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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 9 min 9 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

Figure of the Week: 0

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 19:09

By EU vs Disinfo

“Not a single Russian-language school is left in Kyiv.”

This sensational headline recently appeared on, a Russian website well-known for spreading disinformation about Ukraine.

The claim, like much of the “news” published on, is entirely bogus.

As Ukraine’s StopFake reports, as many as 16 schools in the Ukrainian capital currently offer Russian-language curriculums.

Two other outlets, Novorossia.Inform and Novostnoe Agenstvo Kharkov, published the false claim. All three stories quote Ukraine’s education ministry, with referring to official figures published by the television channel 112 Ukraina.

A closer look at the channel’s website, however, shows that the allegedly official statistics are in fact a simple Excel sheet without any stamp, link, or other indication of its source.

The disinformation story was released after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on January 23 calling for greater protection of minority languages across all its member states.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 18:41

By Reuters Institute

In this factsheet by Richard Fletcher, Alessio Cornia, Lucas Graves and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, we provide top-level usage statistics for the most popular sites that independent fact-checkers and other observers have identified as publishers of false news and online disinformation. We focus on two European countries: France and Italy. We examine France and Italy as two particularly important cases, as both are widely seen as facing serious issues with for-profit and ideologically/politically motivated online disinformation.

We find that:

  • None of the false news websites we considered had an average monthly reach of over 3.5% in 2017, with most reaching less than 1% of the online population in both France and Italy. By comparison, the most popular news websites in France (Le Figaro) and Italy (La Repubblica) had an average monthly reach of 22.3% and 50.9%, respectively;
  • The total time spent with false news websites each month is lower than the time spent with news websites. The most popular false news websites in France were viewed for around 10 million minutes per month, and for 7.5 million minutes in Italy. People spent an average of 178 million minutes per month with Le Monde, and 443 million minutes with La Repubblica—more than the combined time spent with all 20 false news sites in each sample;
  • Despite clear differences in terms of website access, the level of Facebook interaction (defined as the total number of comments, shares, and reactions) generated by a small number of false news outlets matched or exceeded that produced by the most popular news brands. In France, one false news outlet generated an average of over 11 million interactions per month—five times greater than more established news brands. However, in most cases, in both France and Italy, false news outlets do not generate as many interactions as established news brands.

We have shown that many of the most prominent identified false news websites in these countries are far less popular than major established news sites. However, the difference between false news sites and news sites in terms of interactions on Facebook is less clear-cut. We believe that online disinformation is an important issue that the public, publishers, platform companies, policymakers, and other stakeholders should pay serious attention to. But overall, our analysis of the available evidence suggests that false news has more limited reach than is sometimes assumed.

Download Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online distribution in Europe

By Reuters Institute

Categories: World News

StopFake #169 [ENG] with Christi Anne Hofland

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:46

Fake: Russian language woes in Ukraine; Ukraine leads post-Soviet states in anti-Semitism; HIV and AIDS from Donbas sweeping across Ukraine.

Categories: World News

StopFake Helps Schools to Teach Media Literacy

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 10:46

StopFake became a partner of Learn to Discern – Schools (L2D-s) project, a first-of-its-kind media and information literacy initiative. The project was launched on February 2 in Kyiv.

L2D-s aims to equip secondary school students in Ukraine with the critical thinking and media literacy skills they need to build resilience against disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science, L2D-s will pilot educational materials to be integrated into existing curricula at 50 secondary schools across four cities: Chernihiv, Ternopil, Mariupol, and Dnipro. StopFake is assisting in development the educational materials for school-children.

The project is funded by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and the British Embassy Kyiv. It is implemented by IREX, whose Learn to Discern curriculum was first piloted among the general public in Ukraine from 2015 to 2016, also in partnership with StopFake and Academy of Ukrainian Press. During that stage of the project, a handbook on media literacy was developed and 14 thousand of people participated in trainings on media literacy held in 14 regions of Ukraine.

Categories: World News

The Daily Vertical: One-way sovereignty (Transcript)

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:45

Brian Whitmore

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

So what exactly is sovereignty and what exactly constitutes a violation of it?

It’s a question that is apparently high on the agenda in the Federation Council in the aftermath of the doping scandal that got Russia banned from the Winter Olympics and amid the prospect of new Western sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime.

According to a report in RBK, the upper house of Russia’s parliament is considering legislation that would precisely define Russia’s sovereignty and criminalize violations against it.

RBK quoted lawmakers working on the bill as saying that sovereignty means the absolute power of the state inside Russian territory — and any attempt to limit or influence that absolute power is illegal.

Federation Council deputy Lyudmila Bokova, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, says Russia needs a “mirror-like response” to foreign violations of Russian sovereignty.

The mirror, however, appears a bit distorted.

Kremlin officials, for example, have called things like international investigations into illegal Russian doping, Western sanctions against Russian officials, and Western media publishing reports critical of Moscow as violations of Russian sovereignty.

But the Putin regime clearly doesn’t seem to think Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbas as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

And it doesn’t appear to have a problem with its own de facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transdniester in Moldova.

For the Kremlin, sovereignty appears to be a one-way street.

Russia’s is considered absolute and even extends well beyond its borders.

Everybody else’s, especially that of Russia’s neighbors, is limited, conditional, and negotiable.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

Cyber attacks on defense minister undermine bilateral relations

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:41

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

On 18 January, Lithuania experienced a cyber attack  aimed at—the website of a major Lithuanian TV channel—in which hackers inserted false information about Raimundas Karoblis, the minister of national defense. According to the story, Karoblis admitted to being gay and was accused of sexual harassment by a well-known radio journalist and some diplomats. In contrast to previous cyber attacks on the country, this story was written in good Lithuanian. removed the fake article within five minutes, but emails from the website’s account with the false story attached were sent to a number of prominent Lithuanians—politicians, ministers, foreign diplomatic missions, and other news sites. The initial IP address led to St. Petersburg, Russia, and the National Cyber Security Center of Lithuania started an investigation. The cyber attack took place two days after Lithuania released the Magnitsky List, which names 49 Russian citizens banned from entering Lithuania for violating human rights.

But the point here is that every crime has a motive. To paraphrase a Russian saying, Russian hackers and designers of cyber attacks are not as stupid as they look, or as some would like them to be. It is obvious that this false story was meant to be spotted immediately. If the idea was really to compromise the defense minister, the hackers would probably have instead employed much more subtle, effective measures based on longstanding practices of the Russian intelligence services.

What, then, might be the motive of the cyber attack against Karoblis?

First, since the email contained attachments with a virus, any official addressee who opened it–there were only a few—would have had their computers infected. So the aim could have been to get access to a decision-maker’s computer and phone data. The hackers played on the natural inquisitiveness of human nature: inventing an absurd story makes the attachment more tempting to open.

Second, the cyber attack could have been meant to test the resilience of Lithuanian information systems, the speed and scope of their reaction, and how quickly the false message might spread and be received. News websites are attractive targets for cyber attacks because they are information disseminators. Moreover, such sites are a key source of information for citizens in case of emergency. What if these news websites contained lies, false information, or disinformation?

Third, some analysts claimed the attack is an extension of Russia’s Zapad 2017 military exercises. In this instance, the Kremlin repeatedly shows that cyber attacks are integrated into its conventional offensive strategy. During last September’s Zapad 2017 exercises, Russian radio-electronic combat forces disabled much of Latvia’s mobile network and as well as GPS signals in Norwegian air space.

