In Sweden, resilience is key to combatting disinformation

StopFake.org - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 13:07

By EU vs Disinfo

Since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 – an operation where disinformation, deception and confusion played a major role – Swedish authorities have stepped up their work to protect Sweden from similar hostile influence operations. The government has adopted a new security strategy, Sweden’s Security Service (Säpo) have briefed all political parties on the issue and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) have gathered representatives of mass media and social media for a dialogue on cyber security and the problem of hostile disinformation. The MSB has also set up a special task force focusing on protecting the integrity of the upcoming national election in September and around 9000 actors within the national system for crisis management have been briefed on the challenge.

In our database, pro-Kremlin narratives about Sweden paint the picture of a society on the brink of civil war due to migration, and of a society that is immoral and that has willingly become ‘Islamised’. Some particularly interesting examples deserve a closer look.

Curious Cases Involving Russian State Media in Sweden

Contrary to some other parts of the world, Russian state run channel Sputnik didn’t survive long in Sweden. After less than a year, Sputnik in Sweden – and in fact in all Nordic countries – shut down.

But the interest in Sweden from Russian state controlled channels did not stop there. One of the main narratives exploited by pro-Kremlin disinformation about Sweden is the issue of migration. Following the logic of exploiting already existing divisions in society this is used in order to describe Sweden as unstable and to create fear.

When Russian state-controlled TV station NTV went to Rinkeby in 2017, a suburb of Stockholm which had seen social unrest at the time, it seems they wanted to see some action. As reported by both Swedish and Danish media, local teenagers were approached by the Russian TV crew and offered money ‘to do some action in front of the camera’. As the TV crew had missed the ‘real’ action a couple of days earlier, they allegedly wanted some footage to match their reporting. A few days later, NTV broadcast a report from the suburb titled “Migrants have turned Stockholm suburb into a zone of extreme danger“, where the reason for the unrest was misrepresented as having started with an investigation of rape, while in fact the police was investigating a drug related crime.

Another incident, involving the same channel, took place on the Swedish island of Gotland in 2016. The reportage covered NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg’s statement that Russia rehearsed nuclear bombing against Sweden, but also claimed that NATO was threatening Russia through exercises in the Baltic countries and that Gotland had been re-militarized in the context of an aggressive Russia.

To illustrate these claims, NTV went to the County Administrative Board and filmed a civil servant pointing to different locations on a map, while the speaker was claiming that Gotland had been at the centre of all the wars of the 20th century. In fact, the civil servant had been asked by the TV crew to point out the more than 100 nature reserves on the island. There was no mention of war or of the military at all during the discussion.

A similar case was noticed by journalists in Denmark, where NTV misrepresented statements by Danish politicians, again to portray Denmark as Russophobic and warmongering, as we have previously covered. We have also reported on another similar case in France, involving another Russian state TV channel.

Curious Cases Involving Fake Letters in Sweden

Sweden has also seen its fair share of fake letters, presented as if they had been sent by Swedish politicians and high profile persons. All the letters were quite quickly proven fake – both by their poor command of Swedish but also by the targeted persons publicly debunking them.

On 21 February 2015, a letter that looked like it had been signed by Swedish Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist appeared on social media via a website for local German news. The letter, sent to Magnus Ingesson, CEO of BAE Systems Bofors AB, concerned the sale of weapons to Ukraine, and the Minister supposedly congratulated the company on a shady weapons sale to Ukraine. In fact, the letter was traced to have originated in St Petersburg.

On 2 September 2015, a letter signed by Tora Holst, head of the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm, was posted to CNN’s website where readers can upload their own stories and later broadcast on Russian state television and pro-Kremlin media. The letter purported to concern an attempt to quash prosecution of a Swedish citizen for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

A third letter, uploaded on an online site where anyone can publish articles by a one-time anonymous user, purported to be from Nada al-Qahtani, an alleged female ISIS leader. The letter was addressed to the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, and asked Sweden for support in the name of feminism to send weapons to ISIS via Turkey. The letter was spread in Russian online channels, translated into Russian.

Building Resilience

As a further step towards building resilience, the MSB has also published a Handbook for Communicators, meant as a tool for dealing with disinformation. It is available for free on the website of MSB (link for an English version will follow shortly). But the most important thing in order to create resilience is to build awareness about the threat of hostile foreign influence operations and to improve the capacity for critical thinking among the population, according to MSB.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Russian influence in Montenegro: disinformation, threats and attempted regime change

StopFake.org - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 13:04

By EU vs Disinfo

A recent debate about Montenegro’s NATO membership has put the spotlight on this Western Balkan country. But it is not the first time that it has been at the centre of political debate and international attention. A recent study by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) focuses on the interest of the Kremlin in Montenegro, and on how several well-known influence tactics, among them disinformation, have been applied by Russia during the last couple of years in an attempt to gain influence in the country.

The report concludes that, despite the fact that Russian efforts to hinder Montenegro’s NATO accession ultimately failed, the attentions continue with a new strategy, specifically; “stoking political and ethnic divisions to destabilize Montenegro and preclude further Western integration.”

To this end, disinformation about NATO has been spread by Russian officials, narratives familiar to those regularly following Russian disinformation, namely describing Montenegro joining NATO as a provocation (a word often used in Russian disinformation narratives) against Russia as well as responding with threatening remarks, also something we have seen before.

With regard to Russian interference in Montenegro’s domestic decision-making, the study also reports how Russian agents are currently being tried in Montenegro by a Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime for their involvement in an attempted coup d’état in 2016. Both Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) and its Federal Security Service (FSB) are thought to have been behind the planning. The goal would have been to instigate political violence with the hope of triggering nationwide protests and toppling the government led by Milo Djukanovic. Montenegrin authorities, however, successfully prevented the coup attempt.

Montenegro is not the only country in the region where Russian influence techniques have recently been put under the spotlight. Recently, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats on the accusation of stirring up popular protests in order to stop the conclusion of a long awaited deal between Greece and its neighbour The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the official name of the latter country. If the Western Balkan country changes its name in agreement with Greece to the Republic of North Macedonia, this facilitates a path towards both EU and NATO membership.

Read the full study by FPRI.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Military Intelligence, fake online personas, fake local news: How Russia targeted USelections

StopFake.org - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 12:23

By EU vs Disinfo

On Friday 13 July, the US Justice Department took a further step in their investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 US Presidential election by indicting 12 Russian officials. Previously, 13 Russian citizens as well as the Internet Research AgencyConcord Management and Concord Catering had been charged with interfering with the US political system.

The first indictment focused on the actions conducted by the above mentioned St Petersburg “troll factory” and thereby mainly found that the goal of the operation was to sow discord in the political system, and address divisive issues via groups and pages falsely claiming to represent US activists. The most recent indictment shows how the simultaneous hacking of data took place and how Russian military intelligence officers created false online personas and websites in order to stage the release of stolen election-related documents, falsely claiming their activities were the work of ‘American hacktivists’.

One of the online personas created by Russian military intelligence officers (GRU) was called ‘Guccifer 2.0’. This invented ‘hacktivist’ even got their voice – that is, the voice of Russian government hackers – heard at a cybersecurity conference held in London in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the person didn’t show up for the livestream slot but instead a statement was read where Twitter and government contractors were blamed for censorship and flawed software.

Fake Local News

recent article published on NPR (National Public Radio) uncovers another part of the Russian disinformation campaign during the US election 2016. According to the article, the Russian influence campaign also created a number of Twitter accounts that posed as sources for Americans’ home-town headlines. NPR found 48 such accounts, with names like @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post. The aim, according to Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute, would have been to exploit the trust Americans have in their local news: “If you’re trying to pass along information that is not true but you want people to believe it, creating or inventing fake local news sources is an effective way of doing it because people will convey some trust to the locality even if the publication is one they’ve never seen before.”

According to the article, the effort failed as Twitter suspended the accounts before they were used for disinformation purposes. But it does provide one more piece of the puzzle and an indication of the long term efforts of Russian interference, since the first accounts were set up as early as 2014.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Estonia spy chief: Network of operatives pushing Russian agenda in West

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/23/2018 - 19:42

A man walks past the building of the Russian military intelligence service in Moscow, Russia, July 14, 2018

By Jeff Seldin, for VoA

For the past several months, intelligence and security officials in the U.S. government and private sector have cautiously marveled at the seemingly slow pace of Russian cyberattacks and influence operations using social media.

Unlike in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, officials say so far there has been no frenzy of hacks, phishing attacks or use of ads and false news stories to penetrate voting systems, alter voter rolls or influence voters ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

Some have suggested the slowdown is the result of better preparation and better cyber tools that have allowed social media companies to thwart Russian efforts. But among Western intelligence agencies, there is also concern that Russia may not be relying on bots and trolls because they have real people who can do the work instead.

“We [Estonian intelligence] have detected a network of politicians, journalists, diplomats, business people who are actually Russian influence agents and who are doing what they are told to do,” Mikk Marran, the director general of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said Friday, speaking of Moscow’s efforts in the West.

“We see clearly that those people are pushing Russia’s agenda,” Marran told an audience at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands after their joint news conference in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018

Marran’s comments come during a week that saw U.S. President Donald Trump casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, while standing alongside his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, following their meeting in Helsinki.

Since returning from Europe, Trump has backtracked on his initial statement, reading a prepared statement during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting and in an interview Wednesday with CBS News.

Still, senior U.S. intelligence and security officials remain concerned, publicly asserting Russia did indeed meddle with the 2016 election.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2013

A U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign, on July 13 indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking the computer networks belonging to the Democratic party, and has previously secured indictments against Trump campaign staffers, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Yet despite the publicity from the U.S. investigation and greater awareness across the West of Russia’s influence operations, Estonian intelligence officials assert Moscow has not been deterred. Instead they say the Kremlin has ratcheted up efforts to make use of “influence agents,” many of whom Moscow has been cultivating for years.

“Politicians that have been in the margins of local politics some years ago are actually right now in national parliaments or national governments,” Marran said. “They have made some bad investments but they have also made some very good investments.”

“What they [the Russians] have provided to those people is media support, political support. They have proposed or provided some exclusive business opportunities,” he added. “In some occasions we have also seen that they have provided financial aid.”

Marran declined to name any politicians, diplomats or journalists suspected of being in Moscow’s pocket. And while it is not the first time that Estonia, a U.S. ally and a NATO member, has warned of Russia’s cultivation of “influence agents” in Western Europe, there are growing concerns that such operations have taken hold in the United States.

Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper listens as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 8, 2017

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested Thursday that Russian efforts may even have reached into the White House.

“I’ve been trying my best to give the president the benefit of the doubt and always expressed potential other theories as to why he behaves as he does with respect to Russia generally and Putin specifically,” Clapper told CNN when asked about Trump’s refusal to back the findings of the U.S. intelligence community during his joint news conference with Putin Monday in Helsinki.

“But more and more I come to a conclusion after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him,” Clapper said.

CEO and co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management Bill Browder attends the “Prospects for Russia after Putin” debate in the Houses of Parliament, London on Nov. 18, 2014

There have also been persistent rumors that some members of Congress could also be doing Russia’s bidding a notion reinforced Thursday by Bill Browder, the chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital and a driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials thought to be corrupt or human rights abusers.

FILE – Rep. Dana Rohrabacher attends Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center, in Pasadena, California, July 30, 2017

“There’s one member of the U.S. Congress who I believe is on the payroll of Russia — it’s a Republican Congressmen from Orange County [California] named Dana Rohrabacher who is running around trying to overturn the Magnitsky Act,” Browder said at the Aspen Security Forum.

“I don’t have the bank transfers to prove it, but I believe that that’s the case,” Browder said when he was pressed on the accusation, citing Rohrabacher’s behavior.

VOA contacted Rohrabacher’s office regarding the accusation, but has not yet gotten any response.

U.S. intelligence and security agencies also declined comment on the allegations that Russian influence agents have infiltrated the U.S. government, though The New York Times reported in May that intelligence agents had warned Rohrabacher, long been considered to be one of the most Russia-friendly members of Congress, as far back as 2012 that Kremlin agents were actively trying to recruit him.

And during a private meeting in June 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republican lawmakers, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.

“It was a bad joke,” McCarthy told reporters after the tape emerged. “That was all there was to it. Nobody believes it.”

