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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 32 min 29 sec ago

Russia briefly bans Google.ru

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 00:29

By Meduza

Several Russian Internet providers briefly blocked access to Google.ru on Thursday, after the domain appeared on the “out-load” list operated by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor.

What Roskomnadzor’s blocklist looked like briefly on June 22 Roskomnadzor

By 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Google.ru had disappeared from Roskomnadzor’s out-load list. In the roughly three hours that the search engine’s Russian domain spent on the blocklist, several major Internet providers, including Akada and TTK, began cutting off access to the website.

Roskomnadzor officials later explained that Google accidentally landed on the blocklist because Russia’s Federal Tax Service provided the censor with a link to an advertisement to an online bettering service. It remains unclear why the tax service sent Roskomnadzor a link to the betting website’s Google advertisement instead of a direct link to the site.

The out-load list is a special database of prohibited websites. Russian Internet providers are supposed to download this database twice a day, at 9 a.m. and at 9 p.m. They then have to block the “out-load” webpages, so that customers can’t access these websites. If someone tries to access a blocked website, they see a page showing a notification that the website was blocked. It usually says, “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but access to the requested page has been limited by the state authorities.”

By Meduza
Categories: World News

Two-Thirds of Russians Believe USSR Would Have Won WWII Without Allied Help

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:27

Pixabay

By The Moscow Times

Nearly two-thirds of Russians believe that the Soviet Union could have defeated Nazi Germany without the help of its wartime allies, a new survey has revealed.

Some 63 percent of Russians said that the Soviet Union would have triumphed without aid from abroad, a new poll by independent pollster the Levada Center found.

Twenty-eight percent said that the Soviets needed Allied help to secure victory over Berlin, while 9 percent could not answer.

An estimated 27 million Soviet soldiers died fighting Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1945.

Some 36 percent of respondents blamed the Soviet Union’s devastating wartime losses on Germany’s sudden attack, while 24 percent said that the Nazis simply had “military superiority.”

Another 12 percent blamed wartime leaders who were content to sacrifice troops to the cause, ​​while ten percent blamed the incompetence of the Soviet command. One in ten blamed the “brutality” of Nazi forces, while eight percent struggled to answer.

The survey was carried out among 1,600 people in 137 cities and towns in 48 Russian regions.

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Putin, Depersonalized: What Does Oliver Stone’s Film Reveal About Russia’s Leader?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:12
In “Putin Interview”, the ordinary and casual moments are the most compelling

Showtime

By Mikhail Fishman, for The Moscow Times

American filmmaker Oliver Stone has faced intense criticism since the release of his 4-hour “Putin Interviews” earlier this month. Critics have assailed Stone for giving a platform to the Russian president and asking softball questions. But the controversial film, currently being broadcast on Russian state television, has its intriguing moments.

The most interesting parts of the Stone’s interviews do not come when Putin shares his views on the United States, the Syrian civil war, gay rights in Russia or even Stalin. With Putin in power for over 16 years, we know all these answers — and often by heart.

Rather, the ordinary and casual outtakes are the most compelling. In a film reportedly cut down from 18 hours of footage, these scenes can be counted on one hand. For example, Putin moving from one room of the Kremlin to another, or just walking down the Kremlin hall. “Don’t you feel lonely roaming here at nights?” Stone asks. Putin fudges.

Or Putin is feeding a stallion in a barn. Or chattering about women’s “bad days” and “natural cycles.” (From that scene, it’s obvious that Putin is not intending to send a message, but just saying the first thing that came to his mind  — which is more insightful.)

In one scene, Putin says he is going to have a family meal with his daughters right after the interview. Of course, we never see this family reunion, not even from a distance. He then admits he is now a grandfather, but says he sees his grandchildren very rarely.

After the revelation about his grandkids made news, Putin took the point further during his annual phone-in, broadcast live on all major national television channels. “I have grandchildren and they live a normal life,” he said. “One of them is already in kindergarten.” Then Putin added: “My second grandson was born recently.”

Putin explained that he was not going into any detail — age, names — to avoid jeopardizing his grandkids’ normal lives and “their ordinary interactions with other children.” But with so little information available, we wouldn’t know if Putin was stretching the truth. In fact, we probably learned more from Putin about NBC anchor Megyn Kelly’s children during their interaction in St. Petersburg than we did about his own family during the last two decades.

It is hardly news that Putin has been extremely reticent to discuss his private and family affairs. What’s interesting, though, is that his rare and concise revelations about his own family stylistically fall into the same category as his judgments on any other private or non-political “ordinary” matter. The more the Russian leader is specific about, say, the events of February 2014 in Ukraine, the more he is vague about his personal interests. It’s as if he actually does not have much to share.

During the last 16 years, Putin has given us no more information about his family as about other parts of his personal life. Now we know as much about Putin’s grandchildren as we know about his favorite books or movies. And he appears equally unemotional about it all. Does he have friends? Does he ever spend time with other people outside of his presidential duties?

What does Putin enjoy? Drinking tea or playing badminton with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin as president from 2008 to 2012, always have the air of an orchestrated political PR stunt. Hockey — one of the president’s favorite sports — would seem to qualify as a true interest or hobby. This is apparently why this Putin’s personal pursuit turned into a highly publicized national event known as the Night Hockey League.

Other than that, we’ve seen Vladimir Putin playing with a dog, feeding a horse, curing a tiger, flying with a stork, etc. But during all Putin’s time in power, hardly a single image of him having fun with other people comes to mind. We have never seen him enjoying something or sharing a mundane emotion with any other human being. It’s almost as difficult to imagine Putin having a family dinner — or playing around with his grandson — as it is to call him a pro-Western liberal.

Oliver Stone follows Russia’s president in his natural habitat: Red Square; the offices and halls of the Kremlin; Putin’s vast mansions in Sochi and outside Moscow; the cabin of his jet, decorated with Russia’s national emblem; his car with a flashing blue light on the roof; his gym; his pool. Even the empty hockey stadium appears an immense private amphitheater when Putin is being interviewed.

But all these presidential spaces are free of any trace of Putin’s own personality. If he were to leave office, he probably would not have to pack. And his speech consists of pompous bureaucratic clichés weirdly mixed with colloquial observations, jokes and interjections. But there is nothing in between, nothing that would reveal the individual behind a statesman.

It has not always been this way. Stone’s film begins with Putin recalling how he became president. In the summer of 1999, when Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, suggested Putin run for president, he hesitated. That path would mean giving up his “normal, ordinary life,” Putin says, so he had to make a choice. Stone included in the film some archival footage from the early 2000s. It shows a human being rather than a powerful strongman.

But over the years, Putin’s persona has expanded — or shrunk, depending on your perspective — into that of a depersonalized Russian pharaoh. Nearly seventeen years after Putin made his choice, there is no way back.

By Mikhail Fishman, for The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Mark Galeotti: It’s the Russians Wot Done It (Op-ed)

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:15
The Kremlin is a convenient villain for our troubled times — and that narrative is playing right into Putin’s hands.

By Mark Galeotti, for The Moscow Times

Last week the online media company BuzzFeed released “From Russia With Blood,” part of a series alleging that 14 people have been assassinated in Britain — a “ring of death” that British authorities reportedly ignored or covered up.

Dramatic stuff.

Whether or not it is all true (and I have my doubts), it speaks to the current East-West atmosphere, in which Russia can safely be blamed for anything.

The BuzzFeed account is certainly an exciting read. There are cases which definitely ought to have been considered more closely (suicide by slashing oneself repeatedly with two knives? Really?) There are cases where understandably-grieving friends are trotted out to affirm that their loved ones would never commit suicide (as is common in such cases).

