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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 12 min 19 sec ago

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

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:17

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

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

Website screenshot RIA

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

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

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

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

Categories: World News

Investigators: Russian Military Downed Malaysian Flight

29 min 15 sec ago

Wilbert Paulissen of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) speaks on the preliminary results of the investigation into the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines jetliner flight MH17 during a press conference in Nieuwegein, Netherlands, Sept. 28, 2016. The disaster claimed 298 lives

By VOA News

An international team of investigators says it has identified the Russian military brigade responsible for launching a missile that brought down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine in 2014.

The Joint Investigation Team concluded flight MH-17 was hit by a Buk missile launched by a unit of Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, according to Wilbert Paulissen of the Dutch National Police. Paulissen made the announcement in Bunnik, The Netherlands during a presentation of preliminary findings of the long-running investigation.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the downing of the airliner.

The missile, fired from a mobile launcher, struck the Boeing 777 on July 17, 2014 over an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

A photo taken on July 23, 2014 shows the crash site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region

The airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when it was blown out of the sky, killing all 298 on board, most of whom were Dutch.

Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said investigators still have a lot of work to do and were not ready to publicly identify individual suspects. Investigators have to determine whether members of the 53rd Brigade, which is based in Kursk, Russia, were involved in the missile attack.

The Joint Investigative Team, comprised of prosecutors from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, are compiling evidence for a criminal prosecution.

A Dutch Safety Board investigation concluded in an October 2015 report the jet was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile.

By VOA News

Categories: World News

Everyone Against Russia: Conspiracy Theories on the Rise In Russian Media

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 16:02

By EU vs Disinfo

There has been a significant increase in the appearance of conspiracy theories in Russia over the past seven years. A new study shows that references in Russian media to a select group of popular conspiracy theories are on average six to nine times more frequent now than they were in 2011. Disinformation is among the factors experts name as the reason for this increase.

The top 10 conspiracy theories

The study was carried out by the independent Russian daily Vedomosti together with the Russian media monitoring company Medialogia, and looked at data from 43,000 different Russian media outlets, including TV, radio, online and print media, in the period from 2011 until 2017. The survey gave the different conspiracy theories a rating on the basis of a methodology whereby more points were given to cases when the conspiracy theories were picked up by media with big audiences, such as the national TV channels, and less points were given to cases where they appeared in smaller media with more limited outreach. At the same time, the study counted the total number of mentions of each of the conspiracy theories.

The article in Vedomosti presents a top 10 list of the conspiracy theories in Russian media with the highest rating. As examples from our reporting show, even theories whose origin is not tied to Russia or the Kremlin’s policies can be integrated in the flow of politically motivated disinformation.

  1. A network of historians conspire against Russia 

The notion that Russia is the target of a coordinated attack from a network of historians, who allegedly falsify and distort the country’s history, is by far the most popular among the conspiracy theories in Russian media. With a total of 15,730 mentions in the study’s data, this conspiracy theory’s rating is 3.7 times more popular than the second most popular theory. Its frequency rose 9.3 times from the first quarter of 2011 (619 mentions) and the fourth quarter of 2017 (5,808 mentions). Vedomosti sees the success of this conspiracy theory as a result of numerous leading Russian politicians and opinion formers giving voice to this conspiracy it, including the President and the Culture Minister, who supported these claims in a book he published in 2012. The study also shows that a peak in the theory’s popularity coincided with the attacks on the film Mathilda about Russia’s last Tsar, and other heated debates around the 100thanniversary of the 1917 Revolution and the killing of Russia’s last imperial family.

The Russian Orthodox Church has promoted the theory that the killing of Russia’s last imperial family in 1918 was in fact a “ritual murder”, carried out by a Jewish conspiracy.

  1. There is a secret world government

The claim that mankind is in fact controlled by a world government is also known as the New World Order conspiracy theory. It is a part of a cluster of similar theories, including the one targeting George Soros and the conspiracy theory about the Rothschild family, whose mentioning in a prime time Russian state TV news broadcast we have described in an earlier article. The secret world government theory was mentioned a total of 4,249 times in the study’s material, and six times more often in Q4 2017 (1,365 mentions) than in Q1 2011 (224 mentions).

This image was shown in a Russian state TV prime time news programme to promote the Rothschild family conspiracy and its alleged support of Emmanuel Macron. Image: Pervy Kanal.

  1. HIV/AIDS is a hoax, and this is kept as a secret

The spread of the HIV/AIDS conspiracy theory should be seen against the sad background of HIV being a serious problem in Russia. The theory holds the second place in relative growth among the cases analysed in the study, having become 36 times more frequent when comparing Q1 2011 (75 mentions) to Q4 2017 (2,700 mentions). HIV/AIDS was a central part of a disinformation campaign during the Cold War when the Soviet Union try to spread a rumour that HIV/AIDS was the result of US experiments.

  1. Genetically modified food is dangerous, and this is kept as a secret

We have seen this conspiracy used in pro-Kremlin, politically motivated disinformation when it was claimed on Russian state TV that the US is buying Ukrainian land to sow genetically modified crops, and that this will cause famine in Ukraine. The GMO conspiracy theory was mentioned 9.7 times more often in Q4 2017 (1,351 mentions) than in Q1 2011 (139 mentions).

RT (Russia Today) has claimed that in the West, microchips are implanted under the skin of office workers to make them more submissive and passive.

  1. The world is controlled by reptilians or aliens, and this is kept as a secret

The mildly speaking controversial claim the world is governed by reptilians or visitors from outer space popped up 18,102 times in the surveyed data, with 8.6 times increase from Q1 2011 (263 mentions) to Q4 2017 (2,270 mentions). As we described in an earlier article about conspiracy theories in Russia, a candidate in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral election gained some publicity when she argued that reptiles from a fictional planet reside a mountain region in southern Russia, where they have wiped out an ancient Slavic civilization.

  1. The US moon landing was a hoax

This conspiracy theory is by no means homegrown in Russia; nevertheless, reference to it was detected 6,608 times in the study’s data with a drastic 11.2 times increase between Q1 2011 (85 mentions) and Q4 2017 (956 mentions). Fully in line with the overall systematic targeting of the US in the Kremlin’s international propaganda outlets, Sputnik has peddled the idea that the Americans perhaps never made it to the moon.

The state propaganda outlet Sputnik has promoted the moon landing conspiracy theory. Image: Sputnik.

  1. Vaccinations are extremely dangerous, and this is kept as a secret

While scepticism towards vaccination is a well-known global phenomenon, it becomes a conspiracy theory when it is claimed that the alleged knowledge about negative effects is being kept in secret from the public eye, or when it is e.g. said that a vaccination program is in fact a hidden biological attack. Vaccination conspiracy theories appeared in Russian media 6.2 times more often in the fourth quarter of 2017 than in the first quarter of 2011. Pushing narratives about the concealment of secret underlying agendas and agreements is a central element of pro-Kremlin propaganda and thereby a case of where we see a strong degree of overlap between conspiracy theory and the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign.

Russian state TV has claimed that the popular fidget spinner is a part of a conspiracy to topple the Kremlin leaders.

  1. A gay lobby destroys Russia’s moral foundations

With a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”, Russia is not known as a friendly environment for the LGBTI community. The conspiracy theory purporting the existence of a lobby of gays who – not unlike the network of historians mentioned above – allegedly wish to destabilise Russian society, takes the alienation of gay people to a new level. The claim appeared 12.9 times more often in Q4 2017 than in Q1 2011. Claims about the gay lobby have been voiced in the official Kremlin propaganda outlet, Sputnik, and on the nationwide television channel REN TV.

Europe is the kingdom of gays“ is the title of a broadcast with REN TV host Igor Prokopenko, who is also the author of another TV programme in which it is claimed that the world is flat. Mr Prokopenko won the 2017 Russian national TV awards in the category “best educational programme”. Image: Youtube.

  1. The world is flat

The idea that the world is flat and not round is not too crazy to become integrated into the flow of pro-Kremlin disinformation. For example, the winner of the 2017 Russian national television award for “best educational programme” is also the author of a TV programme in which it is claimed that the world is flat. This conspiracy theory is the fastest growing among the top 10 conspiracy theories in the study with 44.6 times increase between the first quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2017.

  1. The world is controlled by Freemasons

The conspiracy theory about freemasons is also old and international; however, it has had a revival in Russia with 5.9 times rise between Q1 2011 and Q4 2017. REN TV, a Russian TV channel known for its dense mix of disinformation and conspiracy theories, is among the Russian media outlets that have given voice to this claim.

In 2014, a Russian milk company removed barcodes from their packets, explaining that “it always contains three invisible sixes (666), which is the name of the Antichrist.”

Disinformation as a driver of conspiracy theories and vice versa

As we see in the examples above, conspiracy theories can easily become integrated into disinformation; especially in a media environment where there is a high degree of multi-level state control. The incorrect claims brought forward in the conspiracy theories become instrumental in a politically motivated campaign which focuses on confusing and distracting audiences.

But conspiracy theories are not just useful as material for disinformation campaigns. Audiences that are often confronted with disinformation can perceive conspiracy theories as less problematic than other audiences. Commenting to Vedomosti on the study’s findings, Dmitry Leontiev, a psychologist at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics, sees the dramatic increase in the popularity of conspiracy theories as a result of a societal order in which “the distinction between real and unreal ceases to be relevant”. In Leontiev’s words, “conspiracy theories are supported by the information policy in [Russian] media where the truth only plays a secondary role, and where messaging, even from sources with authority, mixes correct information with claims that are in no way verified”.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Can The U.K. Label Any Foreign Investment as ‘Dirty Money?’

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 23:01

U.K. — A general view of one London’s finanical centres, the city of London, central London, England, 28 January 2014.

By Polygraph

Dmitry Peskov

Russian Presidential Press Secretary

“Investors from any country can face a situation after such actions of the United Kingdom, when their investments will be called ‘dirty money’.”

Source: TASS

FALSE

The United Kingdom has passed a law on “unexplained wealth.” That does not mean they can label any investment as “dirty money.”

On May 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Sochi that the British government could start labeling any foreign investments as “dirty money.” Peskov’s comments were in reference to a new British parliamentary report titled “Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the U.K.”