By Jeff Seldin, for VoA

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report

Jeff Seldin works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

Categories: World News

Moscow’s Ambassador Claims Russophobia Victimizes Russian-Americans — ‘No,’ says Diaspora

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/23/2018 - 18:19

By Polygraph

Anatoly Antonov

Russian Ambassador to U.S

“An unprecedented information campaign to discredit our country, its role and place in the world, continues, inevitably affecting the life of the diaspora. We know about the emerging problems from our communications with you.”

Source: Facebook, June 10, 2018

MISLEADING

There is no basis for this claim

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said the Russian-Americans are affected by “an unprecedented campaign” in the media aimed at “discrediting our country, its role and place in the world.”

Speaking on July 8 at the Annual Forum of Russian Compatriots at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, DC, a gathering of representatives of ethnic Russians from various U.S. states, Antonov said he was addressing a “multimillion Russian diaspora living in the United States” who are “all part of the Russian civilization.”

RUSSIA — Russian then Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov talks to the media during a briefing at the Russian National Defense Management Center in Moscow, October 7, 2016

“We know about the emerging problems from our communications with you. Our common goal is to combat the spread of Russophobia,” Antonov said. He used the word that has become a key to the Kremlin’s anti-American propaganda narrativein recent years.

The Russian government’s TASS news agency, which routinely translates Antonov’s statements for its English edition, published only a brief report in Russian about the event, headlined “Ambassador to the U.S.: Anti-Russian Campaign in the Information Space Reflects on Immigrants from Russia.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC did not publish any information about the event on its website.

However, a transcript of Ambassador Antonov’s address in Russian, along with the pictures from the event, were published on the official Facebook page of the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.

We repeatedly contacted the Russian Embassy seeking details and documents confirming Ambassador Antonov’s claim. Calls to the general phone number listed on the embassy’s website were answered only one time, and the person who answered the call directed us to the embassy’s press secretary, Nikolay Lakhonin. However, we were unable to reach him despite repeated attempts.

The Diaspora

Other Russian groups and organizations we contacted expressed surprise and strongly denied that their members have been targeted in the United States because of their Russian origin.

Victor Potapov, the Rector of the Russian Orthodox Church in Washington, DC, told Polygraph.info in a telephone interview that he has never encountered any cases of discrimination against Russian-Americans. The church serves the greater Washington area, including the states of Maryland and Virginia.According to Potapov, the actual number of parishioners is higher than the officially listed congregation of 500 families.

“I absolutely do not know of any such cases,” he said. “I grew up in the Cold War era in the United States, and now live in the time of the second Cold War, but I never encountered any such discrimination, absolutely not. And nobody [among the parishioners] has ever complained to me.”

Russian Orthodox Church in Washington, DC

Natasha Soolkin, Executive Director at the New American Association of Massachusetts, an organization that helps immigrants from Russia to resettle in the United States, told Polygraph.info that during her 28 years in the United States she has not experienced any problems because of her national origin, or heard of other ethnic Russians facing such problems.

“Due to my profession, all these years I was tied with the Russian immigrants of all ages, and the ultimate goal of my work was to help them on their path to integration,” she said. “I can say with absolute certainty I have never encountered or experienced discrimination towards my compatriots on a state or on a society level.”

Soolkin said some Russians note that Boston International Airport has “Welcome” signs in dozens of languages, but not in Russian, and ask, jokingly: “Does that mean we are not welcome here?”

“Of course, there are some people who simply hate everybody, and I met some who are against the Russians, the Spanish, the Blacks, the Jews, but every country has [such people],” she added.

Ambassador Antonov, in his speech, praised the involvement of Russian-Americans in Russian politics.

Antonov (like Putin) is convinced that a large majority of the Russians in these communities (upward of 70 percent according to scattered surveys) supported the annexation of Crimea and that a majority of Russians who went to overseas polling centers in North America and Western Europe voted for Putin in March 2018. This gives the Putinites confidence that these communities could be of help in influencing key figures in Congress and NGOs.” Mark Kramer

“Special thanks to those who helped us in the elections for the president of the Russian Federation,” he said. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of compatriots in the United States voted for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who earned 63% of the vote.

He also urged Russian-Americans to become more politically engaged in American politics in order to lobby for Russia’s interests.

“We need your help,” Antonov said. “We are interested in the Russian community in America using its unique position – taking into account your ‘embeddedness’ in American life – to work with the leaders of public opinion in the interests of restoring an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and the United States.”

Antonov specifically urged attendees to actively engage young people, “since they will have to take up the baton in the noble cause of consolidation of the Russian world.” Here he used the term “Russkaya,” which refers exclusively to ethnic Russians, as opposed the word “Rossiyskaya,” which applies to all Russian citizens regardless of ethnicity.

An Expert Speaks

Mark Kramer, Director of the Cold War Studies Program at the Davis Center for Russian and Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University, told Polygraph.info: “Antonov’s comments are in line with Putin’s emphasis on ‘Russkii mir’ (The Russian World) and the need to seek support for Putin’s policies from Russian diaspora communities around the world, particularly in the United States and Western Europe. Antonov (like Putin) is convinced that a large majority of the Russians in these communities (upward of 70 percent according to scattered surveys) supported the annexation of Crimea and that a majority of Russians who went to overseas polling centers in North America and Western Europe voted for Putin in March 2018. This gives the Putinites confidence that these communities could be of help in influencing key figures in Congress and NGOs.”

Mark Kramer, Director of the Cold War Studies Program at the Davis Center for Russian and Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University

Kramer added: “The Russians whose support they are seeking include not only those who are Russian expatriates, but also those who are now dual citizens (or just U.S. citizens). Groups like the U.S.-Russia Forum, which are clearly sympathetic to Russia’s interests, are clearly seen as prime recruits for this propaganda campaign. Even though these groups are not front organizations of the Russian government, they are reliably supportive of an accommodating stance toward Russia. In Putin’s Russia, such groups might be branded a ‘fifth column,’ but fortunately in the United States there is a long tradition of tolerating such organizations (e.g., the Sons of Italy, the Polish American Council, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Baltic American Council, and countless others). Antonov is doing what quite a few other governments also do in reaching out to supportive ethnic organizations in the United States, but the difference is that Antonov’s motivations are a lot more unsavory and sinister.”

He concluded: “It’s part of a wave of efforts by Russian government officials to enlist the support of Russian expatriates. This has been under way since 2012, in the wake of the mass protests in Russia in late 2011 and early 2012, but it has accelerated over the past four years.”

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Fabricated treason and espionage cases prop Putin up in power

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/23/2018 - 17:21

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is supporting its accused spy in the United States Maria Butina with the hashtag #FreeMariaButina despite mountains of evidence against her that is freely available to the public, while at home dozens of people are being jailed for treason or espionage in cases that are most likely completely invented, and that are tried in secrecy. The cases are a warning to the Russian population about contacts with foreigners, and serve as a deterrent against unrest at a time when Russia’s economy is on a fast downhill slide.

Recently the Moscow court system announced that it would no longer publish details of treason cases, which has made it even more difficult for the media and human rights activists to find out what’s going on with them. Often only the name of the arrested person and then their ultimate sentence is known, without any information about why they were charged. The case of Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, who was jailed for 12 years for espionage last month after visiting Russia from France, got more attention than most, but still Russian authorities hardly bothered to provide proof of their accusations.

Space agency crackdown

Treason cases are the equivalent of espionage when the accused person is a Russian citizen. The latest victim is 74-year-old scientist Viktor Kudryatsev, who works on Roskosmos projects at the Central Research Institute of Machine Building. He was “found” by rights defenders in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison yesterday, having been ordered into pre-trial detention in secret. Prosecutors claim there was a leak of secret information about hypersonic projects to Western intelligence agencies from Kudryatsev’s institute. Meanwhile, the head of Roskosmos’s analytical centre Dmitri Payson resigned after raids by authorities, and he is now considered a witness in the treason case.

Last March former top director at Roskosmos Vladimir Yevdokimov was found stabbed to death in his prison cell in Moscow, having been arrested for embezzlement – another charge that is often used against people who have become inconvenient to the authorities, such as theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov. Since Roskosmos is responsible for sending astronauts from the US and other countries into space, purges within the organisation should be a concern for those who entrust their lives to Russia’s rocket-builders. The need to communicate with foreign government agencies raises the risk for Russian employees of facing treason charges. In September 2015 engineer Gennady Kravtsov, who formerly worked for the GRU was jailed for 14 years for applying for a job with a Swedish company. He was accused of including secret information in his CV.

Top managers and military historian

In February 2017 an executive at Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs, Ruslan Stoyanov, was sent into pre-trial custody on a treason charge along with FSB officers Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitri Dokuchayev, in a case that was thought to have some connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election. It could be that the Kremlin wanted to silence the three because they knew too much. Alternatively Stoyanov might have tried to tell US officials about what was going on. We are in the dark.

In June this year someone called Viktor Prozorov was ordered into pre-trial custody in Moscow on a treason charge, but no information was released about him because his case was deemed secret. In early July a reserve captain in the Russian army, Andrei Zhukov, was also ordered into pre-trial custody in Moscow on a treason charge. News outlet RBC discovered that Zhukov had participated in a military history forum in which he allegedly said too much about Russian troop movements.

In June Karina Tsurkan, a top manager at Russian utility company Inter RAO, who reportedly has Russian and Romanian citizenship, was charged with espionage and sent into pre-trial custody. Well-known human rights layer Ivan Pavlov, representing her, wrote on Facebook, “What we’ve seen in Karina’s case is a new, previously unseen low in a case of searching for ‘enemies of the people’.” He said that according to the three-paragraph charge against Tsurkan, she became an agent of Moldovan security services on August 16, 2004, and in September 2015 gave them information about the Russian Energy Ministry’s plans for utility companies.

“The question arises: how could the Chekists allow a spy to work for so long in the highest echelons of a sector with strategic significance?” Pavlov asked. “Most likely the most important circumstance that the FSB wants to cover up by hiding this case from the eyes of the public is the scale of the spy mania that Russian special services are currently sick with,” he continued. “All social categories of the population are subjected to charges of espionage, including not only the ‘traditional’ objects of such charges – people in the military and special services – but also housewives, mothers of multiple children, journalists, scientists, environmentalists, religious figures and market vendors. And now top managers of utilities.”

Women targeted

Wikipedia lists 21 treason cases in Russia in 2014 and 2015, which included the cases of Svetlana Davydova, Yekaterina Kharebava and Oksana Sevastidi, who were accused for apparently genuine text messages (somehow obtained by the FSB) discussing Russian troop movements to Ukraine and Georgia that they had witnessed. Kharebava and Sevastidi were convicted years after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Davydova, represented by Ivan Pavlov, was held in Lefortovo prison ahead of a planned trial, but her case was dropped because it would have constituted an admission by Russia that it sent troops into Ukraine. RIA Novosti counts 14 people sentenced for treason in 2016 and three for espionage, plus another 25 for revealing state secrets – a very similar charge. It says that 28 people were convicted on one of these three charges in 2015.

Russians have been losing patience with their government on a range of social issues, including the deadly shopping centre fire in Kemerovo, toxic landfills outside Moscow and a reform that would raise the pension age to 63 for women and 65 for men. The World Cup is over and Vladimir Putin, at the start of another six-year term in office, has nothing else positive to offer his people, four years after they celebrated the annexation of Crimea. From now on we can expect him to rule by intensifying repressions on all fronts. Treason and espionage cases are among the weapons he has to enforce his authority. But as we can now see in Iran, when an economic situation becomes dire enough, no amount of brutality will deter people from venting their anger with a government that doesn’t care about them.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Moscow’s Long Tradition of Poisoning its Opponents with Impunity

StopFake.org - Sun, 07/22/2018 - 01:28

By Askold Krushelnycky, in London, for StopFake

British authorities have seemingly made a crucial breakthrough in their investigation into Russia’s use of the deadly military-grade “Novichok” nerve agent on UK soil which has killed a British woman, and nearly took the lives of four other victims, including a former Russian spy living in the UK.

The Associated Press news agency reported that a reliable British security source said that police investigating the poisonings have identified several Russians involved by examining hundreds of hours of CCTV recordings in the city where the assassins tried to kill Skripal, and at Britain’s airports and other places of entry into the country.

British authorities have declined to comment on the AP report. But the UK government insists that Russia is behind the outrage.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, a mother of three children, died on July 8 from the same poison a Kremlin assassin used in a botched attempt to kill former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, a few months ago in the British city of Salisbury.

Ms Sturgess, and her partner, Charlie Rowley, 45, fell ill on July 1 after coming into contact with Novichok poison. She died a week later; he was finally released from hospital on July 20.