Then there are the shockers. Stories airily assuming that suicides could be induced by psychotropic drugs, or cunning Russian agents could mask every sign of murder. Accompanying is a large, anonymous cast of sources casting doubt on official accounts, coroners’ reports, and the government line. Many, incidentally, are apparently U.S. intelligence officers eager to present the Brits as feckless and foolish.

Perhaps the article’s crowning glory is the passage in which “a current senior national security advisor to the British government” is willing to tell BuzzFeed that the government is too scared to act “because the Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to ‘cause disruption.’” Somehow a “general war with Russia” crops up in the same paragraph, as if Putin would somehow leapfrog NATO’s European members and drop paratroopers in Milton Keynes if Boris Johnson says something else nasty about him.

Full disclosure: I was interviewed for this piece, and actually, agree that the British government is sometimes disinclined to get too muscular on Russian cases. However, rather than some bizarre fear of war or “Britain’s large Russian population” — 28,000 nationals out of a population of 65 million, by the way, half as many as Canadians or Somalis — I suspect Britain’s government partly senses that conflict with Moscow is pointless, and partly that its allies would provide minimal support like they did after Britain took a stronger line following the 2006 assassination of Litvinenko in London.

The article conflates Russian gangsterdom and officialdom — yes, they connect, and one hand sometimes washes the other, but they are not quite the same — and rolls together rumour, innuendo, paranoia and serious reportage in one package that seems to be crying out for a film adaptation. Can it be true that Britain is especially unable or unwilling to prevent Russian death squads wandering at will? Is London really less competent and more supine than, say, Italy or Greece?

But so long as the foundations of the story are built on anonymous sources and open questions, it is hard to know how to judge it. In the absence of objective benchmarks, subjective expectations come to the fore. And here, of course, the Russians shine as the baddies of choice. Whether or not this is Cold War 2.0, the Russkies are undoubtedly reprising their greatest hits as the ubiquitous bad guys of the Western imagination.

“Russian gangsterdom and officialdom — yes, they connect, and one hand sometimes washes the other, but they are not quite the same”

So what? Prussian King Fredrick the Great memorably said that to defend everything is to defend nothing. By the same token, blaming everything on Moscow runs the risk of pinning nothing on them. If lurid fantasies are mixed with credible accusations, then the former undermine the credibility of the latter. The Kremlin and its naïve Western apologists can then simply hand-wave anything away as “Russophobia.”

Here is the tragedy. There is so much on which the record is clear — from Moscow’s direct involvement in the Donbas and indirect responsibility for the downing of the MH17 passenger plane, through to Litvinenko’s assassination and numerous attempts to influence Western politics — that, ironically enough, it is the Kremlin that stands to gain from this fervid atmosphere.

The second problem is that it may also strengthen the Kremlin’s hand in other ways.

Litvinenko’s viciously theatrical death killed off much of the fashionable anti-Putinism of the Londongrad set, for example. Chastened, they turned to charity, and to enjoying their wealth with apolitical abandon.

I have called this “dark power,” the malign shadow of “soft power.” The latter accumulates power through moral stature or appealing example. The former, through fear.

If we assume Russia unleashes Slavic ninjas to murder at will abroad without ever being caught; If we believe they are the psychological grandmasters behind every piece of Western stupidity, right from Trump to Brexit; If we consider them ten foot tall and twice as smart — we empower Putin and his cohorts.

Furthermore, we blind ourselves to the realities of the situation and spend our time preparing for a threat that never is. Alas, such are the depressing ironies of modern Russia-bashing.

By Mark Galeotti, for The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

The Daily Vertical: Not Just A Putin Problem (Transcript)

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 17:35

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

“Krym Nash” was just the beginning.

Crimea is not the only place and Ukraine is not the only neighbor where Russia has territorial ambitions.

And this is not just a fixation of Vladimir Putin and his cronies, but for large and stable majorities of the Russian population.

According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Russians believe that parts of neighboring countries rightfully belong to Russia.

Moreover, some 52 percent back military intervention when the interests of ethnic Russians are threatened.

WATCH Today’s Daily Vertical

Now, these numbers are not new, they’ve been relatively consistent for awhile now.

But they are worth noting nonetheless, because they remind us that more than a quarter of a century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large majority of the Russian population is not willing to let go of its dreams of empire.

And this has been true even as living standards have risen over the past two decades.

These figures are also worth noting because they remind us that even after the Putin regime passes from the scene — as it inevitably will someday — Russia will probably continue to have designs on the territory of its neighbors.

They remind us that when a State Duma deputy like Pavel Shperov refers to Russia’s neighbors as “so-called countries” and says that “borders are not eternal,” he’s not just spouting Kremlin talking points, but is speaking to a deeply held belief of a strong majority of Russian citizens.

These numbers remind us that Russia’s neighbors don’t just have a Putin problem.

After a quarter of a century of independence, they still have a Russia problem.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

‘Who Has the Most Selfies?’ Council of Bloggers Meets for First Time in Russian Parliament

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 10:10

Vladimir Zhirinovsky speaks at the first meeting of the Council of Bloggers in Russia’s lower house of parliament. Source: YouTube

By Isaac Webb, for Global Voices

Within days of announcing the creation of a “Council of Bloggers” in Russia’s lower house of parliament, State Duma MP Vasily Vlasov had put together an impressive guest list for the first meeting: Vlasov extended invitations to 25 influential writers and videobloggers, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Wylsacom (Valentin Petuhov), Sasha Spilburg (Aleksandra Balkovskaya), kamikadze_d (Dmitry Ivanov), and Ilya Varlamov—it was a veritable who’s who of the Russian blogosphere.

The only problem was that all of them RSVP’d “no” to the June 19 meeting. Indeed, none of the influential or controversial bloggers invited actually showed up to the meeting, which was instead attended by pro-regime or apolitical bloggers. (Watch the full meeting here.) The bloggers who did attend included Elena Lisovskaya, the author of the “Lisa Drives” car testing videoblog; firebrand Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and Elizaveta Peskova (the daughter of Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov), whose online presence quite limited outside of her Instagram feed, which features glam shots of her taken across Western Europe.

Unsurprisingly, Peskova made sure to ‘gram from the Duma:

Накануне, в прямом эфире РБК шла дискуссия о том, что власть не слышит молодежь, а несколько недель ранее я писала о том, что не понимаю, что наша Московская мэрия делает с тротуарами и с организацией движения в центре Москвы. Пускай, не со всем можно согласиться, но сам факт, что мне ответили меня поразил. Я хочу сказать СПАСИБО за ответ. Все действительно зависит от нас и нашей способности вести диалог.

Публикация от nomade. Elizaveta. me cool (@stpellegrino) Июн 19 2017 в 7:48 PDT

Without opposition voices, the meeting’s conversation frequently veered into the absurd: Instead of discussing popular blogosphere topics like corruption or nepotism, Zhirinovsky, for example, asked Egor Yakovlev, the co-founder of the magazine “Selfie,” who in the room had posted the most selfies online. Yakovlev replied, “probably Elizaveta,” which Peskova objected to. “I generally take selfies only rarely. Two or three weeks ago I posed my first selfie in half a year.” Not to be outdone, Zhirinovsky joked: “I have more than ten thousand. Who has more than me? No one!”

Varlamov, a popular blogger who declined to attend the event, speculated that the Kremlin had arranged the Council of Bloggers in response to the anti-corruption protests that have swept across Russia over the last three months, in part powered by influential bloggers posting on social media. Varlamov saw the formation of the Council as way for bureaucrats to connect with disgruntled youth, whose presence at the nationwide protests has surprised many commentators—and worried many state officials.

