Moscow TV Round-Up: Propaganda and Patriotism - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 00:31

Benedict Cumberbatch appears alongside Gary Oldman in the 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s bestseller ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’ KinoPoisk

By Mark H. Teeter, The Moscow Times

It’s propaganda, piracy and patriotism week on Moscow TV, as small-screen viewers are treated to fine documentary and feature films that offer everyone from concerned flag-wavers to potential buccaneers some new and enlightening perspectives on all three P’s. Here’s the where and when:

What was the last time you saw Russia-targeted American propaganda featured on Moscow TV? Same here. On MONDAY, however, Kultura’s always-engaging “Telling Time” documentary series will rectify this lacuna with a new installment called “An American March” (2017). In it many Russians will get their first prime-time look at the nascent American propaganda machine – a mere 100 years after the fact.

In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson established an organization called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) “to influence U.S. public opinion regarding American participation in World War I” through “techniques of propaganda.” After the overthrow of two successive Russian governments in 1917 and the subsequent arrival of an American expeditionary force in the Russian Far East, the CPI’s target audience was expanded to include the Russian citizenry. A number of films were produced “especially for the Russian viewer,” with the intention of countering “German and Bolshevik propaganda,” affirming Wilson’s war aims and extolling the American way of life.

How successful were features such as “Pershing’s Crusaders” and “America’s Answer”? Join historian Eduard Chukashev for a fascinating look at the CPI’s Russia-directed efforts – as one of the first modern “white propaganda” campaigns and as cinema proper. Just don’t tell anybody at work on Tuesday that you spent Monday evening enjoying American propaganda.

Telling Time:“An American March” / Запечатленное время:“Прощание американки.” Kultura, Monday at 6:45 p.m.

TUESDAY brings viewers Alexei Denisov’s documentary Igor Sikorsky: Knight of the Sky (2012), a worthy contribution to the recent revival of local interest in the aviation pioneer. Sikorsky’s niche in the popular Western consciousness – as “the Russian-American immigrant who invented the helicopter” – is justifiable but a bit misleading.

A mechanical wunderkind of Russian-Polish descent from Kiev, Sikorsky (1889-1972) actually produced key innovations in both fixed-wing and vertical-ascent aircraft, and was acclaimed internationally for the former long before he became a U.S. citizen – before World War I, in fact. His early “Ilya Muromets” and its four-engine successor “Russian Knight” (“Русский Витязь”) stunned observers here and abroad and “made Russia the world leader in heavy bombers” before most of the world had even heard of heavy bombers.

But like Vladimir Zvorykin, the Russian-American “father of television,” Sikorsky achieved his greatest successes after leaving his Empire homeland in the wake of 1917: He worked his way through a hardscrabble immigrant period in the U.S., caught a few breaks (including a big check from Sergei Rachmaninoff that saved his company at one point) and, once stably Americanized, amazed the world with his helicopters – including a visiting Nikita Khrushchev, who was hugely impressed by a ride in one of Eisenhower’s presidential models in 1959.

Tune in for an instructive look at an authentic genius who made his homeland proud during two separate periods, in fact, the second of which was spent as, ahem, a “foreign agent.”

Igor Sikorsky: Knight of the Sky / Игорь Сикорский: Витязь неба. Istoria, Tuesday at 6:10 p.m.

On WEDNESDAY viewers learn that even if pirates don’t make off with billions and a couple of villas in Spain, they can still be enormously popular with the local population – and have a lot more fun, it would seem, than a barrel of Putins and Wall St. banksters. Boris Durov’s “Pirates of the Twentieth Century” (1979) was the Soviet box office champ for 1980 by a huge margin, selling an incredible 90 million tickets as the USSR’s first “action blockbuster.” By 1990 it had been seen by 120 million viewers, making it the most watched Soviet/Russian film since, well, ever – which it still is, of course. What was all the fuss about, you might ask, over a pirate movie without Johnny Depp?

Start with the obvious: Everybody everywhere likes pirate movies, always has, always will – the Depp “Caribbean” franchise can’t count its money fast enough. But sure-fire genre aside, “Pirates” was also a breakthrough movie: the first film in which martial arts were demonstrated on the big screen in the USSR, sparking a tsunami of interest around the country.

Granted, there are a couple of large and curious holes in the plot: (1) the Soviet freighter that’s attacked by the movie’s swarth-enhanced buccaneers is supposed to be hauling pharmaceutical opium from the southern hemisphere (played by recently nicked Crimea) to Vladivostok; alas, the USSR was one of the world’s leading opium exporters at the time. And (2) the movie’s tacked-on love-interest subplot – focused on, as one viewer noted, “an island whose entire population consists solely of photogenic women of vaguely Uzbek appearance” – remains mysterious before and after the film’s denouement.  Eventually somebody’s film school dissertation will identify the movie it was clipped from (or was going to become).

At all events, the pirates do their worst, there’s a lot of exotic kung-fu-ing around and “Pirates” emerges as a “far superior groin-kicking film to ‘Home Alone.’” Seriously, the whole thing forms a very large and intriguing piece of the sociological puzzle that made up “audience preferences” in the late USSR. And just to keep you interested if/when the karate chops don’t, consider this: A Beatles song is featured prominently on the soundtrack – and it’s not “Back in the USSR”! Tune this one in, chop-chop!

Pirates of the 20th Century / Пираты XX века. TV Tsentr, Wednesday at 8:40 a.m.

For those who like a good spy thriller, THURSDAY offers Tomas Alfredson’s fine “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011), the second screen version of long-retired spook John le Carré’s bestseller. This is a fine piece of cinematic storytelling, as its BAFTA Best Picture win, three Oscar nominations and dozens of other awards attest. Gary Oldman is particularly good as the phlegmatic George Smiley and Colin Firth nearly his equal playing Bill Haydon. The time, place and mood of Cold War I are meticulously captured and woven together, making the whole thing a very good night at the movies indeed. So why does it score “only” 7.1/10 on the IMDb rating scale – well short of the 8.6 score for the original TTSS film, the late 1970s serial in which Alec Guinness played Smiley?

The Guinness film was and remains, in our view, the best spy production ever mounted for TV – and one of the best ever mounted for anything. In it you get both myriad detail that couldn’t fit into a two-hour telescoping and, more critically, a (literally) prolonged sense of dread that builds up over the 290 minutes of multiple installments.

But tune in to this worthy runner-up and, if you’ve seen the original, compare for yourself; or see this one first and work backwards. Or best of all, read the novels, see what great espionage writing is all about, and then enjoy the film(s) for what they are – fine “accompaniments.”

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy / Шпион, выйди вон! Kinokhit, Thursday at 11:50 p.m.

FRIDAY. A moving and revealing monologue of reminiscences by the Stalin Prize-winning actress Marina Kovalyova (1923-2007), “A Real Soviet Girl” (2010) explains how a boundless faith in the Soviet system led the talented Kovalyova to play roles better left unplayed – most notably Natasha Rumyantseva in the epic of Stalinist hagiography “The Fall of Berlin” (1949). Indeed, her willingness to disengage from critical thinking led her, Kovalyova recalls, not just to poor career decisions, but to lead a life wholly different from the one she might have led – and ought to have, as later became clear to the Honored Artist of the RSFSR.

Kultura calls Kovalyova’s unsparing self-interview “a bitter epiphany from a member of the older generation, a belated confession and act of contrition.” While that’s fair enough, it also bears noting that there is considerable food for thought here for millions of viewers outside Russia as well as in: Wherever “patriotism” is promoted in the guise of uncritical loyalty, the sobering experience of Marina Kovalyova needs to be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested – or our brave new millennium will spiral out of control even sooner than we feared.

A Real Soviet Girl / Настоящая советская девушка. Kultura, Friday at 12:25 p.m.

By Mark H. Teeter, The Moscow Times

Mark H. Teeter is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook

Categories: World News

StopFakeNews #133 [ENG] with Marko Suprun - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 19:13

The latest edition of StopFake News with Marko Suprun. This week we look at Russian accusations that a prominent historian is calling on Ukrainians to cut all ties with family in Russia, fake claims that Kyiv is cracking down on its Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia and cancelling train travel to Russia.

Categories: World News

Putin Doesn’t Want Russians to Continue Focusing on Crimea, Goryunova Says - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 17:29

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Vladimir Putin, who exploited Russian euphoria over the Anschluss of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea three years ago to boost his own power, now wants Russians to pay less attention to that region so that they will not be as inclined to complain about the costs to them of that annexation, according to Yevgeniya Goryunova.

“Russian euphoria about the annexation of Crimea has significantly weakened under the press of social and economic problems,” the Crimean political scientist says. “The Crimean theme is losing its importance,” and the only aspect of it that Moscow outlets now talk much about is the Kerch bridge (

In 2014-2015, Putin made “the sacred importance” of Crimea the centerpiece of his speeches, but already by 2016, as the economic crisis in Russia deepened and the costs of the occupation became more obvious, he shifted away from this theme. And by the end of that year, the Kremlin leader mentioned the annexed peninsula only in passing.

That both drove and reflected changing Russian attitudes, Goryunova says. On the one hand, “with each passing year,” the share of Russians who believe that Crimea is part of Russia has grown, from 89 percent in March 2014 to 97 percent now, although polls suggest Russians are less confident that the Anschluss has been a good thing for them.

But on the other, the share of those who viewed the annexation in a negative way hs grown from 18 percent to 23 percent over the last three years, according to the independent Levada Center surveys, although the Kremlin-linked VTsIOM pollsters say that those opposed, after rising between 2014 to 2016 has fallen this year from 22 percent to 13 percent.

Perhaps more important for Putin’s decision to reduce public attention to Crimea are some two other poll numbers. VTsIOM reports that the share of Russians opposed to giving special aid to Crimea has risen from 21 percent in 2014 to 84 percent now, and the Levada Center says that 55 percent of Russians oppose cuts in programs benefitting them to help the peninsula integrate into Russia.

“The logic of Russians regarding the peninsula is simple,” Goryunova says: “Crimea is of course ours but we do not want to support it. Let the people there do so on their own.” Russian tourism to the region is down, and Russians clearly are less focused on Crimea than at any time since before the Anschluss.

“The single thing which still generates interest among Russians is the construction of the Kerch bridge,” which the Moscow media re treating as a Russian analogue to Soviet projects like the Baikal-Amur Mainline. As long as construction on the bridge is going on, Crimea will get some coverage in Moscow outlets.

But Crimea is something Russians think about less and less, the political analyst says; and that will be true even if the Kremlin changes the date of Putin’s re-election to make it coincide with the official annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. After that, the regime clearly hopes, it will become just one more Russian region.

According to Goryunova, all this reflects the fact that both domestically and internationally, Putin’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula has been “a Pyrrhic victory” at best. The West hasn’t been willing to recognize his action as legitimate, and Russians when they focus on it see only costs rather than benefits.

“The Putin regime passionately needs rapid results,” the analyst continues; and “therefore for the Russian leader in this case, the best way out will be to mention Crimea as rarely as possible,” to allow it to recede into the myths of the past as just the “latest” Russian acquisition rather than the unique and special one Putin insisted upon only a few years ago.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Tainted Leaks: Disinformation and Phishing With a Russian Nexus - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 00:35

By Adam Hulcoop, John Scott-Railton, Peter Tanchak, Matt Brooks, and Ron Deibert, CitizenLab

“Every external operation is first and foremost a domestic one: the single most important role of the agencies is to secure the regime.” — Mark Galeotti on Russian foreign intelligence

Key Points
  • Documents stolen from a prominent journalist and critic of the Russian government were manipulated and then released as a “leak” to discredit domestic and foreign critics of the government. We call this technique “tainted leaks.”
  • The operation against the journalist led us to the discovery of a larger phishing operation, with over 200 unique targets spanning 39 countries (including members of 28 governments). The list includes a former Russian Prime Minister, members of cabinets from Europe and Eurasia, ambassadors, high ranking military officers, CEOs of energy companies, and members of civil society.
  • After government targets, the second largest set (21%) are members of civil society including academics, activists, journalists, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
  • We have no conclusive evidence that links these operations to a particular Russian government agency; however, there is clear overlap between our evidence and that presented by numerous industry and government reports concerning Russian-affiliated threat actors.

This report describes an extensive Russia-linked phishing and disinformation campaign. It provides evidence of how documents stolen from a prominent journalist and critic of Russia was tampered with and then “leaked” to achieve specific propaganda aims. We name this technique “tainted leaks.” The report illustrates how the twin strategies of phishing and tainted leaks are sometimes used in combination to infiltrate civil society targets, and to seed mistrust and disinformation. It also illustrates how domestic considerations, specifically concerns about regime security, can motivate espionage operations, particularly those targeting civil society. The report is organized into four parts described below:

PART 1: HOW TAINTED LEAKS ARE MADE describes a successful phishing campaign against David Satter, a high-profile journalist. We demonstrate how material obtained during this campaign was selectively released with falsifications to achieve propaganda aims. We then highlight a similar case stemming from an operation against an international grantmaking foundation, headquartered in the United States, in which their internal documents were selectively released with modifications to achieve a disinformation end.  These “tainted leaks” were demonstrated by comparing original documents and emails with what Russia-linked groups later published.  We conclude that the tainting likely has roots in Russian domestic policy concerns, particularly around offsetting and discrediting what are perceived as “outside” or “foreign” attempts to destabilize or undermine the Putin regime.