Police believe the assassin smeared the highly toxic nerve agent on the door to Skripal’s home and then dumped left-over poison in a perfume bottle in or near Salisbury. Investigators think the British couple, known for sifting through garbage dumpsters for items they could sell, found the perfume. Ms Sturgess is thought to have sprayed herself with it.

The Skripals survived after British doctors, advised by biological weapons experts, fought for weeks to save their lives.

Britain’s home secretary (interior minister), Sajid Javid, accused Russia of using Britain as a “dumping ground for poison” and police are treating Ms Sturgess’s death as murder.

Russia sole manufacturer of Novichok

The deadly toxin’s name derives from the Russian for “little new one” because Novichok was a new, advanced nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s for use against NATO forces.  It takes effect within minutes, blocking “messages” from the nerves to the muscles, causing convulsions that can paralyze, halt breathing and, in most cases, death.

It can come in liquid form, but is also thought to exist as a solid which could be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder. British investigators believe the Skripals may have ingested it through their skin from Novichok smeared on a door handle. The poison is long-lasting and does not evaporate or deteriorate swiftly.

Skripal had been a double agent for MI6, the British foreign intelligence service.  He had been discovered by Russia and jailed but was freed in an exchange for Russian spies captured by western intelligence agencies.

After the swap he had been living for years in the UK under his own name in the quiet and picturesque British city of Salisbury, famous for its cathedral. It was there that he and his daughter, visiting from Russia, were found unconscious and close to death in a park.  British authorities say Skripal was targeted as revenge for his betrayal and that Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, most likely ordered the assassination himself.

Doctors were mystified as to the cause but, assisted by tests at Britain’s biological warfare laboratories in Porton Down, they concluded that the two patients were victims of the horrific Novichok nerve agent.  After weeks of intensive care the doctors managed to save the lives of the two Russians although both will have permanent after-effects.

The international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the UK’s analysis of the type of nerve agent used in the Skripal poisoning. The organization said the substance was “of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions”. Its manufacture requires such sophisticated and expensive techniques that only a state actor could muster such resources.  And Russia is the known, sole manufacturer of the nerve agent.

Now former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: “There can be no doubt what was used.” He added: “There remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record.”

Moscow denied any involvement in the attempt on the Skripals’ lives but the Kremlin’s mendacious replies infuriated the British government and London and other western allies kicked out scores of Russian diplomats in the largest such expulsion since the end of the Cold War.

After the latest poisonings Russia again denied any involvement and said the British authorities might have staged the poisonings to take the luster off Russia’s hosting the World Cup soccer championship.

Moscow’s long poison trail

However, the world has become used to the Kremlin’s routine of indignant lies, elaborate distortions and fantastical counter-allegations repeated whenever Moscow is accused of crimes such as shooting down the Malaysian civilian airliner over Ukraine.

But the UK isn’t accusing Moscow of deliberately using Novichok again – indeed London is saying it was probably an accident caused by Moscow’s tradition of sloppiness. That sort of bungling has often helped identify the Kremlin as the perpetrator in the past – for instance the trail of irrefutable evidence that showed an anti-air missile from a specific Russian military unit downed the Malaysian airliner in 2014 killing nearly 300 people, including many children.

Home  Minister Javid said: “It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explain exactly what has gone on,” because Britain knows from past experience that Russia has a long, almost obsessive, history of using poison to eliminate awkward folk, and has even occasionally boasted about it.

In Britain there was overwhelming evidence, accepted worldwide except by the usual suspects like Venezuela, Belarus, Cuba and Zimbabwe, that two Kremlin agents used radioactive polonium in 2006 to murder another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko.

In fact British investigators were able to identify the killers and trace the places they stayed while in London and their seats on airplanes between the UK and Russia because of strong traces of radioactivity left by the polonium they were carrying.  Russia refused to extradite the men for trial in the UK and Putin rewarded the lead murderer by making him an MP in the Russian Duma.

In 2004 the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who polls showed might win the presidential election in a race against Putin’s favored candidate, was poisoned, likely at a dinner.

He probably survived because he vomited after the meal and received weeks of intensive treatment at an Austrian hospital. The poison was identified as a dioxin called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, made at one of only a few high-tech facilities in the world. One, of which was in Russia.

Yushchenko won the election but was left permanently disfigured on his face and body.

Using poisons to eliminate Ukrainian freedom fighters

The Kremlin has assassinated lots of uppity Ukrainians. One of those was prominent wartime nationalist leader, Stepan Bandera, whose guerrilla forces, UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) fought the Germans and later Soviet rule.

Bandera, and another prominent Ukrainian political leader, Lev Rebet, were killed, two years apart, by a pistol firing a cyanide mist which simulated heart attacks. The murders were revealed only after the KGB agent responsible defected to the West and confessed he had assassinated the two men. Autopsies on the exhumed bodies proved he was telling the truth that they had been poisoned.

Russian intelligence, from its earliest days when it was known as the Cheka, has been keen about using poisons and developed stealth murder methods from 1921 in  “Laboratory Number 12”, also known as “Kamera” – Russian for “the chamber” – close to the Moscow headquarters of the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB, at 2 Lubyanka Street. Putin has ensured it is generously funded.

Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who defected to the US and lives in Washington DC, admitted supervising an assassination in 1978 where deadly ricin, provided by the Kamera, killed an anti-Communist Bulgarian journalist, Georgi Markov, who worked for the BBC in London. He was injected by a microscopic pellet of ricin from a mechanism hidden in an umbrella.

Kalugin also told of a deadly Kamera-designed gel applied to objects handled by the target, such as car door handles and telephones – probably the way the Skripals came to ingest Novichok.

Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi, who offended the Kremlin, died in 1995 after using a telephone smeared with poison.

In 2002 the FSB did not bother to deny they had killed Chechen guerilla leader “Khattab” by doping a letter with poison he absorbed through the skin.

After Chechen terrorists seized a Moscow theater in 2002, FSB special-forces pumped an opiate named fentanyl into the theatre that swiftly made terrorists and hostages unconscious. They shot dead 41 terrorists but 129 hostages choked to death when the FSB refused to tell doctors the antidote to their secret chemical weapon.

In 2004 two Russian opposition journalists, Anna Politkovskaya and Andrei Babitsky, were poisoned while trying to reach a terrorist standoff at a school in the provincial town of Beslan.  Both recovered consciousness and survived. But Politkovskaya, who wrote a damning book about Putin, was later shot dead, her friends say on government orders.

Recently the European Court of Human Rights strongly criticized Moscow for failing to discover who ordered the journalist’s murder and they ordered the Russian government to pay 20,000 euros compensation to Politkovskaya’s family.

A politician and journalist, Yuriy Shchekochikin, investigating corruption among Putin’s associates died from a poison his family believes was similar to that used on Yushchenko.

A mysterious US death

The publicity swirling around the recent Russian uses of poison have reopened interest into the death of an American diplomat of Ukrainian origin, Konstantin Varvariv, not long after he rebuffed KGB attempts to recruit him.

General Kalugin, said that he sent an agent to try to recruit Varvariv, then the US ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, when he visited Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1977.  Kalugin said the KGB tried to blackmail Varvariv by claiming they had evidence he cooperated with German occupation forces in Ukraine during WW2.

Instead Varvariv reported the attempt to American security services causing a diplomatic scandal. Five years later he died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack.  His daughter, Victoria, has always suspected that his death may have been a revenge murder by the KGB.

A Ukrainian-American who has experience of intelligence matters, Jaroslaw Martyniuk, knew the Varvariv family well.  He also has his suspicions and approached General Kalugin, at a conference in Washington DC, to ask what happened. Martyniuk claims that when asked how Varvariv died, the former high-ranking KGB man told him: “The same way as Litvinenko.

That intriguing response says Martyniuk, has made him determined to urge American authorities to look into Varvariv’s death and exhume his body for tests to check if he didn’t die of natural causes.

A CIA source told this author the Kremlin sometimes uses poisons instead of simpler methods like shooting when it wants the world to know it can murder opponents in a nightmarish and painful way.  It just doesn’t expect anyone to dare to finger the Kremlin the way Britain has done over the Skripal assassination attempt and the more recent event involving the British woman’s murder.

In the past, Britain and other western countries have been reluctant to accuse Russia, hoping that by ignoring such outrages, they might foster better relations with Moscow.

It took a decade before London carried out a thorough investigation which concluded the Kremlin was responsible for the 2006 radioactive poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko.

Now they have learned better and aren’t shying away from blaming Russia.

Russia will continue to lie and will angrily claim there is no absolute proof.  And how could there be?  Any Russian who has the courage to do so or defects and says Moscow was responsible for the poisoning attempts will be dismissed by the Kremlin as a traitor and liar. Only an admission by Putin could provide “absolute proof.”

But Moscow has been caught out in its lies enough times that the world has learned to treat Kremlin denials skeptically.

After all Moscow lied for days that nothing had happened when it killed thousands in one of the most spectacular and horrific mass poisonings the world has witnessed – the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine in 1986.

Some in the UK have mentioned military aid to Ukraine as a possible sanction to punish Russia for bringing deadly poisons to Britain. That seems an excellent idea. Not only would Ukrainian troops be able to eliminate a bunch of invading Russian soldiers but Moscow wouldn’t be able to complain because – as Putin has said so many times – there aren’t any Russian forces in Ukraine!

By Askold Krushelnycky, in London, for StopFake

Categories: World News

Investigative Report: On The Trail Of The 12 Indicted Russian Intelligence Officers

StopFake.org - Sat, 07/21/2018 - 23:40

A medal with the emblem of GRU military unit No. 74455

By RFE/RL’s Russian Service

A U.S. grand jury charged 12 Russian citizens on July 13 with interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by organizing cyberattacks on the computers of Democratic Party figures during the campaign.

The indictment contains the names of the dozen accused, who are described as “employees of the GRU,” referring to Russian military intelligence. In addition, the indictment contains the numbers of the military units that they allegedly serve in and a relatively detailed account of the methods they purportedly used to break into the computers and publish the information they acquired in the hacking attacks.

RFE/RL has conducted its own open-source investigation into those accused intelligence operatives, although there is relatively little openly available information about the men or their military units.

But some information does seem important: One of the accused participated in a 2014 conference of hackers on the topic of “infiltration, hacking, and the national peculiarities of cyberwarfare.” The building in the Moscow suburb of Khimki that is referred to in the indictment as “the Tower” can be connected to the founder of the pro-Kremlin Antimaidan propaganda organization.

And the military unit that allegedly carried out the distribution of the stolen information through WikiLeaks and anonymous social-media accounts is based at the same address as GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov (known as Orion), who has been named by the independent Bellingcat research organization as a participant in the events that led to the July 2014 downing of the MH-17 passenger jet over eastern Ukraine.

The entrance to the premises of GRU military unit No. 26165 on Moscow’s Komsomolsky Prospekt

Unit No. 26165

According to the indictment, nine of the 12 accused GRU personnel serve in military unit No. 26165, which is based at Komsomolsky Prospekt No. 20 in Moscow. That building is part of a Defense Ministry complex located on the territory of the former Khamovnicheskiye barracks, built in the early 19th century.

There is no official sign at the entrance to the territory listing the units based there, but it is not difficult to establish that unit No. 26165 is, in fact, located at those barracks. It can be found under that address in the online Unified State Register of Legal Entities.

In Soviet times, that unit was assigned to the decoding and cryptanalysis of intercepted messages for the 6th Directorate of the GRU under the official name “85th Main Center of GRU Special Service.”

These days, according to numerous citations available online, the unit is also involved in cutting-edge computer technologies.

Viktor Netyksho

The signature of the unit’s commander, Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, who is the first name listed on the U.S. indictment, is found on cooperation agreements signed with several Moscow high schools specializing in mathematics, including high school Nos. 1507, 1573, and 1517. The earliest of these agreements dates from 2014 and they are signed personally by Netyksho. The agreement with school No. 1573 can be found here (archived copy). They are identical.

The first point of the agreement obligates the two parties to “prepare students for entry into the Institute of Cryptography, Communications, and Informatics of the Academy of the FSB (Federal Security Service).”

According to the above-mentioned register of legal entities, Netyksho headed military unit No. 26165 until January 2018. There are numerous online indications of this unit’s activity, besides the agreements concluded with the math schools. For instance, in 2004, officers of the unit identified as P.M. Konovalchik, A.I. Ivanov, and A.D. Malevanchuk published an article in the journal Artificial Intelligence titled A Multiprocessor System Adapted To The Information Structure Of Various Classes Of Computations.