The invitation sent to the popular blogger Ilya Varlamov to attend the first session of the Council of Bloggers. Source: http://varlamov.ru/2415417.html.

The formation of the Council comes amidst a broader effort by the Russian government to connect with younger generations: at the end of April, the Duma created official Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki pages to promote its activity among millennials.

Still, members of the State Duma were quick to distance themselves from the Council of Bloggers, saying it was entirely led by Vlasov, the youngest member of parliament. Some of Vlasov’s colleagues went as far as to accuse him of using the initiative to increase his name recognition and popularity online.

By Isaac Webb, for Global Voices

Categories: World News

Beyond Fake News: How Trump’s Disruptive Technology Mirrors Russian Political Technology

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:24

By Lisa J Walters, for UCL

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia has already uncovered many layers and levels. More will no doubt be found; but the search would be assisted by a better understanding of just what has gone on in Russia these last twenty years. Hacking may have generated the most lurid headlines, but is just one of many techniques in the arsenal of what Russians call ‘political technology’.  And the West needs to take a closer look at itself – the U.S. election was simply the most dramatic example yet of the consequences of the dangerous combination of political technology with ‘disruptive technology’.

Many of the links between Trump and the Russians may be quite traditional – money and favour. But it would help to think in terms of three logical possibilities. The first would be direct contact, and the resulting exchange of techniques and even personnel with the Russians. The second possibility would be learning and copying, mainly from East to West, but at a distance – there are already several cases of political operators in the West who have studied or admired Russian techniques, and imported or adapted them. This type of learning does not have to involve personal contact, although it might; and the learning process could be selective or adaptive. The overall effect of Russian political technology is to strangle democracy; but selective learning need not have the same final intent, and could be just to gain comparative advantage at home. The third possibility is parallel development. It just happens to be the case that Western and Russian political operatives have ended up using the same technologies in the same way, largely because the technology is the same or similar.

We need hard evidence to decide which is which. But, by whatever route, many of the techniques of Russian political technology now looks disturbingly similar to certain practices in the West. I have put the comparisons in a tentative table.

Cheating

There is a large amount of simple cheating in both Russia and the U.S.A.. The districting powers of US state legislatures have been used in an increasingly partisan manner to draw voting boundaries in favour of the Republicans. Hillary Clinton famously won the popular vote by over 2.8 million, despite losing in the Electoral College; but this is largely because of the conflict between state borders and population (as also with the Senate). On the other hand, the exaggerated Republican victory in the House of Representatives was largely due to gerrymandering: they won 55.2% of the seats on 49.9% of the vote, with the Democrats claiming 44.8% of the seats on 47.3% of the vote (on an initial count).

But Clinton could have been even further ahead. So-called ‘voter suppression’ was a key factor, and much more or a factor that in 2012. Swing states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida (all of which were won by Trump) have been able to enact barriers to voting like voter ID laws since the Supreme Court ruling (Shelby County v Holder, 2013) that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Russia, this is called ‘administrative resources’ – using all the powers or the local state to block or artificially increase turnout, or just to stuff the ballot.

Voter suppression techniques were also used on social media (see below), such as messages to minority groups that they could vote by text (with possible Russian help). Russia has its own array of such ‘technologies’ – authoritarian states like Russia are not static. Every Russian election is marked by new means of manipulating the vote.

‘Kompomat’ stands for ‘compromising materials’, which is the Russian version of fake news. US audiences also got used to the Russian term with the leak of the dossier  on Trump compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele. There is a Russian saying that ‘the best kind of kompromat is true’, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Damaging your opponent is all that matters. Kompromat is also a form of insurance, if everybody has materials on everybody else. It also therefore a systemic necessity, an entry card into politics: anyone who gets involved in politics is corrupt; honest politicians are rejected by the system.

Virtual Subjects

One key way in which the Russian political system works is that the Kremlin controls all political subjects: first politicians and political parties, now even NGOs (hence ‘GONGOs’ – Government Organised Non-Government Organisations). The phrase ‘even the opposition is controlled’ wouldn’t make sense in Russian: the opposition was the first thing to be manipulated and controlled. Fortunately, there are few signs of this yet in the West. Even European political parties that are routinely described as ‘Putin’s puppets’ are real; they have a life of their own; even if they take Russian money or benefit from Russian media assistance.

But the USA is in many ways the home of ‘astroturfing’ – the creation of fake grass-roots campaigns. And it is also the world leader in fake science and lobby groups. The USA also has crowds-on-demand, political supporters assembled for money. Not unlike the way that Russia used spetsturisty  , (‘special tourists’, but similar to the word for military ‘special forces’), and fake anti-Kyiv and pro-Putin protest ‘meetings’ (in Russian the imported word is mitingi) in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Message Control

Controlling the message via controlling the media has always been a key part of the Putinist political system. Longer-term, Russia is a propaganda state, where Putin’s mega-ratings (currently over 80%) are created by elaborate dramaturgiya  (a better Russian word than ‘narrative’), and where alignment with the official media narrative is a key means for elites to signal their loyalty. TV is therefore more important than the militia in maintaining popular control in Russia, although the amount of crude force in the governing formula has gone up since Putin’s re-election in 2012.

In the short-tem, the key Russian media technique is perevod strelki (‘switching the tracks’), shifting attention from or burying stories that are unfavourable to the Kremlin. This is obviously Trump’s number one trick, with his most controversial tweets clearly timed to pre-empt difficult news cycles. Other tactics are straight out the Russian playbook, such as the ‘strategic drowning’ of other messages by shouting louder, using media-friendly shock tactics and the launch-pad effects of bot-nets (see below). This explains why Trump so often played with fire by pushing the buttons on the very issues on which he was vulnerable. He has destroyed or refused to hand over thousands of e-mails and documents in legal suits and bankruptcy cases; so he shouted ever louder about Clinton’s private e-mail server. After his election, Trump shouted about Clinton’s ‘election fraud’ so that less attention was paid to the real scandal of voter suppression. This tactic is ‘hiding in plain sight’.

Strategic drowning also depends on selling an emotive message, especially for stories that can’t compete in terms of factual accuracy.

The emotive overlaps with the demotic. The Russians long ago perfected what they call pryamoi golos (‘direct voice’). This involves another type of virtual subject, namely actors claiming to be the general public on TV.  But more generally, it is what Americans would call ‘disintermediation’– the removal of intermediaries from the supply chain, in this case the direct appeal to voters over the heads of traditional media or even parties –which has been a Republican strategy since 1994.

In different areas, though, the opposite approach makes more sense. The Russians have learnt that their own fake news only has a certain impact. RT only has a limited audience. It is better to ‘nudge’ other voices that are already out there. Although the Russian tem for this is very revealing – ideologicheskie spritsy , translated as ‘ideological syringes’, implying feeding an addiction or appetite to make it grow. The US equivalent would be the way that bot networks interact with the ‘alt-right’; both injecting messages into it and multiplying the impact of the alt-right into mainstream media.

One way of doing this is of course divide-and-rule. It made sense in crude realpolitik terms for Trump supporters to help Sanders’ campaign. The campaigner Cassandra Fairbanks had an interesting story, migrating from Sanders to Trump via Sputnik news.

Social Media

‘Political technology’ in Russia moved into the mainstream in the 1990s. Back then, it didn’t actually use much technology. ‘Political technology’ was really of a type of political culture, with dirty tricks euphemistically elevated to the status of ‘technology’.