PART 2: A TINY DISCOVERY describes how the operation against Satter led us to the discovery of a larger phishing operation, with over 200 unique targets. We identified these targets by investigating links created by the operators using the link shortening service.  After highlighting the similarities between this campaign and those documented by previous research, we round out the picture on Russia-linked operations by showing how related campaigns that attracted recent media attention for operations during the 2016 United States presidential election also targeted journalists, opposition groups, and civil society.

PART 3: CONNECTIONS TO PUBLICLY REPORTED OPERATIONS outlines the connections between the campaigns we have documented and previous public reporting on Russia-linked operations. After describing overlaps among various technical indicators, we discuss the nuance and challenges surrounding attribution in relation to operations with a Russian nexus.

PART 4: DISCUSSION explores how phishing operations combined with tainted leaks were paired to monitor, seed disinformation, and erode trust within civil society. We discuss the implications of leak tainting and highlight how it poses unique and difficult threats to civil society.  We then address the often-overlooked civil society component of nation-state cyber espionage operations.

Introduction: Tainted Leaks & Civil Society Targets

Russia-linked cyber espionage campaigns, particularly those involving targeting around the 2016 U.S. elections, and more recently the 2017 French election, have dominated the media in recent months. As serious as these events are, often overlooked in both media and industry reports on cyber espionage is a critical and persistent victim group: global civil society.

A healthy, fully-functioning, and vibrant civil society is the antithesis of non-democratic rule, and as a consequence, powerful elites threatened by their actions routinely direct their powerful spying apparatuses toward civil society to infiltrate, anticipate, and even neutralize their activities. Unlike industry and government, however, civil society groups typically lack resources, institutional depth, and capacity to deal with these assaults. For different reasons, they also rarely factor into threat industry reporting or government policy around cyber espionage, and can be the silent, overlooked victims.

As with previous Citizen Lab reports, this report provides further evidence of the “silent epidemic” of targeted digital attacks on civil society, in this case involving widely reported Russian-affiliated cyber espionage operations. Our report underscores the domestic roots of these foreign operations, and how concerns over regime security and domestic legitimacy can factor into Russian threat modeling and espionage targeting, both at home and abroad.

Patient Zero for the Investigation: David Satter

Our investigation began with a single victim: David Satter, a high-profile journalist, Rhodes Scholar, and critic of the Kremlin. In 2013, Satter was banned from Russia, allegedly for “flagrant violations” of visa laws, but which most attribute to his investigative reporting on Russian autocracy. Satter is known for his book, Darkness at Dawn, which investigated the possible 1999 conspiracy involving the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in a series of bombings of Russian apartment buildings that was used as a justification for the second Chechen War and which facilitated the rise to power of Vladimir Putin.

On October 7, 2016 Satter fell victim to a targeted phishing campaign, and mistakenly entered his password on a credential harvesting site. Satter’s e-mails were stolen and later published selectively, and with intentional falsifications, as we will describe in this report. While we cannot conclusively attribute the theft of Satter’s emails to one particular threat actor, nor do we have concrete details on the process by which his stolen emails were falsified and made their way into the public domain, we uncover and analyze several pieces of evidence to help contextualize the tainted leaks, while at the same time linking the infiltration of his email to a much wider cyber espionage campaign that has a Russian nexus.

Tainted Leaks: Disinformation 2.0

Following the compromise of his account, Satter’s stolen e-mails were selectively modified, and then “leaked” on the blog of CyberBerkut, a self-described pro-Russian hacktivist group. This report introduces the term tainted leaks to describe the deliberate seeding of false information within a larger set of authentically stolen data.

We examine in detail how a report sent to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) about Radio Liberty’s Russian investigative reporting project (contained in the emails stolen from Satter) was carefully modified with false information prior to being released. We show how this manipulation created the false appearance that prominent Russian anti-corruption figures, including Alexei Navalny, were receiving foreign funding for their activities. (Alexei Navalny is a well-known Russian anti-corruption activist and opposition figure). We also note how the document was used in an effort to discredit specific reports about corruption among close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In addition, whoever tainted the document also made reference to an article that had not yet been published at the time the document was “leaked.” This timing strongly suggests advance knowledge of the publication of an upcoming piece of investigative journalism concerning senior Russian officials and businessmen. Such information is likely to have been sensitive, and would not have been widely known. This may suggest that the operators had access to other, ongoing surveillance operations.

Once the tainted leak was released, Russian state-owned media and others reported that the document showed a CIA-backed conspiracy to start a “colour revolution” in Russia.1 The tainted leak was also reported as evidence that the reports on corruption within Putin’s inner circle represented part of a deliberate disinformation campaign on behalf of foreign interests.

The timing and substance of the tainting coincides with reported fears among Putin and his close associates that revelations about their wealth and its sources could trigger protests and uprisings within Russia, like those lead by Navalny in recent months and years.

Tainted leaks pose complex challenges to the victims of breaches, as well as representing a potent and troubling method of disinformation.  Part 1 describes the leak tainting in greater detail, and Part 4: Discussion provides an analysis of the risks posed by the tactic.

Pandora’s Un-Shortening: High Value Targets Emerge

While investigating the suspicious messages sent to Satter, we determined that, the link-shortening service used by the operators to phish credentials, had predictable features that enabled us to discover some other links likely used by the same operators. We developed a technique to discover some of these links, and ultimately collected 223 malicious links representing 218 unique targets.2 We have been able to identify the real identity of approximately 85% of the targets. Of the set we identified, we found targets from at least 39 countries.

One thread that links the targets is that their professional activities connect them to issues where the Russian government has a demonstrated interest. In some cases, the targets are Russians, ranging from an ex-Prime Minister, to journalists who investigate corruption, to political activists.  Many more targets are from, posted to, or involved in extractive industries in countries and areas where the Russian government has an economic and strategic interest, such as former Soviet states.  Still others are likely to be working on issues on the other side of the negotiating table from Russia, whether as part of United Nations operations, NATO, or civil service.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the largest groups of targets are high-ranking military and government personnel and elected officials in Ukraine.

Figure 1: Map showing countries that targets of the phishing campaign are linked to [click for hi-res]In other cases, for instance, the wife of a military attache, individuals appear to be targeted because of their proximity to high value targets. In others, we have identified a large number of individuals who appear to be targeted because they received support, in the form of a fellowship, from a particular US-based grantmaker.

Some notable target categories include:

  • Politicians, public servants and government officials from Afghanistan, Armenia, Austria, Cambodia, Egypt, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Peru, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam
  • Diplomatic personnel from numerous embassies, up to and including ambassador level, as well as their family members
  • Civil society members including very high profile critics of the Russian president, as well as journalists and academics
  • Senior members of the oil, gas, mining, and finance industries of the former Soviet states
  • United Nations officials
  • Military personnel from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Greece, Latvia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States, as well as NATO officials

The discovery of so many other targets provides us with a window into the campaign’s structure, and objectives (Part 2 outlines how we discovered the targets). After government targets, the second largest set (21%) are members of civil society like academics, activists, journalists, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

Figure 2: Some high-value targets who received phishing emails

The Importance of Civil Society Targets

The data presented in Figure 3 underscore the extent to which civil society groups are being targeted in numbers equivalent to those seen with the more classic ‘cyber espionage’ sector-aligned targets such as military, government, and industry.

Amongst the civil society targets, more than half were journalists, many of whom are prominent contributors to Russian language news outlets such as Vedomosti, Slon/Republic, Novaya Gazeta, and the BBC Russian Service.

While providing a detailed analysis of the civil society targets or an outline of their areas of activity would undoubtedly jeopardize their privacy, we can safely reflect on two notable patterns that emerge from such an analysis.

The first is that, like our first subject David Satter, several individuals from the target list were known for their public efforts towards shining a light on the Russian government and its activities. From publishing articles that outline fraud or corruption, to general activism in support of electoral reform, many of the civil society targets seem to have been singled out for the perception that their actions could pose a threat to the Putin regime.

Figure 3: Breakdown of discovered targets into broad categories

Another notable commonality found during analysis of the civil society targets of these campaigns is the near perfect alignment between their areas of activity and the geopolitical conflicts in which Russia is a known or suspected belligerent, or party to the conflict.  Specifically, the focus areas of the civil society targets span geographic boundaries, including conflict areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and others.

We also found that several dozen of the targeted individuals had as a thread in common that they had received a fellowship from a single funder focused on the region.


The large and diverse target group presented notification challenges. Our process for notifying potential victims involved the following considerations and steps:

  • For targets affiliated with governments or government-affiliated organizations (such as NATO or the United Nations), or businesses in a particular country, we passed information on targets’ names and email addresses to the relevant Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT)
  • If many targets shared an organizational affiliation, but not a single employer, we contacted that organization and worked with them to notify the individuals
  • We also provided a full list of targets to the targets’ e-mail provider.
Part 1: How Tainted Leaks Are Made

We examine how stolen materials from Satter’s inbox were turned into tainted leaks and released by CyberBerkut, and then examine a similar operation against the Open Society Foundations.

To make a clean comparison between real and fake, and illustrate exactly how tainting takes place, we obtained original, genuine documents and e-mails from David Satter, a victim of a breach, and compared them with the tainted versions. We then describe a prior case of tainted leaks: internal documents belonging to the Open Society Foundations were stolen, then later released with tainting similar to Satter’s, also by CyberBerkut.3

In both cases the breach victims were working with US-based organizations which had programs specializing in Russia. The tainting appeared to have two objectives: cause the programs to appear more subversive of Russia than they were, and discredit specific opposition individuals and groups critical of Russian President Putin and his confidants.

The Case of David Satter

On October 5, 2016, a phishing email was sent to the Gmail address of David Satter (See: Patient Zero: David Satter). This phishing email was crafted with a specific ruse designed to look like a security warning from Google, suggesting to the recipient that an unknown third-party has obtained their Gmail account password (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Phishing Email 1, mimicking a genuine message from Google

The phishing email is designed to trick the recipient into clicking on the ‘Change Password’ button. Clicking on this link would direct the victim’s web browser to a link hosted on the URL shortening service The operator disguised the link by using an open redirect hosted by Google. This open redirect allowed the operators to create a URL that, superficially, appears to be hosted by Google:

Unfortunately, the ultimate destination of this shortened URL was changed to a benign webpage before we were able to examine this phishing email.  However, as we will outline in Part 2 of this report, there is sufficient evidence available to suggest the original destination.

Analysis of the email headers revealed that the message was sent with the Russian email service Yandex, using email account g.mail2017[@]

A Second Phishing Email

Two days later, on October 7, 2016, Satter received a second email that used an identical deception to the first attempt detailed above.

As with Email 1, the redirect pointed to a URL hosted by Once again, similar to Email 1, Citizen Lab found that the originally configured redirection target for this link had been removed.

Analysis of the email headers in this second phishing attempt show that the message was sent with the web-based email service ‘’, using email account annaablony[@]

Figure 5: Phishing Email 2

Unauthorized Access

On October 7 2016, shortly after receiving the email, Satter reports having clicked on the change password link in Email 2, and recalls being redirected to what he now realizes was in fact a credential phishing page which appeared to be a legitimate Google sign-in page.  Unfortunately, Satter had temporarily disabled 2-factor authentication on his account, making the compromise possible.

Shortly after entering his credentials, Satter’s Gmail account activity page recorded an unauthorized login event.  The data logged by Google indicated that the login session originated from an IP address in Romania (Figure 6).  In Part 2 we will show that the server associated with this IP address was also hosting the fake Google login page where Satter submitted his account credentials.  Thus it is likely that this malicious server was configured to automatically download the email contents from any compromised accounts (see Figure 7).

Figure 6: Screen grab from Google account activity page

In Part 2 of this report we will outline how the phishing links sent to Satter led us to discover a much wider campaign that included 218 distinct targets from government, industry, military, and civil society.  In the following section, we provide context concerning the disinformation campaign that was conducted around material stolen from Satter’s email account and published on the blog of CyberBerkut, a pro-Russian hacktivist collective.

Figure 7: How a phishing campaign against Satter became a tainted leaks operation

Analyzing a Tainted Leak

This section compares an original document obtained by Citizen Lab with a tainted document published online, and used as part of a disinformation campaign. We describe the tainting in detail, and analyse the likely objective.

Several documents from Satter’s emails were posted by CyberBerkut at the same time without observable manipulation. However, one document showed extensive evidence of tainting. The tainted leak was a report authored by Satter describing Radio Liberty’s Russian Investigative Reporting Project. The document was modified to make Satter appear to be paying Russian journalists and anti-corruption activists to write stories critical of the Russian Government. Importantly, we do not know the process through which the stolen document made its way from Satter’s inbox to the CyberBerkut release. In the CyberBerkut version, the document is posted as screen-captures, and thus lacks metadata.