President Putin and his allies have been able to continue ‘business as usual’ by hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London,” reads a summary of the report on the Parliament’s official website. “These assets, on which the Kremlin can call at any time, both directly and indirectly support President Putin’s campaign to subvert the international rules-based system, undermine our allies, and erode the mutually-reinforcing international networks that support UK foreign policy.”

Russia’s embassy in London attacked the report via Twitter, implying that Russians were being singled out in the search for illegal assets.

Do MPs want to root out all foreign “dirty money” (and ask awkward questions to some “friends and allies”) or just use selective justice against one specific nationality? pic.twitter.com/KryQKMA6If

— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 21 мая 2018 г.

While the parliamentary report focused on money laundering in connection with Russia, it is part of a larger push to combat such money laundering in general, not only Russian. For example, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported on March 2 that a Central Asian politician had become the first-ever subject of an “unexplained wealth order” issued by the British National Crime Agency (NCA). The order requires the owner of the assets in question to provide evidence that they were obtained legitimately. According to the National Crime Agency, the assets under review have been temporarily frozen.

When the legislation authorizing unexplained wealth orders came into effect in January this year, Transparency International’s Britain office released a list of top properties they believed authorities should investigate. Only one Russian was on the list — then Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

Shuvalov is suspected to be the owner of two London luxury apartments worth an estimated 11.44 million British pounds ($15.3 million). Other names on the list include the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, a former Libyan major general, the president of the Nigerian Senate, and a former prime minister of Pakistan.

London. Apartment of Vice-Prime Minister Shuvalov according to Navalny

Recently it has been reported that Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, billionaire owner of the Chelsea football team and personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, may be required to explain his wealth in order to renew his British visa.

U.K. — Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich sits in his box before the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, December 19, 2015

According to Donald Toon, director for economic crime at the NCA, “unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.”

Based on this, it is clear that the British government’s latest measures against foreign money laundering do not single out Russians, as Russia’s embassy in London tweeted.

Unexplained wealth orders (UWO) were introduced in Britain’s Criminal Finances Act, which was passed in April 2017. A UWO requires a respondent to declare his or her interest in the asset being reviewed and provide proof it was obtained it through legitimate means. The orders can be applied to an asset worth 50,000 GBP or more, when there is reasonable evidence to suspect illegal activity. A number of factors must be established by investigators before they can apply to a court to issue a UWO. Therefore, Peskov’s implication that British authorities may label any investment as “dirty money” is false.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Putin: High Treason Charges Against Journalists “Unprecedented.” Russian Journalist: “Putin Lies”

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:47

UKRAINE – Ukrainian-Russian Journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky is pictured during a court hearing, Kherson, May 17, 2018

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President, Russia

“That is an unprecedented thing. They are attempting to bring high treason charges against a person for what he did publicly and for performing his professional duties. I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time.”

Source: Vesti.ru, May 19, 2018

FALSE

High treason charges against journalists are not unprecedented around the world, Russia included

During a May 19 joint press conference in Sochi, Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Vladimir Putin commented on the arrest of Russian journalist in Ukraine.

Ukrainian law enforcement arrested Kirill Vyshinsky, chief editor of RIA Novosti Ukraine, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian state news agency on May 15. He was charged with waging an information war against Ukraine and high treason.

Vyshinsky has dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. The SBU, Ukraine’s national security service, posted a photograph of the Russia, “For Service to the Fatherland” medal Vyshinsky received from Putin in 2014.

The Kremlin condemned Kyiv’s actions and promised to protect the interests of Russian media.

Putin said the high treason charges brought against Vyshinsky are “unprecedented,” claiming he has “not seen anything like this in a long time.”

Both of Putin’s claims are false.

Journalists have faced high treason charges in many countries, and recent cases include Hilal Mammadov in Azerbaijanthree journalists in Somalia, where high treason is punishable by death; Carlos Julio Rojas in Venezuela; and Kamel Al-Tallou’ in Libya.

Russia — Journalist Grigory (Grigori) Pasko

And there was Russia’s own case – that of journalist Grigory Pasko.

Convicted of high treason for reporting about the Russian naval fleet’s dumping of radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan, Pasko spent a total of 20 months in prison between 1997 and 1999 prior to conviction. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2001, and then detained again on related charges. Pasko was released from prison in 2003.

Speaking of Putin, Pasko told Polygraph.info in a comment from Moscow: “We met on November 19, 1999 at the Russian PEN-Club, where he was asked about my case. And, in answering the question, he demonstrated a profound knowledge of all the details of charging me, a journalist, with high treason.”

Pasko added: “But Putin would not be Putin if he did not lie: the lie is exactly in his words about [it being] unprecedented. There was a precedent. And he apparently remembers it very well, because at the time, letters demanding my freedom were coming to him in piles.”

At the time, the president of Reporters without Borders, Robert Menard, told Radio Free Europe: “By punishing Grigory Pasko, Vladimir Putin and his government revealed to the world their true face. They can’t forgive Grigory Pasko’s encroachment on three forbidden subjects, three taboos. These are the army, atomic [power] and the environment. Journalist Grigory Pasko had enough courage to go after all three topics and this is the price he is paying for his courage.”

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: British MPs Want a Stronger Government Effort in Shutting the London ‘Laundromat’

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:36

Kremlin Watch Report

Kremlin Watch Report: Czech deputies and senators regularly travel to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the regions that are suffering from the conflict with Pro-Russian separatists. There is one concrete goal in these trips and that is to legitimize the Russian foreign policy and their regime and not only for the Russian internal propaganda but to the international audience as well. Czech legislators behave this way with no matter how the official Czech or EU foreign policies are, precisely speaking of the sanction regime that was enforced on Russia in 2014 for breaking the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by the RF. Download the new Kremlin Watch Report by Junior Analyst Markéta Krejčí here

Topics of the Week

British MPs want a stronger government effort to shut down the so-called London ‘Laundromat’ for the corrupt assets of Kremlin-linked individuals.

The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy has said that Nord Stream II raises US intelligence and military concerns, since it would permit the Kremlin to place new monitoring and listening technology in the Baltic Sea.

According to the GLOBSEC Trends 2018, a majority of Central Europeans prefer to identify their countries’ geopolitical and cultural position in the middle of the traditional East-West dichotomy, but their support for the EU and NATO remains solid.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Stalin attends the premiere of a Soviet comedy movie. He laughs throughout the film, but after it ends, he says, “Well, I liked the comedy. But that clown had a moustache just like mine. Shoot him.” Everyone is speechless, until someone sheepishly suggests, “Comrade Stalin, maybe the actor shaves off his moustache?” Stalin replies, “Good idea! First shave, then shoot!”

Policy & Research News British MPs want a stronger effort to shut down the London ‘Laundromat’

The United Kingdom’s strategy on Russia should be “coherent and pro-active” and should be “coordinated across the whole of Government,” the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons says in a new special report, titled Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK.

The use of London “as a base for the corrupt assets of Kremlin-connected individuals,” according to the Foreign Affairs Committee, is now “clearly linked” to a wider Russian strategy and has implications for British national security, with these assets being used to support the Kremlin’s “campaign to subvert the international rules-based system,” as well as undermine the UK’s allies and erode “the mutually-reinforcing international networks that support UK foreign policy.”

The FAC emphasizes that despite the British government’s “strong rhetoric,” President Vladimir Putin’s allies “have been able to exploit gaps in the sanctions and anti-money laundering regimes that allow them to hide and launder assets in London.” The report thus calls for “stronger political leadership in ending the flow of dirty money into the UK,” including through tightening loopholes in the sanctions regimes and allocating “sufficient resources and capacity to the relevant law enforcement agencies, and improving mechanisms for information-sharing.”

Report: Poland expels one over pro-Russian hybrid warfare

Polish authorities have arrested a Russian woman identified as “Yekaterina C.” and banned entry to four other persons for their hybrid activities against Poland. The activities of the five persons, according to Poland’s Internal Security Agency (ABW), were in the spotlight for the last few weeks as part of the agency’s efforts to neutralize the activities of two “network structures” involved in Russian hybrid and information warfare against the country. Their specific purpose, according to the ABW, was to foment tensions between Poland and Ukraine and to raise questions about Polish history by replacing it with Russian narratives.

The ABW also noted that it would continue its inquiry into Polish citizens cooperating with the five persons and press criminal charges if their guilt was proven. The subversive participation of Polish nationals, according to the ABW, indicates that the Russian Federation “is not only inspiring Polish citizens to act against Poland but also finances their activity.” It also noted that although these activities were presented “as spontaneous and independent social movements” by the Kremlin, they were “often inspired, coordinated and financed by Russia, in order to destabilize the socio-political situation in the country.”

US Developments Trump: “this is bigger than Watergate!”

On Thursday, President Trump tweeted, “this is bigger than Watergate!”, referring to a supposed conspiracy against him. The tweet resonated with his strongest opponents, who have been accusing him of suspicious Watergate-style machinations since the 2016 presidential election. For the first time, the two opposing views agree on something – they are just talking about different things.

President Trump was referring to accusations that the FBI planted an informant in his 2016 presidential campaign “for political purposes.” This conspiracy claim is baseless, however, considering that the informants he referred to were FBI agents who started looking into Trump’s campaign connections only after receiving evidence of suspicious contacts with Russia. Regardless, the president once again capitalized on an opportunity to undermine and delegitimize the Mueller investigation.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its initial (and notably bipartisan!) report on Russian collusion and confirmed the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump. This conclusion contradicts the verdict of House Republicans, which was released last month. The latest report is significant because it backs up two major points in this ongoing debate: 1) Russia decidedly favored Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and 2) the intelligence community is credible and was unbiased in its assessment of the facts.

Senior US official: Nord Stream II raises intelligence concerns

Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy, has said that the planned Nord Stream II pipeline between Germany and Russia – which has long been controversial in Europe – raises US intelligence and military concerns since it would permit the Kremlin to place new monitoring and listening technology in the Baltic Sea.

Following congressional authorization for the President to impose new pipeline-related sanctions against Russia, Oudkirk also said that any companies involved in Nord Stream II faced “an elevated position of sanctions risk”. She emphasized that Washington was prioritizing diplomatic means to halt the building of Nord Stream II, whose preparatory work is currently underway between Gazprom and a group of Western companies off Germany’s Baltic coast.

