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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 3 weeks 4 days ago

Fakes in the museum. Since Charles II to Russian bots

Tue, 08/21/2018 - 08:30

In the Boone County History and Culture Center museum in the American state of Columbia the exhibition “The History of Fake News (and the Importance of the World’s Oldest School of Journalism)” was recently inaugurated. The visitors can learn about the spread of disinformation through the centuries.

The curator of exhibitions, professor Clyde Bentley from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, said that the age of fake news started long ago before the elections in 2016 when Donald Trump has won. According to the expert, the notion of the fake news has been present since at least the times of Charles II.

It turns out that in 1600 in England Charles II prohibited… drinking coffee. He wanted to control what (and how) critical for his ruling information is spread. Coffeehouses were (which is not new either) places of free exchange of information and rumours about the politics. The exhibition in the museum in Columbia shows also, among others, how the state government of Missouri censored the news during the civil war. In that period soldiers were arresting the journalists sympathising with Confederates.

We can see three types of fake news displayed: error, hoax and ‘real information that someone says isn’t true’. Furthermore, the museum analyses how act bots spreading disinformation in social networks. As the example they show the history about the bots that influenced the online talks about the protests at the University of Missouri in the autumn 2015. At the time, a Russian bot started a rumour about the presence of the Ku Klux Klan on the campus and used other bots to spread this false information.

‘This exhibit attempts to explore the long history of hoaxes, misinformation, propaganda, unverified rumour or poor reporting, and hopes to illuminate what citizens should know about the term and its use as they continue to navigate a media universe’, we read on museum’s website.

The exhibition about the fake news is linked with the history of the faculty of journalism of the University. The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in Columbia is one of the oldest schools of journalism in the world. It was established in 1908. The only older one is French Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme de Paris (est. in 1899). Among the graduates of the school there are Gerald M. Boyd – a former editor in chief of The New York Times, Haynes Johnson – a laureate of the Pulitzer Prize, Ken Paulson, a former editor in chief of the USA Today. Also Brad Pitt was studying there, but he did not finish the school.

WM

Source: Boone County Historical Society, Herald – Whig, Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: World News

StopFake #197 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 17:26

Fake: Ukrainian children forced to play with stuffed Hitler doll. Ukrainians don’t support ending trains to Russia. Uncertainty over fake news growing.

Categories: World News

Фейк: Украинцы разнесли в пух и прах идею о разрыве ж/д сообщения с РФ

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 08:45

Один из простых способов создания фейка – провести опрос на улице, смонтировать его так как нужно, и представить результаты как репрезентативные. Пропагандистская Ukraina.ru заявила, что украинцы в большинстве своем против прекращения жедезнодорожного сообщения. Новость основана на опросе, которую провел журналист Ukraina.ru на улицах Киева.

Скриншот ukraina.ru

На видео журналист Ukraina.ru ходит по центральной улице Киева – Крещатику, где в основном гуляют и отдыхают туристы, и спрашивает, как те относятся к возможному прекращению железнодорожного сообщения с Россией. Примечательно, что журналист не подходит ко всем подряд, а выбирает определенную аудиторию – возраст 40+, проходит молодежь мимо (на видео есть только одна молодая девушка), а ответы некоторых сидящих на лавочке быстро перематывает вперед. В итоге, все участники опроса ответили, что выступают против прекращения ж/д сообщения с Россией.

Также в новости говорится, что “киевляне в большинстве своем считают, что ж/д сообщение разрывать не нужно”, хотя люди на видео не говорят, откуда они.

Скриншот obozrevatel.com

Опросы, которые проводятся СМИ, не являются репрезентативными, если не проводились совместно с профессиональными социологическими службами. Такие опросы не учитывают необходимую выборку, особенности проведения опроса, составления анкеты, часто редактируются так, как нужно журналистам. Результаты таких опросов не являются срезом мнения всего общества.

Показательно, что подобные опросы, проведенные разными СМИ, могут показать разные результаты. Так, украинский новостной сайт “Обозреватель” провел на своей площадке опрос “В Украине хотят полностью закрыть транспортное сообщение с Россией: есть ли смысл?”. По данным сайта, в опросе поучаствовало почти 10 тысяч респондентов, из которых 44% ответило, что “каждый имеет право сам решать, куда ездить”, 40% согласны с таким решением, 14% – выступили против.

Скриншот uz.gov.ua

На данный момент подобное предложение еще на стадии обсуждения, также министр инфраструктуры Владимир Омелян заявил, что, к примеру, грузовое железнодорожное сообщение Украина не остановит из-за обязательств перед Всемирной торговой организацией. Об автобусном сообщении пока речь не идет.

Также ПАО “Укрзалізниця” опубликовала данные о том, что несмотря на то, что поезда в Москву курсируют с позитивным финансовым результатом, количество пассажиров на этих маршрутах с каждым годом сокращается.

“За 6 месяцев 2018 года в сообщении Украина – Российская Федерация перевезено 358,9 тысяч пассажиров, что на 17,1% меньше от соответствующего показателя прошлого года”, – говорится в заявлении компании. “В 2017 году количество перевезенных пассажиров в сообщении Украина – Российская Федерация по сравнению с 2013 годом уменьшилось более чем в 5 раз, и указанная тенденция уменьшения пассажиропотока продолжает сохранятся”, – добавляет пресс-служба ПАО “Укрзалізниця”.

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukrainians Don’t Support Ending Trains to Russia

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 07:32

One of the simplest ways of constructing a fake narrative is to conduct a quick vox pop on the street and present the results as a sociological poll reflecting public opinion. Pro-Kremlin site Ukraina.ru did exactly that.

Website screenshot ukraina.ru

Its Kyiv correspondent took a brisk walk down the Ukrainian capital’s central thoroughfare Khreshchatyk and asked 6 people if they thought rail connections between Ukraine and Russia should be abolished. All the respondents said contacts between Ukrainians and Russians should continue, our lives are connected, I don’t mean with Putin, but with Russia, says one woman. People should be allowed to travel where they want to, replies another.

Six people who believe in human contact is interpreted by the likes of Ukraina.ru as representative of general Ukrainian views on Ukrainian-Russian railway links.