Figure 8: CyberBerkut post dated October 22, 2016 showing the narrative accompanying the tainted leak document (highlighted with arrow). [Archived copy]

The original document lists a series of articles from Radio Liberty exclusively that are part of the project.  The articles concern a range of topics: history, economics, and politics.  Radio Liberty is a U.S. government international broadcaster, founded in 1951 to broadcast news and information into the Soviet Union.  It merged with Radio Free Europe in 1976, who now together are incorporated as a 501(c)(3), funded and overseen by the United States’ Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The tainted document modifies the text to appear to be a report on a much larger (nonexistant) project to pay for articles by a range of authors, which would subsequently be published by a range of media outlets. The deceptively inserted articles, almost all of which are genuine publications, focus on corruption within Putin’s friends and inner circle. The work of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Putin critic, is repeatedly emphasized.  The full tainted document is in Appendix A.

Taint 1: Making reporting look like a secret influence operation

The operators modified the document’s scope in an attempt to create the appearance of a widespread media campaign. They did this by removing or modifying mentions of Radio Liberty throughout the document.

Figure 9: Text in red was removed, creating the impression of a wide media campaign, not the programming of a specific news source.

Other content, such as discussions of specific translators working for Radio Liberty are similarly removed to preserve the fiction.

Figure 10: The document was further tweaked to create the impression of a larger campaign. A note about a translator was also removed as it would contradict the impression

We believe that by removing specific references to Radio Liberty, the perpetrators are aiming to give the impression of a broader subversive campaign not limited to a single news organization. Doing so allows the perpetrators to falsely associate non-US funded organizations, such as independent NGOs, to appear to be linked as part of this larger, fictitious program.

Figure 11: Further tainting to remove mentions of Radio Liberty

Finally, a clause is deleted at the end of the document concerning the risks of writing “without the protection of a full time job” (Figure 11).  This deletion may simply be the tainters removing an inconvenient sentence that refers to Radio Liberty, but it also may be an attempt to make the  activity look more “cloak and dagger.”

Taint 2: Discrediting specific journalists and Kremlin critics

The original document included a list of 14 articles published as part of the Russian Investigative Project at Radio Liberty. The tainted document includes 24. The operators not only added to the list, but also tweaked the Radio Liberty articles to further the impression of a larger campaign.

Figure 12: Six of the ten added articles. All blue text was added to the original as part of the tainting.  The objective is to make these reports appear to have been supported by the project.

Ten additional articles were added.  Although the original list of publications covered a variety of themes, the added set primarily focuses on issues of corruption, and the wealth of those in Putin’s circle.  The articles, written for a range of publications, all share a theme: corruption and personal enrichment by those close to Putin and the Russian Government (See Appendix A).

Figure 13: People and Topics of articles added in the tainting.  Images: Wikipedia, Radio Free Europe, Reuters [click for hi-res]

Of special interest are the insertions of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian anti-corruption activist and opposition figure whose work, and Anti-corruption Foundation, receives widespread domestic and international attention. By repeatedly adding his reporting to the document, the tainting creates the appearance of “foreign” funding for his work.  This theme also figured prominently in the disinformation campaign surrounding the original publication, on October 22, 2016, of the tainted document by CyberBerkut (See: Disinformation Campaign Surrounding the Tainted Document).

Taint 3: Claimed foreknowledge

An article by Russian journalist Elena Vinogradova describing issues involving “senior Russian officials and businessmen” was also added as part of the tainting, which goes on to state that it will be published by Russian-language news service Vedomosti on October 24-25.4

Figure 14: Tainting that suggests the operators had advanced knowledge of a news report

This timing is significant as the original CyberBerkut publication of the tainted document occurred on October 22 2016, slightly before this date.

The apparent foreknowledge suggests that the individuals responsible for the tainting had advance knowledge of the content and publication date of a piece of investigative journalism, which may mean the operators had access to intelligence or surveillance reports concerning the activities of the Elena Vinogradova.

We identified at least one individual among the set of targets of the phishing campaign whose account might have provided this information, however we were not able to confirm a compromise.

Importantly, we were not able to find concrete evidence of the publication of an article matching the description added in the tainting. It is possible that existence of the article was a fabrication, or the result of misplaced speculation by the individuals responsible for the tainting.

Taint 4: Modifying the Time Frame and Supporting Details

The timeframe and number of publications are increased, perhaps to give the impression of a longer and more intense campaign. Changes are also made to accommodate a wide range of articles not published by Radio Liberty but by other parties.

Figure 15: Dates and numbers changed to accommodate ten more articles

Text that mentions specific dates in the original document that would not accommodate the articles that have been falsely added is also changed to support the new fiction.

Disinformation Campaign Surrounding the Tainted Document

The tainted version of the stolen document was released online by CyberBerkut, which represents itself as a group of pro-Russian hacktivists. CyberBerkut provided the framing narrative for the tainted document in a post on October 22, 2016: they were releasing the document to provide evidence that the United States was attempting to support a “colour revolution” in Russia. In the CyberBerkut narrative, David Satter was an agent directing the publication of articles critical of the Russian government.

Figure 16: RIA Novosti, Russia’s state operated news agency, reporting the Cyber Berkut’s release of the tainted leaks

Russia’s state operated news agency RIA Novosti, as well as Sputnik Radio, picked up the narrative, and gave voice to a number of sources who claimed that the “leak” was evidence that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was attempting to foment a “colour revolution.”  The document was cited in a RIA Novosti report as providing evidence of “over 20” reports intended to discredit the Russian president, and his entourage. The “colour revolution” narrative was echoed in this SM News report, and by, among others.

Meanwhile, other Russian-language sources claimed that the document discredited Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation by showing that its articles were actually ordered by David Satter.

The Open Society Foundations Case

In 2015, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) experienced a breach of confidential data.  Materials from this breach were released by CyberBerkut in November 2015 and, much later, on the “leak” branded site DC Leaks, alongside a wide range of materials stolen from other organizations. DC Leaks worked directly with some online outlets, and provided exclusive access to their materials to some, as well as achieving substantial media impact.

The redundant releases enable a comparison of documents between the two leaks using public materials. The DC Leaks dump included the release of untainted stolen documents that had been previously released as part of a tainted leak by Cyber Berkut.  An article in Foreign Policy used this dump to identify several cases of leak tainting. We were able to verify each of their observations, as well as identifying additional elements of tainting.

We then contacted OSF’s IT staff, who provided us with the original genuine documents which we were able to use as the basis for further comparisons, and to authenticate the documents posted on DC Leaks. Taken together, the tainting appears designed to create the impression that several groups and media outlets, including Alexei Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, are supported by OSF.

As with the Satter case, the tainting appears to have a primarily domestic focus, and to be aimed at de-legitimizing figures like Navalny by making it appear that they are the recipients of illicit, foreign funding.  This is a view that Navalny, one of the targets of the tainting, has also expressed to Foreign Policy.

A Budget Document

First, CyberBerkut released a tainted budget document to make it appear as if OSF was funding Alexei Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption.

Figure 17: Tainted Budget Document: the second row was added to make it appear as if OSF was funding Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption

The tainters may have been working quickly, resulting in a small error, in which a dollar amount was substituted for “Approved Date.”

Proposed Strategy Document

Second, a proposed funding strategy document was similarly modified to include the Foundation for Fighting Corruption in a list of groups to receive OSF support.

Figure 18: Proposed Strategy Document showing the location where the tainted document is modified to include mention of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption

The tainting resumed later in the document, when several media outlets (Echo Moscow, RosBusinessConsulting, and Vedomosti)  were also added to the document, apparently to create the perception that they had received the support of OSF.

Figure 19: A second section in the same document showing once more how several media outlets, including Echo Moscow, RosBusinessConsulting, and Vedomosti have been added.

The second instance of tainting in the strategy document also introduced a slight grammatical error when the tainters neglected to remove “an” before changing “news site” to the plural “news sites.”

Document Addressing the NGO Law

Finally, in a document addressing grantees and Russia’s NGO law, tainting was again performed to add Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption. The tainting also purported to show the foundation receiving money via Yandex, a widely-used Russian platform offering an online payment service.

Figure 20: Tainted document, once more showing the addition of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption

Taken together, both the tainted document stolen from David Satter, and the tainted OSF documents paint a picture of a competent adversary working to achieve several objectives, including discrediting domestic critics of Russia’s government and president, while simultaneously attempting to embarrass foreign funders with activities in Russia. In Part 4 we discuss the significance of tainted leaks as a disinformation technique.

Part 2: A Tiny Discovery

Beginning with the shortened link sent to David Satter, we identified a predictable feature in how the link shortener ( generated its shortened URLs. This enabled us to identify over 200 additional targets of the same operation described in Part 1. This section describes the process used to enumerate these targets, and further describes the links between this operation and other publicly-reported Russian-linked phishing campaigns.

In September 2016, ThreatConnect published a blog post documenting phishing attempts against contributors to the citizen journalism website Bellingcat and its founder Eliot Higgins. The targeted contributors were actively engaged in reporting on the Russian involvement in the July 17, 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. ThreatConnect attributed these intrusion attempts to Fancy Bear (aka APT28), a threat actor widely believed to be directly linked to the Russian government.  In an October update to this post, ThreatConnect documented an additional spear phishing attempt against a Bellingcat contributor.

This latest credential phishing attempt was largely similar to the first email sent to David Satter (see Part 1, The Case of David Satter). Both emails were sent at 10:59am EST using the same sending address: g.mail2017[@] In addition, both shared a fake Gmail footer that was distinctively modified from Gmail’s original footer.

Figure 21: Footer from the phishing emails sent to Bellingcat and David Satter showing a distinctive misspelling (possibly to avoid spam filtering)

In both cases the malicious links embedded in these phishing emails were configured to redirect the targets to addresses hosted on the URL shortening service As ThreatConnect showed, the link used against the Bellingcat contributor actually redirected the victim to another shortened URL, this one hosted by a different shortening service:  Ultimately, this series of link redirections led to a malicious credential phishing page hosted at the following URL:


Table 1: Domain hosting the credential phishing page

Using PassiveTotal, we examined the historic DNS resolution data for this domain name.  The results revealed that at the time of these phishing attempts, the domain id833[.]ga resolved to IP address 89.40.181[.]119 – the same Romanian IP address used to access David Satter’s email account on October 7 (see Part 1, The Case of David Satter).

This evidence suggests that the Bellingcat contributor and David Satter were both targeted by the same spear phishing campaign; this linkage will be explored further in the next section. Enumeration

In examining the shortened URLs found within the spear phishing emails sent to David Satter, we became curious as to the structure of how such links were constructed. provides a shortening service which allows users to create succinct URLs that redirect to some defined, usually long, website address. By way of example, we created a shortened URL which redirects to a recent Citizen Lab report:  ->

In this example, the shortcode would be bj87iy. In the application back-end database, this hash uniquely resolves to the target address of:

After conducting tests, we determined that these shortcodes are assigned in a sequential manner. For example, using the API call for creating a shortened URL, we programmatically generated 8 links with a one-second delay between each call. The resulting shortcodes generated (in order) were as follows:


After conducting numerous similar tests, we determined that shortcodes constructed within small temporal windows would be lexically close in the sense of the following ‘base36 alphabet’ sequence:


Successive shortcodes are constructed by iterating the leftmost character through this base36 alphabet. Once all 36 characters have been exhausted, this leftmost character reverts to the initial value of ‘a’, with the second character then iterating one position according to the same alphabet. This iterative process continues for each position of the shortcode (see Figure 22), enabling us to consider the shortcodes as a sort of base36 ‘counter’.

Figure 22: Enumerating the base36 shortcodes used by

Given this understanding of the shortcode design, we can measure the notional ‘distance’ between any pair of shortcodes.  For example, the distance between the shortcodes  bj87iy and cj87iy would be 1, and the distance between bj87iy and bk87iy would be 36.

This distance measurement gives an idea of how close two shortcodes are, and thus by extension, how close in time they were generated. We will revisit this notion of distance below.

Using this design knowledge, we considered the shortcodes found in the October 5 and 7 phishing emails sent to David Satter. Using these as a starting point, we enumerated approximately 4000 adjacent shortcodes for each, and then examined the target web addresses to which these short links redirected.  From this large list, we extracted all of the associated destination links (see Figure 23) which redirected to the malicious phishing domain described above in Table 1.

Figure 23: Some of the phishing links discovered during enumeration of the shortcodes

This enumeration led us to discover evidence suggesting that David Satter and the unnamed Bellingcat journalist were but two targets of a much larger credential phishing campaign. Notably, as mentioned above in Part 1: A Second Phishing E-mail, when we checked the particular shortcode received by Satter, the unshortened link to the phishing page had been replaced with a benign URL:[.]com.