Zapad 2017 aside, Lithuania’s information environment is constantly exposed to Russian cyber attacks, big and small. Consider the following:

  • In September 2017, the Facebook account of Lithuania’s defense minister was hacked.
  • In June 2017, Lithuania authorities reported that they had found Russian spyware in three government office computers.
  • In February 2017, emails accusing the German-led NATO battalion in Lithuania of sexually assaulting “Lisa”— a teenager who did not exist—were sent to Lithuania’s political elite.
  • A cyber attack similar to those which took place during Zapad 2017 occurred in June 2015 during the international “Saber Strike” military exercise. At that time the website of the Joint Headquarters of the Lithuanian Army was hacked, and a false story claiming that NATO forces had conducted a military exercise to annex the Kaliningrad region was inserted. The story also claimed that the Forest Brothers—Baltic partisans who waged a guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states during and after World War II—would attack Kaliningrad.

Given these repeated Kremlin provocations, one wonders whether it is really possible to build the kind of mutually constructive bilateral relations Moscow says it wants.

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

Dalia Bankauskaitė is an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington, D.C. She has extensive professional experience in strategic and integrated communication in public (central and local) and private sectors of Lithuania, Balkans, Ukraine and Georgia. She served as a political counsellor at the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow and served as an Advisor to the European Affairs Committee at the Lithuanian Parliament. Ms. Bankauskaitė holds a Master’s degree from the LSE, UK and EMBA from Baltic Management Institute in Lithuania.

Categories: World News

Update on Twitter’s Review of the 2016 U.S. Election

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:36

By Twitter PublicPolicy

Updated on January 31, 2018

We have expanded the number of people notified about interactions with Twitter accounts potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency. Our notice efforts are focused on certain types of interactions, and they will not encompass every person that ever saw this content. Our goal in providing these notifications is to advance public awareness of and engagement with the important issues raised in our blog post, and provide greater transparency to our account holders and the public.

We have now sent notices to Twitter users with an active email address who our records indicate are based in the US and fall into at least one of the following categories:

  • People who directly engaged during the election period with the 3,814 IRA-linked accounts we identified, either by Retweeting, quoting, replying to, mentioning, or liking those accounts or content created by those accounts;
  • People who were actively following one of the identified IRA-linked accounts at the time those accounts were suspended; and
  • People who opt out of receiving most email updates from Twitter and would not have received our initial notice based on their email settings.

Approximately 1.4 million people have now received a notification from Twitter. We will be sending a short survey to a small group of people who received our notification to gain feedback on this process. As our review continues, we may also email additional users. If and when we do so, we will do our best to keep the public updated.

Original post from January 29, 2018

When we appeared before the United States Congress last fall, Twitter publicly committed to regularly updating both congressional committees and the public on findings from our ongoing review into events surrounding the 2016 U.S. election.

Twitter is committed to providing a platform that fosters healthy civic discourse and democratic debate.  We have been cooperating with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We have committed to be as transparent as possible about sharing what we have learned through our retroactive investigation into activity related to the election.

Since we presented our findings to Congress last fall, we have updated our analysis and continue to look for patterns and signals in data. Today, we are sharing an update on several aspects of that ongoing work, as well as steps we are taking to continue to make progress against potential manipulation of our platform.

Informing People of Malicious Activity in the 2016 Election

As previously announced, we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available.

Examples of IRA Content

Most user engagement was with a very small number of IRA-associated accounts.  Some examples of content which received significant engagement are:

Updated Numbers of IRA Accounts

As part of our ongoing review, we have identified both more IRA and automated Russia-based accounts. The results of this supplemental analysis are consistent with the results of our previous work: automated election-related content associated with Russian signals represented a very small fraction of the overall activity on Twitter in the ten-week period preceding the 2016 election.

We have identified an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA. We have suspended all of these accounts for Terms of Service violations, primarily spam, and all but a few accounts, which were restored to legitimate users, remain suspended.  At the request of congressional investigators, we are also sharing those account handles with Congress. In total, during the time period we investigated, the 3,814 identified IRA-linked accounts posted 175,993 Tweets, approximately 8.4% of which were election-related.

We have also provided Congress with the results of our supplemental analysis into activity believed to be automated, election-related activity originating out of Russia during the election period. Through our supplemental analysis, we have identified 13,512 additional accounts, for a total of 50,258 automated accounts that we identified as Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content during the election period, representing approximately two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016%) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.  However any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue.

Enhancing Information Quality

After the 2016 election, we launched our Information Quality initiative to further develop strategies to detect and prevent bad actors from abusing our platform. We have since made significant improvements, while recognizing that we have more to do as these patterns of activity develop and shift over time.

With our current capabilities, we detect and block approximately 523,000 suspicious logins daily for being generated through automation. In December 2017, our systems identified and challenged more than 6.4 million suspicious accounts globally per week— a 60% increase in our detection rate from October 2017. We have developed new techniques for identifying malicious automation (such as near-instantaneous replies to Tweets, non-random Tweet timing, and coordinated engagement). We have improved our phone verification process and introduced new challenges, including reCAPTCHAs to validate that a human is in control of an account.

Alongside these improvements, we’re continuing to expand enforcement of our developer and automation rules. Since June 2017, we’ve removed more than 220,000 applications in violation of our rules, collectively responsible for more than 2.2 billion low-quality Tweets.

In 2018, we will build upon our existing improvements. Our plans include:

  • Investing further in machine-learning capabilities that help us detect and mitigate the effect on users of fake, coordinated, and automated account activity;
  • Limiting the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck and via the Twitter API;
  • Continuing the expansion of our new developer onboarding process to better manage the use cases for developers building on Twitter’s API. This will help us improve how we enforce our policies on restricted uses of our developer products, including rules on the appropriate use of bots and automation.

Media Literacy and Partnerships

We recognize that Twitter is an important part of a larger ecosystem of how news and information spreads online, and that we have a responsibility to support external programs that empower our users, connecting them with resources to give them control over their online experience.

Our partners Common Sense Media, the National Association for Media Literacy, the Family Online Safety Institute and Connect Safely, amongst others, have helped us to craft materials and conduct workshops to help our users learn how to process online information and understand which sources of news have integrity. We focus on elements like verification of sources, critical thinking, active citizenship online and the breaking down of digital divides.

Learn more about our most recent efforts for Media Literacy Week in countries like the U.S., Canada and Ireland, and follow our partners @MediaLiteracyEd, @CommonSenseEdu and @ConnectSafely for new initiatives like the Teachers Institute at Twitter HQ.

Twitter is proud to partner with journalistic NGOs for trainings and outreach initiatives, including Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. We will keep working with reporters, journalism NGOs, and media organizations to ensure that Twitter’s full capabilities are built into newsrooms and established media outlets worldwide.

Moving Forward

Even as we continue to learn from the events of the 2016 U.S. election, we are taking steps every day to improve the security of our platform and stay one step ahead of those who would abuse it. As part of our preparations for the U.S. midterm elections, our teams are organizing to:

  • Verify major party candidates for all statewide and federal elective offices, and major national party accounts, as a hedge against impersonation;
  • Maintain open lines of communication to federal and state election officials to quickly escalate issues that arise;
  • Address escalations of account issues with respect to violations of Twitter Rules or applicable laws;
  • Continually improve and apply our anti-spam technology to address networks of malicious automation targeting election-related matters; and
  • Monitor trends and spikes in conversations relating to the 2018 elections for potential manipulation activity.

We are committed to ensuring that Twitter is safe and secure for all users and serves to advance healthy civic discussion and engagement. Our work on these issues will never be done, and we will continue in our efforts to protect Twitter against bad actors and networks of malicious automation and manipulation.