Let’s take a closer look at that vox pop. Most people seem taken aback by the question, clearly not aware that Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister has proposed ending rail links with Russia in response to Russia detaining Ukrainian and other national commercial ships in the Azov sea. Of the six people who expressed their opinion about this issue, only one appeared to be younger than forty. The journalist doing the questioning covered a distance of a few hundred meters and spoke with only six people. Can such a limited number of responses be sufficient to make such a sweeping generalization of a conclusion,  that Ukrainians are against ending train links with Russia?

Website screenshot obozrevatel.com

The Ukrainian news site Obozrevatel conducted a similar poll on its website.  Obozrevatel posed the question as follows: Some want to completely end train connections with Russia, do you agree?

Ten thousand people responded Obozrevatel reports, and the results are much more nuanced than Ukraina.ru’s crude sweep. 44 percent said everyone has a right to travel where they want, another forty percent agreed that train connections should end, fourteen percent disagreed.

Website screenshot uz.gov.ua

Whether it’s the end of the line for trains between Ukraine and Russia is currently a point of discussion. Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan says the transport of goods to and through Russia will continue in line with Ukraine’s WTO obligations.

Recently Ukraine’s State Rail System published data about Ukraine-Russia rail traffic. While these tvikransport corridors are financially viable, less and less passengers are traveling to and from Russia, the report points out.

Ukraine currently has eight train routes to and from Russia.

Categories: World News

5 ways to identify a bot (also a Russian one)

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 11:50

There are no better experts in fighting against fake news and disinformation than Americans. No wonder. They are wise after the event – for the long time they have been victims of Russian troll army attacks, their bots and fake news meant to spread unrest and arouse social divisions.

Therefore, we are not going to reinvent the wheel but, basing on the text from Mother Jones (MJ) website we are going to describe how to recognise a bot on Twitter. These rules can be perfectly applied to the ambiance of Polish part of this network.

Here are five crucial ways to identify potentially suspicious accounts:

Hyperactivity.

There is no way to send few dozen or more tweets everyday (unless there is nothing else to do, so we suggest checking other clues).

Quoted by MJ Ahmer Arif, a researcher of the University of Washington who studies every day the phenomenon of disinformation in the Web says that “if an account has more than 50 to 60 tweets a day, that suggests automation.”

Suspicious avatar.

If someone hides behind a username that says nothing (random numbers and letters – indicates serial production of users) and has a generic Twitter image as his profile picture too, we should examine they profile more closely. It is worth checking if the profile picture (a dog, a cat, a nice lady, a handsome soldier) has not been stolen. In order to do it, we search it in Google: right-click on the avatar and select the “copy image address” option. Then go to Google, „images” section and click on “search by image”. Then paste the link. Previous use of the questioned photo is another indicator that the suspicious account is automated.

Shortened URL.

On Twitter users often share links to different pages. It can be suspicious if someone uses “URL shorteners” such as bit.ly or tinyurl.com. As the authors from Mother Jones notice, the bot creators use them to track the traffic for those links, but they can be also used as a part of automated programming.

Polyglots or bots?

There are no doubts. If your follower alternately uses Russian, Chinese, Polish, English and Esperanto – maybe he is the smartest guy around, but he can also be a bot.

Unlike popularity

You know that? A completely unknown user suddenly has a thousand or more retweets and thousands of likes. It can indicate that the bot network support itself mutually and shares the content to reach more real users and to create the impression of reliability (Because who shares lies? LOL. Everyone does.)

In such case it is worth checking who sent the piece of information (previous steps). Let check also who follows such „popular” profile. Furthermore, if the content has similar number of “likes and shares” it also should ring the bell. It can indicate the automated reaction from other bots.

Conclusions?

WARNING: Any of these technics is not reliable if we want to use it solo. All of them combine would neither give us 100% of certainty that we detected a bot. However, it is enough to alarm us. Therefore, if we see “super important and controversial content” ended with a link such as bit.ly/qwerrttyds123 sent buy a user “XMY12322”, who boasts about being a beautiful blonde and the tweet is shared by a bunch of similar blondes an brunettes – approach such information carefully.

Source: MotherJones.com / own

WM

Categories: World News

Fake news? You learn to assimilate it since the childhood!

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 09:17

Things are not going well. American scientists prove that responsible for the thoughtless assimilation of the fake news are, among others, the mechanisms necessary for a development created already in the childhood.

First, some statistics. According to the international research published in the beginning of this year by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, 7 out of 10 people are afraid that fake news is used as a weapon. Over 60% of respondents are not sure if they can distinguish between fake news and facts. What makes people so vulnerable for fake news? Are there any strategies that we could develop to protect ourselves from disinformation?

The answer can be found in the news research presented at the annual gathering of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) which had place in San Francisco. The results have also been published in the Science magazine.

Escape the bubble

Mark Whitmore, PhD and Assistant Professor studying leadership and information systems at Kent State University in Ohio points the so called “confirmation bias” as the main reason why people direct themselves towards fake news.

What does it mean? No more no less than the tendency to accept information that confirms previous believes and to ignore information that undermines them. Apparently, it causes people to enclose themselves in information bubbles and mutual “patting on the back” with people thinking alike. It is used by those “patting” ones to make their – comfortable for us – lies a part of our system of mutual (dis)information.

‘Our brain the brain is hardwired to accept, reject, misremember, or distort information based on whether it is viewed as accepting of or threatening to existing beliefs’, states the researcher.

But it is not all. Eve Whitmore, PhD in human science from the Western Reserve Psychological Associates explains that this type of bias is created in early childhood. This is the time when a child learns to distinguish between the fantasy and the reality. Also then – the scientist states – children learn about the surrounding world basing on e.g. games or fairy tales. Therefore, some level of acceptance of lie and fantasy appears and it gets fixed. Furthermore, in the development process, the critical thinking is formed, along with the mechanism to negate the reality and the process of questioning the authorities. All of this is positive and necessary, although often leads to conflicts (social, intergenerational) and is the source of the anxiety on the psychological background.

So, what then?