We were unable to conclusively determine the reason for this substitution. One theory suggests that the campaign operators mistakenly shortened incorrect destination URLs, while another posits that once the operators had successfully compromised a target’s account, they would inoculate the link provided in the phishing email. Indeed, in the same batch of enumerated shortcodes from the October campaign, we found four additional shortcodes which also pointed to[.]com.

Decoding the targets

We examined the “unshortened” URLs of shortcodes that were adjacent to the one sent to Satter, and discovered 25 distinct destination addresses of the form:

These addresses were redirects which leveraged the previously mentioned, Google-hosted, open redirect page ( to send a user to a link on the shortening service. In every case, these links were each designed to send their intended victims to a tailored version of the following, fake, Gmail login page:


This domain, discussed above and noted in Table 1, at the time the phishing emails were sent, resolved to the Romanian IP address used to access Satter’s Gmail account (see Part 1).

In order to bolster the social engineering aspect of these fake Gmail login pages, the operator used a series of base64-encoded URL parameter values in order to display the target’s email address, and in some cases the target’s name and Google profile image, into the appropriate fields on the fake login page.

Figure 24: TinyURL preview of a second level redirect of a phishing link

The following example URL illustrates the use of these parameters (Figure 25):

Figure 25: URL parameter decoding from a phishing link

By virtue of this pattern of URL parameters, we were able to determine the precise target of each of the phishing links we discovered during our enumeration process.  The significance of this pattern of URL parameters will be revisited below in Part 3.

Digging Deeper

Extending the search for suspicious URLs by fully enumerating the entire six-character shortcode sequence space in the above manner proved to be intractable.5 However, the same ThreatConnect report discussed above also documented a previous APT28-attributed phishing attempt against Bellingcat journalist Aric Toler. On June 16, 2016, Toler was sent a strikingly similar Google-themed phishing email containing a shortcode. Following the same process outlined above, we enumerated the shortcodes adjacent to the one published by ThreatConnect.

In doing so, we discovered another group of targets – 198 target email addresses in total. In this earlier campaign, the unshortened URLs pointed directly to the likely phishing page (Figure 26):

Figure 26: URL parameters in June campaign against Aric Toler

Notably, these links appear to be hosted on the Google Blogger service, and while these pages were already taken offline when we attempted to examine them, the same characteristic URL parameterization can be observed.

A brief analysis of the target list associated with these two campaigns is provided above (see Pandora’s Un-Shortening: Civil Society Targets Emerge).

Testing the Lure

We measured the distance between successive malicious shortcodes seen in the June and October campaigns (Figure 27). In doing so, we observed fairly consistent distances between the shortcodes, perhaps indicating that the operators were generating these links via an automated process. However, one shortcode stood out, and we suspected this may have been a manual operator test.

Figure 27: The anomalous distance of 305 immediately stood out from the average of 8.2, drawing our attention to the shortened link

According to the parameters obtained from the phishing URL associated with this anomalous shortcode, we were able to decode the Gmail account targeted with this phishing link:

Parameter Result after decoding Email Address myprimaryreger[@] Full Name Åhlén خسروي Google+ Profile Picture

Table 2: URL parameter values decoded

This Google account, myprimaryreger[@], was also used in the registration of at least one other domain name which was linked in prior research to known or suspected APT28 activity.  Such connections, while circumstantial, further support the link to Russia-based threat actors.

In Appendix B we provide a brief description of why we think the account is being used by the operator, and how the account uses Google Plus posts to embed images into phishing e-mails.

Part 3: Connections to Publicly Reported Operations

This section outlines the connections and overlaps between the operation described in this report and other, publicly-reported Russian-affiliated cyber espionage campaigns.

The operator test uncovered during our enumeration of the shortcodes (see Testing the Lure above), provides a circumstantial link to APT28, however there are other potential links. In this section, we outline other comparisons between this campaign and other publicly reported operations that have a Russian nexus. We identify marked similarities to a collection of phishing links now attributed to one of the most publicly visible information operations in recent history: the targeting of the 2016 US Presidential Campaign.

A Bit More Abuse

The phishing URLs in this campaign were encoded with a distinct set of parameters using base64. When clicked, the links provided key information about the targets to the phishing website. An identical approach to parameters and encoding (see Figure 28 below) has been seen before: in the March 2016 phishing campaign that targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. This similarity suggests possible code re-use: the two operations may be using the same phishing ‘kit’.

The campaign that targeted the DNC also included the same Google security-themed phishing ruse, and abused another URL shortening service,  In June 2016 Dell SecureWorks published a report attributing the operation to APT28, a threat actor routinely associated with the Russian government.

SecureWorks researchers were able to enumerate and analyze the targets of this campaign, thus allowing them to describe the victimology:

“individuals in Russia and the former Soviet states, current and former military and government personnel in the U.S. and Europe, individuals working in the defense and government supply chain, and authors and journalists — but also included email accounts linked to the November 2016 United States presidential election”

This victimology strikes an immediate parallel to the target listing we have uncovered in our enumeration of the URLs.

Figure 28: Bitly link and ultimate phishing page address sent to John Podesta, former chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, in March 2016

Domain Schema Commonalities

We found similarities in domain naming, and subdomain structures, between this campaign and operations linked to APT28.

The domain used in the campaign targeting Satter was id833[.]ga.  At the time of the campaign, this domain name was pointed to a server at IP address 89.40.181[.]119.  Using PassiveTotal, we observed other domain names sharing a similar naming scheme also directed at this IP: id834[.]ga, and id9954[.]gq.  While we did not observe any phishing links for these alternate domains, there were identical subdomains registered for both:

Domain Sub-Domain id833[.]ga id834[.]ga id9954[.]gq

This domain / subdomain naming schema is also extremely close to one featured in Mandiant’s 2017 M-Trends report, in a phishing operation, linked to APT28, which targeted OAuth tokens in an effort to obtain persistent access to a victim’s Google account, and to bypass the security of two-factor authentication.

Domain linked to this campaign:[.]ga
Domain mentioned by Mandiant, linked to[.]ga

The similarities in naming and subdomain structure are immediately apparent.  The two domains (id833[.]ga and id4242[.]ga) also share a common name server.  However, we were not able to find specific registration overlaps between the domains or servers.

Furthermore, during the campaign period, the domain identified by Mandiant, id4242[.]ga resolved to  89.32.40[.]238. This IP also resolves to a range of other suspicious domains with highly similar naming schemas to those connected to the infrastructure used against Satter.
The link used to phish John Podesta, as depicted above, also shares distinct naming and subdomain similarities with domains linked to the phishing operation against Satter (see Figure 28):

Domain targeting Podesta, linked to APT28: hxxp://[.]tk

During the campaign in March 2016, this domain was hosted at IP address 80.255.12[.]237

Publications from numerous private industry groups attribute 89.32.40[.]238 and 80.255.12[.]237 (as well as related domains) to APT28. While we are able to point out that there are significant commonalities in domain naming and subdomain structure between the campaign targeting Satter and domains linked to these IPs, we are not able to make a more conclusive technical link to APT28.

While industry groups as well as the U.S. government have publicly connected APT28 with Russian state actors, we are not able to use infrastructure analysis alone to conclusively connect the operation against Satter to a particular state sponsor.  Connecting this infrastructure to a specific government would require additional evidence which is not, to our knowledge, available in the public domain.

The Challenge of Attribution

While the order of events surrounding the phishing, credential theft, and eventual leak of tainted documents belonging to David Satter would seem to point to CyberBerkut, the characteristics of Russian information operations make the task of attribution to a state sponsor challenging.  As a consequence, there is no “smoking gun” connecting the evidence we have assembled to a particular Russian government agency, despite the overlaps between our evidence and that presented by numerous industry and government reports concerning Russian-affiliated threat actors.

Addressing the topic of attribution requires nuance and appreciation of the unique character of Russian cyber espionage: its deliberate cultivation of organized criminal groups as proxy operators, and the high number of independently operating, overlapping, and sometimes competing spy agencies and security services all of whom work within a broad culture of barely concealed corruption.  As one study on Russia notes, Russia’s many security agencies “are granted considerable latitude in their methods, unconstrained by the concerns of diplomats or the scrutiny of legislators.”

Russia’s approach to the use of proxy actors in the criminal underworld in particular is informed by a very elaborate strategy around information operations and control.  Although this strategy has roots that go back deep into Soviet (and even earlier Russian) history, it was more fully elaborated as a component of hybrid warfare, also known as the Gerasimov doctrine or “non-linear warfare,” and infused with deeper resources after the ‘color revolutions,’ the 2011 Moscow protests, and upon reflection of the events of the Arab Spring.  The overall Russian approach has been described as a form of “guerrilla geopolitics” in which “a would-be great power, aware that its ambitions outstrip its military resources, seeks to leverage the methodologies of an insurgent to maximise its capabilities.” Cultivating organized criminal groups is a fundamental component of this approach, as evidenced in the annexation of Crimea which was undertaken in coordination with criminal elements who provided “political and military muscle.” Russian security officers are also known to routinely dabble in the proceeds of underworld criminal operations for illicit revenue of their own, and as a result can even prioritize criminal over national security concerns.

In the digital arena, this doctrine is manifest in the cultivation of Internet-focused organized criminal groups who operate partially on behalf of or in support of the Putin regime, and partially oriented around their own pecuniary gain in online financial fraud and other schemes. There is evidence Russian hackers are being given wide latitude to undertake criminal activities as long as it conforms to Russian security agencies’ wishes. Multiple Russian-affiliated operators could compromise the same target unwittingly and without seeming coordination.  This “piling on” around a target further complicates attribution.  This complex proxy strategy, as well as the multiple, competing agencies behind the proxies, is often lost or overlooked when companies and government agencies jump quickly to attribution around Russian cyber espionage.

While it is possible that a proxy actor is implementing the front-end collection component of the phishing campaign we are describing, the scale of the targeting also suggests a well-resourced actor, such as a nation state.  The thread linking all of the targets is their connection to issues that the Russian government cares about. The targets are people whose positions or activities give them access to, or influence over, sensitive information of specific interest to Russia.  This links an otherwise extremely diverse target set, which ranges from domestic Kremlin critics and journalists, to anti-corruption investigators, foreign government personnel, and businesspeople.

The data collected from such a campaign would come in more than a dozen languages, and concern a diverse range of political, military, and policy issues from at least 39 countries and 28 governments.  In addition, such a campaign would be likely to generate large volumes of data.  For this reason, a professionalized, well-resourced operator would be needed for any effective post-collection analysis of the stolen data.  Even greater resources would be required to analyse, and in some instances carefully modify in a short timeframe, the contents of stolen email and cloud-storage accounts for the purposes of seeding disinformation via tainted leaks.

The diversity and presumed cost of analyzing the stolen data along with the clear Russian nexus for the targets is only circumstantial evidence of a Russian connection. It should be evaluated in the context of the other pieces of circumstantial evidence we present, including the overlaps in tactics with known Russia-linked actors, and the prominent role of CyberBerkut.

Part 4: Discussion

In this section, we examine the troubling relationship between espionage and disinformation, particularly in its latest digital manifestation, and elaborate on how civil society is particularly at risk from such new tactics.

Tainted Leaks: A New Trend

The recent theft and disclosure of documents (branded as a “leak”) from the presidential campaign of Emmanuel Macron is the highest profile case in which it appears that falsified documents were inserted amongst real, stolen documents. The documents falsely implied a range of improper or questionable activities. The false stories implied by these documents were then highlighted in campaigns promoted with twitter bots and other techniques. The leak-branded release had followed the release, several days earlier, of a quickly-debunked story, supported by falsified documents, alleging that Macron held foreign bank accounts.

In the case of the leak-branded releases during the 2016 US presidential election, the publicly-available evidence connecting these releases with Russian-affiliated cyber operations is largely circumstantial, but compelling.  It is reported, and highly probable, that stronger evidence is available in classified venues.  Building on initial reports by Trend Micro that the Macron campaign was targeted by APT28,’ follow-up reports have pointed to Russian involvement in the breach, and the tainted leaks.

The Macron case continues to develop, and many elements are still uncertain, including whether the Macron campaign was deliberately seeding their own communications with false documents, intended to slow down operators’ analysis pipeline. However, it is not the first case in which evidence or claims of tainted leaks have surfaced.

Documents stolen from the Open Society Foundations, which had been the victim of a breach,  were modified and then released in a tainted leak by CyberBerkut in a post dated November 21 2015.  The tainting included careful alterations, such as modifying budget documents, to make it appear that certain Russian civil society groups were receiving foreign funding. The case became publicly visible because elements of the same stolen set were re-released on the leak-branded website “DC Leaks,” without the tainting.

In the case of David Satter, whose personal email accounts had similarly been breached, and then tainted, materials were edited, spliced, and deleted, while new text was added. Fiction was added to fact to create a hybrid “tainted leak.”  The tainted leak told a series of new, false stories, intended not only to discredit Satter, but to support domestic narratives familiar to many Russians: of foreign interference, and of a foreign hand behind criticism of the government.