By Twitter PublicPolicy

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: New “blacklist” of Russian oligarchs in the US

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 00:16

Topics of the Week

The Kremlin Watch Program is looking for an intern! If you would like to contribute to our work, send us your application for a four-month internship by February 11th. You don’t have to come to the Czech Republic to work with us, the internship can take place externally. More information is available on our website.

The US Treasury department will provide Congress with a new ‘blacklist’ of Russian oligarchs and businesses, which the latter have been scrambling to avoid. The impact is expected to be minimal, given the limited requirements of the legislation. The EU has been encouraged to join the effort to expand the sanctions list as well.

The integrity and objectivity of Euronews, partly funded by the European Commission, has been questioned after praising the Russian army for teaching Crimean children to dismantle weapons.

Miloš Zeman, the Kremlin´s Trojan Horse in Central Europe, has won a second presidential term. Jakub Janda from our Kremlin Watch Program described his journey to the hands of the Russians for the Observer.

Good Old Soviet Joke

An American is visiting the Soviet Union. He’s taking a train from Leningrad to Kiev and listening to his handheld radio when a Soviet man leans over to talk to him. “You know, we make those better and more efficiently here in the Soviet Union,” he says. “Oh?” Says the American. “Yes,” the Soviet man responds. “What is it?”

Policy & Research News Euronews praises occupants teaching children how to dismantle weapons

A debate about the objectivity of Euronews, a news website that receives €25 million per year from the European Commission, has developed after the portal published a report describing lessons given by the Russian Army to Crimean children as young as 12. The project was intended as a recruitment drive, with children learning how to dismantle and diffuse bombs and mines. The original article includes several enthusiastic quotes from participants and fails to mention that Crimea has been illegally annexed by Russia. The following day, the article was updated with the addition of a single sentence about the annexation and attendant sanctions. The update came after the Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU expressed his discontent and even shock in a letter to the European Commission.

New unit against disinformation to be established in the UK

The Guardian reports that the government of the United Kingdom plans to establish a national security communications unit with the goal to combat disinformation operations. This idea has been a part of a wider review of the UK’s defence capabilities. “We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives. The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected, complex challenges”, the spokesman of the Prime Minister said.

The EU should review the list of Russian oligarchs under sanctions

The US envoy on the Ukraine conflict, Kurt Volker, encouraged the EU to follow the US plan to review the list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. According to him, “Russia is not changing its position at all, which is why we need to be adding to the cost that Russia faces.” He suspects the blacklist is going to be extended significantly and this process should continue until Russia “gets serious about trying to bring about peace in Ukraine.”

US Developments
  1. Russian oligarchs have been scrambling to keep their names off a new US ‘blacklist’, provided to Congress this week by the US Treasury department, which identifies “the most influential Russian oligarchs” and “measure[s] their closeness to Putin and their net worth”. Although inclusion on the list carries no formal legal consequences (unlike the Magnitsky Act), the elite Russian business community has been struggling to stay clear of it for several months, and has relied on US connections in the House and Senate to this end. However, the Trump administration is unlikely to act upon to the harshest elements of the legislation, of which only five of twelve measures must be legally enacted. Compliance from the White House is expected, but given this limited requirement, the effects are anticipated to be minimal.

This follows reticence on part of the Trump administration to adhere to the requirements stipulated by Congress last year to penalize Russia for its election meddling. The administration announced new sanctions last week pertaining to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which target 21 individuals and nine entities including Russian government officials and companies involved in projects on the Crimean peninsula. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has emphasized that the US refuses to acknowledge Russia’s unlawful occupation of Crimea.

  1. President Trump is expected to ask for $716 billion in defense spending for 2019 to ward off Russia and China, according to officials. The request aligns closely with the priorities outlined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in the new US National Defense Strategy, which places the threat of conflict with Russia and China at the heart of the agenda. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon claims that the 2019 budget prioritizes preparing for conflict with ‘major world powers’ and ‘modernizing the military’s aging weapons systems’.
  1. According to Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, Russian hackers are attempting to interfere in the upcoming US mid-term elections. Regarding Russian cyberattacks, he said, “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity. I have every expectation that they will try and do that [interfere with the elections].” He added, “But I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election (and) that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”
  1. In new reports revealed this week, Dutch intelligence services were the first to inform the US of Russian cyberattacks against the DNC back in 2014. According to the Dutch program Nieuwsuur, “Intelligence hackers from Dutch AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) had penetrated the Cozy Bear computer servers as well as a security camera at the entrance of their working space, located in a university building adjacent to the Red Square in Moscow.”
  1. Twitter announced last week that it would notify the 677,775 users in the US who followed, liked, or retweeted accounts associated with the Russian troll-factory (Internet Research Agency) during the 2016 election. Twitter said it suspends 200 of these faux-accounts in September 2017. Read the company’s update on the review of the 2016 election here.
  1. According to the Trust Barometer, public faith in US institutions experienced the “steepest, most dramatic general population decline […] ever measured”. Trust has declined 23 points, bringing the US from 6th to last place out of the 28 countries surveyed; this crash is universal across age, gender, and region. Most troublingly of all, a prime consequence in this trust decline has been a loss of confidence in truth, and a rise in references to fake news and disinformation.
  1. And last but not least, Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Mueller’s office to appear before a grand jury. This occurred on the same day that Bannon was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee “for refusing to answer a range of questions from investigators during a combative closed-door interview, frustrating members of both parties who are probing the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia ties”.
The Kremlin’s Current Narrative The Kremlin’s favourite job

We wouldn’t be too surprised to learn if, somewhere one the Kremlin’s premises, there is an office responsible for producing different versions of history and altered narratives. This week it’s for the Romanians about their “Carpathian genius”. Although there are many Romanians deserving this title, Vzglyad writes about Nicolae Ceausescu. The one who “fell a victim of the first color revolution” and the “last stalinist of Europe”. The one who told Gorbachev “Rather, the Danube will flow backwards than the perestroika will take place in Romania” and “rescued Romania from the IMG debt slavery”. The one who “fell victim to lies and manipulations in 1989” and whose glory Vzglyad is now trying to resurrect.

We sometimes wonder, is it national penchant to whitewash dictators, or is it because Russians currently have their own…?

RT gets nervous over Facebook’s fight with fake news

Ever since Facebook announced that it has refreshed its NewsFeed algorithm and decided to add a “disputed” tag on fake news stories, RT can’t get over the news that it will now become a bit harder to disseminate fake and misleading content. “Simply creating an arbitrary list of whose websites can and cannot be viewed on Facebook or considered ‘news’ is normalizing censorship instead of informing individuals“. In another RT article that appeared a few days after Zuckerberg broke the news, RT took its frustration further. RT writes about the addictive nature of social media and quotes an American entrepreneur who suggests that social media should be regulated like the tobacco industry. “I think you’d do it exactly the same way you regulate the cigarette industry. Here’s a product, cigarettes, they are addictive, they are not good for you. Maybe there is all kinds of different forces trying to get you to do certain things. There are a lot of parallels”.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Donbas in Flames: Guide to the Conflict Zone

As far as Russian activities are concerned, recent focus has mainly been on the West, which has overshadowed no less concerning issues such as the war in Donbas. For this reason, and due to its long duration, it is easy to lose track of what is going on in the region. For an in-depth understanding of the conflict, we recommend this guidebook. Written by a group of authors with miscellaneous backgrounds (investigative journalists, political scientists, geographers and historians), the short book offers a thorough yet concise summary of the war in Donbas, taking into account various aspects of the conflict.