Rush of fake Facebook accounts after Texas shooting

Last Friday, a 17-year-old student smuggled weapons into his high school in Santa Fe, Texas, killing 10 people and wounding 10 others. While the nation reacted with weary disgust, the internet witnessed a somewhat different scene. Within hours of the shooting, Facebook was hit with a rush of fake accounts, all pretending to be the gunman. The most notable of these featured a picture of Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the alleged shooter who subsequently turned himself in to authorities, wearing a “Hillary 2016” hat with an Antifa cover photo. Other fake accounts alternately portrayed Pagourtzis in front of a Trump-Pence 2020 campaign sign. The rush of fake accounts succeeded in fooling Facebook’s algorithms for catching trolls, so the social network had to take extra measures. Facebook is still in crisis management mode, tracking down fake accounts pretending to be the shooter.

In the US, surges in social media activity of this sort are common after mass shootings, not least because gun rights are a highly politicized issue. The spread of false information about the shooters and their victims typically begins mere hours after these tragedies occur. Such social media rushes also occurred after the fatal shooting in Las Vegas last year and after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, as we previously reported. Facebook has AI tools to attempt to track down these trolls, but after catastrophic events there is often such an increase in activity that it exceeds Facebook’s ability to control it. It remains unclear whether the fake accounts were linked to Russia, or whether they were homegrown.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Putin, Merkel, and Nord Stream II

One thing cannot be denied about Russian disinformation agents: they know the weak spots of the adversary intimately well and are incredibly skilful at exploiting them. This time, the spot in question is German anti-American sentiment. What else explains that an article titled “Refusal of Nord Stream II would mean political suicide for Merkel” would be about…Trump’s pressure on Europe!

Russian journalists suggest that the main question Putin might have for Merkel might be: “Are you finally ready to protect your interests?” They also use a lovely photo of Putin presenting flowers to Merkel as the imagery for the article.

These are the main narratives of the article in question:

  1. Trump wants Europe to pay more for NATO.
  2. Europe doesn’t want to pay more and isn’t ready for “an independent life” without America.
  3. Germany should either be ready to protect its and the EU’s interests from the US or get ready for the EU’s collapse.
  4. The Italian government-to-be will demand the lifting of sanctions against Russia.
  5. Europe simply can’t afford giving up on Nord Stream II.
  6. This summer, Italy, Germany, and France will end the sanctions.

The article also professed a strange willingness to remind readers that Russia will be hosting this year’s World Cup and used a football metaphor to explain the combination of “moves” of European countries in the “sanctions lifting match”. Indeed, it is always about Russia outsmarting everything and everyone in this world.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion GLOBSEC Trends 2018: Public attitudes in Central Europe

A recent opinion poll, carried out by the Bratislava-based GLOBSEC policy think-tank in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, shows that support for the EU and NATO in the four countries remains solid, with the majority of respondents viewing the two organizations positively and saying they would vote to stay, should a referendum come to pass. At the same time, a majority of Central European citizens expressed a preference to classify their countries’ geopolitical and cultural position in the middle of the traditional East-West dichotomy, rather than opting for either end of the divide (Poland is the exception, with pro-Western orientation remaining dominant). The respondents’ overall perception of Russia remains negative, but their views are far less clear when it comes to specific issues and narratives. Most Central Europeans, for instance, are unconvinced that Russia meddled in the recent US and European elections, but they overwhelmingly reject the presence of Russian military forces in eastern Ukraine.

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

#PackOfLies: Who’s the best at holding the front line?

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:22

In the context of major election campaigns, resonant events such as Sergei Skripal’s poisoning and the Western preparation for important military steps, the armies of Kremlin trolls have become more active than ever. For example, as the US has been preparing to punish Bashar al-Assad who carried out a chemical attack against his own citizens, the Pentagon has registered a 2 000 per cent increase in the activity of Kremlin trolls.

In Russia’s military doctrine a modern conflict is defined as an integrated use of political, economic, informational and other non-military means. In other words, trolls, political technologists, and hackers are becoming crucial figures in the conflict alongside soldiers and tanks. The goal of disinformation attacks is to demoralize, to ruin trust in Western democratic institutions, to instigate hatred and rivalry among different societal groups, and to spread moral relativism. In short, our very understanding of reality becomes the main target. Not everyone can successfully withstand this fight.

Czech Republic‘s “European Values Think Tank” is soon going to publish a report where the member countries of European Union will be classified according to how successful they are at fighting against Kremlin’s disinformation. Spanish daily newspaper El Pais has already published a map which shows how all EU member countries may be classified into five groups:

  • The front line in the fight against Russia’s disinformation (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, United Kingdom, Sweden);
  • Conscious of the danger of Russia’s interference (Finland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Romania, France, Spain);
  • Questioning the means chosen for the fight against Russia’s disinformation (Slovakia, Croatia, Belgium, Ireland, Bulgaria);
  • Denying the danger of Russia’s fake news (Portugal, Italia, Malta, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary);
  • Kremlin‘s collaborators (Greece, Cyprus).

This classification allows us to better understand and evaluate the ambiguous European context where Kremlin seeks to spread its destructive influence in order to destroy the democracies of member countries and weaken the unity of European Union at the same time.

“European Values Think Tank” has also outlined four stages of Kremlin’s influence-making. Stage one: financial or media coverage support for chosen figures or organizations in targeted Western countries which are intended to be influenced or recruited. Stage two: strategic agreements according to which the ones who decide to collaborate with Kremlin receive financial aid and energy subsidies. Stage three is about winning over a part of the political elite by infiltrating Kremlin-friendly opposition, orchestrating strategic disinformation campaigns against the mainstream actors and recruiting politicians favourable or at least tolerant of Russian meddling in the state’s internal affairs. Lastly, the final stage is when the regime changes and openly pro-Russian alliances come into power.

A simple question arises: how not to lose this fight imposed on us by the Kremlin? Here are some suggestions:

  • The former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius has recently proposed to set up a national centre against hybrid threat. Not only would this centre prepare a general plan against various contemporary hybrid threats, it would also coordinate the activities of institutions and organizations operating in this area
  • To clearly and unambiguously identify pro-Kremlin propaganda platforms not as legitimate media but as agents of foreign influence. This would allow citizens to understand that they are dealing not with institutions which subscribe to the principles of journalism but with antidemocratic disinformation tools. This would also allow us to restrict the operation of these arms of influence in Lithuania (as well as other Western countries) by not allowing them to deceptively hide behind the principle of freedom of speech
  • To adopt a law which would stop the spread and amplification of fake news
  • To strengthen control mechanisms and ensure transparency standards of financial sources which can influence the outcomes of elections and the activity of political parties.

Copyright © Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis

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This text is part of the project aimed at strengthening democracy and civil society as well as fostering closer ties with the EU Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) by spreading independent information with the help of contemporary solutions. The project is implemented by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis. It is financed as part of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Programme.

Categories: World News

RT’s Scottish stars face investigation

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:07

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Russia’s RT UK channel is now facing 11 investigations from media watchdog Ofcom, following the announcement of the latest three on May 21. Three of the cases under scrutiny relate to RT programmes hosted by former Scottish politicians Alex Salmond and George Galloway. They are interesting for the way they depict various national and international issues, and also because Russia can only benefit from increasing its Scottish audience at a time when a second independence referendum could be on the cards.

Fake tweets

The investigation into Alex Salmond’s programme was triggered last December when the former first minister of Scotland and pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) leader featured tweets from audience members on the first of his shows that turned out to be from a member of the production team and non-existent accounts. Ofcom is investigating whether the tweets breached its rules on due accuracy. “Over the past week and even before the show has started we’ve received an avalanche of tweets and emails,” Salmond said on the programme. “Can I just say to the media, thanks folks for all the publicity!”

ITV reporter Alan Jenkins drew attention to the fake tweets, one of which said, “When are you getting President Trump on your show?” It was said to be from Twitter user @lastjohn, who was identified by Jenkins as Luisa St John, Salmond’s series director. The purported tweets were shown on cards, rather than as screenshots. Another was from a non-existent account @ellalorenR and said, “So why RT?” One of the tweets was simply attributed to “Neil from Miami”, and served to demonstrate Salmond’s openness to criticism: “I think your show is a huge mistake and reveals a naivety previously only seen in your courting of Donald Trump,” it said.

The programme itself, aired in mid-November, included an interview with exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, and a commentary from Salmond about the Catalan people’s right to vote in their independence referendum without being beaten by police. Since then, Salmond has discussed the Lockerbie disaster and interviewed the Lebanese president and the president of Northern Ireland’s Catholic party Sinn Fein. After the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal he chose to get an “alternative point of view” from regular RT contributor Annie Machon.

BBC a propaganda machine?

But member of the Scottish Parliament for the SNP Christine Grahame described Salmond’s show as “light-hearted” in an interview with ITV in November, despite not having seen it. Alan Jenkins tweeted the interview, in which she said of Salmond, “He’s a bit of a devil, isn’t he?” She continued: “I think, as long as it’s entertaining, frankly, I have no trouble with what he wants to do. He’s not a politician any more. I have to say, I’m more troubled with Tony Blair becoming special envoy to the Middle East, which I thought that was a very strange thing to do after taking us into the Iraq war. So on a scale of what Tony Blair did and what Alex Salmond’s doing, Alex Salmond is just light-hearted.”

“Is it poor judgement to have the show on RT?” the interviewer asked. “We’ll see how it pans out,” Grahame said. “He says he’ll have editorial freedom. If he has editorial freedom it’s a message that comes out, not the means, so I’d have to see how it pans out.” The interviewer commented: “He may have editorial freedom, but this is still on a channel which is regarded as a propaganda machine for Russia.” “Well, one could argue sometimes the BBC is a bit of a propaganda machine, you know, who are we to say?” Grahame replied. Asked if presenting a show on RT was the best use of Salmond’s talents, Grahame said, “Perhaps the establishment in the UK hasn’t offered him anything.”