View image on Twitter

Document dated 2017 deals with a cooperation agreement between 26165, the school & the cryptography institute of the FSB Academy to educate cadets at the school. Note the signature: “Netyshko, Victor Boiskovoi”https://t.co/kEtPVNdRjn pic.twitter.com/oyRfOgwZrs

— Raphael Satter (@razhael) July 13, 2018

Netyksho himself earlier taught at the Moscow State Forestry University (since 2016, a branch of Moscow State Technical University). His candidate’s degree dissertation is titled: Establishing The Parameters Of Discrete Devices Based On Reevaluating Probabilities Using Actual Threshold Ratios.

Other scholarly works by Netyksho dating from 2004-08 are also available online, including On The Neuronetworking Approach To Solving Systems Of Linear Inequalities, and On Refining The Estimate Of The Weight Of An Arbitrary Threshold Function.

In these publications, he is identified as an instructor at the Department of Higher Mathematics at Moscow State Forestry University and a candidate of technical sciences. In 2004, Netyksho published an article, On Some Probabilistic Properties Of Majority Functions, in the journal Machine-Building Technologies.

Netyksho also participated in the defense of several dissertations as an examiner. In September 2010, he served on the dissertation committee of Russian State Humanities University (RGGU) instructor Mikhail Levykin, whose dissertation on defending against hacking was titled Models And Means Of Detecting Threats Of Information-Security Violations In Standard Mechanisms For Detecting Hidden Information Actions In The Core Of The Windows Operating System.

Levykin, who still teaches at RGGU, declined to discuss the defense of the thesis with RFE/RL or to answer whether Netyksho was present.

Military unit No. 26165 came to light previously in connection with the e-mail hacking of Western politicians. In the spring of 2017, independent news site The Insider published a report that identified a man affiliated with the unit — a “researcher” by the name of Georgy Roshka — as a perpetrator of the e-mail hacking of French President Emmanuel Macron.

According to the RBC news agency, unit No. 26165 was previously commanded by Sergei Gizunov, who is presently on the U.S. sanctions list for his alleged involvement in election interference.

At present, Gizunov is deputy head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Defense Ministry (following a 2010 reform, the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was renamed the Main Administration. It is still generally referred to as the GRU). The current commander of military unit No. 26165 is Colonel Dmitry Mikhailov.

Unit No. 74455

It is harder to find open-source information about military unit No. 74455, with which — according to the U.S. indictment — three of the accused are connected. They are GRU officers Aleksandr Osadchuk, Aleksei Potyomkin, and Anatoly Kovalyov. According to various citations that RFE/RL found, the unit has two different addresses — and neither of them correspond to the address of the building identified in the indictment as “the Tower,” which is located at Kirova No. 22 in Khimki.

According to the U.S. indictment, it was from this building that the GRU carried out its break-in of the U.S. computers, allegedly with the help of phishing e-mails. Also, the indictment says the hacked data was distributed from this address through the anonymous social-media accounts Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.


At that address, one does find a 21-story “tower,” which houses a business center that is known by various names, including NovatorRota Tower, and Rota. (There is also another Rota Business Center in Khimki at the address Panfilova No. 19/4.) A 2017 Google Earth image shows the logo for a firm called Oboronstroi on the front of the building.

The building was originally called Rota Tower. It was built by a company within the Rota Group holding and the tower is seen in the group’s logo.

There is direct evidence that the Novator business center belongs to the Rota Group. Its cadaster number (50:10:0010210:3612) can be found in a decision by the Moscow Oblast Arbitration Court from March 17, 2017.

The case stemmed from a 2015 dispute between two companies over the installation of a fire-alarm system in the Novator business center. One of the companies involved, called MDK, belongs to Rota Development, part of the Rota Group.

Dmitry Sablin

The general director of Rota Real Estate is Alla Sablina (maiden name: Nalcha), who is the niece of former Moscow Oblast Governor and General Boris Gromov and the wife of Dmitry Sablin, the founder of the pro-Kremlin propaganda organization Antimaidan.

Sablin is the first deputy chairman of the national public veterans organization Fighting Fraternity (Boyevoye bratstvo), of which Gromov is chairman.

Sablin is also a deputy in the Russian State Duma from the ruling United Russia party.

Dmitry Sablin

He is also the official owner or co-owner of several assets of the Rota Group, including the firm Rota-Krym, which owns real estate on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. The independent Dozhd TV identified Sablin as the owner of the entire Rota holding company.

Dozhd also said that, in terms of family assets, Sablin is among the five richest deputies in the Duma.

Another member of the board of directors of Rota Real Estate is Ivan Ageyenko, the former head of the Border Service of the FSB in Kabardino-Balkaria and Daghestan. He is also a deputy chairman of the Fighting Fraternity.

Oboronstroi

The independent website Meduza reported that the Rota Group sold the Khimki tower to Oboronstroi in February 2016, one month before the first phishing attack on computers tied to the U.S. Democratic Party.

Oboronstroi is part of a group of companies called Garnizon, which is controlled by the Russian Defense Ministry. According to the Garnizon website, Oboronstroi “works in the spheres of design, construction, production, logistics, and energy and works out a unified development strategy and tactics of action for daughter organizations and enterprises, arranges inter-organization communications, and coordinated the participation of all partners for the effective execution of any order and the realization of large-scale projects in the interests of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

The legal address of Oboronstroi is Komsomolsky Prospekt No. 18 in Moscow. This building is part of the complex of the former Khamavonicheskiye barracks, which is home to military unit No. 26165, as mentioned earlier. In short, both of the buildings mentioned in the U.S. indictment as Russian hacker bases are controlled by the Defense Ministry’s Oboronstroi company.

RFE/RL was not able to establish a solid connection between Dmitry Sablin and the GRU. However, Sablin personally oversaw the installation in May at the “alley of heroes” at a Moscow military academy of a bust of former GRU head Igor Sergun.

Officially, Sergun died at an FSB resort in January 2016, but there have been reports that he actually died in Lebanon.

The building would not be an unlikely place for the GRU to base a group of young hackers who do not have access to secret GRU facilities.

The few results returned in searches for military unit No. 74455 are extremely interesting. The unit is mentioned in a Defense Ministry order from March 20, 2012, that was signed by then-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. The order determines the payment of bonuses to servicemen for “outstanding service achievements,” and the alleged hacker unit is mentioned together with two other units (Nos. 99450 and 29155) as candidates for bonuses in Section 4.

Interestingly, military unit No. 99450 was just created at that same time in an expansion of the Special Operations Forces Center, based in the Moscow Oblast town of Senezh. This base has been identified as the source of the “little green men” who participated in operations in Crimea.

Another online document possibly connects military unit No. 744755 with an address in Moscow. The document is a court decision in a suit by the Defense Ministry against a company called Slavyanka, which is a major provider of communal services in Russia.

According to the court’s ruling, the defendant “inappropriately provided the plaintiff services at barracks and housing facilities of military compounds.” One of the units named is No. 74455, which was reported to be located at Military Compound No. 48, Svobody No. 21/22 in Moscow. There is another reference to the unit being located on Svobody street in an online forum at Otvety@mail.rufrom a user who claimed to have served in the unit.

Unit No. 40904

According to Wikimapia.org, there is a military organization at that address, which they identify as “the 177th separate center for managing technical innovation (military unit No. 40904).”

In fact, that unit is officially located in a neighboring building with the address Meshcheryakova No. 2, according to state tender files.

The emblem of Russian GRU military unit No. 40904

What does military unit No. 40904 do? The construction firm Vismut mentions the unit in an advertisement in connection with “the reconstruction of the buildings of Object K-200.” That facility is mentioned in the book The Security System Of The Soviet Union by Aleksandr Shevyakin: “The space-intelligence directorate of the GRU collects intelligence information with the help of satellites. The directorate controls the activities of the OSNAZ special operations units of the first and second sections of the Sixth Directorate of the GRU. Their functions include radio and signals intelligence. The analysis and refinement of the information gained in this way is assigned to the Dozor System, which is located in the central building of the GRU on Khoroshyovskoye shosse (Object K-200).”

In other words, the activity of military unit No. 40904 is apparently historically connected with the processing of radio and signals intelligence.

Krug

According to the comments on the Wikimapia page, the 28th Communications Control Center is also located at this Svobody street address. Apparently, this is a reference to one of the central nodes of the radio-interception system Krug, which was created in the 1950s to monitor the movements of enemy aircraft, the conversations of the crews of U.S. and NATO strategic bombers, and the communications of the satellite communications of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It would appear that at least part of the Krug system is operational to the present day. The system has been discussed in an online forum for radio enthusiasts.

One commentator wrote: “Krug still exists. Behind the building of the training company of military unit No. 34608 there is a monument and 11 markers with the numbers and names of military units from which Krug was formed for the GRU.” The author then provides a list of the code names of the Krug communications nodes.

Most of the nodes were located in Russia or other republics of the Soviet Union. Several were located in Cuba, Vietnam, Burma, and Mongolia. Gudok, the main Krug center, was located in the Moscow suburb of Klimovsk, where military unit No. 34608 is based and the monument described on the radio enthusiasts’ forum is supposedly located.

One of the listening nodes named on the forum was Avrora, which was the central facility where all the signals intelligence was gathered. “From [the node] Barka we regularly received confirmation of bearings before reporting to Avrora,” one purported former radio operator wrote.

RFE/RL has been unable to confirm from other sources that the Avrora monitoring node, the central unit of Krug, was located or is located at the Svobody address. On another forum, one user states that he served in “military unit No. 40273, communications node Avrora, 2001-2006.”

But according to other open sources, unit No. 40273 is located on Khoroshyovskoye shosse in the main headquarters of the GRU.

It would seem that, similar to unit No. 74455 mentioned in the U.S. indictment, other military units with similar profiles use multiple addresses. Several of them might not even be independent units, but structural subunits of other units. But it seems clear that the military compound on Svobody street is connected with signals intelligence and to the 6th Directorate of the GRU. In front of the building at Svobody 22/2 there is a large, green parabolic antenna.

There is yet one other address that crops up in connection with military unit No. 74455 – Khoroshyovskoye shosse No. 76, Building B. This is one building of a large GRU complex located near Kodynskoye polye park. It was from this building, according to an investigation by the Bellingcat research organization, that GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov worked. Bellingcat believes it has tied Ivannikov to the operation to send a Buk antiaircraft system from Russia to Ukraine in July 2014 that was then used to shoot down the MH-17 passenger jet, killing all 298 people aboard.

The building figures as the address of military unit No. 74455 in a 2011 documentfrom a branch of the Slavyanka communal-services company.

One can also find online a service medal that shows the number of unit No. 74455 and, apparently, its insignia: a crystal pierced by lightning and a sword. It is extremely similar to the insignia of the Main Computations Center of the Russian General Staff.

Russian medal with emblem of GRU military unit No. 74455

Dmitry Badin

Besides Viktor Netyksho, RFE/RL was able to find only one other individual mentioned in the U.S. indictment using open sources. The exception is the third individual listed on the indictment: Dmitry Sergeyevich Badin.

According to the indictment, he was a military serviceman with unit No. 26165 and an assistant to Boris Antonov, head of the subunit that allegedly hacked the computers of the Democratic Party. Badin and Antonov purportedly controlled the other participants in the alleged criminal group.

A person with Badin’s exact name can be found on the Internet as a registered participant of the forum Positive Hack Days IV, which took place in Moscow in 2014 (an archived copy of his registration is here).

The Positive Hack Days IV forum is organized by the company Positive Technologies and was the fourth time the event was held (earlier this year, it was held for the eighth time). Positive Technologies describes itself as “a leader on the domestic and European markets of systems for analyzing security and standards compliance, as well as protecting web applications.”

In 2011, the publication itWeek called Positive Hack Days “one of the main events in the Russian information-security market.” One of the sponsors of the forum is Kaspersky Laboratories. The 2014 forum took place on May 21-22, just 10 days after Russian media published detailed descriptions of the “cyberforce” that was announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in late 2013.