Before engaging in an analysis of the war itself, the authors provide a detailed geographical, historical and socio-economic assessment of the Donbas region, which illuminates context that average media coverage often lacks. Later, the book contains a timeline of the conflict, beginning in February 2014. Considerable space is also devoted to the lives of civilians living in the war zone and to differences in how the war events have been covered by Ukrainian, Russian and Western mass media, and on the Internet. Finally, you can read about the tactics and equipment used by Russia 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

Fake: Kyiv Residents Want Russian Social Media Platforms Back

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 19:45

Russian Defense Ministry television channel  Zvezda published a story claiming that the majority of Kyiv residents are against banning Russian social media sites and Russian films. Citing a poll carried out for the Ukrainian Obozrevatel internet newspaper, Zvezda claims the majority of Kyiv residents want the Russian social media network VKontakte back. The poll however was not about Russian social networks or Russian films, but rather about Kyiv residents’ attitudes to Ukrainian sanctions against Russia.

Website screenshot

Website screenshot

Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the Russian sponsored war in eastern Ukraine, there has been relatively broad popular resistance to Russian sites and servers. In May 2016, citing national security interests, President Petro Poroshenko banned Russia’s VKontakte and Odnoklassniki social networks, the email service and the search engine company Yandex.

Obozrevatel’s original story states that a small majority of Kyiv residents do not support Ukraine’s sanctions against Russia, there is no mention of support for any particular social media site. The poll was conducted by a group called Ukrainian Democratic Circle, who have done previous polls for Obozrevatel. This particular group however is not certified by the Ukrainian Sociological Association, who omitted it from their 2014 list of trusted sources.

Obozrevatel also has a poll of their own about the ban of Russian social media and search engines, the response is a resounding support for the ban.

A recent December 2017 rating of Ukraine’s top 25 internet sites did not include any Russian social media sites, mail services or search engine companies.

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine Leads In Anti-Semitism

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 11:22

Russian publications such as RIA Novosti,,, Moskovskyi Komsomolets and others disseminated a story claiming that over the past year Ukraine has become the most anti-Semitic country in the post-Soviet space. The source of this information purports to be the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs annual anti-Semitism report for 2017.

Website screenshot RIA

On January 21, a few days before Holocaust Remembrance Day Israel’s Minister of Diaspora  Affairs Naftali Bennett presented the annual Report on anti-semitic trends and incidents for 2017. Focusing on countries where Jews live, the report presents Ukraine in a singularly negative light.

Against a backdrop of decreasing incidents of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has doubled in Ukraine, the report claims, with the largest number of anti-semitic incidents of any post-Soviet country. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs report also claims that for the second year running, the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Ukraine.

Russian media eagerly picked up this information and disseminated it under such headlines as How Ukraine became a leader in anti-Semitism, Israel demands Ukraine curb anti-Semitism and attacks against Jews. They not only exaggerated quotes from the report, they also invented new “facts”. RIA Novosti for example claimed that Ukraine leads in verbal and physical attacks on Jews and the situation is progressively getting worse.

The report does not claim that physical attacks on Jews have increased, it does claim that the level of anti-Semitic propaganda in political discourse and vandalism have grown, where Jews are viewed as scapegoats amidst the difficult socio-political situation in Ukraine.

Website screenshot

The Israeli report also criticizes Ukraine’s National Memory Institute accusing it of glorifying national heroes who the report claims participated in the humiliation of Ukraine’s Jewish population. According to Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish committee, this is the first time that the Israeli government had singled out the National Memory Institute and its director Volodymyr Viatrovych, who in the past has called for studying the Holocaust as an integral part of Ukrainian history.

Ukraine is rampant with anti-Semitism, its being run by an anti-Semitic government, but Europe chooses to ignore this, is a favorite trope of Russian propaganda, regularly pedaled in the international arena. The Israeli report is being presented in Russian media as confirmation of this. On March 18, 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that “the main executors of the coup are nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.

While Russian media are busy twisting the Israeli anti-Semitism report, it is worth noting that the report itself raises many questions.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that the report should be viewed with skepticism. It is thin on methodology and data, is far from a scientific report, and appears to be a public relations tool aimed to justify the existence of the Diaspora Ministry, writes Haaretz correspondent Ofer Aderet.

According to Vyacheslav Likhachev, who heads the Ukrainian National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group and has been systematically monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine for over 10 years, the report is written from a stereotypical view of Ukraine and does not take into account its real historical and political context.

The Diaspora Ministry report is filled with untrue statements, such as the claim that public insults of Jews in the state sector and in political life have become commonplace over the last two years.  Likhachev says he cannot recall even one such case in the state sector.  You get some in the political realm, but that’s the same in any country, particularly on social media.

The authors of the Israeli report appear to have simply looked on the Internet and prepared a report filled with stereotypical generalizations, Likhachev notes. The number of anti-Semitic incidents did not double in Ukraine, he pointed out, vandalism incidents increased from 19 in 2016 to 24 in 2017.  In 2016 there was one act of anti-Semitic violence in Ukraine, in 2017 there were none.

Likhachev suspects the report’s authors simply dumped all ‘incidents’ that they heard about together, without differentiating between real act of anti-Semitism and insults shouted during a march.  Such an approach breaches all standards for documenting hate crimes used by professional monitoring groups in Ukraine and abroad, Likhachev says.

He said that had the authors of the Israeli ministry report followed the systematic monitoring available, they would have been aware that the Minority Rights Group monitors have, on the whole, found a positive, downward trend regarding instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.


Categories: World News

Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 07:32

By Nicolai Paholinitchi, for Open Democracy

New legislation banning Russian news from Moldova’s media market seems less about countering disinformation, and more about defending vested interests.

Next month, a ban on rebroadcasting Russian news and analysis will come into force in Moldova. The ban, legislated via amendments to the country’s broadcasting code, will apply to all foreign news and analytical programming produced outside the EU, the United States, Canada or other signatory countries of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Broadcasters that violate the law will face an initial of fine of 40,000-70,000 lei (£1,700-£2,950) and subsequent fines of 70,000-100,000 lei (£2,950-£4,200)

The ban’s instigators, a group of MPs from Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party, say the ban is necessary “to safeguard the infosphere” and “protect society from attempts to disseminate disinformation and/or manipulate information from without”. The ban was signed into law by Andrian Candu, the speaker of the Moldovan Parliament who is currently acting president, on 10 January.

“The confrontation between Dodon and Plahotniuc is fake”

The Democrats’ intention to ban Russian news broadcasts became public knowledge back in the summer of last year. Announcing the plans, Vladimir Plahotniuc — leader of Moldova’s Democratic Party, oligarch and media magnate — asserted that “Moldova is vulnerable to media manipulation campaigns waged from without. The content [of Russian news broadcasts] is very frequently defamatory towards our country and our development partners from the USA and the EU.”

Plahotniuc issued the announcement only weeks after making an official visit to the US, where, as reported by the Democrats’ press service, he held meetings with representatives of Congress and the State Department.

A unique situation has arisen in Moldova. Although the Democrat leader does not occupy any official government posts, Plahotniuc is invariably the one to break the news about key decisions or the authorities’ immediate-term plans. Towards the end of last year, for example, Plahotniuc announced new appointments to the Cabinet of Ministers. The opposition, repeatedly alleging that key decisions in Moldova are made by Plahotniuc alone, has accused the politician of usurping power.