But the next generation of political technology in the 2000s was built on partnerships with IT. This type of political technology looks a lot like what we have seen in the U.S.A. in 2016, as the technology is the same (although this makes it harder to detect whether the Russians were actually involved in this side of campaigning).

Politicians can’t wait to grow real popularity on social media. It’s much easier to use bot-nets to launch hashtags or tweets. It’s also crucial to look popular, in order to be popular. In the U.S.A. this is already a normal, and a normalised, part of political campaigning. It would be premature to say that everybody does it, but there are indications that the Clinton campaign did. But Trump used the techniques to a much greater degree, and used them better.

The same combinations of techniques are used as the Russians have developed over the last five years. Bots are good to get things started, but it’s better when real humans take over. ‘Cyborgs’ are a bit of both – automatic networks with human curators. According to one Ukrainian expert: ‘Fakes can be produced here by individual sources, by collective team (troll-farm), and by robo-bots’. Russians also talk about LOMy – which is an acronym for ‘Leaders of Public Opinion’ (fake or real), but also means ‘crowbars’ – as in the (forcible) leverage of opinion. Fonovaya tekhnologiya  or ‘shadow technology’ means the use of social media teams or networks, not for direct propaganda, but to work away in the background; claiming that all politicians are crooks, or that the other side is spreading the fake news, etc. By the time the trolls, bots and ‘hammers’ have finished with it, social media is like a kolbasnaya lavka, nothing but a ‘sausage shop’.

None of this is proof of collusion. But globalisation can lead to the diffusion of political techniques, just as it can increase the flow of people, goods and services.

By Lisa J Walters, for UCL

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog.

Categories: World News

Oliver Stone has launched Putin’s re-election campaign

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:19

Oliver Stone Andrew Medichini / AP

Putin is leveraging Western disciples like Oliver Stone to boost his changes of another term in office.

By Alexey Kovelev, for The Moscow Times

In a preview of Oliver Stone’s documentary “The Putin Interviews,” Russian President Vladimir Putin drops a bombshell. Asked by Stone if he has grandchildren, Putin smiles and answers “yes.”

Questions about Putin’s personal affairs are Russian media’s most explicit no-go area. The makeup of the country’s first family remains a mystery. State media are under strict instructions to never mention Putin’s daughters or ex-wife, unless commanded to do so. News outlets that find the courage to investigate, for example, Putin’s daughter or her miraculously wealthy husband, paint a target on their own backs.

Barred from asking the question themselves, Russian journalists were obliged to wait until Putin opened up to a complete stranger — a foreigner — to report that he was a happy and loving grandfather.

In the same interview, Putin tells Stone that the Kremlin does not control Russia’s media.

The irony will be lost on few Russians. After all, it is the same Vladimir Putin who, in late 2013, signed an executive order to gut the country’s leading news agency and appoint a hyper-loyalist TV host as its director. It is the same Vladimir Putin whose aides publicly say journalists working for state-owned outlets are expected to toe the government line.

Stone never challenges Putin on the obvious implausibility of his claim.

Oliver Stone is arguably Putin’s biggest catch

Stone has admitted that in the course of his 8-hour-long interview he rarely — if ever — challenged Putin. This revelation has prompted Russian commentators to ask: if you are actually interviewing someone, you are supposed to ask tough, uncompromising questions.

“You Mr. Stone are in fact a royal biographer, not an interviewer,” Dmitry Kolezev, a reporter for the independent news website Znak said in a video review of “The Putin Interviews.”

Stone’s refusal to challenge Putin places the director in the company of other B-list Western celebrities who have tied their sails to the Kremlin mast. Stone has joined their chorus by willingly defending Putin as someone “insulted” and “abused,” by the Western media.

But Stone is arguably Putin’s biggest catch: a Western celebrity blinded by Putin’s charisma and his own anti-Western contrarianism. The footage that has been released so far shows him repeating many of Putin’s talking points, even though they are already powered by the president’s $2bn a year propaganda machine.

Naturally, those same government news channels are treating “The Putin Interviews” for what it is: a grand endorsement.

Every trifling bit of yet-unaired interview, every tired, fact-less banality Putin says is recycled and catapulted to top national news by hundreds of loyal outlets. Russia’s biggest state-owned network has already purchased licensing rights.

“The Putin Interviews” release coincides with Putin’s annual live “phone-in,” a marathon question and answer session broadcast live on television. Like Stone’s interviews, it is carefully choreographed for Putin to shine as an all-knowing, caring leader. It also coincides with the anticipated launch of Putin’s 2018 presidential campaign, which may come during the phone-in.

Vasily Gatov, a media analyst and a visiting fellow at USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership, likens “The Putin Interviews” to “The Small Land” propaganda memoir, ghostwritten for Leonid Brezhnev to sanctify the Soviet leader.

In our postmodern times, Gatov told The Moscow Times, Oliver Stone’s film is being presented in the Russian media as a film for “ordinary Americans” so they finally recognize Putin’s superiority over other world leaders.

But Putin can’t keep a straight face as he’s telling Stone that Russia doesn’t interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.

In truth, it does not even have to. Putin, after all, has his own Western disciples like Oliver Stone in his quest to elect himself as Russia’s president.

By Alexey Kovelev, for The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Head of Russia’s federal censor says he’ll appeal personally to Telegram creator to demand submission to new draconian laws

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 18:27

By Meduza

The head of Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, told the news agency Interfax on Monday that he plans to appeal personally to Pavel Durov, the creator of the instant messenger app Telegram, with demands that he register the service legally in Russia as an “information distributor.” Alexander Zharov says he will convey the message within the next week.

In the meantime, Zharov says Roskomnadzor is “waiting and waiting for a response from the messenger [to its previous requests], but they haven’t received it yet.”

“Within a week, I plan to appeal to him personally,” said Zharov.

Interfax
  • In mid-May, Roskomnadzor first informed Telegram that it must register with the Russian authorities as an “information distributor,” thereby obligating the service to provide the Russian government with encryption keys to all its user data, and share its full archive of all communications sent over Telegram. Durov has said several times that he would never share this data with anyone.
  • Russian lawmakers are currently considering draft legislation that would ban anonymity on instant messenger apps, requiring users to register accounts using their real names, verified with their phone numbers.
  • Russia has already banned the messengers Zello and Blackberry for refusing to register with Roskomnadzor.
By Meduza
Categories: World News

Putin showed Oliver Stone a video where Russia’s Air Force supposedly attacked terrorists in Syria. It was actually footage of Americans fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 18:19

By Meduza

In Oliver Stone’s Showtime special “The Putin Interviews,” there is a scene where the Russian president shows Stone a video on an iPhone supposedly depicting “our aviation at work” in Syria, Putin says.

You can catch a snippet of the video in the teaser trailer for the show’s third installment. The moment occurs at 49 minutes, 10 seconds, into the third episode.

It turns out that Putin actually showed Stone footage of an American Apache helicopter attacking Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The original video first appeared on the website Military.com in 2013.

Further complicating things, the video Putin showed Stone also contains an added audio track where the pilots are speaking Russian. Strangely, it seems this may actually chatter be recorded between Ukrainian pilots conducting military operations over Donetsk.

On YouTube, there is a copy of the American video with pilot chatter in Russian. It’s possible that this was the video Putin showed to Oliver Stone.

Researchers from the Conflict Intelligence Team compared the video played for Stone to frames from the footage of the U.S. Apache helicopter in Afghanistan, and found that they’re a perfect match.