Skripal scepticism

George Galloway, who was a Labour MP for Glasgow until being expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for calling on Arabs to fight British troops in the Iraq war, and then became an MP in London for his own now-dissolved Respect Party, also has a regular programme on RT, called Sputnik Orbiting the World with George Galloway (not a joke). Ofcom is investigating two editions of the programme for breaching the regulations on due impartiality: one which discussed the poisoning of the Skripals and the appointment of Mike Pompeo as US secretary of state on March 17, and another that discussed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and also the Skripals on April 7.

Galloway set the tone of his programme on March 17 from the outset with the words, “So, President Putin is such a genius that just days before his presidential election and just 100 days before Russia hosts the World Cup, he tries to kill two Russians, one of whom lives in Moscow, and could have been strangled there for nothing with her own scarf! The other of whom could have been killed in a Russian prison, or at any time since. Or later, using a weapon known to have been invented by Russia in England, in public, in broad daylight, for no purpose yet even speculated upon? Pure genius.”

Galloway’s co-presenter on his programme goes by the single name Gayatri, but in fact she is Galloway’s fourth wife, Dutch anthropologist Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, who is 30 years younger than him. She also immediately raised official Russian talking points, commenting, “They say it was a nerve agent called Novichok, or Newcomer, which was developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. Its formula long ago ceased to be secret. Its inventor now lives in the United States. And a version of it no doubt resides in Britain’s own nerve agents weapons base at Porton Down, which, as coincidence has it, is just seven miles from the scene of the crime in Salisbury… So, a murder plot, in which nobody yet died, but which has set Britain on a collision course with Russia. It reads like a plot of a spy novel, as indeed it may well be.”

“Kremlin spin doctor”

Galloway then asked his guest, “former journalist and Kremlin adviser” Alexander Nekrassov, his first question, again suggesting that the poisoning of the Skripals was staged: “Did this come out of the blue for you? Was this a course of action that you could have predicted? And if you could have predicted it, maybe there’s something in that – that this is all a script, this is all a narrative, pre-prepared for some ulterior political motives?”

“Well George, it looks like a badly-prepared provocation,” Nekrassov said. “It’s like the people behind it didn’t really think it through properly. First of all, the target. Now, you mentioned in your opening words that it’s strange that they would pick this man who was exchanged in a spy swap, and his daughter, of all people, who came from Moscow, and by the way not the first time she came to visit him. So that particular bit was not thought through at all, and it would be very difficult to explain to anyone who is going to accuse Russia of involvement why they picked these people. So this was a surprise for me,” he claimed.

“Now, I was a former spin doctor for the Kremlin,” he continued.” “The first one, actually, in Russia, and I can tell you, I sense those small things when I see this sort of charade played out. So you can where the problem comes from, and where they will have a hell of a time proving their point. Now, this first thing I said, is the target, wrongly, wrongly chosen, completely. Second point, the assertion that because it’s the Novichok nerve agent, that means Russia is behind it. Excuse me, seven miles away is the biggest chemical warfare centre in Europe, Porton Down. Now they have samples of this particular nerve agent, they’ve had them for years, why, because they need it to produce the antidote. Otherwise you can’t do it. We were even informed by some [air quotes] experts in chemical warfare that the antidote was given to Mr. Skripal and his daughter. Which means it was given from Porton Down. So immediately the trail goes not to Russia, but to Porton Down, although, I must say, it might lead to other laboratories, in America, in Europe, well, all over the world. What I have read in the papers, what I have seen on television, goes beyond parody.”

In fact, there is no specific antidote for Novichok, only general antidotes for nerve agents. The suggestion that the UK and other countries staged the poisoning of the Skripals as an excuse to blame Russia is beyond ridiculous, since the UK has carried out an enormous and extremely costly operation to treat the Skripals and the police officer who was affected by the Novichok, to decontaminate numerous sites in Salisbury and to investigate the assassination attempt.

Nekrassov, who for inexplicable reasons is regularly invited as a guest on various British TV programmes, has a long track record of saying outrageous things. He has nearly 78,000 followers on Twitter (@StirringTrouble), but his real background and credentials are murky. Today, on the one-year anniversary of the Manchester bombing, an Islamist terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 23 people, he tweeted, “Why are the priests reading from the text at the memorial service to the victims of the #ManchesterArena bombing? How can they not find words from their hearts to talk about the death of so many innocent children? Heartless pricks who have no shame!” Also today he tweeted: “Someone needs to tell Meghan Markle that using her position to plug liberal propaganda, to endear herself to the loudmouthed liberal loons, is no way for a member of the Royal Family to behave. The woman has no idea about royal duty. #monarchy”.

Left-wing fellow travellers

The description for George Galloway’s show on April 7 says: “It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a state of crisis in British democracy and in the relationship between the country and its mass media; particularly, state broadcaster the BBC, which everyone in Britain is obliged to pay for on pain of imprisonment.” In fact, only households which own a TV must purchase a TV licence, which funds the BBC. The BBC and “MSM” are a favourite target of RT and its fans. On May 5 Labour MP Chris Williamson, who has appeared on MP saying the Skripals were poisoned to distract from Brexit, recommended an RT interview with hard left journalist John Pilger, tweeting, “If you’re interested in what proper journalism is about, as opposed to much [of] the stuff that finds its way into the msm, check out this excellent interview with John Pilger.” In the interview Pilger repeated the Russian line on the Skripals and also denied the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria. He also denounced “Washington’s backing for the Ukrainian regime’s neo-Nazis” in an article for the Guardian in May 2014.

On the same programme Galloway’s guest talking about the Skripals was David Morrison, who on March 10, 2014 wrote an article for Huffington Post UK called “How William Hague Deceived the House of Commons on Ukraine”, complaining that then-Foreign Secretary Hague had “led the House to believe that the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, had removed President Yanukovich from power on 22 February in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution.” And on April 2 this year Morrison wrote on OpenDemocracy.net, “The UK Government has not presented conclusive evidence that the nerve agent used in the attempted assassinations of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia originated in Russia, let alone that the Russian state was responsible for these crimes.”

Ofcom doesn’t have to spend very much time watching RT to discover fakes, distortions, and an array of dubious characters spreading misinformation. We shouldn’t be surprised to see it on RT. But finding the same contributors all over more reputable media outlets is more concerning.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Russophobia: How Russia Exploits Western Values For Its Propaganda

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 00:42

By Paula Chertok

Hardly a day goes by without someone from the Kremlin accusing the West of anti-Russia “frenzy,” “hysteria” or “Russophobia.” Whether the subject is the poisoning of a spy in Salisbury, a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, hacking Ukraine’s electrical grid or interfering in the U.S. election for Donald Trump, Russia’s defense invariably includes indignant cries of anti-Russia sentiment. Today, Russophobia has become an end in itself.

The Kremlin’s propaganda playbook includes an array of deflection, distraction and disinformation techniques that I have examined previously.  Although Russophobia, calling people Russophobic and Russophobes, seems a juvenile argumentative trope, it has taken on such a prominent position in today’s Russian propaganda machine,  it’s worth fleshing out how the tactic works.

Russophobia works on Russian audiences to create a sense that the Russian people are under siege by a hostile West, afraid of Russia’s growing strength under Putin.  Russia is the “victim,” the narrative goes, of an aggressive Russophobia campaign led by the US and it allies who must do everything possible to hold Russia back and keep her down.  This narrative plays well to a population traumatized by poor history and poor leadership and dominated by Kremlin-run TV using the language and imagery of Cold War.

For Western audiences, looking to history reveals a certain irony in Russophobia becoming today’s Russian propaganda go-to line.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most people in the West rejoiced along with the Russian people. The Kremlin likes to say that the West gloated in victory over its Cold War adversary.  And some politicians surely promoted that view.  But, for the average person, the dissolution of the USSR was seen as a victory for Western values, of freedom, human rights and self-determination over totalitarianism and repression. We saw people finally liberated from the dual yoke of dictatorship and communism, ideologies that seemingly vanished overnight. Those ideologies were the enemy, never the people. No longer communist, Russia was no longer ‘the bad guy.’  Capitalism, economic freedoms and democratic values would now unite all the former Soviet states with the West, as Russia was welcomed back into the fold.

Welcoming Russia into the international community of nations was surely anything but Russophobia.  Indeed, it was the opposite.  Our full-throated embrace of Russia and Russians led to opening our doors, our hearts and our banks to Russia and closing the door on our not particularly proud past – ours and Russia’s.  The vocabulary of subversion, deception, and espionage were part of a discourse we had put away with blacklists, McCarthyism and the Cold War.  Bringing it out in 2016 was seen as too ridiculous for fiction, and surely too absurd to reflect reality.

The early knee-jerk reaction to even the idea that Russia may be attacking our democracy is decidedly the opposite of anti-Russia “Russophobia” – not necessarily Russophilia, but let’s call it anti-Russophobia.  For better or worse, anti-Russophobia embodies our cultural embrace of post-Soviet Russia as well as our cultural rejection of our collective past, powerful in our collective consciousness to this day.  This made sense because the condition for past Russophobia – communism – had disappeared.  But that just made Russian propagandists cry Russophobia louder and more often, as evidenced in the dramatic spike in usage in the last few years, coinciding with a spike in Russian aggression.

Mentions of “Russophobia” and its variants, 2001–2017. (Source: @DFRLab, based on the websites of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sputnik, and RT)

Given the reality of cultural anti-Russophobia, using the Russophobia card, and its concomitant opening of past wounds, was a clever misdirection, and surely helped create the early conditions for a disarmed public.  This may explain why so many people dismissed and disbelieved Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, even though much of it was in plain sight.  Granted, being under a rapid-fire information warfare assault was itself disarming, something we’ll be learning about for years to come.  But anti-Russophobia sentiment – not wanting to see Russia as responsible for a manipulative attack on one of our fundamental rights – was so strong, on the left and the right (for differing reasons), the mere suggestion of Russian interference was not only quickly rejected, but itself became a sign of digging up shameful McCarthyist ghosts in a closet we thought ought to stay closed, in the past and buried.  This surely helped Russia’s attack succeed.

Unlike Russians, Americans have the luxury to criticize our government, discover our history, dig up unpleasant truths, and make public our government’s failures.  Ours is a far from perfect system, but the ability to feel shame for our mistakes is inextricably tied to our ability to discover them, to hold our leaders accountable, publicly, without fear of reprisals.  Those deeply American values aren’t possible in Russia under Putin.  While paying lip service to them at home, Russia plays on our values and relies on pushing our buttons of shame, easily pushed precisely because we have the right to call out hypocrisy on civil rights and free speech, McCarthyism, and the like.  And we do so proudly, not with fear or intimidation.