“Plahotniuc has no interest in combating propaganda — if he did, he’d have refused to rebroadcast Russia’s Channel One a long time ago”

Plahotniuc announced the “Russian propaganda” ban on 13 June. Later that same day, the bill was registered in parliament by a group of Democrat MPs — and forgotten about for six months. The Democrats turned their attention back to the bill in early December, when Plahotniuc was scheduled to visit the United States, and Russia issued an arrest warrant for the Moldovan billionaire on charges of attempted murder.

The following day, Parliament passed the bill in two readings, with Moldova’s Liberals, Liberal Democrats and members of the European People’s Party all voting in favour alongside the Democrats. Meanwhile, Plahotniuc made assurances during working meetings with congressmen and senators that Moldova was committed to European integration. His country, he argued, had been sucked into a hybrid war with Russia — a war that entails “aggressive propaganda, economically unfavourable economic measures and the support of pro-Russian forces.”

According to political expert Victor Ciobanu, the ban on Russian news broadcasts represents “a desperate attempt on the part of Plahotniuc to enlist American support and draw attention to himself.” In the words of Ciobanu, he wants to be regarded as “the collective West’s sole bulwark against the ‘Russian threat’, although this is not the case in reality. The confrontation between Dodon and Plahotniuc is fake. […] Dodon’s playing the bad cop, Plahotniuc the good.”

Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who is in favour of rapprochement with Russia, flatly refused to sign the bill, saying that it “dovetails with a general global narrative directed against Russia.” The refusal of Dodon, who represents Moldova’s Party of Socialists, to sign the bill did not, however, prevent Moldova’s parliament from repassing it. After he’d declined to sign again and again, the Democrats appealed to the Constitutional Court (not the first time this has happened). The Court ruled that Dodon be suspended from office, and the bill was signed by parliament speaker Andrian Candu instead.

Petru Macovei, executive director of the Independent Press Association, also subscribes to the belief that the confrontation between Plahotniuc and Dodon is a simulated one. “Plahotniuc wants to present himself as an anti-propaganda crusader, but this isn’t the case,” says Macovei. “Plahotniuc has no interest in combating propaganda — if he did, he’d have refused to rebroadcast Russia’s Channel One a long time ago [the rebroadcasting rights belong to the Plahotniuc-owned Prime channel].”

Market authoritarianism

Of the approximately 60 Moldovan TV channels registered with the Coordinating Council for Television and Radio, only four rebroadcast Russian news programming: Prime (Channel One news), RTR-Moldova (Russia-1 news), NTV-Moldova and Ren-Moldova.

It must be noted that Prime, Moldova’s most popular TV channel, is owned by none other than Vladimir Plahotniuc. Canal 2, Canal 3, Publika TV, CTC-MEGA, Familia Domashniy and several radio stations all belong to him, too, or are under the control of members of his inner circle. Plahotniuc also controls Casa Media, which sells advertising space on the above-mentioned TV channels and on N4.

The country’s second most popular TV channel, RTR-Moldova, has several founding shareholders: a Russian NGO called the Russian Association for the Organisation and Management of Media and Mass Communication Projects (50%), and SB Grup Media, co-founded by Oksana Borșevici and Galina Sîrbu (25%). The remaining 25% stake belongs to businessman Valentin Stetsko.

“Their news reporting is biased and does us a great deal of harm. Nonetheless, local propaganda remains far more harmful than Russian propaganda”

Another major player in Moldova’s media market is Corneliu Furculiță, a Socialist MP who owns NTV-Moldova, Exclusive TV (which rebroadcasts programming from Russian entertainment channel TNT) and the Exclusive Sales House. The latter sells advertising for NTV-Moldova, Exclusive TV and Accent TV, a channel in the Party of Socialists’ orbit of influence. NTV-Moldova, which rebroadcasts news programming from NTV-Russia, is the country’s fifth most popular TV channel.

Russian television content enjoys genuine popularity in Moldova. But, whatever the Democrats might say about the need to safeguard Moldova’s media space, the country’s TV viewers prefer Russian entertainment programming to Russian news broadcasts.

According to numbers released by AGB-Nielsen Media Research, which conducts TV audience measurement in Moldova, Russian news and analytical programming has never featured among the top preferences of Moldovan TV viewers. Last year’s biggest draws were the game show “Pole chudes” (“Field of Miracles”) and the talk show “Pust Govoryat” (“Let Them Talk”), both rebroadcast on Prime; an assortment of Russian series and films shown on RTR-Moldova and NTV-Moldova; and Moldovan news broadcasts on various channels.

Petru Macovei, for his part, claims that Russian propaganda exerts a genuinely harmful influence on Moldovan TV viewers. “Their principal narratives are anti-European and anti-Moldovan in nature,” he says. “Their news reporting is biased and does us a great deal of harm. Nonetheless, local propaganda (i.e. by Moldovan political figures and oligarchs -ed.) remains far more harmful than Russian propaganda.”

Meanwhile, Electronic Press Association executive director Ion Bunduchi asserts that Russian propaganda “was and remains” a threat. “A country’s infosphere ought to be dominated by content produced in that country, but this has never been the reality in Moldova since it came into existence,” maintains Bunduchi. “On the other hand, a responsible state will utilise radio frequencies — a limited and valuable resource — to keep its citizens informed instead of squandering that resource to fulfil other purposes, as remains the case to this day.”

The bountiful battle against Russian propaganda

Also noteworthy is the fact the Democrats first declared war on Russian propaganda as early as 2015. That year, a group of Democrats and Liberal Democrats drafted a bill that banned the rebroadcasting of Russian news (the latter would subsequently withdrew their signatures), as well as stipulating the principles of journalistic work. When quoting anonymous sources, for instance, journalists would be expected to add that the information in question didn’t correspond to reality; by the same token, news bulletins concerning state institutions would be green-lighted only if they were accompanied by a comment from them.

This draft law also required broadcasters to air at least eight hours of domestically produced content a day, the bulk of it in prime time. Following a scandal, all stipulations regarding journalistic work were excised from the bill, leaving only the ban on rebroadcasting Russian news and the domestic content requirement.

The portal then discovered that, for all the noises being made by the Democrats about the need to ban Russian news, the bill had been created solely to increase the mandatory proportion of domestically produced content. According to the portal, the bill was developed with the involvement of the management teams of Plahotniuc-affiliated TV channels and the sales house Casa Media.

The issue is that Moldova’s TV networks tend to fill their prime-time slots with entertainment shows, films or series produced in Russia and in other countries. Domestically-produced content doesn’t enjoy a great deal of popularity and is more expensive for the networks to acquire. Furthermore, a source reported that Vladimir Plahotniuc, who has built the expensive Media City Chișinău production studio for his TV channels, was disgruntled with the fact that his media assets were making a loss — and therefore set out to render them profitable. Other television networks lack the resources to create their own content.

“If you put all these things together, what becomes apparent is a desire to overhaul everything and squeeze out unwanted market players”

The idea of ​​banning Russian news and analytical programming has met with criticism from the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The Democrats’ first draft bill aimed at combating Russian propaganda was approved in the spring of last year, minus the just-mentioned ban. Of the enormous catalogue of measures drawn up in 2015, only the domestic content requirement survived (eight hours of Moldovan-produced content daily, with six hours to be aired in prime-time, of which four hours’ worth must be Romanian-language programming). As a result, the networks all continued their work, but the cost of advertising grew by 40%-100%.