Then the rationalisation mechanism steps in. People develop the already mentioned ability to look for the confirmation of their believes. Such confirmation is, at the same time, a prize and a tranquilizer. We look for the confirmation and when we find it, we give up the question – ‘ok, you’re right, you can leave it now’ – our brain seems to be saying. And this gives the field to the activity of all kind of fake news and propaganda spreaders.

How to cope with it?

Scientists prove that one way to diminish the attractiveness of fake news is to find courage to look for alternative information, not necessarily compatible with our point of view. If we manage to “tame” a belief uncomfortable for us, instead of forcing it out, we can argue with it or even (although after verification) accept it. An example of the “taming” process can be jokes about death which prevent us from being scared everyday as if it was going to be our last and let us approach the subject of the unavoidable rationally..

Of course, the other ways to cope with (dis)information bubbles and lies is conscious participation in discussions and development of critical thinking – asking questions and looking for answers yourself.

Let be open towards the world and do not accept easy solutions. This is already an advice from StopFake (but it sounds as smart as if it was from American scientists).

Source: MedicalNewsToday / own information

WM

Categories: World News

Fake: Foreigners Buying Land in Crimea. Sanctions Not Working.

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 16:14

Russian media are running stories claiming that foreigners are buying up land parcels in Crimea and the sanctions the West imposed on Russia because of its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula only deter “cowards”. These fake stories are based on Crimean State Land Registry chairman Alexander Spiridonov’s Facebook announcement that a “Canadian resident is buying a plot in a Crimean village”.

Website screenshot Ukraina.ru

Website screenshot kp.crimea.ua

Aside from Spiridonov’s brief Facebook announcement, there is no other confirmation of the land purchase claim. Spiridonov notes that the purchaser, a female resident of Canada is a citizen of Israel.

Infopolk, Argumenty Nedeli, Federalnoye Agentstvo Novostey, Kharkov News Agency, Politnavigator, Shark News and other Russian sites featured this fake story.

Website screenshot international.gc.ca

Canadian sanctions against Russia were enacted in March 2014 in response to Russia annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. The sanctions froze the assets of individuals and entities involved in the annexation and prohibit Canadians from financial dealings with persons on the sanctions list. At the same time Canadians are not prohibited from buying land or real estate in Russia.

Russia’s Federal Statistics Service operating in Crimea provides data on the number of residential real estate sale contracts on the peninsula. The number of residential premises registered by foreign owners and foreign legal entities has significantly decreased from 1312 transactions in 2015 to 752 in 2017.

According to Ukrainian law, any real estate transactions conducted in occupied territories is considered null and void and does not create any legal precedents.

Categories: World News

StopFake #196 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 12:49

Fake: Ukrainian soldier defects to separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Russia continues trying to discredit the open source investigation organization Bellingcat. Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Categories: World News

The number of fact-checkers around the world: 156… and growing

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:48

By Mark Stencel, for Duke Reporters’ Lab

he number of active fact-checking projects around the world now stands at 156, with steady growth driven by expanding networks and new media partnerships that focus on holding public figures and organizations accountable for what they say.

And elections this year in the United States and around the globe mean that number will likely increase even more by the time the Duke Reporters’ Lab publishes its annual census early next year. Our map of the fact-checkers now shows them in 55 countries.

There were 149 active fact-checking ventures in the annual summary we published in February, up from 44 when we started this count in 2014. And after this summer’s Global Fact summit in Rome — where the attendee list topped 200 and the waitlist was more than three times as long — we still have plenty of other possible additions to vet and review in the coming weeks. So check back for updates.

Among the most recent additions is Faktiskt, a Swedish media partnership that aggregates reporting from five news organizations — two newspapers, two public broadcasters and a digital news service. We’ve seen other aggregation partnerships like this elsewhere, such as Faktenfinder in Germany and SNU FactCheck in South Korea. (This is a different model from the similarly named Faktisk partnership in Norway, where six news organizations operate a jointly funded fact-checking team whose work is made freely available as a public service to other media in the country.)

As we prepare for our annual fact-checking census, we plan to look more closely at the output of each contributor to these aggregation networks to see which of them we should also count as standalone fact-checkers. Our goal is to represent the full range of independent and journalistic fact-checking, including clusters of projects in particular countries and local regions, as well as ventures that find ways to operate across borders.

Along those lines, we also added checkmarks to our map for Africa Check‘s offices in Kenya and Nigeria. We had done the same previously for the South Africa-based project’s office in Senegal, which covers francophone countries in West Africa. The new additions have been around awhile too: The Kenya office has been in business since late 2016 and the Nigeria office opened two months later.

Meanwhile, our friends at Africa Check regularly help us identify other standalone fact-checking projects, including two more new additions to our database: Dubawa in Nigeria and ZimFact in Zimbabwe. The fast growth of fact-checking across Africa is one reason the International Fact-Checking Network’s sixth Global Fact summit will be in Cape Town next summer.

One legacy of these yearly summits is IFCN’s code of principles, and the code has established an independent evaluation process to certify that each of its signatories adheres to those ethical and journalistic standards. Our database includes all 58 signatories, including the U.S.-based (but Belgium-born) hoax-busting site Lead StoriesMaldita’s “Maldito Bulo” (or “Damned Hoax”) in Spain; and the “cek facta” section of the Indonesian digital news portal Liputan6. All three are among our latest additions.

There’s more to come from us. We plan to issue monthly updates as we try to keep our heads and arms around this fast-growing journalism movement. I’ll be relying heavily on Reporters’ Lab student researcher Daniela Flamini, who has just returned from a summer fact-checking internship at Chequeado in Argentina. Daniela takes over from recently graduated researcher Riley Griffin, who helped maintain our database for the past year.

Take a look at the criteria we use to select the fact-checkers we include in this database and let us know if you have any additions to suggest.

By Mark Stencel, for Duke Reporters’ Lab

Categories: World News

Mystery surrounds case of Russian journalists slain in Africa

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 07:17

A woman holds a portrait of journalist Aleksandr Rastorguyev during funeral ceremony in Moscow, August 7, 2018

By VOA News

(Moscow) – The deaths of three Russian journalists investigating their country’s military presence in the Central African Republic last week has cast renewed attention on a shadowy group of private mercenaries with alleged ties to the Kremlin.