By Meduza

Categories: World News

Russia uses money and threat of prosecution to hide Russian soldiers’ deaths in Ukraine

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 15:50

tank with Russian flag at Debaltseve, unmarked graves in Rostov

By Halya Coynash, Human Rights in Ukraine

While whole villages, sometimes regions, come out to bid farewell to slain Ukrainian soldiers, Russians killed are likely smuggled back in Moscow’s supposed ‘humanitarian convoys’ or lie in unnamed graves in the Rostov oblast near the militant-controlled part of the border.

Valentina Melnykova, Head of the Union of Russian Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, stresses that Russia has followed the Soviet tradition of not publicizing fatalities.  This, however, is the first war she is aware of where the families of young men killed are not approaching the committees for help.  She believes the explanation may lie partly in the ‘insurance’ payments the families get, but acknowledges that it is hard to understand “why Russian families agreed so easily to this silence, to this anonymity”.

One mother has now got in touch, asking for help to get her son’s body back for reburial in Russia.  Melnykova is convinced that others will start coming forward, as they experience problems with their health, when the benefits they were promised don’t emerge.

For the moment, however, the revelations about the Pskov paratroopers killed in Donbas in August 2014, about other deaths and about attempts to hush them up have not reached the public realm since 2014.

Melnykova says that her committees assume a figure of at least 1,500 “Russian so-called volunteers, in fact, Russian conscripts, soldiers, officers”.  That figure is based purely on experience that there tends to be a correlation between deaths on both sides, not on knowledge about specific deaths.

Melnykova told the BBC Ukrainian Service there is no chance at present of calculating the number of deaths and calls the situation “terrible”.

“From the beginning of military action, Russian soldiers were sent there without documents, without identification tags, depersonalized, in accordance with unknown orders and with unclear status. It’s impossible in principle to give an exact calculation, there can only be folklore methods of calculating.”

There are others who have attempted such calculations, such as Yelena Vasilyeva, whose Cargo 200 has, since 2014, come out with by far the highest figures.  The information is, however, collated without real checks being carried out, and is widely distrusted for that reason alone.

Officials from Ukraine’s Defence Ministry point out that a major difficulty lies in determining whether those killed were locals with Ukrainian citizenship, or Russians. The SBU and Ukrainian Military Intelligence told the BBC that they believe there are 35-40 thousand fighters in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [DPR, LPR, respectively], with 4 – 5 thousand – Russian military servicemen.   It is likely that many others are also Russian, but it is difficult to determine the nationality, both of those now fighting, and those killed.

One of the factors making it particularly difficult is that military personnel sent to Donbas are given fictitious names and documents.

Graves

Russia denied from the beginning that it was behind the military conflict in Donbas.  It continues to claim, for example, that soldiers captured 30 kilometres into Ukrainian territory ‘got lost’, that two military intelligence officers seized after the killing of a Ukrainian soldier had ‘resigned’ months earlier and that the sophisticated tanks and other equipment used by Kremlin-backed militants “were found in Donbas mines”.

The truth began emerging in late August 2014, with news of the death in Donbas of the major part of a Pskov paratrooper regiment.  At that stage, the questions were still being asked, at least by certain independent publications.  Vedomosti, for example, “Is Russia fighting in Ukraine and if so, then on what grounds?  If not, then who is in those freshly-dug graves or giving testimony at SBU interrogations?

The shenanigans began soon after the media began reporting such deaths.  Novaya Gazeta explained that the wife of Leonid Kichatkin had reported his death on Aug 22, 2014 on VKontakte.  By the next day Leonid’s page had disappeared, and when Novaya rang the number that had been given, the woman who was supposedly Leonid Kichatkin’s wife insisted that her husband was alive, well and right next to her.  A man then took the phone and confirmed that he was Kichatkin.

The Novaya journalist found Leonid Kichatkin’s newly dug grave in the Vybuty cemetery outside Pskov.  The photo is that seen on his wife’s VKontakte page  (more details here).

The first indications came at that time that the so-called ‘humanitarian convoys’ that Russia was breaking international law by bringing into Ukraine without checks might be used to return the bodies of soldiers killed, as well as taking military equipment and ammunition into Donbas.

In fact, in August 2014, there were witnesses videoing Russian tanks, heavy artillery and men travelling towards the Russian-Ukrainian border (and not returning) See: An Invasion by any other name.

While it is quite conceivable that ‘humanitarian convoys’ are used to return the bodies of military personnel, it seems likely that many mercenaries do not even get a proper grave (see: Unmarked Graves of Russia’s Undeclared War),

Enforced silence

The publicity was clearly not to the Kremlin’s liking, and on May 28, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree classifying information about Russian military losses during “special operations in peacetime”, thus potentially enabling prosecution and imprisonment for divulging details about the deaths of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

Russian soldiers have also ended up imprisoned for refusing to fight in a war that Russia denies waging (details here).

Russia’s chief military prosecutor has refused to investigate the death of 159 Russian soldiers who are believed to have been killed in Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.  The prosecutor’s office asserts that checks were carried out into all deaths from the beginning of 2014 to mid-2015, and no infringements were found. This view was categorically not shared by Sergei Krivenko and other members of the President’s Human Rights Council.  On Dec 8, 2015, they formally demanded an official answer as to the circumstances in which the soldiers had been killed.    The human rights activists pointed out also that there had been a sharp increase in such unexplained deaths during the second half of 2014.  This coincided with the first publicized reports of soldiers’ deaths in Donbas, as well as a major escalation in Russia’s direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

Putin has, in fact, admitted to military involvement in Donbas.  In answering a question from Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk in December 2015, Putin claimed that Russia had never said that they did not have people in Donbas “resolving various issues”, including in the military sphere. But there are no regular forces, he asserted, and asked the audience to “feel the difference”.  Those who find it difficult to perceive the alleged distinction would be no wiser after his assertion that Russia was ‘forced’ to intervene back in October 2016.

There have been various forms of pressure placed on civic activists – from criminal proceedings to physical attacks. Although there were numerous subjects on which Boris Nemtsov’s honesty rang out, he was one of a very small number of prominent Russians who spoke out unequivocally from the outset against Russia’s invasion of Crimea and war in Donbas.  He was planning a report on the war when gunned down near the Kremlin on Feb 27, 2015.  The report was later put together by his friends and colleagues.

While Russia arms and provides fighters for its undeclared war in Ukraine, and lies about Russian soldiers’ deaths, the funerals continue almost daily of Ukrainian soldiers killed in Donbas.  There is no point in expecting conscience from those in the Kremlin, but the families of Russian soldiers who have died, and the Russian journalists who have fallen silent since Putin’s decree would do well to watch how Ukrainians honour Ihor Novak, Oleh Yurdyha, Ivan Sotnyk and thousands of other slain defenders of their homeland.

By Halya Coynash, Human Rights in Ukraine

Categories: World News

Putin May Be Crying ‘Wolf’ Once Too Often, Gudkov Says

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 17:39

Lev Gudkov

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

After a brief break from its “besieged fortress” rhetoric, the Kremlin has returned to the idea that Russia is surrounded by hostile forces which are seeking to destabilize it in advance of the presidential election in the hopes that it will help Vladimir Putin put down his opponents, mobilize voters and achieve a breakthrough with the West.

On the Profile portal, Denis Yermakov traces the return of this older line; but at least one Moscow analyst, Lev Gudkov of the independent Levada Center polling group, argues that Putin may have cried “wolf” once too often. At the very least, he says, each new wave of such rhetoric has less impact than its predecessor (profile.ru/politika/item/117809-oboronnoe-bessoznatelnoe).