Falsehoods in a Forest of Facts

Recent leaks by genuine whistleblowers, as well as “leak”-branded releases of materials stolen by cyber espionage operations (e.g. “DC Leaks” or “Macron Leaks”) are appealing because they appear to provide an un-filtered peek at people speaking privately. Like an intercepted conversation, they feel closer to the “truth,” and may indeed reveal unscripted truths about people and institutions. It is hard not to be curious about what salacious details might be contained within them. In the 2016 United States presidential election, it was evident that the release, although clearly intended to influence the election, was viewed by most media organizations as having intrinsic newsworthiness, and thus the contents of leaks were often quickly amplified and repeated.

The potential of leaks to attract attention makes large dumps of stolen materials fertile ground for tainting. A carefully constructed tainted leak included in a set of real stolen material is surrounded by documents that, by juxtaposition, indirectly signal that it is legitimate. This could help the tainted leak survive initial scrutiny by reporters and others seeking corroboration. Coupled with a media strategy, or social-media amplification campaign that selectively highlights the fake or the narrative that the fake supports, leak tainting poses a serious problem to both the victim of the breach, and whoever is implicated by the disinformation.

The spread of disinformation can contribute to cynicism about the media and institutions at large as being untrustworthy and unreliable, and can cultivate a fatigue among the population about deciphering what is true or not.  By propagating falsehoods, the aim is not necessarily to convince a population that the falsehood is true (although that outcome is desirable) but rather to have them question the integrity of all media as equally unreliable, and in doing so “foster a kind of policy paralysis.”

Tainted Leaks Place a Unique Burden on Breach Victims

Should a tainted document gain traction, there is a burden on the victim of the disinformation to prove that the leaks are not genuine. This challenge may be difficult. Victims of breaches may be unable, unwilling, or forbidden to release original documents. Moreover, they may not wish to be drawn into fact-checking their own stolen data. This problem is likely to be especially true if the operators behind the tainted leaks have chosen documents that are themselves sensitive.

A Russian anti-corruption activist whose name has been seeded into such sensitive reports may not be able to convince the original victim of the breach to release the authentic document. Indeed, such a person may not even be able to determine exactly which parts of the document are real, and which are fake, beyond what they know to be true about themselves.

Meanwhile, members of the public do not have the ability to carefully verify the integrity of such dumps, either as a whole, or specific documents within them. Indeed, even journalists reporting on accusations or falsehoods may be unable to obtain explicit confirmation of which exact material has been faked. If a tainted document is carefully constructed from real, verifiable elements, it may be especially difficult to identify as a fake. Even if journalists do the hard digging and analysis, they may not be able to publish their results in a timely enough fashion to matter. By the time their work is complete, the false information may have embedded itself into the collective consciousness.

Disinformation can persist and spread unless concerted measures are taken to counter it.  Even more insidious is the fact that studies have found that attempts “to quash rumors through direct refutation may facilitate their diffusion by increasing fluency.”  In other words, efforts to correct falsehoods can ironically contribute to their further propagation and even acceptance.

Not all tainted leaks work as intended to cause maximum harm. Almost immediately following the “Macron Leaks,” the Macron campaign responded quickly, and stated that the “leaks” included fakes. In the fast-moving media environment in the days before voting, this move may have led to uncertainty about the factual nature of the release in the minds of many journalists, dimming enthusiasm to quickly report ‘finds.’ Amplification of the “leaks” was further blocked by a “recommendation to media” by the French electoral authority to not “relay” the leaks. The authority pointed to the presence of fakes, and warned of possible legal implications for reporting the story.

Following the voting, staff from the Macron campaign claimed in the media that the stolen documents also likely contained fakes created by the campaign, designed to waste the time of intruders. This claim also cast further doubt on the veracity of any documents contained in the “leaks.”

Tainted Leaks: Old Methods, New Tactics

Stealing digital information for intelligence purposes is a well-known and commonly practiced tactic used by states. However, a unique aspect of Russian cyber espionage distinguishing it from other governments is the public release of exfiltrated data intended to embarrass or discredit adversaries. Known as “kompromat”, this type of activity is common in Russia, and was previously used by the Soviet Union, and is evident in the publication of emails on Wikileaks related to United States officials involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

Releasing Satter’s e-mails could be roughly described as kompromat. However, with his cooperation we were able to identify a second feature of the release: the deliberate tampering with the content of his messages. This mixing of fact and falsehood is thus also a disinformation strategy.

In Russian / Soviet military doctrine, the practice of deliberately propagating forged documents and disinformation is known as “dezinformatsiya”, referring to manipulation of information in the service of the propagation of falsehoods.  Although practiced for decades by Russia and the Soviet Union, the use of dezinformatsiya in connection with cyber espionage is a new and troublesome frontier in structured digital disinformation.

Why Target Civil Society?

Our investigation identified civil society targets inside and outside of Russia. This targeting is consistent with a general consensus on how the Russian regime thinks: whether domestic or foreign, civil society is treated as a threat to the regime, its extended kleptocracy, and the sovereignty of the country.

There are at least two reasons why civil society factors highly into Russian perceptions of threats.  First, independent civil society groups can create difficulties for the regime by spotlighting corruption and abuse of power, speaking freely about issues the government would rather keep in the shadows, and mobilizing people into organized opposition.

Those unfamiliar with the Russian experience may overlook a second motivation, which is drawn from the larger Russian narrative of humiliation and defeat at the hands of the United States and its allies at the end of the Cold War.  Some Russian leaders, especially those tied to the old Soviet system, resent US triumphalism, and see local civil society (except for those under their direct control) as instruments of US and western interference in Russian domestic politics. For example, Putin used the term “active measures” to describe the actions of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2011 Moscow demonstration. This narrative of Russia as a “besieged fortress” is used as justification for the repression and targeting of civil society groups both inside Russia proper, in the former Soviet spaces, and abroad.

While often overlooked by western media and policymakers, this threat model translates in practice into targeted digital surveillance operations on civil society, both domestically and abroad. Of special concern to the government are NGOs, journalists, and activists that are seen as having links to the West and / or are funded by western governments.  Many of the targets of this campaign are connected in some degree to United States-based think tanks and fellowships.

Of equal concern to the government, however, are the actions of domestic NGOs and individuals.  As our report shows, a principal motivation for the targeting of David Satter and the tainting of leaks derived from materials stolen from him was to falsely portray local Russian groups as having affiliations and even funding ties to western organizations and the U.S. government.


Tainted leaks are a growing and particularly troublesome addition to disinformation tactics, and in the current digital environment are likely to become more prevalent.  In the 2017 French presidential election, tainted leaks appear to have been used in an attempt to discredit the political party and candidate for election directly.  The target of the tainting was roughly the same entity that suffered the breach.  In the cases we analyzed, however, tainted leaks were used to discredit third parties who had not been the victims of the original breach.  This difference highlights yet another facet of the growing trend of leak-branded releases, and the challenges they pose.

Tainted leaks—fakes in a forest of facts—test the limits of how media, citizen journalism, and social media users handle fact checking, and the amplification of enticing, but questionable information.  As a tactic, tainted leaks are an evolution of much older strategies for disinformation, and like these earlier strategies, pose a clear threat to public trust in the integrity of information. Interestingly, while the tainting we describe appears to have a primarily domestic aim, to discredit elements of the Russian opposition, it is readily applied globally.

The report identified a phishing campaign with over 200 unique targets from 39 countries. We do not conclusively attribute the technical elements of this campaign to a particular sponsor, but there are numerous elements in common between the campaign we analyzed and that which has been publicly reported by industry groups as belonging to threat actors affiliated with Russia.

Given Russia’s well-known preference for the use of proxy actors, it would be highly unlikely that a group such as ours, which relies on open source information, would be able to discover a conclusive link in a case like this. However, it is worth reiterating that the resources of a government would likely be necessary to manage such a large and ambitious campaign, given the number of languages spoken by targets, and their areas of work. The group includes a former Russian Prime Minister, a global list of government ministers, ambassadors, military and government personnel, CEOs of oil companies, and members of civil society from more than three dozen countries.

The targets we found are connected to, or have access to, information concerning issues in which the Russian government has a demonstrated interest. These issues range from investigations of individuals close to the Russian president, to the Ukraine, NATO, foreign think tanks working on Russia and the Crimea, grantmakers supporting human rights and free expression in Russia, and the energy sector in the Caucasus.

Considering this primary Russian focus, as well as the technical evidence pointing to overlaps and stylistic similarities with groups attributed to the Russian government, we believe there is strong circumstantial—but not conclusive—evidence for Russian government sponsorship of the phishing campaign, and the tainted leaks.

The civil society targets of this operation deserve special attention. At least 21% of the targets from our set were journalists, activists, scholars and other members of civil society. All too often, threats against civil society groups receive second-billing in industry reporting and media coverage of government-linked operations.

Yet, in this case, members of civil society were both the targets of disinformation in the form of tainted leaks, and represented a large proportion of the phished targets. In a cautionary note for grantmakers, several dozen targets all held the same fellowship, from the same organization. This common affiliation suggests that they may have been targeted because of their relationship with the grantmaker.

We hope this report will encourage others to engage in further research into the techniques used to propagate tainted leaks, as well as serving as a reminder of the often under-reported presence of civil society targets among government-linked phishing and malware operations.


Special thanks to David Satter, Raphael Satter, and the Open Society Foundations for cooperating and providing us with materials necessary to conduct the investigation.

Thanks to the Citizen Lab team who provided review and assistance, especially Bill Marczak, Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Etienne Maynier, Adam Senft, Irene Poetranto, and Amitpal Singh

We would like to thank additional researchers for comments and feedback including Jen Weedon, Alberto Fittarelli, Exigent Petrel and TNG.

Support for Citizen Lab’s research on targeted threats comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Oak Foundation, Sigrid Rausing Trust, and the Ford Foundation.

Appendix A: The Tainting

Figure 29: Full text of the tainted leak released by CyberBerkut showing tainting

Inserted Articles and their Contents Article Author Theme Informational Stuffing: What is Known about EachPresident Sergei Roldugin Elizaveta Surnachyova Discusses the relationship between Putin and Sergei Roldugin (a cellist and financial associate of Putin). Roldugin is friends with many Putin insiders, and holds a 3.2% stake in Bank Rossiya. He also formerly ran two media groups and one oil company. The Budget of Katherine Tikhonova’s FundHas Grown by Half Vyacheslav Kozlov and Ivan Tkachyov Innopraktika, a fund managed by Putin’s daughter, saw a very large funding increase. Igor Shuvalov’s Tsar-apartment Costs 600 Times as Ordinary Apartments He Laughed at Alexei Navalny Part of a series on the shell companies used by Igor Shuvalov, and his purchase of a lavish and extremely expensive apartment. Portraying Benefactor: “Who Pays for the Projects Related to Putin Examines the processes by which oligarchs repay the Russian president by contributing money to “charities” and pet projects. These include the funds managed by Tikhonova and Roldugin. Journalists Have Found Analogues of the Ozero Cooperative All Over the Central Russia Slon Relates to a Transparency International and investigation documenting replications of the Ozero Cooperative (Putin’s dacha organization) across Russia. This cooperative involves private dacha (cottage) communities in which  politicians, public servants and businessmen live in close proximity, allowing them to conduct informal meetings. There, Beyond the 6-Meter-High “fall of Medvedev’s Dacha” Alexei Navalny Discusses the 80 hectare (officially only 2 hectare) property belonging to Medvedev, and paid for by oligarchs through contributions made to “charitable funds.” He is Putin’s Cook. He is Putin’s Troll. He is a Billionaire Alexei Navalny A look at Dmitry Rogozin, who runs the “troll factory” on Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg. He also controls a series of unrelated companies providing everything from catering to cleaning services to power distribution which benefit from government contracts. Apartment Worth More than Half a BillionWas Found at Putin’s Ex-Bodyguard Samename [sic] Maria Zholobova and Maria Borzunova Putin’s former bodyguard and now governor of Tula region, Alexei Dyumin, is registered as owning an apartment worth between 500-700 million rubles. Curiously, the apartment was purchased while Dyumin was serving in the Russian Ministry of Defence. . Samolet Development is Ready to IPO Irina Gruzinova, Ivan Vasiliev, Irina Skrynnik “Samolot Developments” is a property development firm building condos. The company was purchased by Invest AG. Samolot Developments managed to develop land and obtain permits where others could not given its close ties to the governor of Moscow region, Andrey Vorobev. His brother, Maksim, is one of Samolot’s founders. How Katherine Tikhonova’s Fund is Doing Alexei Navalny This report describes multi-million dollar contracts from state firms with the science and tech fund managed by Putin’s daughter. The fund also received “anonymous donations” totalling roughly half its budget, leading to 2015 revenues of 877 million rubles. Includes quotes of vague and nonsensical project descriptions used to justify payouts. Appendix B: Test Account

Examining the Google+ page for the myprimaryreger[@] account reveals a suspicious series of posts:

Figure 30 B: Google+ profile page for myprimaryreger[@]

Each of the Google+ profile posts by this user contain images which are routinely observed in legitimate security warning emails sent by Google. Once an image file is uploaded to a Google+ profile post, it is copied to Google servers and can be obtained using an associated perma-link.

