives from several European countries attended the gathering, including from the Ukrainian mainland, but these were not named for security reasons, RIA Novosti reported.

Website screenshot crimea.ria.ru

Website screenshot 1tvcrimea.ru

Real Ukrainian diaspora organizations condemned the congress as yet another Russian serving disinformation exercise.

One of the Russian players in this fake, Zaur Smirnov, chairman of the so-called Crimean State Committee for Interethnic Relations and Deported Citizens of the Crimea, wrote on his Facebook page that “Ukrainian diasporas are ready to declare to the entire world that the Kyiv regime has no right to speak on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people”.

Lenta.ru, Krym.net, Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda, REN TV,Vzglyad, Argumenty i Fakty, Kerch.FM, Pravda.ru, Voyennoye Obozrenie among others wrote about the fake congress.

Screenshot @ ukroobchina

Screenshot ru.krymr.com

Russian controlled Crimean television station TRK Krym covered the so-called congress by broadcasting the gathering’s highlight, a round table entitled  Cooperation of the Ukrainian national-cultural autonomy of Crimea with compatriots abroad. Among the participants were well known Russia vassals and Ukraine haters. One of those, former Regions Party MP Vadim Kolesnichenko, during his parliamentary tenure spearheaded legislation curtailing the Ukrainian language and expanding the Russian language. Mr. Kolesnichenko fled Ukraine in 2014 and lives comfortably in Moscow. Other participants were Mikhail Kushakov, deputy education minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and journalist Rostyslav Ishchenko, who writes for several pro-Kremlin publications and regularly represents a Ukrainian pro-Kremlin view on Russian television programs.

Website screenshot ukrinfrom.ua

Website screenshot ukrainianworldcongress.org

The Ukrainian Community of Crimea, another group dreamed up by Kremlin fakers, whose chairman Oleg Usyk is a local MP from the current ruling United Russia Party featured prominently in the congress.

Russian media reported that members of the Union of Ukrainians in Poland attended the meeting, which Union chairman Petro Tyma vehemently denied. “Nobody from the Ukrainian community in Poland went to that so-called congress” Tyma said and called the event an example of “typical Kremlin disinformation”.

Meanwhile the World Congress of Ukrainians, a global body representing Ukrainian diaspora communities throughout the world had never even heard of the Crimea gathering and most certainly was not asked to participate in the fake congress. The organization did however express support for the recent EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee statement on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its European integration process.

The statement condemns attempts by Russian authorities and forces controlled by them to forcibly incorporate into the Russian Federation areas of Ukraine they control and criticizes increasing human

 

Categories: World News

Does Russia interfere in Czech, Austrian and Hungarian elections?

StopFake.org - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 17:41

By Political Capital

The French and the German elections clearly proved two things about Russian meddling efforts. First, there were obvious attempts to interfere in both cases. Second, that these efforts can be easily pushed back if there is a political will to do so. In this piece, we aim to examine both the interference opportunities for Russia in the upcoming elections in Central Eastern Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, and Hungary), countries that have a long history of Russian influence efforts of different kinds, by drawing parallels between Western meddling attempts, and Eastern countries’ recently revealed vulnerabilities towards Russia.

The main difference between Western, and Eastern meddling opportunities for the Kremlin is the regionally distinct modus operandi in Russian influence. While, the West proved to be a breeding ground for state of the art information warfare utilizing “bots,” the East has a multitude of local mainstream political, economic and disinformation actors in the pockets of the Kremlin.

Read the complete analysis here.

By Political Capital

(Teaser photo: Damian Entwistle, http://bit.ly/2gtSBIn)

Categories: World News

Time for the ninth MH17 disinformation round

StopFake.org - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 16:51

By EU vs Disinfo

In the pro-Kremlin disinformation news cycle, timing is everything.  Every occasion can be used to amplify and strengthen the false message.

This week’s opportunity occurred when the separatist officials of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic handed over “human remains and debris” from the MH17 to the Dutch investigators. One may say with good reason it took some time: Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over Eastern Ukraine three years ago, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

As we have noticed, Russian media and state officials have spread at least eight different versions of the catastrophe, all pointing away from the Russian liability which has been clearly stated by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team.

Now we see a ninth falsehood. It was published by the Russian Ministry of Defense TV channel Zvezda, claiming “a former major of the Ukrainian army”, Yuri Baturin, witnessed the plane shot down by a Ukrainian Buk. Later Zvezda removed the report but it’s easily available cached. The job was done – the story was spread by dozens of news websites both in Russian and in English.

Another report on TV channel Rossiya 1 – that was not deleted – consolidated the false narrative that the BUK was launched from an area under the Ukrainian Army’s control. For debunks, see here.

Fictitious organ trade

Just like the false theories on MH17, some of the most absurd lies on Ukraine have a multi-year track-record in the pro-Kremlin disinformation operation.

So we heard that Ukraine’s Health Ministry allows dead Ukrainians to be sold for organs; that the country is to be turned into an international black market transplant centre for wealthy foreigners; and, once again, that there is no evidence of Russian tanks in Ukraine.

Last but not least we heard that tens of thousands of Ukrainian weapons are smuggled into Poland with the purpose of building an underground Ukrainian army.

False fight for the right values

Circumstances in Georgia give a solid example of how pro-Kremlin messaging can be customized to local audiences across Europe. Here, the disinformation machine focuses on the conspiracies of the “rotten” Western values. This week we heard that homosexuality is dispersed throughout Georgia, that it is comparable to cannibalism, and that a range of different techniques are used to bestialise Georgian citizens. For debunk see here.

Georgia and the World accompanied its conspiratory article with a photo illustration of a children’s book “Daddy’s Roommate” by the American writer Michael Wilhoite. Debunked by Myth Detector.

Also in Georgia appeared a new version of an old narrative. The story goes that when Carl Bildt was Foreign Minister of Sweden, he said that Orthodoxy was the main enemy of the West “as it tries to regulate family relations and does not recognise gays and transgenders”. Just like with the case of disinformation on Ukraine, this fabrication was first debunked already three years ago.

Finally, Russian TV’s conspiracy campaign claiming that the US is not fighting Daesh but supporting it show no signs of stopping. We learned that Daesh is a project of the United States; that Daesh fighters are the mercenaries of the US; and that the all-mighty West and the US have created the Islamist ideology and Islamist networks.

While the Russian speaking TV audience is kept occupied with accusations against the US, the Russian Ministry of Defense has not made too much noise with its announcement that there have been no Russian air strikes targeting Syrian Democratic Forces or civilians. Reports from human rights monitors in any case suggest the opposite.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News