According to Ion Bunduchi, the ban on Russian analytical programming will lead to even greater expenditure for TV networks. “Replacing [the large volume of] informational, analytical, political and military programming […] is going to cost a lot of money,” says Bundichi, “because [the networks] will be forced to replace [news broadcasts] with their own content, or to acquire it from elsewhere. Both options will prove very costly for TV and radio broadcasters and cable operators.”

Petru Macovei stresses that the Russian news ban should be considered in the context of other media-related developments in Moldova, the newly-introduced requirement on domestic content being a case in point. “If you put all these things together, what becomes apparent is a desire to overhaul everything and squeeze out unwanted market players,” Macovei concludes.

By Nicolai Paholinitchi, for Open Democracy

Nicolai Paholinitchi is a journalist for the Moldovan publication He reports on business, economics, Moldova’s media landscape and events in the unrecognised state of Transnistria.

Categories: World News

Human rights defenders, Western diplomats attacked by Russian TV

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 17:17

By EU vs Disinfo

On 18 January, a disinformation attack hit European and US diplomats, alongside Russian human rights defenders, in a programme aired by state-controlled NTV. The reporting made systematic use of incorrect and misleading information. NTV conducted covert operations in order to obtain video and audio recordings and exposed named individuals at closed meetings as well as in private, in some cases even in intimate situations. The production, whose overall message was to portray Russian human rights defenders as traitors who help terrorist groups, while being under the control of Western governments, is a typical example of the way media is abused by the Russian authorities to manipulate public opinion.

Misleading claims and secret recordings

At an early point in the programme, two Russian human rights defenders are ambushed by a journalist and a cameraman while leaving a foreign embassy building in Moscow. This is then linked to secretly obtained footage, allegedly showing a dinner meeting held between Russian human rights defenders and Western diplomats and politicians. However, NTV fails to produce evidence that these two events are interlinked. Nothing proves that the two events happened at the same day, or that even the topic discussed at the two meetings is in any way the same.

NTV showed secretly obtained recordings of what was presented as a dinner attended by Russian human rights defenders, Western diplomats and politicians.

In another sequence, a named young man from Irkutsk in Siberia is also ambushed by an NTV crew and described as working for foreign powers. He answers that he has not received funding from abroad and only depends on his own money. To prove the young man wrong, documents allegedly proving foreign funding are then shown. However, NTV fails to make it clear if the application, to which it has seemingly had access, was ever accepted and if the young man has actually received funding from the source, where he allegedly applied for funding.

NTV ambushed a young human rights defender from Irkutsk in Siberia and accused him of receiving financial support from abroad.

NTV also highlights the case of a Russian human rights defender who, at the point the programme was broadcast, was charged with producing child pornography. Recordings of diplomats from Western diplomatic representations in Russia, who had come to the human rights defender’s home town to follow what they suspected to be a politically motivated case, are shown with use of covertly obtained video footage. However, NTV fails to mention that at the point of the broadcast, the most recent expert opinion requested by the Russian state prosecutor did not qualify the photos in the human rights defender’s case as child pornography. Indeed, the activist was released from custody on 27 January, shortly after the production was aired, which confirms that the allegations made by NTV were not solid and that the foreign diplomats could indeed have been right in their suspicion of a political motivation behind the charges.

NTV showed secretly obtained footage of Western diplomats attending a Russian human rights defender’s court hearing.

Apparently with the aim to compromise them in the eyes of the Russian public, NTV also included secretly obtained video and audio recordings, allegedly showing two men making love, one of whom is an academic, who has repeatedly spoken on topics relevant to human rights. The broadcast included similar covertly obtained footage of a female human rights defender allegedly making love to a male inmate at a Russian prison during a visit.

NTV broadcast covert recordings, allegedly showing an intimate situation with two named men.

Media attacks on foreign diplomats and NGOs unhindered by the Kremlin

On the top of the above examples of disinformation and lack of journalistic integrity, the commentary surrounding the recordings adds a tone of conspiracy, suspicion and distrust in those who defend human rights, as well as in foreign diplomats who represent their governments in Russia. The practice of using secretly recorded surveillance and disinformation targeting foreign diplomats is not new, and it remains unhindered by the Russian authorities.

It is also noteworthy that the production focused specifically on activists from the important Russian human rights NGO Memorial while being aired just one day after the latest in a wave of attacks on Memorial in the North Caucasus.

NTV is Gazprom’s TV station

NTV is Russia’s third most watched TV channel, and is owned by Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of Gazprom, which is the state-controlled successor to the former Soviet Ministry of Gas Industry, and today a major supplier of gas to the international market, including the EU. In this way, the Kremlin controls NTV via Gazprom, even if NTV is not formally a government outlet.

NTV is controlled by the Russian government via Gazprom Media – a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled gas giant, Gazprom.

NTV has built up a problematic reputation for its production of pseudo-documentaries with systematic use of covert recordings, misleading information, and intrusion into closed meetings to throw negative light on Russian civil society, including slander attacks on political activists from the opposition.

NTV has a network of correspondents accredited to report from outside Russia, including, for example, in Brussels at the EU institutions.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Sputnik and RT fail to cover nationwide protests of Russia’s upcoming ‘elections’

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 17:04

By Polygraph

RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik Charter

The charter establishing Russian government international broadcasters RT and Sputnik requires they cover government policy and also “public life in the Russian federation.” Yet neither mentioned anti-Putin protests Sunday in 84 cities, that resulted hundreds of arrests including opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Source: RT, Sputnik, December 28, 2017


Nationwide anti-government protests, ignored by state media, present a misleading view

Nation-wide opposition protests in Russia this past Sunday made headlines worldwide.

Demonstrations nick-named “Zabastovka Izbirateley” [Voters’ Strike] calling for a boycott of the nation’s presidential elections on March 18 were staged in 84 cities, which included isolated clashes with police and the detention of 371 protesters.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny – the Kremlin critic, who is banned from running against President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in a video widely circulated on news media outside Russia, even though the Kremlin said Navalny is no political threat.

On Sunday, Navalny’s TV crew reported live as the police seized the studio and detained the hosts.

Елену Малаховскую, ведущую наших новостей из этого, уже легендарного, выпуска оштрафовали на 1000 рублей. Кто-нибудь понимает за что? Видимо, за то, что она ведущая новостей

— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) 29 января 2018 г.

Reports about the “Voters’ Strike” rallies in Russia occupied world media headlines, and had been trending on Twitter on Sunday but were totally absent from the newsfeeds of RT and Sputnik, the flagship of Russia’s international broadcasting.

According to the RT & Sputnik government charter: “The Agency has been created and acts according to the following goals – overseas coverage of the government policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation.”

Russian Government broadcasters RT and Sputnik Charter stated goal to serve the government and the public

​The public life in the form of protests in Moscow’s Pushkin Square and other cities were not covered. On Sunday, “zero” was the result following searches for “protests in Russia” on the RT and Sputnik Web sites.

The Putin government apparently measures RT and Sputnik performance by the positive image the two news organizations project abroad. The 2016 annual report for the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication stated the agency’s “subordinate entities” acted in accordance with Putin’s “directions.” This includes “propagating and promoting the formulation of Russia’s positive image globally.”

The Kremlin said on Monday, it did not regard opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a political threat to the upcoming presidential election and claimed that protests he had organized on Sunday had been sparsely attended in places.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

10 mistakes the West makes about Russia

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 16:23

Photo: Pixabay

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

Worrying about Russian foreign policy used to be seen as eccentric. Now it’s mainstream. But misconceptions still abound, which hamper our response to the Kremlin’s mischief-making. Here are 10 of them:

1) “The threat is military.” Yes, there is a war in Ukraine, and yes, our presence in the Baltic states needs further bolstering. Yes, modern Russian weapons are sometimes impressive (at least in the prototype versions). But Russia is not a Soviet-style military superpower and could not sustain an all-out war with the West. Military bluff and intimidation are important, but they are only part of a much bigger hybrid warfare toolkit.