The bodies of war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were delivered to Moscow Sunday morning — nearly a week after unknown gunmen ambushed their vehicle as the men traveled by night on a road 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of the capital of Bangui.

RUSSIA — Russian documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguyev poses for a photo in Moscow, January 18, 2011

Only their locally hired driver escaped the attack unharmed, later telling CAR officials men “turbaned and speaking only Arabic” had killed the journalists at a checkpoint.

Yet questions as to the reason for the attack abound:

Was it robbery, as Russian and CAR government officials have suggested? The journalists were carrying about $8,000 in cash. The CAR is known as one of Africa’s poorest countries, long mired in a simmering civil war between Muslim and Christian factions.

Or was the killing related to the three men’s work? The journalists traveled to the Central African Republic to film a documentary for a Kremlin-exiled oligarch about “the Wagner Group,” a secret army of Russian mercenaries who — mounting evidence shows — have played an important role in Russia’s military ambitions.

Ukraine and Syria

Indeed, the Wagner Group’s roots date back to Russia’s proxy war in Ukraine in 2014, when Russian soldiers and mercenaries blended in with what the Kremlin insisted were merely passionate “volunteers” providing support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east.

While Moscow has long insisted Russia is not formally part of the conflict, Russian fighters have routinely taken part in battles — lured, say journalists, by both idealism, propaganda and money.

“A huge number of people went to work for Wagner with pleasure,” explained journalist Denis Korotov of Fontanka.ru, an online publication in Saint Petersburg who first broke news of the Wagner mercenaries.

“Russia has more than enough people who know how to shoot a gun, and these people can’t make anything close to this kind of money working in the civilian sector,” he added in an interview with VOA last January.

Wagner links soon emerged in Syria, where the Kremlin launched a military campaign in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in the fall of 2015.

SYRIA — (Left to right) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visit the Hmeimim military base in Latakia Province, December 11, 2017

Although President Vladimir Putin insisted at the outset that Russia’s military role would be limited, “Wagner became the Kremlin’s main tactical group in Syria. Because the Syrian army can’t do the job on their own,” said Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of researchers who have also tracked Wagners movements using online forensics.

“An air campaign can’t win the war and a ground invasion meant big losses,” he added.

The casualty debate

Wagner casualty figures have long been a source of dispute — with journalists regularly tracking mercenary deaths amid government denials of the group’s very existence.

Take Deir el-Zour. An oil-rich region in eastern Syria held by U.S. coalition forces, Deir el-Zour came under attack last February by troops loyal to the Syrian leadership. The U.S. response, according to both American and Syrian officials, was overwhelming and lethal.

Syria – A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber drops off bombs at an unknown location in Syria, August 11, 2016

Later reports surfaced that Russians — perhaps as few as five, perhaps as many as 200 — were among the dead. U.S. officials eventually confirmed the outlines of the story, saying “a couple hundred Russians” had been killed in the attack.

Moscow has scoffed at those numbers, insisting its own troops had suffered no losses.

Enter Africa

In the Central African Republic, some contend Wagner’s mission has shifted once again — this time, to protect economic as well as political interests.

Media reports suggest Wagnerites are there to flush out — or, perhaps, blend in with — 175 Russian civilian and military “instructors” tasked within a larger United Nations mission aimed at shoring up the CAR’s government amid a civil war. The Kremlin has also openly worked with CAR to develop its diamond and mineral industries.

“We conclude that the ‘Russian civilian instructors’ in CAR are in fact Russian mercenaries from Wagner,” says Conflict Intelligence Team’s Ruslan Leviev.

Russian officials, in turn, stress the Russian presence is there with U.N. backing.

RUSSIA — Photographs of journalists, (Right to left) Orhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguyev, who were recently killed in Central African Republic by unidentified assailants, are on display outside the Central House of Journalists in Moscow

“There is nothing sensational about the presence of Russian instructors in the Central African Republic,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “No one has been concealing anything.”

Investigations, state media taboos

Attention has now turned to competing investigations — both official and journalistic — into the Russian journalists’ slayings.

Yet the sensitive nature of the Wagner story within Russia has long been clear.

Russian state media has largely ignored the story — including allegations Wagner’s sponsor is Evgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur whose ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin have earned him the nickname “Putin’s Chef” — and a place on U.S. sanctions lists.

State media reporting has instead argued the slain journalists were duped into shooting a “documentary film” for the Investigation Control Center, an outlet funded by the exiled oligarch-turned-Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The suggestion of political motivations is clear.

Meanwhile, independent observers argue that — in the wake of Russian deaths in Syria and now the Central African Republic — it’s long past time for the Kremlin to lift the veil on Wagner.

The government’s secrecy, they note, is largely due to Russian law that declares private mercenary groups illegal.

UKRAINE – Symbolic cardboard coffins near the Russian embassy in Ukraine with the inscriptions «Груз 200 ЧВК «Вагнера» (“Cargo 200. PMK Wagner”) during a rally against Russian aggression in the Donbass. Kyiv, June 2, 2018

“Second tragic call after the Deir-el-Zor incident last February,” wrote the Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Dmitry Trenin in a post to Twitter (LINK) https://twitter.com/DmitriTrenin/status/1024603398480519168

“The killing of three Russian investigative journalists in the Central African Republic makes it imperative that Russian private military/security companies are given proper status under Russian law.”

By VOA News

Categories: World News

Addressing the Aeroflot MH17 Conspiracy Theory

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 06:14

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

On 8 August 2014, the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) held a press conference at the Ukraine Crisis Media Centre in central Kyiv describing how they believed that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was not the true target of the missile launch that killed 298 people on 17 July 2014, but instead Aeroflot Flight 2074 (AFL2074/SU2074). The intent of the downing of the airliner was for a Russian casus belli to invade Ukraine — openly, rather through covert support. The SBU and other Ukrainian government institutions quickly abandoned this theory and no longer refer to it when addressing the downing of MH17; however, a number of analysts and the former head of the SBU have continued to raise the Aeroflot conspiracy theory over the past few years.