Thanks to being both blessed and cursed with the good fortune not to really comprehend authoritarianism, Americans watched Russians invade our lives, our institutions, and our politics and couldn’t really wrap our heads around what was happening.  And we did next to nothing.

Those of us who have been following Russia’s descent into illiberalism and kleptocracy in recent years recognized that the Kremlin was exploiting our anti-Russophobia sentiment both to divide the West and to unite Russians.

Today on an NPR (National Public Radio) broadcast, this anti-Russophobic sentiment was expressed starkly and clearly.  Host Scott Simon was interviewing Bill Browder, an outspoken critic of the Putin regime and its worldwide reach.  Browder retold the shocking story of the Bitkovs, a Russian family that fled Russia to Guatemala after a falling out with the Kremlin, yet Russia was still able to reach them and wreak havoc on their young family.

BROWDER: The Russian government tracked them down in Guatemala and then got a U.N. agency that’s paid for by the United States to fight corruption and impunity in Guatemala – and the Russian government got that agency to prosecute this family for passport violations and sentenced the mother – the father to 19 years in prison, the mother and daughter to 14 years in prison. And then the Russians tried to take the infant son back to an orphanage in Russia.

It’s the most remarkable story of evil coming out of Russia that I’ve seen in a long time. And what it shows is that they’re not just messing with the election in the United States or doping in the Olympics. But they’ve got their tentacles into just about everything everywhere. This is one story that shows that.

After hearing this remarkable and shocking story from Browder, Simon said:

SIMON: I have to ask you, Mr. Browder, there are plenty of people – and we hear from them – who are skeptical about Russia being seen at the center of so many allegations. And they say the U.S. and the West are just crawling back into a destructive Cold War mentality. How do you answer that? [Emphasis Added]

Browder had just told NPR a truly horrific story of a family torn apart by a menacing Russian regime, that went to extraordinary lengths – half way around the world to Guatemala – to track them down. Yet Simon, expressing a sentiment shared by many Americans, felt the need to be skeptical about the story, framing it as one of “so many allegations” against Russia, saying he hears from “plenty of people…who are skeptical about Russia being seen at the center of.”  This anti-Russophobia sentiment is so strong among those who hold it, it even defies logic. Logically, more allegations and more evidence make a case stronger; yet here, the more allegations against Russia, the more people refuse to believe Russia is to blame for any of it.  In other words, because of the cultural sentiment against blaming Russia, more news about Russia’s malign actions are dismissed as part of a pattern of blaming Russia, the victim of quite literally, piling on.

I’m sure that Americans’ naivete as well as good fortune, never having experienced life under dictatorship, contribute to this sentiment. We simply can’t comprehend acts of such menacing depravity on ordinary people by Russian authorities.  But we also don’t want to believe that non-communist Russia could really be all that bad.  For many, it simply goes against a deeply ingrained cultural ANTI-Russophobia. We resist believing Russia is a bad actor because that perception is tied to a sensitive history of shame we do not wish to repeat.  So we choose to dismiss the bad news about Russia’s wrongdoing as Russophobia.

Russia understands this psychology and our history well, and exploits it every day, pushing the Russophobia narrative incessantly by Russian officials and Russian propaganda media for several years now, throughout our unregulated bot and troll-infested information space.  “Russia is not a bad guy, but a victim” is a message that “resonates” with Americans, especially white Evangelical Christian Americans, relationships with whom Russia has been cultivating for years.  In reality, this results in an uncritical tendency to reject attributing blame to Russia for acts perpetrated by Russia.  This is the opposite of Russophobia; it’s ANTI-Russophobia, letting Russia off the hook over and over again.

(I bet Steve Bannon had Cambridge Analytica test such messages, by the way, before the 2016 election.  And I’m sure they found they resonated with voters, precisely because Americans no longer see non-communist Russia as an adversary.)

US conservative media adds to the anti-Russophobia narrative, thanks to Trump, who refuses to even acknowledge Russia’s attack on our election.  Whether this is because he is compromised or ignorant, he remains remarkably pro-Russia.  America now has the ignoble distinction of having our very own propaganda media, in sync with Russian propaganda.  Just look at Fox News.  Once a semi-respectable conservative news outlet, Fox has so blurred the lines between news and opinion that it has transformed itself into an American propaganda machine, our own version of RT (Russia Today) or Sputnik, Russia’s English-speaking propaganda media, sycophantly singing the praises of Donald Trump and ruthlessly demonizing his opposition, including attacks on the media.  It’s quite disturbing to watch. Not surprisingly, you can hear plenty about Russophobia and “anti-Russia hysteria” on any given day at any given time on this now fully coopted fake news network, steering Americans farther away from facts and the truth about Russia’s malign activities around the world, pulling a narrow swath of Americans into a disinformation hellscape on a daily basis.

Browder is rightly taken a bit aback when Simon asks him to respond to his anti-Russophobic listeners, those skeptical that Russia could really be behind so many bad acts.  Browder responds with a short list of Russian aggression highlights:

BROWDER: Well, I mean, Russia was responsible for shooting down MH17. Russia was responsible for invading Ukraine. Russia is responsible for taking away the chemical weapons in Syria that they didn’t take away. Russia was responsible for having honest athletes in the Olympics when they did the whole doping program. I mean, Russia is the one who is making the trouble. Russia is really a sort of a nonentity when it comes to – the economy is the size of the state of New York. Their military budget is 5 percent of the U.S. military budget. We shouldn’t even be thinking about Russia other than the fact that they’re sort of putting their nose into every bit of terrible activity all over the world.

It boggles the mind that many people can remain skeptical about Russia’s involvement in these well-documented events, such as the invasion of Ukraine and the shooting down of civilian airliner MH17.  It really speaks to the power of propaganda and the failure of our media that Americans can remain unconvinced about Russia’s aggression. Thanks to our knee-jerk rejection of blaming Russia, we have managed to give Russia the benefit of the doubt and impunity for many years, paving the way for disbelieving even Russia’s attack on the heart of our democracy.

Anti-Russophobia was at work when George W. Bush met Putin and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy” and got “a sense of his soul.”  Anti-Russophobia was at work when Barack Obama believed Putin would remove Assad’s chemical weapons.  And Anti-Russophobia is at work when the Trump administration says Putin will help solve problems and kill terrorists.  And so, we looked away at invasions on neighbors, and killing of civilians.  We looked away at the assassinations.  That’s surely not Russophobia.

Even when confronted with Russia’s unprecedented and successful sabotage of our own election – an attack on the heart of our democracy – our media demands we hear a defense of Russia.  In the NPR interview Browder was asked to essentially defend his statements about Russia being a bad actor.  He just retold the horrific Bitkov story, yet Browder had to recite the many well-known and well-documented bad acts of the Kremlin, even though Simon had just said that “so many allegations” make people ever more skeptical.  Remarkably, even after Browder’s recitation of recent Russian aggressive acts, the interviewer ended with yet another expression of anti-Russophobia:

SIMON:  Quick question: But it’s important to get along, isn’t it?

So here’s my point:  Despite daily cries of “Russophobia,” Russia still gets an enormous break from mainstream Western media, not only on its past bad acts but on current malign activity.  Whether this is the result of journalistic seeking of “both sides” balance in reporting, or merely an expression of stubborn anti-Russophobia, or both, the NPR interview of Browder demonstrates that Russophobia is not reality.  It is a well-played propaganda trope.

That Russophobia has become Russia’s go-to talking point to deny responsibility for everything from election interference in democracies to chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury and Syria speaks to the power of using a propaganda message that resonates deeply with people.  That message is that Russia is not to blame–for whatever it’s accused of.  It’s completely illogical, but the fact that this message resonates means that anti-Russophobia is still endemic in the West, so much so that we resist blaming Russia for matters for which it is clearly culpable.  In even more twisted irony, as the above example shows, the more malign Russian acts, the more the Russophobia narrative resonates.  That’s truly terrifying.

While anti-Russophobia sentiment has kept the West silent and slow to react to Russian aggression and bad acts staring us in the face, that’s beginning to change.  After seeing Russia’s propaganda playbook whipped out again and again to deny incident after incident, government actors are moving more quickly to name and shame Russia.  For example, after the brazen and shocking use of a military-grade nerve agent on Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, the British government called out Russia within days, even giving the Kremlin 24 hours to respond.

Of course, Russia wasn’t happy with that either.  Kremlin officials were outraged.  Russia’s UN Ambassador Nebenzia remarked “London put forth a completely absurd 24 hour ultimatum. … No one and under no circumstances can anyone talk this way, using this tone, with Russia.”  And out came the accusations of Russophobia, which have become more intense and more frequent.

It’s worth remembering that cries of Russophobia resonate with some because we are still a decent and free society and can express shame for our mistakes. The irony in Russia’s Russophobia campaign is the realization that the West is not only not Russophobic, it has been anti-Russophobic, and that has meant Russia has gotten away with much of its malign conduct. If anything, the West has leaned too much in Russia’s favor for too long, failing to hold Russia accountable again and again.  Now that we’re prepared to reverse this course, Russian propagandists cry Russophobia ever louder to buy time, refocus media attention, and distract and delay from the critical work of fact-finding, the results of which will inevitably hold Russia accountable for its actions.

By Paula Chertok

Paula Chertok is a linguist, lawyer and writer. She was born in Soviet Russia to Holocaust survivors from Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. She has degrees in Russian Literature, Slavic Languages, Linguistics, and Law, from Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley. Her work focuses on the language of propaganda, the media and civil & human rights. Follow her on Twitter @PaulaChertok

Categories: World News

Russian Influence Tactics in America: The Lozansky Files

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:32

By Kseniya Kirillova, for Defence Report

Materials shedding light on the character of Russian intrusion into internal affairs of the United States and other western countries revealed many tactics of Russian influence abroad – starting from direct lobbying and ending with variety of “special ops disguised under other countries’ flags”.  However not many know that core strategies of Russia’s foreign policy and influence on other countries’ decision mechanisms were developed 14 years ago by a Soviet physicist Eduard Lozansky who immigrated to the USA back in 1976.  Currently he’s managing a non-profit organization, Russia House in Washington DC, is the director of American University in Moscow, and organizes the annual Worldwide Russian Forum.