We suspect that the purpose of these posts is to allow the operator to embed links to Google-specific images into their phishing emails in the hopes that linking to images hosted on Google servers will somehow thwart Gmail malicious email detection controls.

Appendix C: Indicators of Compromise Domain Names IP Addresses Email Addresses id833[.]ga  g.mail2017[@] id834[.]ga  annaablony[@] id9954[.]gq myprimaryreger[@] id4242[.]ga mail-google-login.blogspot[.]com com-securitysettingpage[.]tk Footnotes

1 “Colour Revolution” is a term that has been widely used to describe the pro-democracy protests and social movements that occurred in the early 2000s throughout the former Soviet Union.
2 Several individuals were targeted in both of the two distinct campaigns we analysed.
3 The Citizen Lab receives financial support for its research from a range of funders, including the Open Society Foundations. See
4 “Vedomosti” is a Russian language daily news service connected to The Moscow Times (and in which The Financial Times and Dow Jones had a stake until 2015, when Vedomosti and The Moscow Times were bought out by Russian business interests).
5 The six character base36 sequence space contains over 2.1 billion combinations. Checking each one with a one-second delay (so as not to abuse the web service) would take approximately 66 years.

By Adam Hulcoop, John Scott-Railton, Peter Tanchak, Matt Brooks, and Ron Deibert, CitizenLab

Categories: World News

Russian Official Says Manchester Terror Attack Is a ‘Lesson’ to British Police for Shunning Russia - Sun, 05/28/2017 - 00:41

Armed police respond after reports of an explosion at Manchester Arena during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, May 22, 2017. Peter Byrne / PA via AP

By The Moscow Times

One of Russia’s top politicians has called the Manchester terror attack a “lesson” to British special forces for refusing to cooperate with their Russian counterparts.

Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Defense Committee for Russia’s Federation Council, said that Russian intelligence agencies would aid any investigation into the attack.

“Unfortunately, what happened in Manchester was a lesson to the British intelligence services that without the help of other countries, their work will fail,” Ozerov told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“[It] is yet another signal that the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin should be heard across the world. He has called time and again for a united front against terrorism, complete with uniform rules and free from double-standards.”

At least 22 people died when an explosion took place in the Manchester Arena in north-west England on Monday night.

Police are treating the incident as a suspected terrorist attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “expressed his deep condolences” to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, as well as sympathy and support to the victims and their families. He also confirmed Russia’s “readiness to build anti-terrorist cooperation with our British partners, both on a bilateral basis and within the framework of broader international efforts.”

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine Begins Repression of Hungarians in Transcarpathia - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:30

Russian sites, Holos UA,TASS, published a story this week claiming that Hungarians living in the Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia were declaring autonomy and the Ukrainian Security Service was detaining and persecuting the activists involved. Russian site claimed that two community leaders erected signs in Hungarian greeting visitors and proclaiming the territory as the realm of the Hungarian language.

Website screenshot Golos UA

Website screenshot ТАСС

The Transcarpathia Society of Hungarian Culture and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine, the two largest organizations representing the Hungarian minority in Ukraine say they did not install the signs. They also pointed out that the signs are in poor, ungrammatical Hungarian.

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine issued an official statement denying they had anything to do with the signs and condemning their installation as “a provocation against the Hungarian community”. They call upon Ukrainian authorities to dismantle the signs and investigate the matter. claims that Ukrainian authorities are detaining ethnic Hungarians and conducting searches in their homes and offices, among those detained is the leader of a regional council Josef Szin. On the day of his alleged arrest, Szin was celebrating the historic anniversary of his town’s founding.


StopFake has debunked several stories about alleged regional minority autonomy demands. This latest version follows previous fakes about Polish, Gagauz and Romanian communities in Ukraine demanding autonomy.


Categories: World News

Putin’s Russian World Increasingly Informed by a Nazi Aesthetic, Moscow Specialist Says - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:27

Many commentators have discussed whether Vladimir Putin is a fascist in any serious sense, but most have failed to consider one area where fascism has clearly arisen in his Russia: in the aesthetics that increasingly inform Moscow’s public life and that have obvious parallels with those of the Third Reich, Innokenty Malkiel says.

“The legions of tomorrow marching through Red Square are a multitude of strong young men lacking any individual characteristics,” the art specialist says in a commentary for Open Russia. “The monochromatic, red-gold or black-white, ascetic but at the same time monumental” reflect values “from ancient Egypt to Stalin’s times,” but they are now being presented not as something from history but “as a model for the future” (

“Masculinity, militarism, monumentalism, and an appeal to antiquity are all things we have already seen and not so long ago – all of 70 or 80 years ago in Nazi Germany.” And some things we see in Russia today “shock by their similarity (is this accidental?) with the forms of Albert Speer or Arno Brecher of that period,” Malkiel says.

In all too many cases, he continues, the fascist aesthetic of Leni Riefenstahl is present and “behind it stands a corresponding ideological basis.”

“At first glance,” Malkiel continues, “the ideology of ‘the Eurasian Movement’ is unlike the ideology of the NSDAP. However, when one talks about ‘a Eurasian Union’ on the space of the former USSR, the question arises: by what means will ‘the reunification’ of these territories be carried out?”

And when one asks that question, he says, “we see there populism and expansionism and ‘special path’ and militarism and extremism – that is, most of familiar aspects of fascism.”

Fifteen years ago, Eduard Limonov, then a comrade in arms to Aleksandr Dugin, praised the Eurasianist for being in the Russian context “’the Kirill and Methodius of fascism.’” Today, Malkiel says, “the catechism of a member of the Eurasian Youth Movement” does not leave any doubt about that.

“You must be a master,” that document reads. “You were born to rule Eurasia. You are more than a man. Our goal is absolute power. We are the Union of Lords, of the new overlords of Eurasia. We will turn everything back. Such is the white testament of Eurasia.”

Such attitudes have spread beyond politics, Malkiel continues. They are now informing the work of many Russian artists who say these are simply a matter of “the Russian style,” an indication of just how far they have spread into the popular culture and how much that style now simply represents a recrudescence of “a fascist aesthetic” in Putin’s Russia.

That is clearly seen in the posters Russian artists prepared for the Sochi Olympiad, which like their Nazi predecessors featured “’true Aryans, blond and blue eyes in front of buildings whose neo-classical architecture completely coincides with the style of the Third Reich.” It is impossible,” Malkiel continues, “not to see corresponding parallels.”

(His article is especially useful because it features pictures of this new art.)

Some Russian artists argue that they have the right to use fascist symbols because the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany and thus can appropriate its art, but “in fact,” they are using it in anything but a critical way but rather to promote a similar aesthetic and a similar political agenda.

And “present-day Russian ‘stormtrooper artists’ and ideologues of extreme right views with each year see ever more in Putin and his regime ‘a common spirit.’” Dugin is among them. Almost a decade ago, he said that Putin was “returning to us the symbols of the Soviet period and respect for it” and the need to exclude all Western influence on Russia.

Already at that time, he continues, “Dugin sensed the side to which the Russian powers that be were drifting. The events which have followed” have only encouraged “the ultra-right ideologues and artists” to conclude that he was right.

“Today we see,” Melkiel says, “how nostalgia for the Soviet empire is being reborn along with the aesthetics of that time, the aesthetics of Stalinism which in many of their manifestations are almost indistinguishable from the aesthetics of Nazism.” Indeed, it is “more correct to say that today we see their new birth in combination with each other.”

This trend, he suggests, is leading to “the complete political disorientation of the population” and thus making the rise of “ultra-right nationalism and the worldwide trend toward population” more likely and more dangerous.

“To let the fascist genie out of the bottle is easy, but to put it back is difficult,” the commentator says. “The last time this required tens of millions of lives. Given the existence of nuclear weapons, how many more might be required now?” And could it be that this aesthetic may lead some Russians to demand a fuehrer who would go even further than Putin has?

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Proposed Legislation Would Ban Anonymous Messenger Services in Russia - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:10

By Codastory

A proposed law in Russia would block mobile messenger services which allow users to register anonymously, reported Meduza. The law, if passed, would force messenger apps to verify users through their phone numbers and to also send out compulsory text messages from government agencies on request. This spring the Russian government already banned some messaging services like Zello, Line, Blackberry Messenger and Vchat for not registering with the government’s regulatory body.

The legislation, introduced by deputies from the two largest parties in Duma, the Russian Parliament, is the latest in a series of new restrictions on internet freedom in Russia. In April, parliament deputy Vitaly Milonov introduced a law that would require all Russian internet users to register with their passports in order to access social media and earlier in March a new amendment proposed requiring mobile service providers to collect personal identification information for each active phone number.

These laws will make it easier for the government to control social media, which is already closely monitored by the authorities. The Russian government is currently using legislation meant to prevent extremism and incitement of hatred to prosecute internet users for posts critical of the government. The array of new proposals to control the internet comes at a time when the opposition is organizing nation-wide protests against corruption in President Vladimir Putin’s government.

By Codastory

Photo: Izvestia / Mikhail Tereshchenko

Categories: World News

Fake: Historian Calls for Cutting All Ties with Family in Russia - Wed, 05/24/2017 - 20:23

Scores of Russian media featured a story this week claiming that the director of Ukraine’s National Memory Institute Volodymyr Viatrovych called on Ukrainians to sever all ties with their Russian relatives.

Website screenshot

Speaking to StopFake, Viatrovych said he had never urged breaking off family links and had only wanted to make the point that Russia will always use any means to achieve its goals.

Russian media twisted and misrepresented Viatrovych’s Facebook post from May 21 in which he wrote the following: Everything that distances us from Russia is beneficial to Ukraine. Everything that maintains a connection between our countries (economy, language, history, culture, traditions and even family ties) will be used against us., Moskovsky Komsomolets, Vzglyad,, Channel 5, Politnavigator, Trud, Novostnoe Agentstvo Kharkov all ran various versions of this fake story as did Ukrainian based sites RIA Novosti Ukraina, Vesti,, Ukrainski Novyny,Vector news, Fraza,Mignews and others.



Viatrovych stressed that Russian media disseminated something that he did not say. “The Russian Federation is not at all squeamish about using cultural, political, historical and family ties between Ukraine and Russia for its goals. This does not mean that we should cut all family ties; it means that we need to understand who we are dealing with” Viatrovych said.

He also pointed out that despite the fact that he had debunked the fake statement attributed to him, people continued commenting on the fake on social media, completely disregarding the truth.

Categories: World News

Putin’s Anti-Ukrainian Propaganda Playing Role State Anti-Semitism Did in Soviet Times, Ikhlov Says - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 18:16

By Paul Goble, Window on Russia

Vladimir Putin’s “rabid” anti-Ukrainian propaganda resembles and is intended to have a similar outcome to Soviet state anti-Semitism, or “anti-Zionism” as it was called, Yevgeny Ikhlov says. And like the earlier one, Putin’s current one is about “killing off of another culture” and absorbing its bearers into a Moscow-approved effort.

The Russian commentator points out that “’anti-Zionism’ had many goals, but one of them was directed at the Jews and was designed to destroy their sense of identity. Jews were intended to stop feeling part of the Jewish people … and instead become ‘Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality,’ an ethnic minority” (

“The Soviet powers very much needed the Jews as experts, qualified workers in various spheres, and as promoters of Russification, in particular in Ukraine, Belarus, in the Baltics, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia,” Ikhlov says. “But for this, Jews had to be completely denationalized” and thus serve “the anti-Semitic regime.”

Some Soviet Jews were frightened into this by talk about revanchism in Germany or the prospects that the regime would not defend them against “popular anti-Semitism,” while others were attracted to this position by “the carrot” of being given at least “a quota-based integration into the establishment.”

In a similar way, Ikhlov says, “Soviet power very much needed the Ukrainians, an irreplaceable part of the apparatus.” But with the rise of Stalin, Soviet multi-national messianism was replaced by “an empire of a Bolshevik ‘khalifate,’” in which any nationalism was to be swallowed up by “the more customary model of Third Rome (neo-Byzantine) Muscovite rule.”

That led Stalin to declare “a real war against Ukraine,” first with the destruction of the Ukrainian peasantry by the terror famine in 1932-33 and then with the destruction of the Ukrainian intellectual elite in a series of fabricated political trials.

Over time, Ikhlov says, “the more people from the eastern oblasts of Ukraine, above all from Dneprpetrovsk, were recruited into the party apparatus, primarily into the ideological sector, the more efforts were undertaken for the russification of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, [Ukrainian] culture, and [Ukrainian] education.”

In the 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet power, the Russian political elite was divided between those who were prepared to accept the existence of a separate and distinct Ukrainian nation and those who simply wanted to continue as they had, working to support the integration of Ukrainians into a newly defined “Russian world.”