2) “This is a new problem.” It is new only to those who haven’t been paying attention. The Soviet Union pioneered political warfare. Russia’s neo-colonialist bullying of its neighbors predates Vladimir Putin. Ask the Baltics, Georgians, Moldovans and Ukrainians. They and others warned the West back in the 1990s, but we didn’t listen.

3) “It’s all about ‘fake news’.” This profoundly unhelpful term now merely means “media coverage I don’t like.” Moreover, information operations are just one, rather visible, part of the Kremlin’s arsenal. The bits we can’t see are on the whole much more troubling.

4) “It’s our fault.” Moral equivalence still plagues Western thinking. Russian tactics are, supposedly, no worse than what Western countries have done in the past. Another argument is that we provoked the Kremlin by expanding NATO and the European Union. Both of these are mistaken. We are defending the rules-based post-1991 international order, which offers at least some guarantees of justice for the weak against the strong. Russia wants to replace it with a might-equals-right system. And NATO and the EU accepted new members not as part of some quasi-imperial project, but because these ex-captive nations were pounding on the door asking to be let in—not least because they foresaw where Russia was headed.

5) “It’s all about the U.S.” Solipsism is surprisingly prevalent in American discussions of Russia, both among those who overstate Russian involvement and those who dismiss it. Russia’s tactics have been deployed in dozens of other countries. Americans could learn from their experience.

6) “It’s Putin’s fault.” The Russian leader is the symptom of our problems with Russia, not its cause. Xenophobic kleptocracy, like imperialist thinking, has deep roots. They preceded him and will survive him.

7) “It’s unstoppable.” Just as demonizing Putin is a mistake, so, too, is overstating his reach. Russia is fundamentally a weak and backward country which cannot compete with the West. Our problem is not a lack of means, but a failure of coordination and willpower—entirely fixable, if we so choose.

8) “It’s over.” Yes, the West has begun to wake up. Yes, Russia is running into financial and other constraints. Yes, the regime faces internal divisions and difficulties. But it would be recklessly complacent to declare victory already.

9) “It’s secondary.” Yes, in the long run China is a much bigger and more troubling adversary. But the vulnerabilities in our society which Russia exploits today can be exploited by the crony-communist leadership in Beijing too. If our deep-rooted transatlantic alliance fails the test in Europe, what chance have we got of preserving Western unity in East Asia?

10) “Just worry about deterrence.” It is tempting to put all our efforts into sanctions and other containment measures. But the weaknesses in our society, to dirty money, gangsterism, information attacks, divide-and-rule gambits, subversion and so on will still be there. Strengthening our deterrence is a necessary condition for survival, but not a sufficient one. Much better to fix our weaknesses, too.

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

Edward Lucas is a Senior Vice President at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Lucas is also a senior editor at the leading London-based global newsweekly, The Economist, where he co-edits the Espresso daily news app and covers cybersecurity.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Categories: World News

The Daily Vertical: More Than One Way To Undermine Your Neighbor’s Sovereignty (Transcript)

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 07:15

Brian Whitmore

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

There’s more than one way to steal your neighbor’s territory.

There’s more than one way to undermine your neighbor’s sovereignty.

There’s more than one way to violate your neighbor’s independence.

You can do it Crimea-style, quickly and forcefully — sending in your little green men, staging a referendum at gunpoint, and following up with the pomp and circumstance of a formal annexation ceremony.

Or you can do it quietly and stealthily — manufacturing a conflict on your neighbor’s territory, pretending to be a mediator in that conflict, and slowly but surely turning the conflict zone into your own de facto protectorate.

Last week, we saw an example of the latter when the State Duma ratified a military agreement that effectively merges Russia’s military with that of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region.

Under the agreement, units of South Ossetia’s armed forces will now formally serve in the Russian military.

Now, according to international law, of course, South Ossetia — like Abkhazia — is Georgian territory.

Moscow, meanwhile, is continuing to insist on the fiction that they are both independent states — and is continuing to go through the charade of having bilateral relations with them.

But in reality, they are both the subject of a stealthy annexation process by which they are being slowly and steadily integrated into Russia.

It lacks the spectacular shock-and-awe character of the forceful seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

But the creeping annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is no less damaging to Georgia’s sovereignty — and no less a violation of international law.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

EU Commissioner scourges “pro-Russian disinformation campaign” – media

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 17:45


EU Security Commissioner Julian King says the European Union is a target of a pro-Russian disinformation campaign, aimed at turning open democratic systems against themselves.

“There is little doubt that we are currently dealing with a sophisticated, carefully orchestrated pro-Russian government-led disinformation campaign,” writes EU Security Commissioner Julian King wrote in a feature for Die Welt, Zeit reports.

“The Russian military apparently perceive the Internet as a new field of deployment in which misinformation is used as a weapon.” According to King, threats in cyberspace include hacking attacks and malicious software, terrorist online propaganda, manipulating behavior of a large number of people through “fake news”, and turning our open democratic systems into a weapon that is directed against themselves.

As an example, he cited recent reports that the European Union is said to have downplayed incest practices in Georgia.

The UK Commissioner emphasized that the best defense against disinformation is to expose it and ensure that people employ critical thinking. His commission is therefore launching a series of projects to improve citizens’ media literacy, King wrote.

In addition, it has been working together with online platforms to tackle illegal content such as incitement to terrorism.

As reported earlier, German counter-intelligence had warned months ahead of the elections that Russian authorities could try to meddle as they had practiced in the U.S. and France. However, there was no indication that this was the case in Germany.


Categories: World News

Russia Cannot Acknowledge MH17 Role without Exposing Secret Ukraine War

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 17:35

On June 3, 2015, RT announces that the Russian Investigative Committee has identified a key witness in the MH17 crash in Ukraine. Credit: Courtesy Screenshot RT

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Council

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, transformed a localized post-Soviet conflict into a major global crisis. With victims from eleven different countries including 189 Dutch citizens, the international backlash was prompt and marked a clear escalation in the confrontation between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.

Initial analysis of the incident identified Russia as the likely guilty party. A major multinational investigation has since confirmed these conclusions, with Russia now accused of supplying the BUK anti-aircraft missile system responsible for the tragedy. Court proceedings against individual suspects could proceed in the Netherlands this year.

Despite mounting evidence pointing toward Russia, the Kremlin has consistently refused to acknowledge any responsibility for the deaths of those on board the civilian airliner. Instead, Moscow has mounted a major campaign of diplomatic denials and alternative theories that offers invaluable insights into the Kremlin approach to disinformation while highlighting the limitations of hybrid warfare.

When future historians come to explore the fake news phenomenon of the early twenty-first century, Russia’s response to the MH17 tragedy will surely serve as a key case study. The many competing MH17 narratives promoted by the Kremlin contain all the requisite elements for a comprehensive examination of contemporary disinformation tactics, including everything from photoshopped satellite images and phony eyewitness accounts to distracting counter-accusations and social media trolling tactics.

Aric Toler of the online investigative group Bellingcat has recently produced what is likely to become the definitive guide to the Kremlin’s MH17 deceptions. Published in January 2018, his detailed report offers a chronological survey of the numerous explanations put forward by Russian sources since the downing of flight MH17.