Lozansky himself has recently become quite popular.  Newsweek, a large American newspaper has published material which features a row of commentators who call Russia House manager’s actions directly an “influence operation” and even express suspicions about his connection to Russian intelligence services.

Indeed, Lozansky’s statements broadcast on main Russian TV networks and sites totally fall in unison with Kremlin’s foreign policy. This includes support for Donald Trump and his battle with key American institutions, claims that US is the only state that can be behind poisoning of the former GRU officer Sergey Skripal, and position on Ukraine. No less demonstrative is the fact of Lozansky’s access to information platforms like Vesty.ru and Izvestia newspaper.

Meanwhile, Lozansky denied the allegations. “If Russia is a friend, it’s good for America…. If you want to call me a propagandist, yes, I accept that, but for the United States, not for Russia,” he said in the interview to Newsweek.

However, even if we set aside Lozansky’s personality and motives for his strange allegiance to Moscow’s course of foreign policy, it is quite interesting to turn attention to the book he wrote called “Ethnos and Lobbying in USA”  of Russian lobby perspectives in America” published in Russia back in 2004.  Of course, a caveat should be made here about the fact that Russia behaved itself differently on the international arena than today.  At that moment there was no invasion of Georgia, annexation of Crimea, and occupation of eastern Ukraine, just like the intervention into the American elections.  There was no death of Sergey Magnitsky and Putin’s famous Munich speech of 2007.  Many western politicians sincerely believed in the possibility of creation of a unified economic corridor “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

Respectively, there is nothing pre-judged about the idea of forming an alliance between Russia and USA for collaborative fight against terrorism, which Lozansky proposed in his book.  However even then Lozansky already formulated those destructive tactics in methods of lobbying he was proposing, which became the foundation of Russian foreign policy in our time.  Let’s take a closer look at a certain theses from 7th chapter of the monograph, dedicated to problems of lobby creation in the United States.

  1. One of the most important elements of lobbying Lozansky states is “the process of forming public opinion”, noting that “Congress and US government react quite sensitively to opinions of sovereign of American politics – American people.” Further Lozansky points out that “Russia must undertake colossal effort for formulating its positive image” in the eyes of American society. Note that it’s only talking about the image, vs. taking concrete steps proving Moscow’s reliability as a partner. Of course, the author does not mention in his book such methods of “image creation” as propaganda, slander, forming of an illusory/alternate reality via use of multitude of trolls and other “active activities.” These tactics are fully realized 10 years after Lozansky’s book publication, but their aim remains the same – influence over public opinion of the United States.
  2. Lozansky pointed out that “majority of Russians will be far more supportive of their country joining world blocks and coalitions which promise them not just economic advantages but not in the least their national renaissance and geopolitical elevation,” thereby clearly defining Moscow’s true goal in relations with the United States.
  3. Even back in 2004 Lozansky was using Russian nuclear potential as one of his core arguments, calling it “Russian opportunity of external politics” (obviously since any other positive opportunities for conducting external foreign politics Moscow did not possess even then). At the same time Lozansky mentions Russia’s possibility of conducting a nuclear strike on North America, enumerating in detail its nuclear potential and its development perspectives, and again underscores that “there is far more than necessary for annihilation of any civilized infrastructure.” Furthermore, he mentions that all of this “creates a question of global survival of mankind in many ways a function of understanding the conditions of such survival in the Kremlin.” Thus, Lozansky offered the use of nuclear blackmail as an instrument of lobbying for their interests earlier than Putin began using such technique.
  4. The next subject of Lozansky’s blackmail becomes the threat of destabilization of neighboring regions (also attributed by the author to the “Russian opportunity of external politics”). Specifically, Lozansky directly claims that “marginalization of enormous Russia makes it capable of pushing future Kremlin leaders on conscious destabilization measures.” Lozansky also scares his readers with the possibility of Russia turning “to its undercover-fascist authoritarian nationalism.” All that remains after this is to express surprise as to why the author does not want to accept that today his prognosis fully materialized.
  5. Lozansky directly points out that the Russians who live abroad constitute a mechanism of Russian influence on corresponding countries’ policy. Here he notes that thanks to 25,000,000 Russians living in neighboring countries, “Russia is capable of affecting its geographical surrounding, orienting it in one direction or another.
  6. And of course, Russia would not be Russia if it did not again remind us all about it’s veto power in UN’s security council, as well as it’s enormous natural resources, foremost being oil and gas.
  7. Certainly the “whip” must be followed by a “honey cookie”, and thus having finished the listing of possible threats Lozansky now returns to a tempting perspective of battling a “common enemy”: China and Islamic terrorism.
  8. As the next step Lozansky offers a “creation in the US of one or more influential lobbying organizations, whose goal would be the advancing of the ideal of long-term and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship between Russia and America.” As we observe today, this point of his program has been accomplished quite successfully.
  9. Further, Lozansky moves on directly to lobbying tactics about convergence with Russia inside the US, repeating again that “legislative apparatus and government of the US in no way can ignore opinions of any given part of the US population” and that the very diaspora must carry out main functions of lobbyists. At the same time, he complains that at the time of his writing different waves of russian emigration “were able to neither organize nor create channels of influence on American lawmakers and governing administrations.” Here Lozansky directly points out that “such organization is unlikely to be created without official support from Moscow.

It’s absolutely necessary to create a serious lobbying structure in Washington with branches in the places of permanent residence of compatriots – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston and some other centers,” Lozansky advises. Further, he lists the main tasks of this structure, including “to seek the elimination of discriminatory laws against Russia.

  1. Finally Lozansky designates “public layers and groups of interests in the US”, onto which the newly created structure would lean. That includes businessmen, politicians and international experts, religious confessions, russophiles, slavists and politologists. As to the financing of this structure being created, in the initial stages Lozansky suggests using “Russian companies looking to get into American market.

As we can see virtually all these proposals have materialized today, except, alas, they do not serve the “creation of friendly relations and alliances between Russia and the US”, as Lozansky was promising 14 years ago, but advancing of Moscow’s destructive external policy and disruption of American democracy.

By Kseniya Kirillova, for Defence Report

Author’s Note: Material for this research (chapter 7 from the Lozansky book) was provided to the author by Grant Stern

Categories: World News

StopFake #184 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:19

Fake: US Special representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker acknowledges Ukraine unable to return Crimea and Donbas; OSCE moderator walks out on Donbas talks because of Ukraine threats; Ukrainian military suffer heavy losses in Donbas conflict.

Categories: World News

When the Russkiy Mir and the Spanish-speaking world meet: RT and Sputnik in Spanish

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 13:41

By Nicolás de Pedro and Daniel Iriarte, for Barcelona Centre for International Affairs

Download

As a critical element of a multidimensional political warfare scheme, disinformation represents a serious challenge for European democracies. Convinced that it faces an existential threat from the West, Russia aims to turn some key features of democracy, such as the free flow of information and the open and plural nature of European societies, into a strategic vulnerability. The internet, especially through social networks, offers open access to the heart of liberal democracies. This is where the Kremlin deploys its information warfare with the aim of weakening NATO and the EU in general. Spain, a committed member of both and also a platform for reaching the Spanish-speaking world of Latin America, is no exception to this rule.

By Nicolás de Pedro and Daniel Iriarte, for Barcelona Centre for International Affairs

Categories: World News

Fake: Kurt Volker Acknowledges Ukraine Unable to Return Crimea and Donbas

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 17:21

Ukraine is unable to return Donbas and Crimea under its jurisdiction, Russian propagandist media announced on May 17, seemingly citing the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Ambassador Kurt Volker. Volker admits Kyiv unable to return Crimea and Donbas, RT’s headline declared, while Moskovskyi Komsomolets went even further, advising Ukraine to come to terms with the loss of Donbas and Crimea, while Gazeta.ru laconically explained simply that Russia is too strong.

Website screenshot RT

Website screenshot MK

Website screenshot Gazeta.ru

Volker arrived in Ukraine on May 14 with the goal of finding out more about the humanitarian situation in occupied Donbas.

Russian media focused on one phrase in Volker’s statements to the BBC, completely ignoring context and background. Volker does say that Ukraine will not be able to return Crimea and the Donbas by force, only diplomacy and sanctions will advance Ukraine’s cause in this matter, he continues. This is his full quote (video 01:43):

“There’s no way the Ukrainians could take the territory back that’s already been taken by the Russians, the Russians are just too powerful. But the cost to Russia of further advancement is already increased and will continue to increase. And if that’s the case then you have to ask yourself if you’re sitting in Moscow, what are we getting out of this? We’re getting Russian casualties, soldiers being killed fighting in Ukraine, for what? That’s why I hope they will see there is no benefit for them but the price will continue to grow. So why not exchange this for something positive, such as lifting sanctions? This will be something positive on the Russian agenda with the rest of the international community.”

Another way of restoring peace in Donbas Kurt Volker said is to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons for defense purposes and introduce peacekeepers. Volker does not think that it is too late for this, quite the contrary.

Volker has been a key figure in persuading the American administration to provide Ukraine, earlier this month, with state-of the art Javelin anti-tank missiles. These will considerably increase casualties for Russia in any future large-scale attack against Ukraine. He has been waiting for more than three months for Moscow to respond to his proposals to introduce UN-mandated peacekeepers into Donbas, including at the Ukrainian-Russian border, and for the withdrawal of pro-Russian forces.

”The Ukrainian question is relevant as never before. If you look at the humanitarian situation [in the east of Ukraine], look at the level of violence – this issue is relevant as never before. And we have a way to solve it – we need Russia to take this seriously” Volker said.

Volker reiterated the need for a peaceful settlement of the Donbas conflict in a VOA interview, and said he wants to focus the world’s attention on the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Categories: World News

RT: OPCW Got its Chemical Weapons Samples from ‘Jihadists’

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 06:54

SYRIA — Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group carry a man who was wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, February 20, 2018

By Polygraph RT

Russian state-funded news agency

A former British ambassador to Syria told RT the OPCW ‘s claim that chlorine was “likely used” in Saraqeb, Syria, in February is “seriously misleading” because it is based on evidence provided by “jihadists.”