“But from the start of 2014,” Ikhlov says, “anti-Ukrainianism became just the same consensus between the powers and the ‘left-nationalist’ opposition as anti-Semitism united in the 1970s and 1980s the [Soviet] authorities and the systemic ‘Russian nationalist’ opposition.” In short, “great power hysteria broke out over Ukraine 45 years later than over ‘Zionism.’”

The “nightmare” years of Soviet attacks on Jews were part of his youth, Ikhlov says, and he recalled them in 2014 when people in Moscow recognized that the Maidan wasn’t going to fail. Since that time, he continues, he has often felt “the paradoxical” nature of the propaganda “directed at Jews and at Ukrainians.”

Putin’s current and ongoing efforts directed at “’the internal colonization of Ukraine’ are primarily [another] effort of its ‘culturecide’ and the liquidation of independence (democracy above all) and the transformation of Ukrainians into ‘Moskaly,’” a term that he points out initially meant a soldier in Russian imperial service rather than an ethnic Russian.

By Paul Goble, Window on Russia

Categories: World News

StopFakeNews #132 [ENG] with Nina Jankowicz - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 17:08

The latest edition of StopFake News with Nina Jankowicz. This week we look at how the Russian disinformation machine continues to churn out lies about the new visa free agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, we debunk fake claims about Ukraine’s shrinking gold reserves and set the record straight about what Ukraine’s President really thinks about the Donbas area.

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Monitor. May 18, 2017 - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 00:23

How to Defend Allied Democracies against Hostile Influence and Disinformation Operations

Since Monday 15th until Friday, the STRATCOM SUMMIT organized by thy European Values think-tank is under way in Prague at the Czech Ministry of Interior. Altogether 330 participants are representing 29 countries over five days.

On Thursday, the key-note speech was given by the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who stated that the EEAS East STRATCOM team “needs clear support from the High Representative Federica Mogherini.” He also highlighted that the unit should have its own budget and sufficient personal capacities.

Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek, also a key-note speaker, warned that we cannot give up fighting black propaganda, otherwise we would give up on freedom and democracy.

The STRATCOM SUMMIT aims to contribute to creating and improving existing policies to counter disinformation campaigns by bringing together experts from European countries and the USA and providing a platform for discussion and policy development.


Policy shift overview: How the Czech Republic became one of the European leaders in countering Russian disinformation

Over the last year, the Czech Republic has undergone a major policy shift on the topic of Russian disinformation. Many questions have been raised on how it has happened and what it practically means. This paper aims to bring a simplified overview of what has happened in this field in the Czech context since 2016. This Kremlin Watch Report is available in PDF.

A framework guide to tools for countering hostile foreign electoral interference

This brief Report aims to enumerate the tools that are nowadays used for hostile electoral interference and how they can be countered. It consists of 35 measures in 15 steps for enhancing the resilience of the democratic electoral process. The report by our Kremlin Watch Program is available in PDF.

Overview of countermeasures by the EU28 to the Kremlin’s subversion operations

How do the EU28 perceive and react to the threat of hostile influence and disinformation operations by the Russian Federation and its proxies? What are the recent trends and setbacks of political representations, state administrations, intelligence services and the non-governmental sector? Kremlin Watch Report available in PDF.

What are the 4 things Western democracies need to understand in order to stop hostile Kremlin meddling?

  • Putin’s regime wants to call itself a superpower and to be respected as such
  • Moscow is still dangerous
  • Disinformation operations are a real and urgent threat to democracies worldwide
  • We need to be resolute in defending our own countries

Read more in the article by Jakub Janda published by Observer.

Putin’s Champion Award

Our Expert Jury consisting of Jessikka Aro, Peter Kreko, Nerijus Maliukevičius, Anton Shekhovtsov, John Schindler and Michael Weiss regularly votes on the dangerousness of several candidates you can nominate via e-mail or Twitter.

The 10th Putin’s Champion Award Recipient is:

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher

For allegedly meeting a former Russian intelligence officer to discuss a high-profile Russian money laundering case.

Image Source: Ak169808 – Own work, Public Domain

The Expert Jury ranked his Putin-supportive job with


(out of 5) mark.

The rating signals how much the recipient contributed to the interest of the Putin’s aggressive regime. It is calculated as an average of ratings assessed by the Expert Jury of this Award.

You can find more details about the award and the former recipients here.

Weekly Update on the Kremlin Disinformation Efforts Romanian MEP: Boost the budget for combatting Russian disinformation

The EEAS East STRATCOM team tasked with countering disinformation campaigns currently operates with 10 employees and the budget of 200,000€. Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureşan (European People’s Party) proposed that the EU should invest €3 million next year for the project consisting of training specialised staff in the European Commission’s representations in Eastern Neighbourhood to monitor social networks and the media in order to combat disinformation.

Permanent congressional credentials for Sputnik declined

The Congressional Periodical Press Gallery committee denied Sputnik a permanent congressional press pass, which allows greater access to Capitol Hill. The Senate Periodical Press Gallery Director Justin Wilson stated that no state-sponsored news outlets are members of the gallery. According to the rules, the members must not “act as an agent for, or be employed by the Federal, or any State, local or foreign government or representatives thereof.”

Russian internet services banned in Ukraine

Based on a decree signed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the social networks and other Russian web businesses like Yandex, Vkontakte or Odnoklassnikiare are going to be banned in Ukraine. The decree is a part of new sanctions against the Russian Federation for the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Focus: Emmanuel Macron hit by cyber-attacks

The new President of France was a victim of cyber-attacks during campaigning between the two electoral rounds. As a result of a computer hack, emails, contracts and accounting documents have been published on Pastebin and later also at the American 4Chan site and Wikileaks. According to the Macron campaign’s statement, some of the documents published were fake.

Based on public evidence, it is not possible to say who was the orchestrator of the attack. However, the NSA director Michael Rogers suggested during a Congress hearing that the agency pinned at least some electoral interference on Moscow.

The leaks did not practically influence the results of the election. The digital team of Mr Macron got praised for being more vigilant in defending their cybersecurity, but also for launching a counter-offensive against the hackers. Mounir Mahjoubi describes the details of the counter-actions in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, Edward Lucas warns in his article for CEPA that we should not cheer just yet. According to him, the hacks “met another Kremlin objective – spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the Western political system.”

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

The new political campaigning; by D. Tambini, S. Labo, E. Goodman, M. Moore published by the LSE Media Policy Project

Full study here.

Increasing popularity and influence of social media have shaped our world in many ways in recent years and political campaigning is a field that has been affected a lot by this. Election communication in developed democratic countries has been subjected to regulation for a long time now, however, social media have changed the landscape significantly. This poses challenges for established institutions and principles of regulations for which they were not prepared. Whereas previously, traditional media played the most important role in political campaigning, social media have enabled the campaigners to target potential voters more directly and efficiently.

While this change has many positive consequences, it has many negative ones as well. Tech companies like Facebook or Twitter are not sufficiently regulated and do not operate under the same ethical standards as traditional media. Lack of transparency and supervision over campaign spending, spreading of fake news or so-called echo chambers are just a few examples of the currently debated negative impacts of social media on political campaigning. Therefore, the new environment needs new rules which would correspond with the age of social media.

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

Why do we have to perceive Russian intelligence services differently than we are used to in Europe? They are engaged in far more than collecting information. According to Mark Galeotti, “they advocate policies and carry out active measures routinely.” Read more in his article published by the NATO Review magazine.

If you have a few minutes to spare, watch the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on US Cyber Command. Senator Martin Heinrich questioned NSA Director Michael Rogers about Russian cyber interference techniques including spreading disinformation.

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

Russia’s National Guard to Monitor Social Networks - Sun, 05/21/2017 - 23:57

Maxim Marmur / AP

Russia’s National Guard is planning to train IT experts and specialists to monitor social networks, the Interfax news agency reported Friday, citing first deputy commander of the National Guard Sergei Melikov.

“We’re looking at areas of work we would like to develop” Melikov told reporters. “Mainly social media monitoring.”

Monitoring social networks would help the law enforcement agency to prevent attacks against the national guard like the one in the Republic of Chechnya in late March this year.

Six soldiers were killed and three were injured during an overnight raid on Stanitsa Naurskaya, a military town in the north of Chechnya. A group of insurgents attempted to enter Stanitsa Naurskaya. Russian forces effectively countered the offensive, but six soldiers died during the battle.

“We realize that insurgents were coordinated remotely, including via social networks,” Melikov was quoted by Interfax as saying Friday. If National Guard had intercepted their communication, the attack could have been prevented, he added.

In a report released in February this year, Agora international human rights group revealed that the situation with internet freedom in Russia has been worsening in recent years.

Since the beginning of 2015, at least 47 people have been imprisoned for their statements online. Many more saw their websites and blogs classified as extremist or blocked by the government. Others received threats or were subjected to physical violence after expressing their views online. 

The state’s attitude toward the internet has become increasingly hostile, the report said: “The Internet is perceived as a battleground by Russian authorities.”

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Putin Latest ‘Hybrid’ Move Against Russia’s Opposition Media - Sun, 05/21/2017 - 23:47

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin had a meeting with the leaders of some of Russia’s most prominent editors of the opposition media, a session that has sparked controversy because the participants were required to agree not to discuss that had transpired behind closed doors.

Dmitry Muratov, the chief editor of Novaya gazeta and one of those who took part, reported on this arrangement in an interview on Dozhd television on Wednesday. And his acknowledgement sparked a firestorm (

Civitas editor Rimma Polyak denounced the willingness of opposition journalists to take part in such a meeting where they were required to give a non-disclosure agreement. “Would editors in chief in a democratic country attend a closed meeting with a president?” she asked and suggested Putin was pursuing a kind of “hybrid” campaign against opposition outlets.

“It is difficult to imagine a closed meeting of the US president with the editors of The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and so on.” But clearly, she argued, opposition editors in Russia assume that everything is “relative” and that they thus should be willing to do this under Putin. After all, they’ve had 17 years’ experience.

Other journalists, including Dmitry Chorny, an editor of Forum-MSK and a member of the Union of Journalists of Moscow, were if anything even more critical, suggesting that what Putin has done is to blur the line between official and opposition journalism and weaken the latter in the eyes of the population (

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Fake: Polish Students Attack Ukrainian Schoolgirl - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 15:34

Many Ukrainian and Russian sites featured a story this week about a Ukrainian schoolgirl who was allegedly attacked and beaten by fellow students in the Polish port city of Gdansk. Many publications claimed the girl was also verbally insulted and called a Banderite whore, referring to the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. The source for this fake was a video posted to Facebook by a young woman called Marika Pytlewska.

In her post Pytlewska says she is posting the video to raise awareness about youth violence and to support the assaulted girl. She never mentions the girl’s nationality, or anyone’s nationality for that matter.

Ukrainian television station ZIK carried this fake story on their website as did the UNIAN press agency, the newspaper Vesti, the Russian sites Federal Press, Strana, Vedomosti, and many others also disseminated this fake.

Website screenshot ZIK

Website screenshot Vesti

Many Ukrainian sites, such as ZIK, UNIAN and Hlavkom changed their stories when they learned that the original story was a fake.

A high school girl was indeed assaulted by her classmates in Gdansk, however she was not Ukrainian. The fight was reported in Polish media,  but none of the stories claim that the victim of the attack was Ukrainian. The girls involved in the fight are known to the Polish police, this is the third such fight they were involved in.

Website screenshot

Website screenshot Rzeczpospolita (

Several Polish journalists pointed out that Russian media claims that the victim of the attack was Ukrainian was a fake (Michal MarekPawel Bobolowicz, Marek Sierant) writing that such disinformation is dangerous and damages Ukrainian Polish relations.

According to Polish news reports, the teenagers who attacked their fellow student were detained by the authorities and will be charged with assault.

Categories: World News

Fake: Poroshenko Advocates Cutting off Donbas and Building a Wall - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 08:30

RIA Novosti Ukraina published an article recently claiming that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was advocating cutting off the Donbas area of Ukraine and building a wall to separate it from Ukraine. Poroshenko allegedly expressed this view during a May 14 press conference.

Website screenshot RIA Novosti Ukraina

What the Ukrainian President in fact said, was quite the opposite. Poroshenko defended the Minsk peace agreement; it is this far from perfect agreement which allowed Ukraine to stop Russia from further incursion into Ukraine. Ukraine was able to introduce sanctions against Russia because of the Minsk agreement and today Russia is paying a price for its war in Ukraine, Poroshenko said, although the price was not an adequate one.

Poroshenko reiterated that there are sanctions in place against Russia for non-compliance with the Minsk agreements.

“We can‘t achieve peace because Putin has no intentions of fulfilling the Minsk accords. But these accords allow us to show who is guilty…. Within the framework of international law, they will force Russia to pay a price for their violation” Poroshenko said.