Toler’s survey is a master class in open source analysis. His report deals with each Kremlin theory systematically, outlining the many successive Russian claims before examining their flaws. Some are borderline Kafkaesque in their absurdity, such as the tale of the mysterious Spanish air traffic controller named Carlos who was said to have been working with Ukrainian aviation authorities at the time of the MH17 attack. The Russian media initially portrayed Carlos as a key witness who could provide conclusive evidence of Ukraine’s guilt. He featured prominently in a number of Kremlin narratives before disappearing once it became clear that he did not exist.

Other explanations promoted by Russian sources have been more sophisticated and complex, involving doctored satellite images, dubious ballistic experiments, and alleged Ukrainian confessions. Many have stretched credulity to breaking point, such as the numerous alleged eyewitnesses who have appeared in the Russian media despite the obvious difficulties of identifying aircraft accurately at a height of 10,000 meters.

There has been no definitive Russian narrative, while the different versions put forward by Moscow have often contradicted each other. For example, the Kremlin repeatedly claimed to have proof of a Ukrainian fighter jet in the airspace close to flight MH17, but this evidence has been mysteriously absent from more recent Russian versions.

The overall impression is of a campaign to confuse rather than convince. This would fit with much of the analysis of Russian information warfare tactics, which argues that Moscow’s primary objective is to sow doubt and undermine the entire concept of factual evidence, thus preventing outside audiences from reaching any definitive conclusions. In the final analysis, it is not necessary for international audiences to believe the Kremlin as long as they do not believe anyone else either.

Why has Moscow gone to such extraordinary lengths to deny Russian responsibility? The deaths of so many foreign civilians would create massive challenges for any government at any time. However, it is the Kremlin’s desire to disguise its wider military involvement in eastern Ukraine that has likely proved decisive in dictating Moscow’s MH17 denials and driving their disinformation efforts.

The truth behind MH17 may well be a simple tale of human error and the fog of war. Many observers believe that blundering Russian army officers simply mistook MH17 for a Ukrainian military transport plane, a claim supported by numerous Kremlin TV bulletins in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Even if this was the case, Russia cannot now acknowledge MH17 as a tragic mistake without effectively admitting to waging war against Ukraine. If Moscow concedes that a Russian army BUK anti-aircraft system shot down MH17, it would mean acknowledging a significant Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine. No nation would deploy sophisticated anti-aircraft technologies in isolation, making any BUK system necessarily part of a much larger deployment. This would tear down the entire facade of denials underpinning Russia’s secret war in Ukraine, with serious consequences for the Kremlin both domestically and internationally.

These practicalities leave Moscow with little room to maneuver. Few believe the Kremlin deliberately targeted a civilian airliner in July 2014, but Russia has become so entangled in its own web of hybrid war deceit that it cannot accept culpability for what was most likely a tragic accident within a broader armed conflict. Instead, Russia has no viable option but to continue promoting alternative MH17 narratives and pushing new conspiracy theories. This will provide the thriving infowarology industry with an endless supply of fresh materials, while also obliging Bellingcat to update their latest MH17 report on a regular basis. Meanwhile, for the families of the victims, it will mean further years of pain as they await final confirmation of why their loved ones died.

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Council

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

Categories: World News

StopFake #168 with Romeo Kokriatski

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 12:08

Fakes: Ukrainian military shoot passenger bus in Donbas; Ukraine admits Russian gas imports are profitable; no Russian schools left in Kyiv!

Categories: World News

What Lavrov’s Lies Mean for Ukraine

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 18:18

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Stephen Blank, for Atlantic Counsil

Voltaire reportedly said that those who can persuade one to believe absurdities will lead one to commit atrocities. In contemporary politics Russia’s stance on Ukraine represents a cardinal example of the enduring validity of his remark. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently restated three lies: there are no Russian troops in the Donbas, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is a civil war, not a Russian invasion, and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 had nothing to do with Russian forces. All of these are bold-face lies. No amount of prevarication can obscure fact, although the Kremlin has tried mightily. (For an in-depth look at how Russia has changed its MH17 narrative, Aric Toler’s analysis is first-rate.)

Lavrov’s and his government’s continuing mendacity are so relentless that many have come to take for granted that Russia as a state is defined by its habitual lying. And along with it goes the never-ending refrain that Russia is always the victim of others’ nefarious activities, never the author of its own misfortunates. But my purpose is not simply to point out that the Russian government and media lies, but to show that this recourse to mendacity and self-absolution betrays the fact that despite negotiations with the US representative on Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, and the Normandy Four (Ukraine, France, and Germany), Moscow has no intention of getting out of the Donbas or returning Crimea. If anything, it is reinforcing its forces in Crimea by dispatching more S-400 surface to air missiles there and striving to invest even more resources needed at home in Crimea. It also consistently represses any persons or phenomena that evokes an independent Ukraine.

Russia refuses to accept a negotiated outcome that entails its retreat from the Donbas or Crimea. Moscow now insists that Ukraine accede to the suicidal Minsk II agreement that would effectively convert Ukraine into a confederation whose sovereignty could be punctured at any point by the Donbas, much as the confederacy attempted to destroy the Union in the American Civil War 150 years ago. Yet it remains the case that the real problem with the Misnk II accords is that Russia has never even bothered to hide its refusal to comply with it in any form. Thus its demands are without merit and a dodge to avoid compliance. At the heart of this crisis is the fact that Russia still cannot accept Ukraine’s de jure independence as a sovereign and separate state. In Moscow, power rests on the notion of an imperial state to whom all other members of the former Warsaw Pact must surrender part of their sovereignty.

The claque of Western writers arguing that Russia is somehow entitled to its desired sphere of influence or that Western advances into Central and Eastern Europe are the root cause of this crisis overlook two critical facts. First, since 1991 Russia has never had the capability to dominate Eurasia by peaceful or democratic means. Even now in Central Asia local governments are progressively asserting more independence while China is steadily supplanting Russia there. In Belarus President Lukashenko visibly chafes at Russian efforts to usurp the state’s power. And in Ukraine since at least 2004 it is clear that the population will not accept the diminution of Ukraine’s independence despite its government’s corruption. Thus a sphere of influence can only be retained by force, fraud, and subversion, and is unsustainable given the real power and capability that Russia possesses. Second, there was no unilateral Western advance into some land that Russia believes somehow or by its history belongs to a Russian sphere. Instead every government has welcomed the West, either as NATO or as the EU, and exercised its own sovereignty in doing so. If this be empire, it is an empire by invitation to use the Norwegian scholar Geir Lundestad’s term. So it is not surprising that a regime, acutely aware of the possibility that without empire its autocracy is at risk, resorted to violence when challenged by an expression of popular democracy in Ukraine.

Nor should we surprised about the intersection between the official mendacity of Putin’s state and its propensity to violence. As Solzhenitsyn pointed out, he whose weapon is the lie invariably resorts to violence. Now Ukraine’s destiny is perversely bound up with Russia’s once again. Ukraine can survive for a very long time, even in its currently truncated borders. But Russia cannot have peace and Ukraine, and it can only dream of empire by annexing Crimea and the Donbas. Neither war in its full sense nor peace is likely anytime soon. Since Lavrov’s and Putin’s lies show that they refuse to accept that empire is beyond their reach, they are only hastening what will eventually be the crash of their entire project, and more likely than not, it will be a violent crash.

By Stephen Blank, for Atlantic Counsil

Stephen Blank is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of numerous foreign policy-related articles, white papers, and monographs focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of Russia and Eurasia. He is a former MacArthur Fellow at the US Army War College.

Categories: World News