As will be detailed in this article, the SBU’s August 2014 assertion that an Aeroflot plane was the intended target for the missile that instead downed MH17 has little basis in reality and has been supported most ardently by then-head of the SBU Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who was relieved of his duty as the head of the SBU in 2015 and is now the leader of a Ukrainian opposition political party. This conspiracy theory would not be worthy of serious discussion if it were not for Nalyvaichenko and a number of Western, Russian, and Ukrainian analysts who have supported it over the past four years.

Details of the Aeroflot Conspiracy Theory

The August 8th SBU presentation provided the bulk of the material for the “Aeroflot Scenario” that has resurfaced in recent discourse.

The SBU’s presentation provided the following details to support the tremendously bold claim that Russia tried to shoot down its own passenger plane as a “false flag” attack to invade Ukraine:

  1. The Buk missile launcher that downed MH17 was meant to go to the village of Pervomayske west of Donetsk; however, by mistake due to the fact that the Buk crew was Russian and not familiar with the area, it went to a different village with the same name far east of Donetsk on the day of the downing.
  2. The route that the Buk took from the Russian border to the launch site south of Snizhne, by way of Donetsk, was not logical if the final destination was the eventual launch site. The route would have been logical if the intended destination was the Pervomayske west of Donetsk, near the Donetsk Airport.
  3. After downing Aeroflot Flight 2074, the wreckage of the plane would fall in territory under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, thus providing a proof for a casus belli for Russia’s formal invasion of Ukraine.
  4. The large build-up of Russian forces at the Ukrainian border in mid-July 2014 shows their intention to invade Ukraine, and Russia would need a strong reason to send in its forces to the Donbas that summer.
  5. The flight path of AFL2074 was similar to that of MH17, thus they could be confused with one another.

Additional details, which will be addressed throughout this post, have been raised by independent analysts supporting this scenario.

Who Has Supported The “Aeroflot Scenario”?

Most recently, analyst Andreas Umland has given credence to the idea that MH17 was a planned attack in an “operation [which] would have followed the pattern of the 1999 bombings of Russian residential buildings which probably was a Russian secret service operation.”

Former SBU head Nalyvaichenko has not backed down from his claim that Russia intended to down an Aeroflot flight, tweeting out in 2016 that it was intended to create a justification “for a full out invasion of Ukraine”. In his 2016 tweet, Nalyvaichenko’s proof for his idea was that “both the MH17 and Aeroflot planes were painted in the same colors” [similar to how some conspiracy theorists claim that Putin’s jet returning from Brazil on 17 July 2014 looked like that of MH17], “there is more than one Pervomayske in Donetsk region,” and that the jet was in the area “at the same time and approximately at the same altitude”. Even though the SBU has long ago backed away from this claim, Nalyvaichenko has not.

Casus belli: the #Russian-backed #terrorists were to shoot down the Russian #Aeroflot jet, not the #MH17, to invade #Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/Rq21x7qls7

— V. Nalyvaichenko (@Nalyvai_V) October 5, 2016

As Umland details in his recent article, this scenario has also been supported or given additional credence by a number of well-known analysts and outlets, including InformNapalm (who have not discussed it much since August 2014), Russian historian Mark Solonin, and in a recent interview with Espreso, American journalist David Satter.

Why the Aeroflot Scenario Makes No Sense

At first glance, it’s easy to see why the Aeroflot Scenario is appealing: there are multiple villages named Pervomayske in the Donetsk Oblast, AFL2047 and MH17 did have similar flight paths, and it is extremely troubling to think that 298 lives were lost for no reason. But even a cursory glance at the events of 17 July 2014 shows that there is no reason to even consider this motive as a possibility.

Pervomayske Confusion

The central element of the Aeroflot Scenario is that an understandable mix-up happened: the Russian Buk operators went to the wrong village named Pervomayske, thus putting the missile launcher in position to shoot down the wrong passenger plane.

Below, a screenshot from the SBU August 8th press conference shows the flight paths of MH17 and AFL2047, with our annotation to the screenshot highlighting the key data points. Both flights passed through the area around the same time in the late afternoon of 17 July 2014.

Below, a map created by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) shows the route of the Buk on 17 July 2014, overlayed with the approximate locations of missile launch site and the three nearby Pervomaysk villages — two being Pervomayske, and one Pervomaysky. This village name is extremely common in the region as a Soviet holdover, as it means “First of May” (International Workers’ Day).

The Buk crew gathered in eastern Donetsk in the morning of the tragedy, departing some time after 10am, and arriving in Snizhne approximately 2-3 hours later. These two details alone derail the “confusion” scenario, as DNR militants and commanders gave direct and explicit orders for the crew to go eastward towards Snizhne. Sergey “Khmury” Dubinsky, who was quite familiar with the area, relayed instructions to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Russian militants in the convoy to meet in eastern Donetsk near a Vostok Battalion base. This meeting place would make no sense if the eventual destination was northwest of Donetsk, and the crew then headed east for hours before arriving in Snizhne. While in Snizhne, the Buk was unloaded near a separatist base in the city center by the Furshet supermarket. As detailed in intercepted phone conversations published by the JIT, at about 1pm that afternoon, a DNR militant with the Buk called for further instructions on where he was to take the Buk, receiving a specific directive to take it past Snizhne.

If the actual target location was the Pervomayske near Donetsk, it would be illogical for separatist commanders to continue to give new directions to the field south of Snizhne.

This scenario does not make any more sense if we were to assume that separatist leadership misunderstood Russian commands about which Pervomayske was the destination. According to the Aeroflot Scenario, this operation was meant to kill nearly 200 Russian civilians, constituting one of the most elaborate false flag attacks in history and among the most significant geopolitical incidents since 9/11, leading directly to the outright invasion of Ukraine. Even accounting for a recent history of incompetence among Russia’s military and security services, it is inconceivable that Russia would provide this missile launcher with the sole purpose of downing an Aeroflot passenger flight and not monitor its progress throughout the day. The false flag would have required absolute secrecy; however, as Bellingcat and others have detailed, the movements of this Buk missile launcher through the Donbas on 17 July 2014 were extremely public, with eyewitnesses and Ukrainian media outlets reporting on its movements throughout the morning and afternoon. The Buk was not moved through eastern Ukraine in a covert mission or under the cover of nightfall after it arrived in Donetsk — it was done in broad daylight along major highways and through city centers, with literal sirens sounding as it passed through crowded streets.