“There is an offer to cut off these lands, give them to Putin, build a wall, forget about the Donbas, because we will never get it back  … These are not propositions that I could ever consider”  said Ukraine’s President.

A snippet of a phrase pulled out of context and presented according to the Kremlin line is part and parcel the Russian propaganda machine’s agenda. This fake story is a perfect example of that fine-tuned method.



Categories: World News

Fake: EU Can End Visa Free Travel for Ukrainians because of Donbas War - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 20:05

Last week RT’s Russian language site ran a story claiming that the European Union can rescind visa free travel for Ukraine at any moment, if it feels like it. Among the possible reasons for the EU ending visa free travel, which has yet to officially begin in mid-June, RT names corruption, security concerns, particularly with regard to the war in eastern Ukraine and illegal migration, especially what RT calls ‘the ignorance of Ukrainians about border crossing rules”.

Website screenshot RT

Website screenshot RT

StopFake inquired whether it was possible for the EU to end visa free travel for Ukrainians and if so, under what conditions.

David Stulik, the EU Delegation to Ukraine press officer told us that as the suspension of visas for Ukrainians has just been approved and the visa free regime has not yet entered into force, speculating about its suspension is absolutely senseless.

The European Union will monitor Ukraine’s implementation of reforms required for the visa free agreement; battling corruption and strengthening anti-corruption institutions is just one aspect of those reforms. Ukraine’s progress will be monitored for seven years and reviewed annually.

Regarding security and the war in eastern Ukraine, these issues were never part of the negotiations between the EU and Ukraine and they cannot be a reason for ending visa free travel, David Stulik said.

As far as illegal migration is concerned, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian media have conducted a rather comprehensive campaign about EU visa free travel, informing Ukrainians that working visas are not part of the package, only 90 day tourist visas.

It is absurd to predict the doom of the new visa free travel system before it has even gone into effect. Even if the migration situation changed dramatically, visa free travel could be stopped only after a comprehensive review by the European Commission, the European Council and the EU Parliament.

The European Union has visa free arrangements with several countries and those agreements have never been rescinded for any reason.

Categories: World News

The activity of pro-Russian extremist groups in Central-Eastern Europe - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 19:51

Source: Political Capital

About the project

Political Capital documented the conducted research on Russian actors and hate groups in Central Europe and raised awareness of this pernicious influence among the wider public throughout 2016-2017 within the project supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Together with partners from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, as well as Austria, Political Capital worked to produce comprehensive studies on the Russian influence and impact on the far-right in these countries. The studies provide a precise picture of the scope of the problem, as well as formulate recommendations.

Key findings

Political Capital’s recent research covering Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland is the first research project that focuses mainly on the violent ramifications of Russia’s regional influence. The country case-studies describe how the Kremlin’s strategy supports fringe, extremist or paramilitary organisations in order to undermine bilateral ties with Ukraine and the United States, and destabilise the region after 2014.

The research highlights that these organisations are posing a national security threat throughout the region by keeping their secessionist, revisionist, and ultranationalist cross-country historical grievances dating back to World War Two alive. Bargaining with the territorial disintegration of states and supporting secessionist movements is not something new in the Kremlin’s playbook: Russia has been involved in similar activities all over the Western world, assisting actors ranging from the Italian Lega Nord to the Californian secessionist movement.

The five case-studies and the comparative regional study are all prepared with the involvement of local experts and investigative journalists in the respective countries. We are grateful to the authors and institutions listed below.

Authors and contributors Austria
  • Fabian Schmid – investigative journalist,
  • Dr. Bernhard Weidinger – analyst, Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW)
Czech Republic
  • Jakub Janda – Head of Kremlin Watch Program and Deputy Director, European Values Think Tank
  • Petra Vejvodová PhD. – Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science – Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno
  • Veronika Víchová – analyst, European Values Think Tank
  • András Dezső and Szabolcs Panyi – investigative journalists,
  • Lóránt Győri – geopolitical analyst, Political Capital
  • Attila Juhász – director, Political Capital
  • Péter Krekó PhD. – senior affiliate at Political Capital Institute, Visiting Professor at Indiana University, and Assistant Professor at the Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences
  • Edit Zgut – foreign policy analyst, Political Capital
  • Michal Kacewicz – investigative journalist,
  • Łukasz Wenerski – analyst and project manager of European Programme, Institute for Public Affairs (ISP)
  • Radovan Bránik – independent security expert and blogger
  • Grigorij Mesežnikov PhD. – president, Institute of Public Affairs (IVO)
  • Daniel Milo JUDr. – senior Research Fellow, and head of Strategic Communication Programme at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute
List of publications Summary reports
  • Hassgrüsse aus Russland – Die Aktivität prorussischer extremistischer Hassgruppen in Mittelosteuropa – DE (download as PDF)
  • Nenávistné pozdravy z Ruska – činnost proruských extremistických skupin ve střední a východní Evropě – CZ (download as PDF)
  • From Russia with hate – The activity of pro-Russian extremist hate groups in Central-Eastern Europe – EN (download as PDF)
  • Oroszországból gyűlölettel – az oroszbarát szélsőséges csoportok aktivitása Közép-Kelet-Európában – HU (download as PDF)
  • Pozdrowienia z Rosji – działalność prorosyjskich ekstremistycznych grup szerzących nienawiść w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej – PL (download as PDF)
  • Z Ruska s nenávisťou – činnosť pro-ruských extrémistických skupín  v strednej a východnej Európe – SK (download as PDF)
Country reports
  • Austria: Russian connections of the Austrian Far-Right (download as PDF)
  • Czech Republic: The Russian connections of far-right and paramilitary organizations in the Czech Republic (download as PDF)
  • Hungary: “The Truth Today Is What Putin Says It Is” (download as PDF)
  • Poland: Russian soft power in Poland – The Kremlin and pro-Russian organizations (download as PDF)
  • Slovakia: Hatred, violence and comprehensive military training – The violent radicalisation and Kremlin connections of Slovak paramilitary, extremist and neo-Nazi groups (download as PDF)

Source: Political Capital

Categories: World News

StopFakeNews #131 [ENG] with Cynthia Sularz - Mon, 05/15/2017 - 15:11

The latest edition of StopFake News with Cynthia Sularz. This week we look at how the Russian disinformation machine deals with two of its favorite topics, the Eurovision song contest and EU visa free travel for Ukrainians, and more.

Categories: World News

The ‘Russophobia’ Weapon - Wed, 05/10/2017 - 13:45

(cartoon by Sergei Elkin, RFE/RL)

By Brian Whitmore, RFE/RL

Sergei Lavrov sees “Russophobia” everywhere.

Allegations that Moscow is supplying arms to the Taliban are “Russophobic.”

Accusations that Russia is interfering in Western elections are “Russophobic.”

And claims that the Kremlin is trying to undermine the European Union are, you guessed it, “Russophobic.”

And it isn’t just Lavrov.

Federation Council deputy Aleksei Pushkov, the former chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has said “Russophobia” has become the official policy of the Baltic states and Ukraine.

Russian state television has alleged that the corruption allegations against former FIFA head Sepp Blatter resulted from American “Russophobia.”

And Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Lithuania of “hysterical Russophobia.”

This list can go on and on, but, hey, you get the point.

In fact, from 2013 to 2105, references to Russophobia in the Russian media tripled, according to a survey last year by journalist Fabrice Deprez.

And all this “Russophobia-mania” can’t help but get one wondering: Where did this word come from? What are its origins? When was it first deployed? And to what ends? And how has it evolved?

And the answer is actually pretty interesting — and quite revealing.

Coined by a 19th-century Slavophile poet, revived and popularized by a Soviet-era dissident nationalist, the term has since morphed into a powerful weapon in the current Kremlin’s rhetorical arsenal — deployed mainly to obscure criticism of Vladimir Putin’s regime by smearing, stigmatizing, and discrediting the messenger.

More subtly, it is also used to underscore a sense of Russian exceptionalism, suggesting, in effect, that Russia not only has a distinctive culture, but one that is under constant attack.

“Russophobia helps Moscow to reinforce its ‘besieged fortress’ and ‘humiliated’ image,” Givi Gigitashvili of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs writes.

Indeed, in a 2013 article, the Russian historian Oleg Nemensky compared contemporary “Russophobia” to anti-Semitism and argued that it constituted a “complete ideology.”

Russophobia And Imperialism

The grandfather of the term Russophobia was the 19th-century Slavophile poet and diplomat Fyodor Tyutchev, who is most famous for the phrase “Russia cannot be understood only with the mind.”

More than a poet and a diplomat, Tyutchev was also something of an ideologist and was was influential in the courts of Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II.

He was deeply concerned with Slavic unity and with the Russian Empire upholding traditional Christian and monarchist values at a time of rapid political change in Europe.

Tyutchev also collaborated closely with the Third Department of the Tsar’s Office, effectively the secret police of the time, lobbied for the creation of a Russian counterpropaganda operation in Europe, and was named chairman of the Foreign Censorship Committee in 1858.

It was in a letter to his sister in September 1867 — a letter that was, interestingly, originally written in French — that Tyutchev complained about a “modern phenomenon that becomes increasingly pathological — the Russophobia of some Russian people, who are highly respected by the way.”

Tyutchev coined the term Russophobia at a time when, in the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848, liberals and nationalists were challenging Europe’s imperial monarchies and political change was in the air.

It was also a time when Poland’s struggle for independence from the Russian Empire was becoming increasingly assertive, leading Tyutchev to call the Poles “the Judas of the Slavs.”

In a 2015 article, Aleksandr Shirinyants and Anna Myrikova wrote that for Tyutchev, Russophobia was closely linked to “the Polish element” — independence-minded Poles and the Russian liberals who supported their aspirations.

Likewise, Jolanta Darczewska and Piotr Zochowski of the Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies, wrote that the term “was intended to support the Russian imperial and civilizational discourse of the time,” adding that “Tyutchev made a clear link between Russophobia and ‘the Polish question’ and the struggle of the Polish people against the empire.”

Russophobia And Anti-Semitism

While Tyutchev may have been the first to coin the term Russophobia, it didn’t really take hold in the Russian lexicon. During the Soviet period, the it largely disappeared from public discourse, although it did appear in some Stalin-era dictionaries.

The term resurfaced, however, in the 1980s, and took on a distinctive anti-Semitic character when the renowned mathematician and nationalist dissident Igor Shafarevich published a lengthy samizdat essay titled Russophobia.

Essentially a polemic against pro-Western dissidents, Shafarevich accused Jewish intellectuals in the Soviet Union of being motivated by a hatred of Russia.

Drawing on the work of French historian Augustin Cochin, Shafarevich argued that a “small nation” can often destroy a “large nation” that hosts it, singling out the Soviet Union’s Jewish population.

In the essay, which was later turned into a book, Shafarevich assailed “Jews who are conducting a policy of Russophobia.”

“Hatred for one nation,” he wrote, “is usually associated with a heightened sense of one’s belonging to another. Doesn’t this make it likely that our authors are under the influence of some sort of powerful force rooted in their national feelings?”

Shafarevich’s essay and book were highly controversial and resulted in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences asking for his resignation as a foreign associate.

But it turned Shafarevich, who died in February, into a hero among the extreme Russian nationalists who were asserting themselves as Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika took hold.

It also firmly embedded the term Russophobia in the modern Russian lexicon, where it has since remained.

Russophobia And Putinism

So Russophobia has been an allegation levied against independence-minded Poles in the late 19th century and pro-Western dissidents in the late 20th century.

But it was Putin’s regime that essentially weaponized the Russophobia smear in the early 21st century.

The Kremlin has used the term to stigmatize criticism of Russia’s human rights record, to criticize investigations into Russian money laundering, and to argue against the enlargement of NATO and the European Union.

Moscow has attempted to portray valid critiques of things Russia’s rulers are doing — things that many reasonable people can easily find objectionable — as chauvinistic assaults on all Russians.

But as Jolanta Darczewska and Piotr Zochowski note, the Kremlin’s use of the Russophobia weapon illustrates “the rivalry of two cultural and civilizational models, as well as the conflict between two systems of values, those of the East and those of the West.”

“The fight against Russophobia,” they add, “justified this schematic division of the world; and, by stigmatizing those individuals and states which were deemed ‘ideologically alien,’ it mobilized Russian society in the face of these alleged threats.”

But in doing so, Moscow-based journalist James Kovpak argues, Putin’s Kremlin also inadvertently exposed its deep fear of its own people – its own Russophobia.

“What is more Russophobic?” Kovpak asks. “To say that the Russian government doesn’t treat its people with the dignity they deserve, or, like the so-called patriots, insisting that Russians cannot possibly achieve a certain minimum in terms of human rights and dignity, that they cannot handle the same level of freedom that the ‘patriots’ themselves declare meaningless or illusory anyway?

“What clearer example of ‘Russophobia’ can there be than claiming that Russians are backward savages who cannot possibly maintain a society of democratic norms, pluralism in political discourse, and rule of law?”

By Brian Whitmore, RFE/RL

Categories: World News