“A new foreign policy sharpening like that after the Turkish or Syrian events already will not be viewed by the electorate as was the case earlier,” a reflection of the fact that “every new such factor of the sharp growth in tensions workers ever less and less powerfully,” the Levada Center sociologist continues.

“One shouldn’t cry ‘wolf’ or ‘fire’ all the time! Citizens are ceasing to react to this. Of course, initially there will be a certain forced consolidation but it will all the same not be as strong as with regard to Crimea or Novorossiya. Then a sharp growth in dissatisfaction and opposite reaction will follow.”

According to Gudkov’s findings, “the readiness of people to sacrifice something and respond to foreign policy events even with regard to the Ukrainian situation has fallen sharply. If in the spring of 2014, in response to sanctions, 74-75 percent were ready to sacrifice something, then in January 2017, the situation had turned around: more than half (approximately 55 percent) tell us that they aren’t ready” to sacrifice anything.

Indeed, he says, further demands from the powers that be to make sacrifices for foreign policy goals, even if they are as general as pursuing “the status of a great power … already have the opposite effect,” making Russians less willing to do so. Consequently, Putin’s return to the besieged fortress rhetoric may end by working against him and his interests.

This pattern will be more true in major cities and less true in rural areas where people rely almost exclusively on television. But given the size of the urban population, its shift against the regime would be profound. Recently, there has been a growth in tensions and a willingness to take part in protests.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Computational propaganda in Ukraine: caught between external threats and internal challenges

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 17:03

Social media being used by governments to spread fake news and manipulate public opinion, finds first comparative study of automated political propaganda worldwide

Social media platforms are being used support campaigns of political misinformation on a global scale, according to evidence released today by researchers from the University of Oxford’s “Computational Propaganda” project, which studies the effect of new forms of digital propaganda on democracy.

Detailed evidence of manipulation of public opinion is presented in the project’s nine-country case-study report released today, which investigates the use of computational propaganda to sway public opinion and spread disinformation in the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, Ukraine, Taiwan, Poland and Canada.

Representing the first systematic attempt to collect and analyze computational propaganda worldwide, the project team has found significant evidence that many governments are using software ‘bots’ to artificially shape public life, influence voters and defame critics through dissemination of “fake news”, coordinated disinformation campaigns, and troll mobs to attack human rights activists, civil society groups, and journalists.

Top-line findings from the report include:

  • Automated social media profiles had a measurable influence on information sharing over Twitter during the 2016 United States election. In the key battleground state of Michigan, fake news was shared as widely as professional news in the days leading up to the election.

  • Interviews with US political party operatives, campaign staff, and digital strategists reveal that social media bots have been used to manipulate online discussion around US political campaigns for almost a decade.

  • Sixty percent of Twitter activity in Russia is managed by highly automated accounts, and Russian-directed campaigns have targeted political actors in the United States, Poland, and Ukraine.

  • Disinformation campaigns have been waged against citizens in Ukraine across VK, Facebook, and Twitter. The industry that drives these efforts of manipulation has been active in Ukraine since the early 2000s.

  • A significant portion of the conversation about politics in Poland over Twitter is produced by a handful of alt-right accounts.

  • Chinese-directed campaigns have targeted political actors in Taiwan, using a combination of algorithms and human curation. Chinese mainland propaganda over social media is not fully automated but is heavily coordinated.

  • Government responses vary greatly from country to country. In Taiwan, the government has responded with an aggressive media literacy campaign and public fact-checking bots. In Ukraine, the government response has been minimal, but a growing number of private firms are making a business of fact checking and protecting social media users.

The project’s principal investigator, Professor Philip Howard, said: “Social media are a significant platform for political engagement and sharing political news and information, but are increasingly being used by many governments around the world to spread disinformation in order to strengthen social control. In our research, we found significant evidence that political bots are being used during political events like elections to silence opponents and push official state messaging over platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The growing use of computational propaganda as a powerful tool to disseminate fake news and coordinate hate and disinformation campaigns is a worrying trend — by confusing and poisoning online political debate it threatens our democracies, while strengthening the hand of authoritarian states.”

Contact

Samuel Woolley, Director of Research, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Samuel.Woolley@oii.ox.ac.uk

Prof. Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford philip.howard@oii.ox.ac.uk

Notes for editors

  • The Computational Propaganda Research Project is a European Research Council (ERC)-funded project at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, which studies the effect of computational propaganda on democracy. See: http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk

  • “Computational propaganda” describes the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to distribute misleading information over social media networks. ‘Bots’ are software agents that are able to rapidly deploy messages, interact with users’ content, and affect trending algorithms on social media, while passing as human users. Malicious uses of bots include spamming and harassment.

  • The project has undertaken case studies on the state of digital disinformation and political bot usage in the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, Ukraine, Taiwan, Poland and Canada. The research was based on both social media analysis and interviews with victims of attacks and with creators of political bots and propaganda; process tracing; participant observation; social network analysis; and content analysis of media articles.

  • The research team interviewed 65 experts, and analyzed tens of millions of social media posts during a number of elections and political crises between 2015 and 2017.

  • The research team has previously released evidence on the effect of computational propaganda in the UK’s Brexit referendum.

As part of our new country case study series, project members Mariia Zhdanova and Dariya Orlova investigated the use of bots and other false amplifiers in Ukraine.

Abstract:

This working paper examines the state of computational propaganda in Ukraine, focusing on two major dimensions, Ukraine’s response to the challenges of external information attacks and the use of computational propaganda in internal political communication. Based on interviews with Ukrainian media experts, academics, industry insiders and bot developers, the working paper explores the scale of the issue and identifies the most common tactics, instruments and approaches for the deployment of political bots online. The cases described illustrate the misconceptions about fake accounts, paid online commentators and automated scripts, as well as the threats of malicious online activities. First, we explain how bots operate in the internal political and media environment of the country and provide examples of typical campaigns. Second, we analyse the case of the MH17 tragedy as an illustrative example of Russia’s purposeful disinformation campaign against Ukraine, which has a distinctive social media component. Finally, responses to computational propaganda are scrutinized, including alleged governmental attacks on Ukrainian journalists, which reveal that civil society and grassroots movements have great potential to stand up to the perils of computational propaganda.

Citation: Mariia Zhdanova & Dariya Orlova, “Computational Propaganda in Ukraine: Caught between external threats and internal challenges.” Samuel Woolley and Philip N. Howard, Eds. Working Paper 2017.9. Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda. comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk<http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/>. 25 pp.

Read the full report here.

By Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Categories: World News

StopFakeNews #136 [ENG] with Romeo Kokriatski

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 16:05

The latest edition of StopFake News with Romeo Kokriatski. This week we dissect two new Russian fakes about EU visa-free travel for Ukrainians and debunk some faulty thinking by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Categories: World News

Russia Day as a symbol of propaganda schizophrenia

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 13:08
By Ksenia Kirillova, for LB.ua On 12 June, Russians marks a holiday known as Russia Day, possibly the most controversial date in the country’s recent history. The Declaration on State Sovereignty (independence) adopted by Russia this day 27 years ago formally did not formally signify a collapse of the Soviet Union but became one of significant episodes of this process in practice. However, after Vladimir Putin called the Soviet Union breakdown “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe” and the Russian propaganda has for years used the images of the Soviet past, it is getting increasingly more difficult to fit this holiday into the general propaganda narrative.