Furthermore, a high-ranking GRU officer, Oleg Ivannikov (“Orion”), was fully aware of the Buk’s arrival and transport in the Donbas. He was one of the most senior conduits between the Russian military and security services and the so-called separatist republics in 2014, meaning that there was a readily-available contact to communicate any urgent directives between Russian and separatist leadership. If DNR military intelligence, headed up by Sergey Dubinsky, made a mistake in sending the Buk to the wrong village, it is unthinkable that this mistake would not have been noticed and reported to Russian military or intelligence immediately, considering how this Buk was, according to Nalyvaichenko, meant to kill nearly 200 Russian civilians and launch a massive war.

Strategic Value of the Buk-M1 at the Launch Site

Another point raised either explicitly or implicitly by the Aeroflot Scenario is to discount the strategic importance of placing a Buk missile launcher in the field south of Snizhne, close to the vital hill of Savur-Mohyla. The village of Pervomayske was also situated along the only proper road between Snizhne and Savur-Mohyla.

This point was addressed directly by Ukraine@War/Dajey Petros, arguing that the MH17 launch site was chosen on accident is that it lacked strategic value compared to a more westward location. This assertion comes from how there was already air defense coverage from Russian systems across the border in this area, while there was relatively little cover closer to Donetsk. Ukraine@War provided two maps with the Buk’s radius in two maps, as seen in the screenshot below:

This assumption ignores the situation on the ground on July 17th. Just two days before the MH17 shootdown, a Ukrainian jet missed its mark while trying to bomb a separatist base in central Snizhne. Eleven civilians died. On either July 16, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin and Aleksandr Borodai, two of the highest ranking DNR officials and commanders, personally visited an area near Stepanivka that is just a few kilometers away from the eventual MH17 launch site. A Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile system was present in the background of an interview with Girkin at this location.

On 16 July 2014, the day before the MH17 shootdown, a satellite image on Google Earth shows a Su-25 fighter jet– certainly a Ukrainian one — near the area where Girkin, Borodai, and eventually the Buk that downed MH17 were present.

Below, a map shows activity in the area from July 15 to 17th, including the July 16th shootdown of a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet near Hryhorivka, 13 kilometers south of the MH17 launch site. Clearly, the area was heavily contested in mid-July 2014, especially in regards to Ukrainian airstrikes and Russian/DNR air defense.




While some have argued that the Buk TELAR sent to Ukraine must have been intended to down a passenger plane due to the significant heights its missiles can reach, this is also unconvincing when considering the tremendous strategic value of securing the skies around Savur-Mohyla in mid-July 2014. The Buk-M1 is able to down targets flying at a much higher altitude (~22,000 meters) than MANPADS (the common 9K38 Igla system can reach ~3,500 meters) or the Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile system (~3,500 meters), and there are many non-civilian targets that the Buk-M1 can reach that the other systems present near Savur-Mohyla could not. The Su-24 jet, for example, can reach 11,000 meters, the An-26 cargo plane can reach 7,500 meters, and the Il-76 cargo plane can reach 13,000 meters. While these aircraft can be and were downed by systems less powerful than the Buk-M1 throughout the Ukrainian conflict, there is clear value to having an extremely powerful anti-aircraft missile system to provide additional support in the area. Additionally, the operating range of the Buk-M1 is much greater than other systems present in the area, providing an additional layer of air defense in the area in which the Ukrainian Air Force was extremely active at the time.

Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, we can point to the intercepted private conversations between the Russian and DNR commanders from mid-July 2014, discussing how a Buk was coming to the area to provide protection from constant Ukrainian aerial strikes. Dubinsky specifically mentions the activity of Ukraine’s aerial force near Marynivka, which would have been within the operational radius of the Buk system while at the MH17 launch site.

The Roundabout Route

The SBU’s August 8th press conference and other promoters of the Aeroflot Scenario have pointed to the meandering route that the Buk convoy took from Russia to the launch site south of Snizhne as evidence that the intended destination was west of Donetsk.

The approximate route that the Buk took from the Russian border to the launch site–with some likely inaccuracies in the exact roads taken, such as between Alchevsk and Debaltseve and uncertainties surrounding the route between Yenakieve and Donetsk–can be seen below.

The argument that there was a more direct route from the Russian border to launch site can be countered with a few key details. For one, other border crossing points, such as due south and east of the launch site, were not safe to use at the time due to pockets of Ukrainian control. The crossing point near Severny was used extensively in July 2014, even though equipment had to taken a fairly lengthy trip to Donetsk from there.

We can observe military equipment take roughly same route on July 15, two days before the MH17 downing. Below, we see that a convoy with Russian military equipment took the same route from the border to Donetsk, with some differences between Yenakieve and Donetsk.

It was vital that the Buk passed through Donetsk because this was the meeting point for a number of Russian and DNR militants answering to Sergey “Khmury” Dubinsky. A small convoy of tanks from the Donetsk-based Vostok Battalion left at approximately the same time as the Buk convoy and traveled along the same route to Snizhne.In other words, the route that the Buk took from the Russian border, through Luhansk, Donetsk, and eventually to Snizhne, was possibly the safest available route for Russian and DNR forces at the time. Another possible route was from Yenakieve to Shakhtarsk, skipping Donetsk; however, meeting in Donetsk was easier with a number of Russian/DNR commanders and militants present there that morning. As seen in the July 15th map above, there were a number of Russian/separatist checkpoints and fortifications along this route.

Battles were raging near the Luhansk Airport (south of Luhansk) in mid-July 2014, making the area between Luhansk and the southern Russian border unsafe for a military convoy, especially with a piece of equipment as valuable as a Buk TELAR.