Source: RT

FALSE

The “jihadists” the RT story refers to are the White Helmets, a rescue organization.

On May 17, RT published a story on the investigation of the alleged Saraqeb chemical attack. It was headlined: “OPCW says chlorine ‘likely’ used in Syria based on open-source info & samples provided by jihadists.” That claim also appeared in the lede of the story and a tweet from RT’s official Twitter account.

OPCW says chlorine ‘likely’ used in Syria based on open-source info & samples provided by jihadists https://t.co/gj4hcNVAlK

— RT (@RT_com) 17 мая 2018 г.

Who are the “jihadists” – as described by RT — that provided the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons with samples for their investigation?

The RT article stated: “In fact, the entire OPCW account is based on witness testimonies and material evidence provided by selected NGOs as well as medical records offered by the same questionable sources, including Belgium-based Same Justice/Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria (CVDCS), the notorious Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) – better known as White Helmets – and the US-based Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).”

SYRIA — Volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, rescue a woman from the rubble of a building after an air strike in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, March 19, 2018

The piece also cited Peter Ford, a former British ambassador to Syria, on why those sources are “questionable.”

“Ford noted that the White Helmets are a ‘well-known jihadi auxiliary who have assisted in beheadings and who are notorious for making propaganda’, and that SAMS shares ‘a similar reputation’,” RT wrote.

RT did not provide evidence substantiating Ford’s assertion. However, the White Helmets have long been the target of a smear campaign promoted by the Russian and Syrian governments, as well as by conspiracy theorists in the West who typically use Russian sources like RT and Sputnik.

Both Ford and RT also tried to discredit the White Helmets and other NGOs by associating them with the United States and other Western countries. However, the RT article did not mention that Peter Ford has been the director of a pro-Assad lobbying group since April 2017. That group, the British Syrian Society, was founded by Fawas Akhras, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law.

By Polygraph

© 2018 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved.
Categories: World News

Fake: OSCE Walk Out on Donbas Talks Because of Ukrainian Threats

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 17:11

Scores of Russian media reported last week that the OSCE coordinator left the Trilateral Contact Group Ukrainian Donbas peace talks held in Minsk because of Ukrainian threats. Regnum, Politnavigator, Informburo, Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostey,  Kharkov and others all cite Natalia Nikonorova, the so-called acting foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), who claims that the Ukrainian delegation threatened and insulted its counterparts leading to the departure of the OSCE coordinator.

Website screenshot DAN

Website screenshot Politnavigator

Website screenshot Regnum

Website screenshot Informburo

According to Nikonorova, as quoted by the Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostey, the Ukrainian delegation made “provocative statements”, “physical threats” and threats of “criminal prosecution”. The OSCE coordinator’s leaving was evidence of the Ukrainian side’s aggressive behavior, Nikonorova said.

Responding to StopFake’s inquiry about Nikonorova’s claims, Ukraine’s representative at the Minsk talks, and former Ukrainian ambassador to the US Oleksander Motsyk dismissed Nikonorova’s claims as completely false. “The OSCE moderator left the talks when they were finished, this claim is a complete fake” Motsyk, who was present at the negotiations, said.

The press statement issued by the OSCE after the May 16 talks makes absolutely no mention of any walkout by any OSCE personnel. The statement reasserts the OSCE’s commitment to continued talks aimed at easing the hardships of civilians living close to the demarcation line and in the occupied territories.

The Minsk Agreements aimed at resolving the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region were signed in the Belarusian capital in February 2015 by representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group – the OSCE (Heidi Tagliavini), Ukraine (Leonid Kuchma) and Russia (Mikhail Zurabov), as well as Alexander Zakharchenko and Ihor Plotnitsky of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, who signed as private individuals, without indicating their positions.

Categories: World News

Which European democracies are best combating Russian disinformation?

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 16:55

By David Alandete, for El Pais

New think tank report places Spain, France, Germany and Poland among the most protected from interference by Russia-funded media

Ahead of the intense electoral cycle coming up in 2019, which includes European elections, Spain has undergone a notable change on the legislative, executive and judicial level and has positioned itself – together with France, Germany and Poland – in the group of countries that is putting up most resistance to the democratic destabilization campaigns coming from Russia. That’s according to the latest edition of the yearly report from the think tank European Values, and which will be published in the coming days.

After the disinformation campaigns from Russian media and the activation of automated networks of social media accounts to popularize hoaxes and exaggerations during the pro-independence crisis in Catalonia in September and October 2017, the Spanish state is now better protected than it was a year ago from new coordinated attacks that could plunge it into the kind of ungovernability that has paralyzed Italy, according to the report.

“In the analysis that followed the Catalan referendum it was seen how bots played a role and I think that’s why the Spanish government realized it had to join the efforts that have been rolled out for some time in Europe,” explains Veronika Vichová, one of the authors of the report and who also coordinates the think tank, which is based in the Czech Republic. “The Spanish government is part of a coordinated inter-ministerial effort. There is a wide enough margin to establish institutions that are comprehensively focused on this problem.”

There’s no doubt Spain went through a change after the Catalan crisis

EUROPEAN UNION’S STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The report points to the inclusion of “disinformation campaigns” as part of the so-called hybrid war within Spain’s National Security Strategy as one of the main reasons its efforts have been so successful. That document, details of which were first published by EL PAÍS and which includes the main threats for the Spanish state, did not specifically cite Russia, even though the protagonists of these disinformation campaigns are media outlets financed by the country. Spanish Defense Minister María Dolores de Cospedal last month created a task force in Congress aimed at addressing the problem of fake news, in which representatives from all parties apart from anti-austerity group Podemos are participating.

The experts have also noticed a change in the attitude of Spanish representatives in European institutions. “There’s no doubt Spain went through a change after the Catalan crisis,” says a member of the European Union’s strategic communications team, created by the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini. “Spain is one of the countries that, over the past months, has most supported relevant European institutions so that our unit receives more funds to tackle these kinds of disinformation threats, which mainly come from Russia,” the source added. That team, which combs social networks to detect fake news stories, receives €1 million a year, a mere fraction of the funding given to state-owned Russian networks such as RT, which counts on funding of at least €300 million a year.

European Values, a not-for profit organization that receives private donations as well as funds from foundations such as the Open Society Foundation and the European Parliament, reviews the 28 member states within the European Union and their allies even year, and rates their response to the threat of Russian disinformation campaigns. Listed as least aware are Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy. In the latter country, recent election results may lead to either a government of technocrats or a repeat vote. In the next few weeks, the EU strategic communications center will publish a report that confirms that a Russian disinformation campaign, led by the outlet Sputnik, helped incite xenophobic sentiment during the elections.

Spain is listed for the first time in the same group as France, Romania, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Poland, and is highlighted for its “political recognition of the Russian threat,” having introduced measures on both a government and intelligence level to address the issue. Spain is one step behind the United Kingdom, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which are considered the frontline against Russia’s attempts to destabilize democracies across Europe.

Last week, European Values was recognized by the NATO military committee for its work in exposing Russian subversion activities in Eastern Europe. NATO sources maintain that “Russia is the greatest threat against the West today.” The sources warned that “the Russian government is interested in stirring up patriotic and religious conflicts. It is also increasingly more active in the Mediterranean and it will no doubt exploit our weaknesses in this area.”

According to NATO sources, who wished to remain anonymous, identifying who is behind these misinformation campaigns is the greatest challenge facing Western democracies: “We receive aggressive attitudes without getting a detailed picture of what happened and who is the author of the attack,” they add.

By David Alandete, for El Pais

English version by Melissa Kitson.

David Alandete is director Adjunto de El País

Categories: World News

Did Western media call Russia ‘the last hope of the west?’

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 09:08

Russia – Moscow, Kremlin, symbol, generic, russian president’s administration

By Polygraph

Viktor Marakhovsky

Writer for RIA Novosti

“In short, today the question is more relevant than ever: what can save the union [between the U.S. and Europe] now? So far the only answer given is Russia.”

Source: RIA Novosti

FALSE

The article only cites some European leaders expressing concern over their countries’ dependence on the United States.

On May 13, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published a commentary by Viktor Marakhovsky that was headlined: “European media: Russia has become the West’s last hope.” However, none of the Western sources cited in the article support that headline.

First, the author cited a Washington Post op-ed piece by Anne Applebaum about how the end of the Cold War marked the end of “American hegemony.” The main focus of the piece was the Trump administration’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the previous U.S. administration. While Applebaum claimed that rejection of the agreement will drive a wedge between the U.S. and its European allies, she did not suggest the latter might find Russia or any other country to be a suitable replacement for the U.S.

BELGIUM — A view of the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 19, 2018

In his RIA Novosti piece, Marakhovsky suggested that the U.S. is using the image of an aggressive Russia to rally its European allies, but that while the latter claim to be concerned about Russian threats, they are in fact increasingly cooperating with Russia.

“The EU countries have regularly participated in ‘repel the Russian threat’ political festivals, but at the same time they have expanded economic cooperation with Russia year after year,” Marakhovsky wrote.

While it is true that trade between Russia and the EU has increased rapidly since 2017, it steadily decreased from 2012 to 2016. It is unclear if the uptick in trade between Russia and the EU since last year is a lasting trend. Some see the increased trade as a potential trend toward normalization of the trade relationship, despite unresolved issues surrounding Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, new U.S. sanctions are set to go into effect, which could push the trade numbers back down.

Moreover, while the U.S. and Germany have disagreements over the construction of the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline from Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the new pipeline would not be allowed to cut Ukraine out of its role in gas transit to Europe.

Germany — A handout by Nord Stream 2 claims to show the first pipes for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being delivered by rail to the German logistics hub Mukran on the island of Rugen, undated

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukrainian Military Suffer Losses in Eastern Ukraine

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 15:39

This week Russian media were awash with stories claiming the Ukrainian military had suffered heavy losses while trying to further their positions in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas conflict zone. They cite self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) press spokesman Danyil Bezsonov, who claims that Ukraine lost nine men and strategic territory.  The DNR also issued a video claiming that Ukrainian military command had abandoned its soldiers during this latest operation.