Photo: EPA/UPG

The thing is that in all the recent years, the Kremlin has been making a rather successful use of radically-minded patriotic groups and movements, especially those with pro-Soviet slant, for its purposes. The benefit of their use was apparent. On the one hand, radical elements play an important role in the militarist mobilisation of the population while the accent is being made on Vladimir Putin as the “leader” of Russia “rising from its knees”. On the other hand, notional “Girkin” may come to power after Putin, therefore it makes sense to deal with the “sensible” Russian leader.

Besides, in the country which can offer neither a specific ideology not a positive development model, the only way to flesh out the Soviet myth about a “brighter future” is by heroizing the past.

Besides, “radical patriots” are quite useful for current tactical tasks: get rid of unwanted oligarchs under the pretense of “fighting corruption”, “hijack” the anticorruption issue from the liberal opposition and direct it as the authorities see fit.

However, the process of continuous artificial mobilisation of the population around the Soviet myth has a back side, that is an artificially-born demand for a totalitarian ideology. The permanent artificial creation of extreme conditions, the neverending war, the escalation of a threat, making people believe that “Russia is encircled by enemies”, calls to tolerate further hardships in the name of fight, the merciless exploitation of historical myths, symbols and images to justify the Kremlin’s current policy – all of these inevitably result in an increase in the active part of the population sincerely looking forward to restoring the “Soviet paradise”.

At the same time, the Soviet myth, along with imperialist complexes, readiness to suffer hardships and approval of the authorities’ militarist policy, is closely connected in Russians’ minds with the idea of social justice and absolute rejection of oligarchy (which is firmly associated with the incumbent authorities). With the economic crisis in the background, it is easy to see that in parallel to “liberal” protests, an increasingly bigger part of the population, which was artificially immersed into the past, will start to demand “true Socialism”: with guaranteed jobs, absence of crimes, free education and healthcare and so on. Essentially, the demands for something the Russian authorities cannot give their voters.

Photo: ukr-online.com

And so it seems that Russia Day became a clear example of how one part of propaganda policy clashed with its another part. For example, ahead of the holiday, the Ural portal ura.ru published an article by historian Maksim Artemyev about why Russia does not celebrate 12 June with the same feelings as Americans have for Independence Day or Frenchmen for Bastille Day.

In particular, the author regrets that the declaration adopted on this day became “another stage in the collapse of the Soviet Union, which is recognised today as “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. Later, in the best traditions of the modern ideology of the “Russian world”, Artemyev says that “the USSR was in fact historical Russia, while as a result [of the catastrophe] it was cut in half, gave other countries 25 million ethnic Russians, artificially split the single nation, and legitimised the Lenin-Stalin borders.” This statement is certainly useful for justifying the Russian military aggression in the neighbouring states, but it can hardly have any connection with the 12 June festivities.

And, finally, Artemyev’s last thesis targets the current Russian authorities which call themselves heirs to the USSR, then to the Russian empire, and sometimes to post-perestroika Russia:

“The current authorities are extremely cautious: they not only retain the majority of Soviet holidays and names, except for some not even odious but otherwise inappropriate ones (for example, 7 November), but do not give up their recent history either. And the latter starts with people who grabbed power in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1990… We are faced with a paradox: the Kremlin says it is severing ties with those who ‘ruined’ the country, whereas in fact it cares a lot about their heritage.”

Certainly, this article does not prove that the monster created by the Russian propaganda is getting out of control, but an increasingly bigger share of the active “patriotic electorate” is starting to share such sentiments. It is interesting to see how Russian propagandists are trying to draw a veil over the ideological schizophrenia they have created while trying “to put together incompatible things”. In particular, despite “patriots’” discontent, the notorious propaganda channel NTV called Russia Day “the holiday of national unity, freedom, civil peace and common responsibility for the present and future of our motherland”. It is funny that the holiday broadcasting on the channel started with the “Russian Riot” historical film.

Photo: EPA/UPG

“During the rule of Catherine the Great, fugitive prisoner Yemelyan Pugachyov declared himself Emperor Peter III in a remote Russian province. Teams of Cossacks and fugitive serves joined the impostor,” the preview of the film reads. Large-scale anticorruption protests are scheduled exactly for 12 June and thus the propagandists are trying hard to glue the unhappy population to screens and be dismayed by the “destructive” Russian riot which happened 300 years ago instead of taking part in something similar today.

Channel One, for its part, decided to reconcile the new holiday with the Soviet nostalgia getting out of control, having thoughtfully launched the documentary “The Soviet country. Forgotten leaders” ahead of the big day. On Russia Day, the propagandists thought of nothing better than their favourite issues: World War II and Crimea, having shown “a premiere of Natalya Guguyeva’s documentary about army pilots who faced a difficult choice, called ‘Crimea. The motherland’s sky’”.

It seems like Rossiya 1 TV did not bother about difficult propaganda techniques and scheduled a number of entertainment series for the holidays, followed by a broadcast from the state awards ceremony in the Kremlin and a festive concert.

However, all these half-entertainment TV products can hardly remove the growing tension between the Kremlin and a score of “new Communists”, who it spawned and who have increasingly more complaints about their creator. Factor in a series of mass “liberal” protests, and you would not say the Russian authorities feel particularly festive.

By Ksenia Kirillova, for LB.ua

Categories: World News

The Power Vertical: Putin Has No Story To Tell (Transcript)

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 17:39

By Brian Whitmore, RFE\RL

Vladimir Putin has always been a very good storyteller.

First he told a story about how he was the man who restored order, saved Russia from the chaos of the nineties, battled the oligarchs, and brought unprecedented prosperity.

Never mind that Putin benefited handsomely from the chaos of the nineties and was busy creating his own oligarchy to replace the one he vanquished.

People bought the story anyway, and enough were content to trade their political freedom for stability and prosperity.

And when that story ran its course, and the people started getting restless, Putin spun a new tale.

He annexed Crimea, invaded the Donbas, menaced the West, and told Russians that they were a mighty great power that was reclaiming its pride of place in the world.

This new story was a big hit.

WATCH Today’s Daily Vertical Russians appeared willing to trade political freedom and prosperity for the promise of empire.

Putin’s popularity soared and he looked invincible.

But the euphoria from Putin’s Crimea drug finally appears to be wearing off.

And, if one thing was clear from Putin’s lackluster live call-in program yesterday, it was this:

For the first time, it seems that the great storyteller has run out of good stories to tell the Russian people.

And that puts us in uncharted territory as Russia enters a volatile political season.

We may be about to see Putin without a legitimizing myth.

We may be about to get our first look at the emperor without any clothes.

NOTE TO VIEWERS: The Daily Vertical will not appear on June 19-20 as I have a speaking engagement in Munich. The normal schedule will resume on Wednesday June 21.

By Brian Whitmore, RFE\RL

Categories: World News

Top-5 Russian Fakes about US

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 16:54

– Tillerson Names Conditions under Which Crimea Would Be Recognized as Russian (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-tillerson-names-conditions-under-which-crimea-would-be-recognized-as-russian/)

Scores of Russian media manipulated statements made by US Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during his congressional confirmation hearing, claiming that Tillerson named the conditions under which America would be prepared to recognize Crimea as Russian territory. They conveniently ignored the fact that Tillerson agreed that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was illegal and violated Ukraine’s sovereignty. Tillerson did not outline any conditions for such recognition, on the contrary, he said that Russia had no right to take Crimea and the weak response for this action from the US emboldened Moscow.

– US Unhappy with Ukraine, Looking for Poroshenko Replacement (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-us-unhappy-with-ukraine-looking-for-poroshenko-replacement/)

Scores of Russian media disseminated a story alleging that Washington was dissatisfied with the Ukrainian government and was looking to replace President Petro Poroshenko. Relying on so-called anonymous sources and manipulating various statements made by political analysts, those fake stories presented a completely distorted picture of US-Ukraine relations.