This route does not lend any additional credibility to the idea that the western Pervomayske village was the intended destination for the Buk, as a Russian/separatist convoy would have had to take the same route for both the “eastern” and “western” Pervomayske villages. If anything, the fact that Russian and DNR forces met in eastern Donetsk, rather than a more central or western location such as the Donbass Arena, shows that the intended destination was always eastward, rather than westward, from Donetsk.

Conclusion

Assigning a more nefarious motive than incompetence to the downing of MH17 has been a common practice since the tragedy took place. The JIT has been tasked with determining the motive and series of events that led to the downing of MH17, and much of this can only be determined through detailed investigative work outside of the realm of open source information. However, readily available open source information can easily debunk the fringe idea of assigning the motive to the downing as originally being a false flag attack targeting an Aeroflot plane. This idea is entirely rooted in two details — the coincidence of the flight paths of MH17 and AFL2047 and the multitude of villages called Pervomayske and Pervomaysky in the Donbas. However, it is hard to take this idea seriously when comparing these two details rooted in coincidence with the materials uncovered from four years of investigative work supporting the idea that the intended destination of the Buk was to a field south of Snizhne, providing a powerful layer of air defense to an area suffering from constant Ukrainian aerial attacks.

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Aric Toler has written with Bellingcat since 2015 and currently leads the Eurasia/Eastern Europe team. Along with his research into topics in the former Soviet Union, he organizes and leads Bellingcat’s Russian-language workshops for journalists and researchers. 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. If you have any questions, or have a story idea related to eastern Europe or Eurasia, you can contact him at arictoler@bellingcat.com

Categories: World News

Russia’s latest attempt to smear Bellingcat over MH17 – unsuccessful

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 06:04

Bellingcat MH17 report

By Polygraph

Dmitry Polyanskiy

First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Mission to the UN

“We also have a lot of reasons not to trust particularly Bellingcat which was repeatedly caught red-handed by Internet users by voicing anti-Russian or anti-Syrian allegations based on fakes. And these fakes are largely exposed in the Web. Internet users have a lot of questions about Bellingcat financing, important American and Western funds that traditionally support anti-Russian campaigns are said to be the main sponsors.”

Source: Russian UN Mission Website, August 3, 2018

FALSE

Bellingcat was started with crowdfunding. It has since received funding from a number of sources but this has no bearing on the veracity of its work.

On August 3, First Deputy Representative for of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy published an open letter in response to an articlepublished in the Washington Post on the topic of combatting Russian disinformation. The article also quotes Polyanskiy himself.

The Russian representative’s letter focuses on the open source investigation organization Bellingcat, which he accuses of promoting claims based on “fake evidence” and being funded by “American and Western funds that traditionally support anti-Russian campaigns.”

This is yet another attack in a series, a Russian government campaign against Bellingcat targeted for its role in the investigation of the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet, which killed all 268 people abroad and for which Russia was officially incriminated.

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

Polyanskiy’s letter meanders through the Kremlin’s version of the MH17 investigation and we will get to that. But first, let’s deal with his description of of Bellingcat’s investigations, as “based on fakes.”.

Bellingat’s own disclaimer says, it “uses open source and social media investigation to investigate a variety of subjects from Mexican drug lords to conflicts” across the globe.

On the topic of fake evidence, Bellingcat has long offered an open challenge to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and now the U.N. Mission, to demonstrate that they used falsified evidence in their work.

We yet again invite, & strongly encourage, @dpol_UN, @mod_russia @mfa_russia, and @RussiaUN to publish the evidence they frequently cite that shows Bellingcat is repeatedly using fake #MH17 evidence. We keep asking, but they choose to stay silent. Curious. https://t.co/DfhlXC8ouR

— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) August 3, 2018


But who exactly funds Bellingcat? Cursory research shows that it was started with crowdfunding via Kickstarter in 2014, when it raised 50,891 GBP. Later, Bellingcat received funding from other sources, such as the Open Society Foundation (OSF) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Bellingcat’s founder Eliot Higgins openly declared this funding in 2017 on Twitter.

Bellingcat has received money from the following:
OSF
Meedan
NED
Google
Adessium
Crowdfunding

— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) February 6, 2017

Higgins explained Bellingcat’s funding to Polygraph.info.

“Currently about 50% of our funding comes from NED, OSF, Addessium and Pax for Peace, and the other 50% comes from the workshops we run, which I advertise on the website,” he wrote.

According to Higgins, grants from the OSF and NED help pay for programs to assist journalists and researchers in doing their own investigations, not Bellingcat’s investigations.

“Most our funding from grants covers stuff that isn’t related to investigating anything Russia related,” he explained.

NETHERLANDS — Eliot Higgins (center), founder of online investigation group Bellingcat, addresses a press conference on findings in research on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Scheveningen, May 25, 2018

“Like our MH17 work was mainly done by volunteers, same with the Syria work.” Said Higgins. “Also, it’s only in the last year or so our budget has been big enough to hire lots of staff. We’ve gone from four full time staff members last year to nine this year.”

In addition to helping to fund training programs, the Open Society Foundation’s grants pay to translate Bellingcat’s material into Russian, and they also pay for an investigator who does research on opaque ownership schemes in Britain, which facilitate money laundering.

He also mentioned that the organization had to do another crowdfunding drive via Kickstarter in 2017.

While Bellingcat has recently received funding from foundations, which Mr. Polyanskiy may consider to be engaged in “anti-Russian” activity, Higgins says that money was not used to finance the organization’s work on Syria or MH17, which was done by volunteers and mostly crowdfunded.

Now, to the issue of “fakes.”The Deputy Representative made a number of assertions in his letter which have been thoroughly debunked by Polygraph.infoand others on several occasions, mostly on the topic of MH17 and Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine.

For example, Polyanskiy says Russia provided “primary radar data” and “classified information on Buk missiles” but that the International Joint Investigative Team “showed particular distrust to our findings and contribution” and “began to rely more and more on social media.”

Actually, investigators displayed a shell casing in a May 2018 news conference. News photos (Reuters) established the Buk missiles that Russia said were decommissioned in 2011 were still in use years later.