Website screenshot Ria.ru

Website screenshot RT.com

Bezsonov’s claims are presented as a text statement on the DNR army website. There is no evidence presented to substantiate his claims that nine Ukrainian servicemen were killed and five wounded. He further claims that the Ukrainian side lost a dominant high position near a village called Chigari.

Ukrainian forces meanwhile have not reported heavy losses, fighting has been intensive in the conflict zone this week and one soldier was killed on May 12. Local area residents also report that the Ukrainian military has pushed back Russian supported separatists and gained some territory. And the video of allegedly abandoned Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Ukrainian military, is also a fake.

Vesti, RIA Novosti, Zvezda, Izvestia, NewsFront, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Ukraina.ru, Life.ru, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Tsargrad, REN TV, Svobodnaya Pressa, Versii.com, Pravdorub, Federalnoye Agentstsvo Novostey, Kharkov and other Kremlin oriented sites dutifully disseminated this fake.

Website screenshot Pressjfo.news

According to the Ukrainian military’s press office, one soldier was critically wounded and died during fighting on May 12. On May 11 and 13, Ukraine did not report any casualties in the fighting in the occupied Donbas regions.

Ukraine’s military and volunteers groups that bring supplies to the Ukrainian forces right up to the front lines as well as local residents all report that Ukrainian forces have reclaimed the village of Chigari. As for that high point that the DNR press officer claims the Ukrainian side lost, well,  it’s actually a slag heap from a decommissioned coal mine. The Donbas coal basin is filled with hills that are really slag heaps that have been planted with grass and trees in an effort to make them environmentally friendly.

Categories: World News

Who is Darth Putin?

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 13:31

By EU vs Disinfo

Disinformation can sometimes be fun – especially when the more awkward attempts to spread it are unmasked. We do our best to illustrate this point with a weekly fun story on the EUvsDisinfo website.

But some go further than highlighting embarrassing moments. One genre that has gained particular popularity is that of the parody accounts, which communicate political satire on social media. Our favourite is “Darth Putin” on Twitter.

The Darth Putin tweet used as illustration above has so far gained an impressive almost 2,500 retweets, and that success is well-deserved; in fact, Darth Putin manages in just one tweet to highlight a number of  key points about the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign, which we have tried to describe in a whole series of feature articles in the course of the past year:

“If it looks like a duck,”

RT (Russia Today) does little to hide its true nature: chief editor Margarita Simonyan is on the record as saying that RT is needed “for about the same reason as why the country needs a Defense Ministry”, and that RT is capable of “conducting information war against the whole Western world,” using “the information weapon”.

“quacks like a duck,”

Pro-Kremlin media systematically repeat the political lines they receive from the Kremlin in the form of weekly instructions.

“denies it’s a duck,”

Even when evidence is piling up, the Kremlin’s media and communicators will continue to deny responsibility, as we have e.g. seen in the case of the downing of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 and in the Salisbury poisoning incident.

“demands you prove it’s a duck,”

As easy it is to spread a lie, as difficult it can be to prove that the lie is a lie. Read about how a persistent BBC reporter on the ground in eastern Ukraine successfully unmasked a particularly morbid piece of pro-Kremlin disinformation.

“accuses you of being a duck, says your dog is a duck, that your friend’s cat is a duck”

One of the most frequently used defensive lines in pro-Kremlin disinformation is to turn tables and claim that everybody else is guilty of what the pro-Kremlin side is criticised for doing. The trick is known as “whataboutism”.

“and that all 3 aforementioned ‘ducks’ are Russophobic ducks,”

When the international community expresses concerns over the Kremlin’s policies and actions, pro-Kremlin media and communicators will usually say that the criticism is simply a result of “Russophobia”.

“it’s a Kremlin duck 

Categories: World News

What the OPCW-FFM report on the Saraqib chlorine attack tells us about the Douma chemical attack

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 13:18
By Eliot Higgins, for Bellingcat

May 16’s OPCW-FFM report on the February 4 2018 chemical attack in Saraqib, Idlib, reveals not only information about the Saraqib attack, but also the broader use of chemical weapons in Syria, and additional evidence to support the theory Syrian government forces were behind the April 7 2018 chemical attack in Douma, Damascus.

Consistent with Bellingcat’s earlier investigation into the Saraqib chemical attack, the OPCW-FFM report establishes it was likely chlorine was used in Saraqib, meeting the terms of reference for the OPCW-FFM, which is to establish the likelihood of chemical agent use in Syria, not who was responsible for the attack. As with Bellingcat’s earlier report, the OPCW-FFM report includes witness statements claiming a helicopter had flown over Saraqib, followed by the dropping of two munitions, later identified as being chlorine gas cylinders. The impact site of both munitions, according to the OPCW-FFM report, is consistent with the earlier reporting of Bellingcat, on the east side of Saraqib:

Map showing the impact site from the OPCW-FFM report on Saraqib

While the open source evidence surrounding the attack is consistent with the OPCW-FFM investigation, which instead relied on witness statements and evidence gathered from the scene of the attack, the details of the evidence collected by the OPCW-FFM offers not only a high likelihood of the presence of Sarin or Sarin-like chemical agents at the Saraqib attack site, but allows us to increase our knowledge of the use of chemical weapon by the Syrian government, as well as providing some clues that gives us insight into other chemical attacks in Syria, including the April 7th 2018 chemical attack in Douma.

The OPCW-FFM includes photographs of the remains of the munitions used, chlorine gas cylinders, one with an external structure attached. External structures have been seen on the remains of numerous chlorine bombs used across Syria, including the chlorine bombs used in the April 7th 2018 attack in Douma.

The OCPW-FFM report describes these structures as follows:

One of the cylinders also had an additional structure attached to its side. The attachment comprised metal rings, tubes and flat sheets of metal were visible but significantly deformed and covered with rust.

One particular detail from the munition examined in Saraqib is particularly significant:

Images of the chlorine cylinder from the OPCW-FFM report on Saraqib

This shows a metal tube, with a short metal tube attached to it, which itself is attached to the metal frame surrounding the gas cylinder. This design is identical to the axle and wheel assemblies photographed at the two impact sites of the Douma attack:

Wheels and axle filmed at the Douma balcony site (source)

On one set of wheels in filmed and photographed in Douma, one wheel has become detached, showing the same sort of attaching end as visible in the Saraqib images:

An axle in the debris at the Douma balcony cylinder site (left source, right source)

The presence of these identical features are a clear indication that the gas cylinder used in Saraqib has the same modifications present as the gas cylinders used in the Douma chemical attack months later, and nearly 300km away. As with the Saraqib attack, aircraft spotters reported helicopters heading to Douma, then above Douma, shortly before the attack took place. These are just two of multiple aerial chlorine attacks where modified chlorine cylinders with the same modifications have been documented, and lends even more weight to the argument that the Douma chemical attack was executed by pro-government forces.

While photographs and videos have allowed us to document the use of these munitions over a number of years, what hasn’t been as well documented is the chemistry of these attacks. The latest OPCW-FFM report contains chemical analysis of samples gathered by both the White Helmets and the OPCW-FFM, with consistent results across both sets of samples.

The OPCW-FFM concludes that there was “the presence of two cylinders, which were determined by the FFM as previously containing chlorine;” that there was “environmental analyses, demonstrating the unusual presence of chlorine in the local environment;” and there were “a number of patients who presented for treatment at medical facilities shortly after the incident, and showed signs and symptoms of irritation of tissue, which were consistent with exposure to chlorine and other toxic chemicals.”

But the OPCW-FFM also adds the following in its conclusion:

The FFM also noted the presence of chemicals that can neither be explained as occurring naturally in the environment nor as being related to chlorine. Furthermore, some of the medical signs and symptoms reported were different to those that would be expected from exposure to pure chlorine. There was insufficient information and evidence to enable the FFM to draw any further conclusions on these chemicals at this stage.

Medical symptoms documented after the attack are included in the OPCW-FFM report:

All these symptoms are consistent with chlorine gas exposure apart from constricted pupils. That symptom is typically connected to exposure to organophosphates, including Sarin and Sarin-like agents. By itself the symptoms are odd for a chlorine attack, but the environmental samples provide more relevant information.  Samples tested by the OPCW-FFM include Diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP), Isopropyl methylphosphonate (IPMPA aka IMPA), and Methylphosphonic acid (MPA), which are not byproducts of chlorine gas, but have been detected in all Sarin attacks in Syria where chemical analysis was performed by the OPCW, including the August 21st 2013 Damascus attacks, the March 30th 2017 Al Lataminah attack, and the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun attack. The French National Assessment following the Khan Sheikhoun attack also include analysis of the munition used in the April 29 2013 Sarin attack in Saraqib that detected DIMP in the presence of Sarin.

This combination of symptoms and environmental chemical analysis strongly suggests Sarin or a Sarin-like substance was used in the February 2018 chemical attack in Saraqib. This is particularly interesting when it is alleged in the Douma chemical attack, where the same type of modified chlorine cylinders were used, that not only was chlorine used, but reports from multiple groups, including the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), UOSSM, and White Helmets allege an organophosphate (which would include Sarin) or nerve agent was used in the attack, and the US government has also stated they believe both chlorine and a nerve agent, likely Sarin, was used in Douma.

That leaves the unanswered question as to how the nerve agent would have been used in the attack. Experts Bellingcat has contacted agree adding Sarin to a pressurised gas cylinder filled with chlorine would be extremely dangerous, meaning it would be more likely that an external container attached to the munition could have been attached, but as yet no physical evidence exists to support this hypothesis.

If the OPCW-FFM investigation in Douma does confirm the presence of DIMP, IPMPA/IMPA, and MPA it would add weight to the allegation that Douma was not only a chlorine attack, but also a Sarin attack, raising the question of how many other chlorine attacks that have taken place over the last 4 years which also included the use of Sarin. Only a tiny minority of these attacks have been investigated, so there may have been dozens of chlorine-Sarin attacks that were ignored because they appeared just to be yet another in a long line of chlorine attacks. Now it will be too late to ever establish if that was the case, but Douma may still offer some clues to whether chlorine-Sarin attacks are the Syrian government’s dirty chemical weapon secret.

By Eliot Higgins, for Bellingcat

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.
Categories: World News