Here is how Moskovsky Komsomolets described this force, citing an inside source in the Defense Ministry:

“The military has not made any official statements about the composition of the cyberunit. But it is already known who forms the skeleton of this cyberstructure. Last year, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced a ‘big search’ for programmers. In addition, the force will include mathematicians, cryptographers, officers of signals intelligence, and radio operators. Officers of the cyberforce will have to pass through language training to learn a foreign language. It is possible that young men currently serving in ‘academic’ companies will be recruited. In addition to repelling attacks from the Internet, the new structure will form a shield against a cyberattack on closed military networks, such as missile-defense systems. It is known that the Pentagon has devoted enormous resources to developing spyware that can penetrate even completely closed networks and this creates a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

It is possible that some of the “cybersoldiers” who might have been involved in the hack of the Democratic Party were recruited at the Positive Hack Days forums. The official site of the 2014 forum says that “representatives of the FSB” will be participating and the official program included reports on the general topic of “the national peculiarities of cyberwarfare.” Some of the reports had titles such as, Big Data In Social Networks: Special Monitoring By The NSA Not Needed; Life After Snowden: Modern Tools Of Internet Intelligence; How To Listen In On A Person On The Other Side Of The World; Comparing The Hackers Of Iran, China, And North Korea; and The State And Information Security.

In response to a query from RFE/RL, Positive Technologies said it did not handle the sale or confirmation of tickets to the Positive Hack Days IV forum, having outsourced that work to a company called Runet-ID. Positive Technologies said applicants who want to attend the forum had to provide some personal information, including place of employment, but that information remained with Runet-ID.

Telephone calls to Runet-ID went unanswered.

RFE/RL was unable to confirm from other sources whether the Dmitry Sergeyevich Badin identified in the U.S. indictment as serving in military unit No. 26165 attended the Positive Hack Days IV forum.

Inside Information

Many commentators and security experts believe the office of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will soon release new details about the alleged “Russian hacker” case.

From the detailed indictment already released, experts have concluded that the American investigators have, in addition to their own data, information from insiders in Russia. Some have speculated that one source of this information could be two employees of the FSB’s Information Security Center, FSB Colonel Sergei Mikhailov and his deputy, Dmitry Dokuchayev; Kaspersky Laboratories employee Ruslan Stoyanov; and entrepreneur Georgy Fomchenkov. All four men were arrested in early 2017 and accused of state treason.

In April, it was reported that Dokuchayev and Fomchenkov had made partial confessions. According to unconfirmed reports, they confessed to giving information to foreign intelligence agencies and agreed to have their case handled in an accelerated manner (without an examination of the evidence).

It is unknown when the trials will begin, but they will be held behind closed doors since most of the documents involved are classified.

By RFE/RL’s Russian Service

RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda is the leading international broadcaster in Russia. As Russia witnesses increasing control of the media by state authorities, Radio Svoboda has become a key forum for those who lack access to other means of free expression.

Translated by Robert Coalson

Categories: World News

Putin’s Claim on U.S. Criminal Charges Against a Russian Company is Fiction

StopFake.org - Sat, 07/21/2018 - 07:03

RUSSIA — Evgeny Prigozhin (L) CEO of Concord Management and Consulting LLC – a defendant in the U.S. Indictment. Moscow, November 11, 2011

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President, Russian Federation

“We heard accusations against the company Concord. As I understand it, this company hired American lawyers, and the accusations against it just fell apart in a US court.”

Source: Kremlin.ru, July 16, 2018

FALSE

The trial has not yet started nor is the case dismissed

At the press conference in Helsinki, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin claimed the case against the Russian firm indicted for interfering in the United States election process had fallen apart in the U.S. court.

“We heard accusations against the company Concord. As I understand it, this company hired American lawyers, and the accusations against it just fell apart in a U.S. court,” Putin said.

The comment is demonstrably false, as we will show.

Helsinki, Finland — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Presidend Donald Trump speak at a joint news conference following their meeting Monday, July 16, 2018

The trial in the case “USA v. Internet Research Agency LLC #1:18-cr-00032” has not yet begun, nor has the judge ruled on the merits of Mueller allegations.

“President Putin’s characterization of this case is a classic example of mistaking arguments for outcomes. This doesn’t work in real life, and it certainly doesn’t work in an independent judiciary,” said Christopher Swift, national security lawyer at Foley & Lardner LLP and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, in an e-mail response to Polygraph.info.

The defendant in the case – Concord Management and Consulting LLC – is a Russian firm that the indictment said had several multimillion-dollar contracts with the Russian government and has been “engaged in operations to interfere with U.S. elections and political processes.”

The charges against the firm consist of eight counts including “conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; aggravated identity theft.”The indictment said Concord Management was “the primary source of funding” for the so-called Russian troll farm’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

RUSSIA — A security guard speaks on the phone outside the Concord Catering office in St. Petersburg, February 18, 2018. The company is accused of providing financing for 2016 election interference

James C. Martin, the attorney at the U.S. law firm Reed Smith LLP, who represents the Concord Management and Consulting LLC in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, told Polygraph.info that “the case is still in a pre-trial stage and is active.”

Peter Carr, the spokesman of the Special Counsel’s office, told Polygraph.info that the judge has not yet moved on these motions and confirmed that the case is active and has not been dismissed.

“At this point in the proceedings, Concord’s attorneys are trying to dismiss the case before it goes to trial by filing motions challenging the prosecutor’s authority to bring the case on various legal grounds,” Swift said. “Filing a motion to dismiss like the ones we have seen in the Concord case is a standard part of any criminal defense strategy. It would be surprising — and maybe even professional malpractice — if defense counsel didn’t take these steps.”

On July 16, the attorneys for Concord Management and Consulting LLC filed a motion to dismiss the case, based on the claim that “the Special Counsel’s appointment violates the Constitution’s Appointments Clause.” The motion, however, does not dispute the allegations in the indictment.

U.S. — F ormer FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017

The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice countered with an argument that the defense notion “should be denied because the Special Counsel was validly appointed and is validly conducting the prosecution.”

“The fact that defense counsel filed these motions to dismiss does not necessarily mean they have legal merit. That is for the judge to decide, not the defense lawyers,” Swift said. “Sometimes a judge will agree with the argument raised by defense counsel and grant their motion. But that hasn’t happened here… at least not yet.”

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Putin admits the occupation of Crimea

StopFake.org - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 22:45

By Artem Velichko, specially for InformNapalm

Western political, intelligence and journalistic community erupted in understandably and justly very negative coverage of Donald Trump’s disastrous performance at the press conference in Helsinki. Former CIA director John Brennan even called it “nothing short of treasonous “. As the shocked world media kept all eyes on Trump, they overlooked a rare moment of Vladimir Putin speaking the truth, albeit inadvertently.

When asked by Jonathan Lemire of AP, what Trump had said to him about officially recognizing Crimea as part of Russia Putin offered the following response:

Vladimir Putin: President Trump sticks to a well-known position on Crimea. He speaks about the illegal nature of annexing Crimea to Russia. We have a different perspective on this. We believe that we helda referendum in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter. This case is closed for Russia…

There is a truthful part in this answer. The referendum on Crimea joining the Russian Federation was effectively held by the Russian occupation authorities. However, it was not legal under any laws, international or Ukrainian for that matter.

Let us recollect a few facts connected to the operation of seizing Crimea. As far back as February 2014 Russian Federation started deploying a massive combined arms force to the territory of Crimea in violation of the international law, UN charter and a number of bilateral treaties, including among others, the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation as well as the SOFA on the Black Sea Fleet.

According to the combined findings of Ukrainian intelligence agencies and InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community, at least 15 military units of the Russian Federation took part in the invasion to Crimea, among them special purpose, air assault, marine, infantry and even artillery units. Russia also deployed Cossack paramilitary groups as a policing force in Crimea. By mid-March 2014 all the Ukrainian military facilities were blocked or seized by the Russian forces, the majority law enforcers defected to the Russian side. Thus the entire peninsula came under the effective control of the Russian Federation and its proxies. This was the backdrop of the “referendum held in strict compliance…”.

Manipulations with the Russian wording on the website of the President of Russia

Putin’s phrase went through an interesting evolution on kremlin.ru, the official website of the President of Russia. The initial version of the transcript in Russian was exactly the way Putin said it – with two times “we” leaving no room for interpretations. However later on the wording of the Russian version was changed, and the second “we” was redacted. In its current form, the Russian sentence could be translated into English using a passive construction, i.e. “We believe that a referendum was held in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter.” This would totally change the meaning of the sentence.

At the time of writing, the wording on the English version of the site remained unchanged. It remains unclear why the editors of kremlin.ru chose to play with the Russian wording. Most probably for the sake of “correct” references by the domestic printed media.

Other slips

Putin is not a very public politician, more used to dealing with the subservient “Kremlin pool” of journalists. When confronted with the irreverence of western or Ukrainian journalists he loses his cool and lets slip the things he would have probably kept to himself. Let us remember his answer to an irritating question about the possible war with Ukraine that he gave on 3 March 2014. Putin then de-facto promised that in case of any confrontation with the Ukrainian Army, Russians would use Ukrainian civilians as human shields https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHgnJy7ECb8. Russian troops delivered on this promise both in Crimea and then Donbas.

Conclusion

This phrase in Helsinki constitutes a court-grade unintended admission of guilt on the part of Vladimir Putin and of his personal complicity in the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea. We appeal to the western journalists and policymakers not to let this “misspeak” go unnoticed.

By Artem Velichko, specially for InformNapalm

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: The Night Wolves, a Russian biker gang, are a tool of Russian intelligence?

StopFake.org - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 15:55

Topics of the Week

The Night Wolves, a Russian biker gang, are a tool of Russian intelligence

The US indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with the hacking of the DNC, while Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights advocate, is arrested on charges of conspiracy against the United States

The Kremlin’s current narrative: British authorities are blocking successful investigation of the Novichok attacks

Study: 10% of Russian-speaking social media users in the Baltic states generate 70% of the ideological content on these networks

Good Old Soviet Joke

Q: Why is communism superior to capitalism?

A: Because it heroically overcomes problems that do not exist in any other system.

Policy & Research News

This week saw a deluge of fascinating reports and studies from European and American think-tanks. To save you time reading them all, here are the most interesting tidbits:

The Night Wolves: a useful cover for intelligence activities

The Night Wolves are much more than just a rebellious biker gang, says Matthew A. Lauder in his report for the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces. They belong to a vast network of proxies used by the Kremlin to outsource activities that are usually the domain of intelligence and defence institutions.

According to the report, the Night Wolves serve a variety of roles, including  recruiting local agents for the Russian intelligence services, as well as leveraging members of Russian minorities living in the West.

Focus on the Western Balkans

Two studies recently published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute look closely at the Kremlin’s influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

Through cooperation with Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (especially in the security sector), the first report says, the Kremlin is actively trying to divide and destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina. How can NATO, the EU, and the US prevent Bosnia from becoming a Russian client state?

  • Commit one or two contingents of the US armed forces to an ongoing presence and training of Bosnian armed forces in the Brčko District
  • Broaden US sanctions to include key state officials of Republika Srpska for their continued support of the illegal 2016 Republika Srpska referendum
  • Use the Magnitsky Act to sanction corrupt individuals in Bosnia
  • Cease all communications, training, and military and technological assistance to Republika Srpska’s Ministry of Interior

As we have seen in the case of Montenegro, the Kremlin’s influence has already experienced a few defeats, for example since Montenegro decided to become a NATO member in 2015, despite Russian efforts to the contrary. But according to the second FPRI report, the Kremlin hasn’t given up, but merely changed its strategy: specifically, it is “stoking political and ethnic divisions to destabilize Montenegro and preclude further Western integration.” The authors also provide suggestions for pre-empting the reversal of Montenegro’s foreign policy: NATO must engage more with the country to strengthen military cooperation, facilitate democratic reforms, accelerate the EU accession process, and renew financial support for programs focused on the rule of law.

How should NATO defend the Suwałki Corridor?

The Center for European Policy (CEPA) highlights the importance of the Suwałki Corridor, a vulnerable area between Belarus and Kaliningrad. Its defence is crucial for guaranteeing the security of the Baltic States in case of Russian intervention in this territory. How should NATO prepare for such a situation?