– White House Admits Russia Sanction Policy a Failure (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-white-house-admits-russia-sanction-policy-a-failure/)

The Russian website Ukraina.ru declared that the White House has announced its sanctions policy against Russia to be a failure. In an article entitled “State Department clarifies its position on Ukraine after Trump victory” the site quoted White House spokesman Josh Earnest out of context and created the impression that the US was admitting defeat in its sanction policy.

– American Snipers in the Donbas (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-american-snipers-in-the-donbas/)

Russian media was awash with stories that American snipers  were fighting on the Ukrainian side in the eastern occupied territories.  The source for that claim was the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and its spokesman Eduard Basurin.

On October 10  Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak met with US Senator Joe Donnelly to discuss US support for Ukraine, however there was no mention of any US snipers working in the war zone.

– US Accuses Ukraine of Genocide against Its People (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-us-accuses-ukraine-of-genocide-against-its-people/)

Russian media disseminated a story claiming that during a meeting with business leaders US President Donald Trump accused Ukraine of waging genocide against its own people. Donald Trump allegedly made this accusation during a business roundtable, which was reported by CNN radio, Russian sites claimed. However, CNN never ran such a report anywhere, not on radio, on television or their website.

Categories: World News

“Most common way that fake news spreads is from laziness” – Aric Toler (Bellingcat)

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 17:10

Aric Toler has been an employee at Bellingcat since 2015. He graduated with an MA in Slavic Languages & Literatures from the University of Kansas in 2013, focusing on Russian literature and intellectual history. After graduation, he worked for two years as an intelligence specialist in the private sector.

Now with Bellingcat, Aric writes, edits, researches, and translates (Russian–>English) articles related to Russia, Ukraine, and eastern Europe. Additionally, he conducts training workshops for journalists in open source investigation, verification, and digital forensics. Some of his focuses are verification of Russian media, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russian influence in the American/European far-right, and the ongoing investigation into MH17.

We met Aric Toler in May at the Lviv Media Forum , where was presenting Bellingcats most recent investigations. We asked him about current developments within his own research and his views on current devolpments in Ukraine.

StopFake: You are working within an OSINT environment for Bellingcat and producing regular reports on specific topics, like the downing of MH17. You already reach a significant audience, but how do plan to grow that audience and also reach the mainstream-media?

Aric Toler: A big strategy we’ve been promoting for the last year or so, and are going to keep working on, is introducing OSINT research and verification skills to mainstream media so that the methods are widely recognized and trusted. We already know how reliable these methods are when used by those who have proper training and a keen eye, but when they are used by organizations like the New York Times (especially Malachy Browne’s recent investigations into Syria and Erdogan’s bodyguards that used a lot of open sources) and elsewhere, they become far more familiar to the public, making the ground more fertile for our work.

How can you present your OSINT findings to a broader public? Do you have suggestions on improving your strategies to have more exposure for these findings?

These methods are extremely popular and well known in Ukraine and Russia already, thanks to the work of us and others (namely FBK, InformNapalm, CIT, and of course, StopFake). We are hoping to continue to strengthen the use of OSINT methods in these countries with workshops for Russian speakers that we offer — including one that I co-led with StopFake in Kyiv in December 2016 — that are also focused on the surrounding region, such as the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Aric Toler at Lviv Media Forum 2017,

Some weeks ago Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko issued an order banning access to Russian social media such as Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki from Ukrainian IPs. He explained that this decision was necessary in order to protect Ukrainians from the propaganda on these sites. But from another perspective – and Bellingcat proved it many times – Vkontakte is a great source of information about the Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine. How would you evaluate this Ukrainian decision?

I’m against censorship in every form and I think that it does more harm than good. I understand the concerns of propaganda and security issues concerning VK, but the benefits of banning VK and some other sites are not as strong as the hindrances. At first glance, it feels to me like a move that Turkey would take more so than a European democracy, but I am also aware that this assessment is not entirely fair, as Ukraine has been invaded by Russia, and the targeted sites are from that country, while Turkey’s moves are purely about censorship and squashing free speech.

Have you experienced any threats because of your job? Or was Bellingcat a target for hacker attacks?

Just hacking attempts from phishing campaigns. See here:

Do you think facts can defeat propaganda in this so called “post-truth” epoch, when things are said without any and they  influence political decisions and geopolitics. Do journalists need to invent new tools to effectively resist propaganda and fake news?

I don’t think tools are the answer. The most common way that fake news spreads is from laziness. See the recent account published by the New York Times a fake story about the electronic jamming and an American plane over the Black Sea. That would have been stopped by journalists being more responsible and understanding sources. No tool can stop that.

Interview: Galyna Schimansky-Geier for StopFake German

Categories: World News

Fake: No Biometric Passports for Ukrainians in Occupied Territories

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 13:14

Poroshenko deprives Donbas residents from traveling to EU without visas – declared Russia’s Vzglyad internet newspaper. The publication quotes Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko out of context to claim that residents of annexed Crimea and Russian separatist occupied Donbas regions will not be issued biometric passports which are necessary for visa-free travel to the Schengen zone of the European Union. This is not the first time that Ukrainian authorities have divided their citizens into the haves and have nots, Vzglyad declares.

Website vz.ru

As of June 11 Ukrainians holding biometric passports can travel to the EU for a period of 90 days without a visa. Ukrainians living in occupied territories, who have not surrendered their Ukrainian citizenship, have the right to obtain a biometric passport. They must present additional proof of identity because the passport issuing office is not able to access the necessary archives in the occupied territories.

Ukrainian sites Vesti and Korrespondent along with Russia’s Rosbalt.ru, Fondsk.ru followed in Vzglyad’s footsteps  repeating  the fake mantra — no biometric passports for Ukrainians in occupied territories.

Website @112_Украина

Poroshenko said the following: “If there are problems in issuing passports for those who are on occupied territory we must examine our legislative base, but we cannot leave these people without passports. If we can’t issue them biometric passports then with the consent of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Foreign Ministry we should propose to the Cabinet of Ministers that they be issued regular passports.

Website pasport.org.ua

When applying for a new passport, Dokument, the state agency issuing biometric passports in Ukraine, recommends that as proof of identity, residents of the occupied territories present several supporting documents bearing their photographs, such as a military identification card, driver license, pension card, work id or any other identification with a picture.

 

Categories: World News

Fake: Poland Reluctant To Admit Ukrainians

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 00:29

The first day of EU visa-free travel for Ukrainians generated scores of fake stories in Russian media.

RIA Novosti reported that after the onset of visa-free travel, Poland was reluctant to admit Ukrainians.  Citing an unnamed representative of Ukraine’s border service, RIA claimed that Polish border guards were intentionally working slowly so as to allow as few Ukrainians across the border as possible, resulting in long lines on the Ukrainian side.

REN TV, Pravda.ru and other Russian media also disseminated RIA’s fake story.

Several hours before issuing this fake, RIA featured a completely different story, reporting that hundreds of Ukrainians had taken advantage of the introduction of visa-free travel in the first hours immediately after it came into effect on June 11.

Oleg Slobodyan Facebook

According to Ukrainian Border Service representative Oleh Slobodyan, on June 12  the second day of visa-free travel, nearly 2 thousand Ukrainians had entered the EU by 6 AM,  78% had entered the EU by car, 22% traveled by airplane. The largest number of Ukrainians entered the EU via Poland.

Categories: World News