  • Increase its threat-recognition capabilities
  • Speed-up decision-making protocols
  • Accelerate the movement of reinforcements across operational lines and national borders
The role for state institutions in countering foreign interference

The Alliance for Securing Democracy offers several recommendations for different US state institutions about how to counter authoritarian interference in democracies (which are easily transferable to other democratic countries). Here are those we find especially important:

  • Raise the cost of conducting malign influence operations
    • Executive branch: articulate publicly that malign foreign influence operations are a national security threat; employ cyber responses
    • Executive and legislative branches: impose broader sanctions against individuals and entities conducting these operations
  • Close vulnerabilities exploited to undermine democratic institutions
    • Executive branch: Appoint a senior-level Foreign Interference Coordinator; establish a Hybrid Threat Center to coordinate policy and intelligence across the government
    • Executive and legislative branches: Close loopholes that allow illicit financial and covert foreign political influence
  • Depoliticize efforts to unmask and respond to hostile foreign operations
    • Legislative branch: Establish mandatory reporting requirements for the administration to inform lawmakers of foreign attacks against the electoral infrastructure
    • Political parties and candidates: Pledge publicly not to use weaponized information obtained through hacks or other illicit means
  • Strengthen partnerships with Europe to improve the transatlantic response
  • Make transparency the norm in the tech sector
    • Legislative branch: Help foster a culture of transparency, e.g. by passing legislation that ensures citizens know the sources of online political ads; ensure that personal data is protected on social media platforms
  • Build a more constructive public-private partnership
    • Executive and legislative branches: Establish a more constructive relationship with the tech sector to share information and prevent the exploitation of emerging technologies
  • Expand dialogue about hostile foreign interference
    • Executive branch: Help raise awareness about the threat; establish partnerships with civil society
US Developments 12 Russian intelligence operatives indicted for US election interference

Last Friday, in a bombshell development in the Mueller investigation, twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted in connection with the hacking of numerous Democratic Party organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign as part of an explicit effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The full indictment noted that the conspirators first attempted to compromise email accounts used by the Clinton office staff on July 27, 2016 – the same day that Trump urged Russia to hack her electronic correspondence and “missing emails” at a press conference in Florida. The indictment also described that all the Russian operatives were officials of the GRU – Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate.  In addition, the indictment revealed that Russian interference in the 2016 election involved a greater effort to compromise sensitive information than previously acknowledged: hackers specifically targeted a US company that manufactures computer software used to verify voters’ identities – a key component in the administration of US elections.

While DNC Chair Tom Perez noted that these latest indictments show the alarming magnitude of the Russian operation, the White House made no statements addressing the charges.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a grand jury indicted Maria Butina, a Russian national with deep ties to the NRA, on charges of conspiracy against the United States and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian government (that is, a spy). Specifically, she is accused of seeking to build bridges between the Russian government and conservative US political leaders via the NRA, infiltrating these groups to advance the interests of the Russian Federation in the US. Butina was arrested on Sunday on orders of the Justice Department, separately from Robert Mueller’s special investigation. Butina worked closely with Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian banker and gun-rights advocate (notably a lifetime member of the NRA), who was sanctioned by the US in April and is no longer allowed back into the country.

Back in December, we reported that Congress was investigating the role of the NRA in connecting the Trump campaign with Russians, and specifically focused on a meeting between Torshin and Donald Trump, Jr. in May 2016. Earlier this year, Torshin was under investigation by the FBI about whether he illegally funnelled money to the NRA to help sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. Through Torshin’s connections with the NRA, he and Butina both were invited to attend Trump’s inaugural celebrations in February 2017.

#TreasonSummit: The unprecedented capitulation of an American president

News of the special counsel indictment broke just days before Donald Trump was set to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki – an event that international observers and US diplomats expected to be a political disaster. John Beyrle, a retired career diplomat who previously served as the US Ambassador to Moscow, voiced concern that no historical precedent exists for such a high-stakes US-Russia meeting to commence without any advance preparation. Indeed, the outcome was largely worse than predicted, with Trump giving the Russian regime an enormous geopolitical victory as he showered Putin with praise, railed against the Mueller “witch hunt”, and sided with Putin on the matter of Russia’s electoral interference, in blatant opposition to the US intelligence community.

Never before in history has an American president grovelled so pathetically before a foreign dictator, let alone sided with one against his own country and its institutions. At this point, as one commentator points out, there are only two possible explanations for Trump’s conduct: either he truly is an agent of Russian interests (either witting or unwitting), or he is so abysmally ignorant and narcissistic that he did not realize he was giving Putin exactly what he wanted, at terrible cost to the country he claims to be “making great again.”

Former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted that Trump’s performance in Helsinki “exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors’” and was “nothing short of treasonous.” John McCain was even more blistering in his criticism, calling the press conference in Helsinki “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Trump inflates tensions at NATO summit

Last week’s NATO summit in Brussels, which preceded the disastrous Helsinki Summit, also didn’t help reinstall confidence in the transatlantic alliance – an outcome attributable in almost exclusive measure to Trump’s showing. Arriving late to the summit, Trump first stunned NATO leaders when he accused Germany of being a “captive of Russia” by approving the Nord Stream II pipeline and becoming more dependent on Russian energy. (While we believe Nord Stream II should be cancelled, it is a stretch to call Germany a ‘captive of Russia’, and it was Trump’s condescension and boorishness that really struck a nerve.) The US president then roundly criticized EU member states for failing to increase their defense spending and declared that if spending is not up by January 2019, the “United States would go it alone”. Additionally, when asked whether he would consider scrapping military exercises in the Baltic region if Vladimir Putin demanded it, Trump suggested it could easily be a possibility.

The overall mood of the summit was one of chaos and confusion; however, Trump himself hailed the event as a success and, apparently tone-deaf to the reactions of his allies, insisted that his relationship within NATO was in good standing.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Novichok, again

This time we’ll start with Maria Zakharova’s closing remarks, to get you in the right mood before reading the rest.

“In the name of security on our continent, we call on the May Cabinet to stop the intrigues and games with chemical agents, stop blocking efforts to conduct a joint investigation into what has happened in the UK to Russian nationals”.

Yes, you read that right. A country that is funding terrorism, annexes foreign territory, and invades and occupies other sovereign states is “concerned” about security on the continent.

Zakharova loves conspiracy theories: “the British authorities have lost control of chemical agents”, and “We could have asked why NATO is silent. What does Mr Stoltenberg have to say on all this?”.

Of course, according to Zakharova, Moscow has nothing to be blamed for. The MFA is full of ever greater righteousness: “We call on British law enforcement to avoid being manipulated by dirty political games that certain quarters in London seem intent on playing and to finally cooperate with their Russian colleagues in a joint investigation, not least because Russian nationals have been affected as well.”

It is actually rather sad to see how Russia’s PR agents are running out of creativity and can’t come up with any new theories other than that of a giant global conspiracy against Russia. It’s the same story over and over  again: Russia crosses red lines and commits crimes, blames everyone else for Russophobia, and then gets some people to say “maybe Moscow hasn’t done anything wrong, let’s consider their side”. Yes, Russia likes to play this game – but gets away with it only because we allow it to.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion Virtual Russian World in the Baltics

A recent joint study by the Estonian National Centre for Defence & Security Awareness and NATO StratCom COE analyses the online behaviour and ideological content among Russian-speaking social media users in the Baltic States. Specifically, it analyses three social media sites, Facebook (FB), the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK), as well as the Russian-speaking network Odnoklassniki (OK).  It finds that 10% of these social network users generate 70% of the ideological content on these networks. The study finds clusters of active and interconnected ideological users: Writers who specialise in the creation of ideological content; Distributors who distribute the content; Readers who consume the content; and a significant large group of “Active Reserve” who occasionally engage with ideological content and can take on any of the abovementioned roles.

On VK the members of the Active Reserve account for the majority of users, over 70%, and the Writers were most interested in the following macro topics: hostile influence, Russia, Ukraine, and the West, indicating a definite connection with the narratives generated by pro-Kremlin propaganda. In addition, on OK there were fewer ideological users than on VK, and an additional cluster present, that of a Religious user. There are also several national differences. OK is mostly utilised to repost information from ideological groups. On FB the study finds that the majority of the groups linked to ideological content have a pro-Kremlin, pro-Russian or anti-Western orientation, and are tied to each other by a large number of common members.

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

Russian U.K. Embassy denies evidence of Moscow interfered in the U.S. election

StopFake.org - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 14:06

FINLAND –- HELSINKI, JULY 16, 2018: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Fox News Channel

By Polygraph

Russian U.K. Embassy official Twitter account

Official social media account

“Putin: Russian state has never intervened in US elections, nor going to do it. No evidence supporting the accusations was ever presented. But cybersecurity is one of the possible cooperation areas, as discussed in Hamburg in 2017.”

Source: Twitter

FALSE

U.S. intelligence agencies and private companies have detailed Russia’s election interference.

On July 17, the official Russian U.K. Embassy Twitter account claimed to quote Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that the Russian state has never intervened in U.S. elections, and that no evidence supporting such accusations from the 2016 election was ever presented. Actually, plenty of evidence from U.S. government, private, and foreign sources has been presented.

Putin: Russian state has never intervened in US elections, nor going to do it. No evidence supporting the accusations was ever presented. But cybersecurity is one of the possible cooperation areas, as discussed in Hamburg in 2017. pic.twitter.com/RazIB2BR2q

— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) July 17, 2018

The tweet by the embassy followed Putin’s denials at the Helsinki summit that Russia has “never” interfered with internal U.S. matters, including the election – reinforcing the false message that emerged from the meeting of the two leaders.

Interestingly, this two part question from a U.S. reporter at the Helsinki Summit can be heard on the Kremlin Web site at 31:50:

“Did you want President Trump to win the election? Did you direct any of your officials to do that?”

Trump answers: “Yes I did. Yes, I did.” His answer was related by a Kremlin interpreter.

We have previously reported several Russian denials – that appeared to be a consistent and false message emerging from the Kremlin.

In January 2018, Polygraph.info reported on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments to the same effect at the APEC summit in Vietnam. That article included the assessment of the declassified version of the U.S. Intelligence Committee’s findings on Russian election interference, which concluded that the CIA, FBI, and NSA could state “with high confidence” that the Russian GRU (military intelligence) was behind the hack and leaking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the campaign, and that Putin ordered it.

However, other evidence abounds. For example, during U.S. Congressional hearings, representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies testified on what they knew about Russian attempts to interfere in the election. Facebook garnered special attention, as it was revealed that 3,000 ads were bought by 470 accounts connected to the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, better known as “the troll factory.”

RUSSIA — Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, gestures on the sidelines of a summit meeting between Russian President and Turkish President at the Konstantin palace outside St. Petersburg, August 9, 2016

The Internet Research Agency, its owner Evgeny Prigozhin, and some of its employees have been named in a federal indictment that was filed in February as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016,” the indictment reads in its introduction.

The Internet Research Agency as an organization is named as the first defendant in the indictment, which lays out a two-year effort, and includes details on the use of social media platforms“to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton” and two Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and support for Clinton’s opponent Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.

U.S. — A Facebook ad linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues, released by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, is photographed in Washington, February 16, 2018

The indictment states that the Internet Research Agency was funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his company Concord Management – which holds numerous Russian government contracts, including some from the Russian Defense Ministry.

The February indictments of point to specific government contracts, supporting the close connections between the companies owned by Evgeny Prigozhin and the Russian state.

What is more, the content produced by the Internet Research Agency, for both Russian and foreign audiences, supports the Russian government and its foreign policy goals.

RUSSIA — A view of the four-story building known as the “troll factory” in St. Petersburg, February 17, 2018

The Dutch media reported in January that the country’s General Intelligence and Security Service had managed to hack into the computers used by Cozy Bear, a code name for one of the Russian hacker groups believed to have been behind the DNC hack.The media reports were not confirmed by the Dutch government.

The July 2018 special counsel indictment of 12 Russian agents laid out in detail the Russian hack of the computers of the Democratic National Committee, and a related campaign committee. Investigators identify the 12 as part of the military intelligence agency, the GRU that maintained access to the DNC sensitive information from April 2016 until mid-October 2016, only weeks before the U.S. presidential election.

The indictment identifies the online persona Guccifer 2.0, who “falsely claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker” that released the first set of hacked Democratic Party documents on June 15, 2016 – “at 7:02 p.m., Moscow Standard Time.”

The Kremlin has not offered specific information disputing the veracity of the evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence and Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Russia interfered with the U.S. political campaign in 2016. Russia generally has produced a consistently false narrative on the issue flatly denying the existence of any evidence. However in Helsinki, Putin, himself, seemed to excuse any hacking of the Democratic computers and release of private e-mails, in an interview with the U.S. network Fox.

“Was there any false information planted? No, it wasn’t,” said Putin to news anchor Chris Wallace.“…they hacked a certain e-mail account and there was an information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate and as far as I know the entire party leadership resigned.”

Wallace reflected that Putin was saying “their real e-mails…(were) okay to hack” or steal because they were authentic.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Russian TV manipulates Gallup poll results to show Americans less patriotic

StopFake.org - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 13:28

US — Independence Day celebrations, 04Jul2018

By Polygraph

Tsargrad.tv

Orthodox Christian TV channel in Russia

“The results of a poll conducted by the Gallup Institute showed that in 2018 only 47% of Americans are proud of their country.”

Source: Tsargrad.tv, July 4, 2018

MISLEADING

tsargrad.tv ignored Gallup’s scale

Tsargrad.tv, a conservative Orthodox Christian TV channel in Russia, reported on July 4 — U.S. Independence Day — that only 47 percent of Americans are proud of their country.

The report, headlined, “In the last 15 years the number of patriots in the US fell three-fold,” concluded that “such results speak for themselves” and are “visual proof” that the “latest political turmoil in the U.S. is forcing Americans to be less proud of their country.”

While the tsargar.tv report accurately cites the number of poll respondents who said they were “extremely proud” of their country, it entirely misrepresents the overall poll results, leaving out key details like the scale Gallup used to show the different levels of pride expressed by the Americans who were polled.

Indeed, while 47% of the poll respondents by tsargrad.tv said they are “extremely proud” of their country, the combined number of respondents who said they are “extremely,” or “very,” or “moderately,” or “only a little” proud of their country was 95%.

The original Gallup poll states: “While the 47% who are extremely proud to be Americans is a new low, the vast majority of Americans do express some level of pride, including 25% who say they are ‘very proud’ and 16% who are ‘moderately proud’. That leaves one in 10 who are ‘only a little’ (7%) or ‘not at all’ proud (3%).”

​“The Russian media’s willful misinterpretation of the Gallup poll reveals a common and consistent tactic used in disinformation: the use of factually accurate but manipulated or incomplete information to support a position,” Bret Schafer, social media analyst at the German Marshall Fund, told Polygraph.info.

Schafer said the tactic is an example of “classic information manipulation,” which employs a partly true narrative rather than a wholesale fabrication or “fake news,” making it far more difficult to debunk.

“Of course, RT and other propaganda outlets want to paint a picture of America that is unflattering, so ignoring context and key details is clearly a strategic editorial decision,” Bret Schafer said.

​The tsargrad.tv reference to “political turmoil” as the reason for the drop in patriotism among Americans seems to be an accurate reflection of the conclusions drawn in the Gallup report.

Summarizing the implications of the recent poll, Gallup stated: “Fewer than half of U.S. adults are extremely proud to be Americans, something that had not been seen in the prior 17 years Gallup has asked the public about its national pride. Politics appears to be a factor, with sharp declines evident among Democrats and political liberals and no decrease among Republicans and conservatives.”

According to Schafer, the exploitation of the existing societal divisions is another traditional part of Russia’s disinformation strategy.

“Going back to the Cold War, Russian information operations have long preyed upon real and existing societal divisions in America, from racial strife to political polarization. It is important to stress that Russia did not create these divisions, but they have effectively exploited them. The strategy, in essence, is to turn the cracks in our system into chasms,” Schafer said.

Tsargrad.tv is owned by Konstantin Malofeev, an oligarch targeted by U.S. Treasury sanctions for his role in the Ukraine conflict and annexation of Crimea, as well as accusations of involvement in a failed coup in Montenegro, and Russia’s active measures in the Balkans.

The TV channel is popular among Russian nationalists worldwide.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

At the Helsinki Summit, Putin Claims Military Coordination Avoids Danger — the Record Proves Otherwise

StopFake.org - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 00:50

FINLAND — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) offers a ball of the 2018 football World Cup to US President Donald Trump during a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President, Russian Federation

“Let me remind you that both Russian and American military acquired useful experience of coordination of their actions, established the operational channels of communication, which permit it to avoid dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions in the air and in (on) the ground.”

Source: NPR, July 16, 2018

MISLEADING

There have been instances of the Russian military’s intentional collusions

Speaking at a press conference after the summit with President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the military was one of the sectors in which the two countries cooperate the best.

“Let me remind you that both Russian and American military acquired useful experience of coordination of their actions, established the operational channels of communication, which permit it to avoid dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions in the air and in (on) the ground,” Putin said.

President Putin’s statement is accurate. There are, indeed, established channels of communications designed specifically to avoid dangerous collisions.

There have been multiple instances, however, in which Russia intentionally ignored protocol, initiating incidents that the U.S. military said where “provocative and dangerous.”

According to the European Leadership Network [ELN], a London-based policy group focusing on defense and security issues, in “Russia – West Dangerous Brinkmanship,” the organization details 66 incidents identifiable from public sources that took place between March 2014 and March 2015.

The “incidents” keep occurring regularly. On January 29, 2018 a Russian Su-27 fighter jet buzzed and shadowed a U.S. ЕР-3Е Aries II in international airspace over the Black Sea. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed there was “no incident” and called it a routine operation. According to the ministry, the Russian fighter jet approached at a “safe distance” and the flight “was performed in strict compliance with international rule[s] of airspace use.”

​“The Russian side was flagrantly violating existing agreements and international law, in this case the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA),” said Heather Nauert, the U.S. State Department spokesperson. “The United States notes with the highest level of concern the latest incident of unsafe Russian military practices.”

In February 2018, the Russian paramilitary group “Wagner” moved in on an oil refinery occupied by U.S. soldiers near Deir el-Zour in Syria, sustaining heavy losses in a counter-attack from the American forces. According to the audio recordings obtained by Polygraph.info, the Russians had full knowledge of the presence of the U.S. troops and attacked the base anyway.

U.S. military officials said the coalition was in contact with Russia before, during and after the February 7-8 attack and had alerted Russia to the presence of SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) personnel in that area.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Russians had told the U.S. military that they did not have any forces at the base.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Sputnik Repeats Russia’s False Tales About MH 17, Four Years Later

StopFake.org - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 01:03

NETHERLANDS — White chairs and a placard are set up by relatives of crash victims of flight MH17 as a silent protest in front of the Russian embassy in The Hague, May 8, 2018

By Polygraph

Sputnik International

Russian State-owned media outlet

“MH17 Crash Four Years On: Probe Continues, While No Solid Proof Presented So Far”

Source: Sputnik

FALSE

Plenty of evidence points directly to Russia’s responsibility for the crash.

On the four-year anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which led to the death of all 298 passengers on board, Russia’s state-owned news agency Sputnik claimed no “solid evidence” has been produced linking Russia with the incident. In fact, plenty of evidence showing Russia’s culpability has been found, yet the Russian government, its state-run media outlets and pro-government media outlets, during the four year internal, have produced contradictory alternative theories that have been repeatedly debunked.

UKRAINE – People lay flowers and light candles at Dutch embassy in Kyiv on July 17, 2018, to remember those killed on flight MH17 four years ago when the plane was shot down over war-torn Ukraine

The Sputnik article begins by stating that Russia was accused of shooting down the Boeing 777 “shortly after” the downing of the plane was reported. It does not mention, however, that there was a good reason for this, based on military capabilities.The Ukrainian military was fighting an enemy with no aviation assets, and so Ukraine would have no reason to shoot down a high-altitude aircraft flying from the west. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian forces had shot down several Ukrainian military aircraft in the days leading up to July 17.

The article claims that an investigation by Almaz-Antey, the company which manufactures the Buk surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down MH17, found that the missile was fired from the village of Zaroshchensk’e in eastern Ukraine – which the company claimed was under Ukrainian military control. Actually, the village was controlled by pro-Russian forces. This point is moot, however, considering that both the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigative Team determined that the actual launch site was near the village of Snizhne, which was also controlled by pro-Russian forces at the time.

The article then refers to the Russian Defense Ministry’s claims that a Ukrainian Buk radar signal was detected in the area. What the article fails to mention is that the Russian Defense Ministry also claimed it had detected a Ukrainian air force jet in the vicinity of MH17. The Sputnik article also does not mention that both the Defense Ministry and various state-media organizations often promoted claims that a Ukrainian Su-25, which is in fact a ground-attack aircraft, shot down MH17. Russia’s Investigative Committee even opened an investigation into this theory.

In any case, these claims have been thoroughly debunked, as the damage to the Boeing was consistent with that caused by a Buk SAM and not a much smaller air-to-air missile.

RUSSIA-Russian officers with BUK missile launcher from bellingcat investigation

Besides these claims, the Sputnik article repeatedly cites Russia’s Defense and Foreign ministries in labeling the evidence used by both the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigative Team as “unreliable” without substantiating these claims. The article does mention the claim that the missile used to shoot down the airliner was manufactured in 1986, and that it was not in use by the Russian Armed Forces, but this has been debunked based on photographs.

It is worth noting that years after the event, Russian media’s initial treatment of the story is still online. For example, the pro-government outlet LifeNews, below, claimed that pro-Russian forces had downed a Ukrainian An-26 military cargo plane, showing footage from what was actually the MH17 downing. The Russian state-owned news agency TASS also ran this report, which is still online today. These reports were based on a dispatch by pro-Russian militia leader and Russian citizen Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, who on that day published a post on social media bragging that his forces had shot down an An-26. His “An-26” shootdown was actually the airliner, which had taken off from Amsterdam, full of civilians, and was bound for Kuala Lampur. While Girkin quickly removed the post as the real story emerged, the stories which cited him remain up to this day.

Годовщина незабываемого выпуска Лайфньюс о сбитом АН-26, а по факту сбитом российским буком Боинг рейса MH17. pic.twitter.com/CwsMyLN8Kx

— Коронованный Вован (@stignic) July 17, 2018

A LifeNews anchorwoman reports the destruction of an “An-26” military cargo plane that was actually MH17.

What is more, there have been plenty of opportunities for the Russian side to debunk some of the investigations that point to Russia, but they have not taken them. For example, a joint investigation by Bellingcat, McClatchy DC, and the Russian independent media outlet The Insider identified a Russian GRU (military intelligence) officer whose intercepted phone conversations reveal that the so-called “separatists” had a Buk SAM system in their possession. To date, Russian media has not interviewed the man in question to get his side of the story and possibly clear his, and Russia’s name in this case.

Reminder that after @bellingcat/@the_ins_ru identified Oleg Ivannikov as the GRU officer responsible for organizing the transport of the #MH17 murder weapon, there has not been a single interview with him. Why won’t any Russian media outlets interview him to clear his good name? pic.twitter.com/7dsGMl7V3q

— Aric Toler (@AricToler) July 17, 2018


By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Does Russia Really Oppose Teaching Nationalism to Kids?

StopFake.org - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 00:55

Russia – Russian military-patriotic movement “Yunarmiya” (Youth Army)

By Polygraph

Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations Twitter Account

Official social media account

“It’s unacceptable to impose on #children ideology of #nationalism, to teach them false history and values. They should not be discriminated on national origin or be denied the right to learn in native language. We’ll continue to draw intl [international] attention to such violations in some States”

Source: Twitter

MISLEADING

Russia violates almost every recommendation in this tweet.

On July 10, the official Twitter account of the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations issued a tweet that condemned imposing the “ideology of nationalism” on children. The tweet did not accuse any specific country, but there are examples close by. For example, Ukraine last year passed an education reform law affecting the teaching of minority languages in public schools. The law as adopted was criticized by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises countries on constitutional issues with the aim of strengthening democratic institutions and protecting human rights.

It’s unacceptable to impose on #children ideology of #nationalism, to teach them false history and values.They should not be discriminated on national origin or be denied the right to learn in native language.We’ll continue to draw intl attention to such violations in some States pic.twitter.com/OWQNif7JQD

— Russian Mission UN (@RussiaUN) July 10, 2018

However, the Russian UN Mission’s tweet could just as easily apply to Russia.

Russia easily fits the description of a country that imposes “nationalism,” as well as false historical narratives, on children. For example, Russia’s government and Defense Ministry organize and sponsor “military patriotic” youth groups. One such group, known as the Youth Army, includes children as young as 8 years old, while another group involved children between the ages of 5 to 7. It should be noted that most of these youth groups are voluntary.

Last year, a member of Russia’s parliament published a video that showed young children singing about their readiness to die for Vladimir Putin.

In another video, of a Youth Army ceremony with Putin in attendance, a young girl tells the audience that she would master German because Putin speaks that language. (In doing so, she rephrased a poem by the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky).

The concern over language issues is also applicable to Russia, a country with many national minorities. The suppression of regional non-Russian languages was largely due to a 2008 reform that required high school graduation exams to be in Russian only. As a result, many state schools in regions like Tatarstan switched over from teaching the native language to Russian.

A more recent law in Tatarstan limits the teaching of the Tatar language in schools to no more than two hours a week. New draft legislation floated in June would make non-Russian languages non-obligatory even in non-Russian regions. It has been criticized by representatives of various minorities, who fear that such a law would lead to further Russification. However, there are reports that, due to the backlash against the original version, the bill will be amended to include non-Russian languages with official status as obligatory.

NOVOKUZNETSK, KEMEROVO REGION, RUSSIA: First-grade students and teacher are in school classroom at first lesson – vthe day of knowledge in Russia. September 2, 1014

But what about the teaching of false narratives in schools? In January 2018, Meduza reported that Russia’s Education Ministry had ordered a review of a high school history textbook because it referred to Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan as a “revolution” and not a “bloody coup.” Moreover, history textbooks often promote a whitewashed version of Russian history, particularly the period involving Josef Stalin and the Second World War.

Questioning such official history, even when based on well-established fact, can have consequences. A Russian man in Perm learned this the hard way when he was fined for posting an article about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Polygraph.info e-mailed the press office for the Russian Mission to the UN, asking for more specifics on what countries, if any, it was criticizing. We also asked for information about the youth Russian military patriotic groups, whether Ukrainian language is taught in Russian schools and to clarify the Russian Federation’s position domestic education reform that has been criticized as suppressing regional, non-Russian languages. We received no reply.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

StopFake #192 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 22:06

Fake: US sells Ukraine defective Javelin missiles. Ukraine prepares terror attacks in Crimea. How Ukraine “rooted” for Russia in the World Cup. Patriotism in America.

Categories: World News

Novichok returns and so does disinformation

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 11:49

By EU vs Disinfo

As the nerve agent Novichok – which was used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia earlier this year – reappeared in Amesbury, not far from the original finding place in Salisbury, it has tragically taken a life and now prompted a murder inquiry. A couple was exposed in a way still unknown to law enforcement and on Sunday one of the victims passed away. Although this new turn of events was unexpected and is so far not seen by British police as a targeted attack, the subsequent flow of disinformation was less of a surprise.

Both from Russian state owned channels and from official Kremlin-linked accounts, there was an immediate return to spreading already well known disinformation narratives which had been generated at the time of the first poisoning with Novichok earlier this year. And just as then, the narratives were used to confuse, undermine and spread false accusations.

We saw claims that it was all about anti-Russian hysteria, that it was a distraction from the meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin and that it was a provocation by the enemies of Russia. And much like the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign surrounding the original Skripal poisoning, some effort was put into raising suspicion about the UK’s role in the incident. Again, Porton Down (Britain’s military research base) was mentioned as the possible perpetrator of the nerve agent incidents.

And, with the World Cup still ongoing in Russia, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machinery didn’t miss the opportunity to once again state that this was merely an attempt to disturb the event, this time ‘due to the success of it, which displeased the UK’.

Alternative Academia?

Students at a summer school hosted by renowned Uppsala University in Sweden were in for a surprise earlier this summer. Lecturing at the international course ’War and Peace Journalism in an Age of Global Instability’ was Vanessa Beeley, a British blogger referred to by the Russian and Syrian Governments as a credible source and independent journalist, in reality a well-known pro-Assad and pro-Kremlin public figure. She has eg visited Regime-held areas of Syria, often under the supervision of the Syrian Army.

According to visiting Estonian students and professors, Ms Beeley didn’t miss a beat in following some of the main narratives in pro-Kremlin disinformation. She discredited NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, claiming it to be a zionist front organization run by George Soros. She stated that the USSR and later Russia always worked for peace in the world, and that Crimea legitimately decided to be Russian. And she called the White Helmets a terrorist organization and claimed the chemical attack in Douma never happened.

Swedish local media wrote about the incident which prompted an official apology from the University, stating that they had not been aware that Beeley had been invited by the course coordinator and that she had, in her lecture, expressed unscientific views.

We have previously written about the use of ”experts” in Russian state-owned media where Ms Beeley also appears regularly. As this incident highlights, there is also a need for academia to be watchful about the challenge of disinformation and to safeguard the integrity of academic institutions.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Why is the international media still repeating Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine?

StopFake.org - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 10:16

At the World Cup Croatia’s Domagoj Vida celebrates their first goal scored by Andrej Kramaric on July 7 in Sochi, Russia. Croatia beat Russia in the quarter final. Vida made a video that included the phrase “Glory to Ukraine” to celebrate the victory that has resulted in an international dustup. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Council

When two members of Croatia’s World Cup squad recorded a nine-second video dedicating their quarter final victory over Russia to Ukraine, they chose to accompany it with the patriotic slogan “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”). As former Dynamo Kyiv players, they appear to have believed they were sending a somewhat cheeky but essentially harmless message to their Ukrainian friends. However, to millions of horrified viewers in Russia, there was nothing innocent about the video. To them, it was a dire insult to national honor straight out of the Nazi era.

This historically illiterate interpretation of the phrase “Glory to Ukraine” is perfectly in line with modern Russia’s preference for viewing all things Ukrainian through the narrow and distorting prism of Ukraine’s World War II-era independence movement. According to this warped logic, “Glory to Ukraine” is a fascist phrase because it enjoyed prominence among Ukraine’s World War II insurgent army, a force which briefly formed a strategic alliance with the invading Germans before fighting against both Nazis and Soviets for the remainder of the war.

These insurgents have long been the poster boys of a Kremlin campaign to justify the invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine by painting all Ukrainian patriots as the collective reincarnation of Hitler’s hordes. Indeed, since Soviet times, the preferred propaganda response to the Ukrainian independence movement has always been to brand Ukrainian patriots as fascists, with “Glory to Ukraine” as their version of “Heil Hitler.”

This depiction was never historically accurate, but the evolution of the phrase in recent years has rendered it absurd. Far from being a product of World War II, the origins of “Glory to Ukraine” are traceable to long before the 1940s. The phrase has its roots in Ukraine’s early twentieth century national liberation movement and was enthusiastically embraced by various different military formations during the failed statehood bid that saw a number of short-lived Ukrainian republics emerge in the chaotic aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. It has remained in common usage ever since, gaining in popularity during particularly intensive periods of Ukraine’s nation-building story such as the perestroika years and the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity. Today, “Glory to Ukraine” is a wholly unremarkable patriotic refrain used by everyone from national politicians and celebrities to visiting dignities and diplomats. In this sense, it is comparable to “Vive la France” or “God Bless America.”

The only people still entitled to be shocked or offended by the phrase are those who regard Ukrainian independence as a form of dangerous extremism. This explains the virulence of the Russian reaction to the Croatian World Cup video, but it also raises serious questions over the way the international media chose to cover the issue.

Many press reports uncritically repeated misleading Kremlin characterizations of “Glory to Ukraine” as an anti-Russian nationalist slogan with roots in twentieth century fascism. This should be something of a wakeup call to all those who think Russian disinformation is losing its power to deceive. While international awareness of Kremlin hybrid war tactics has progressed by leaps and bounds since 2014, all roads still often lead to Moscow when it comes to media coverage of Ukraine.

The most striking example of this trend came courtesy of the UK’s Independent newspaper, which produced a report into the Croatian World Cup video scandal containing so many Kremlin clichés that it could conceivably have passed muster at RT. Perhaps the most memorable line was the description of “Glory to Ukraine” as “a phrase that continues to be deployed by anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists following the 2014 Maidan coup.” Fellow British daily The Sunexplained “Glory to Ukraine” as “the chant of the Ukrainian army and the nationalist cause that is opposed to Russian territorial claims on the country.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg carried an opinion piece that repeated false Russian assertions of the phrase’s World War II vintage, stating matter-of-factly that it is “a traditional greeting of Ukrainian nationalists, and was first adopted by the supporters of World War II-era separatist Stepan Bandera.” The fact that these casual characterizations all echo the official Russian narrative is an indication of the informal influence Moscow continues to exert over international perceptions of Ukraine.

This is nothing new, of course. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, international media reporting on Ukraine has suffered from a heavy degree of Russian bias due to the widespread habit of relying on Moscow correspondents to cover the country. With Russia and Ukraine currently engaged in an undeclared war, the shortcomings of relying on international journalists accredited by the Russian state should be obvious. Nevertheless, the practice persists and continues to produce predictably unsatisfactory results.

Ukraine’s low international profile and minimal academic footprint have also not helped matters. All too often, this has forced those interested in the country to seek information from Russocentric sources that are more likely reinforce old stereotypes than to offer any genuine insight into the specifics of Ukraine’s post-Soviet experience. Until Ukraine makes itself more accessible to English-language audiences, this will remain the case. After all, busy foreign journalists and overloaded international researchers are hardly to blame for lacking the requisite Ukrainian language skills and nuanced local knowledge necessary to make sense of the country’s confusing past and convoluted present.

While four years of Kremlin information warfare have clearly not convinced the international press to think twice before taking their lead on Ukraine from Russia, the experience has at least taught Ukrainians the importance of fighting back. The Ukrainian Embassy in London led the charge on this occasion, taking to social media to register its objections to misleading coverage of the “Glory to Ukraine” video in the UK press. The results were encouraging with a number of corrections to the Independent article appearing within a matter of hours. Similar fact-based complaints regarding things like incorrect maps showing Crimea as part of Russia have also brought success in recent months.

The onus now is on Ukraine to continue defending itself on the information battlefield. Ukrainian officials and activists must use the appearance of Russian propaganda tropes in the international media as an opportunity to inform and educate. Ukraine’s international ambiguity left it uniquely vulnerable in 2014 to Russian information warfare, but there is no longer any excuse for allowing Moscow to maintain its monopoly of the conversation.

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Council

Peter Dickinson is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and publisher of Business Ukraine and Lviv Today magazines. He tweets @Biz_Ukraine_Mag.

Categories: World News

WhatsApp launches cmpaign in India to spot fake messages

StopFake.org - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 06:26

A man reads WhatsApp advertisements on how to spot misinformation, published in prominent newspapers in New Delhi, India, July 10, 2018

ByAnjana Pasricha, for  VoANews

NEW DELHI — After hoax messages on WhatsApp fueled deadly mob violence in India, the Facebook-owned messaging platform published full-page advertisements in prominent English and Hindi language newspapers advising users on how to spot misinformation.

The advertisements are the first measure taken by the social media company to raise awareness about fake messages, following a warning by the Indian government that it needs to take immediate action to curb the spread of false information.

While India is not the only country to be battling the phenomenon of fake messaging on social media, it has taken a menacing turn here — in the past two months more than a dozen people have died in lynchings sparked by false posts spread on WhatsApp that the victims were child kidnappers.

Ironically, the digital media giant took recourse to traditional print media to disseminate its message. The advertisements, which began with the line “Together we can fight false information” give 10 tips on how to sift truth from rumors and will also be placed in regional language newspapers.

They call on users to check photos in messages carefully because photos and videos can be edited to mislead; check out stories that seem hard to believe; to “think twice before sharing a post that makes you angry and upset”; check out other news websites or apps to see if the story is being reported elsewhere. It also warned that fake news often goes viral and asked people not to believe a message just because it is shared many times.

WhatsApp published full page advertisements in The Times of India newspaper giving 10 tips on how to fight false information

Internet experts called the media blitz a good first step, but stressed the need for a much larger initiative to curb the spread of fake messages that authorities are struggling to tackle.

“There has to be a repetitive pattern. People have to be told again and again and again,” says Pratik Sinha who runs a fact checking website called Alt News and hopes that the social media giant will run a sustained campaign. “That kind of fear mongering that has gone on on WhatsApp, that is not going to go away by just putting out an advertisement one day a year. This needs a continuous form of education.”

Some pointed out that although newspapers are popular in India, many of the users of the messaging platform, specially in rural areas, were unlikely to be newspaper readers.

Satish Bhaykre, 21, who was beaten by a mob due to a fake WhatsApp text, poses inside his house on the outskirts of Nagpur, India, June 23, 2018

The fake posts that have spread on WhatsApp have ranged from sensationalist warnings of natural calamities, fake stories with political messaging to bogus medical advise. The false messages that warned parents about child abductors were sometimes accompanied by gruesome videos of child abuse.

Experts said the that the need to curb fake news has also assumed urgency ahead of India’s general elections scheduled for next year — WhatsApp has become the favored medium for political parties to target voters. With about 200 million users, India is its largest market for the messaging service.

ByAnjana Pasricha, for  VoANews

Categories: World News