NETHERLANDS — Head prosecutor Fred Westerbeke speaks next to a part of the BUK rocket that was fired on the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during the press conference of the Joint Investigation Team, in Bunnik, May 24, 2018

Polyanskiy, in his letter, states that Ukraine officials are responsible for the four year old conflict in the Donbas because of their “obsession to punish their own citizens by military force for their desire to preserve their language and culture.”

Polygraph.info debunked this line of thinking months ago, with evidence establishing that Russian citizens served as “key military and political leaders” of the so-called separatists and that it was a former GRU officer – military intelligence from Russia — who lead the “militia” from the first days of the armed conflict.

Russia’s UN representative writes of Bellingcat’s use of evidence from “social media” without going into detail about what that actually means.

Bellingcat specializes in open source investigations – this means investigating using publicly available sources of information, including social media. Tweets and social network posts have been used to determine the time or location of events by investigative media, government intelligence, military, law enforcement and businesses around the world.

Photographs and videos posted on social media also provide valuable information which can be used to determine where events took place or who was involved in them.

For example, Bellingcat wrote one article in which its investigators compiled a selection of social media posts from the day Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine. One of the posts comes from the VK page “Dispatches from Strelkov,” named after the commander of pro-Russian forces and Russian citizen Igor Girkin AKA “Strelkov.” In it, Strelkov boasts that his forces shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 military cargo plane, complete with pictures of smoke rising from the crash site. The story was picked up by the Russian state media outlet TASS and remains up to this day, despite the fact that the “AN-26” was later discovered to have been the civilian airliner MH17.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Old disinformation finds fresh ground in Serbia, targets the EU

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:39

By EU vs Disinfo

No, in fact the EU is not “legalising paedophilia”. But a controversial TEDx talk about the nature of paedophilia has recently incited fighters against paedophilia in Serbia to warn that this was just a beginning of a campaign since ‘modern Europe is planning to introduce such perverted attitudes in the Balkans’. The claim that ‘the Strasbourg Court does not acknowledge the Russian law on preventing paedophilia’ is seen by a local commentator as an indication of what could be ahead for Serbia. “In 2012, Russia adopted the Law on preventing paedophilia and elite paedophilia, but the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decided last year that the law was discriminatory. This is exactly the sign that the EU is preparing a set of measures to legalise paedophilia”, the local press reported.

Most probably the outlets refer to the legislation in Russia banning the “promotion of homosexuality”, especially to minors as well as in effect denying LGBTI organisations the right to campaign for non-discrimination. In 2016, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHRruled that legislation violated three gay activists’ rights to the freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination.

The outlets in Serbia referred to the EU legislation on same-sex marriage and child adoption by same-sex couples as ‘preparing the ground for legalising paedophilia’. Furthermore, the article presents a view that this includes a strategy of degrading the family and ‘that would by all means lead to creating new generations with deviant world views and twisted moral values’. Equating sexual minorities to paedophilia is one of the frequent techniques of pro-Kremlin disinformation.

In a similar take on the issue, another Serbian outlet claims that ‘various LGBT associations across Europe and the United States are attempting to legalise paedophilia’. In a conspiracy theory style the article posits that ‘not a small number of people excitedly comment posters and publications [promoting paedophilia] on social media’ and shows an example of one person who promotes ‘pedosexual rights’, but whose credibility or background an average reader in Serbia would have difficulty establishing.  Local fact-checking initiative “Raskrikavanje” discovered that the images used in the article date to 2016 homophobic campaigns that aimed to discredit LGBT movement and spread disinformation.

Both narratives greatly resemble one of the main myths that pro-Kremlin disinformation traditionally spreads about the EU, claiming that the EU is decadent and that the West in general denies moral principles, while it is only Russia that defends traditional values.

The Lisbon Treaty in fact has incorporated children’s rights in the Treaty on the European Union, so all EU policies must be designed and implemented in line with the child’s best interests. The rights of the child also form part of the fundamental rights that the EU is committed to respect under Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. In addition, all 27 EU countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Moreover, in order to fight against child sexual abuse in particular, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a directive in 2011 which approximates the definition of 20 offences, sets minimum levels for criminal penalties and facilitates reporting, investigation and prosecution. It obliges Member States to adopt different prevention measures, such as awareness-raising campaigns, research and education programs. In 2011, the Commission also set out EU agenda for the rights of the child. The Agenda reaffirmed the strong commitment of EU institutions and Member States to promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of the child in all relevant EU policies and to turning them into concrete results.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

#PackOfLies: Propaganda by proxy

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:16

It is vital for Kremlin’s representatives to convince the West that the disinformation spread by them is not just a position taken by Moscow and its selected experts. In order to do that, it is necessary to find the right persons that have or have previously had a high status in a Western country some time ago. In this way they are seeking to send the message that says: “It is not only us who think this way. Look, they themselves are talking about that.”

One of these characters who serve under Kremlin is a former member of the US House of Representatives who has been a candidate in presidential elections – Ron Paul. After Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Helsinki, he repeated the clichés dear to Vladimir Putin’s regime on a Kremlin’s mouthpiece RT:

  • Paul called D. Trump and V. Putin’s meeting a positive step and an impetus in the bilateral relations and expressed an expectation to discuss the abolition of the US sanctions on Russia. In this context R. Paul does not even mention why those sanctions were lifted in the first place. The author does not talk about Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine and puts all the blame on Washington. In this way R. Paul serves Kremlin’s propaganda, which seeks to reverse the roles of an aggressor and a victim when the former becomes the latter, and the victim is turned into a criminal. Kremlin’s propaganda that is being transmitted through these “experts” seeks to create an Orwellian world where the lines that show what is what are blurred, where the key concepts are left with the content that is filtered or are even reconstructed in a way that slavery becomes freedom and war begins to mean peace.
  • Paul writes that the US media is a “big problem” because “they’re almost unanimously endorsing the idea that we have to have an enemy, and at this point – especially for the last 20 years – they’ve been working very hard to make Russia the enemy.” The author tries to argue that the tension between Washington and Moscow is not a result of an aggressive Russian foreign policy, which violates territorial sovereignty of neighboring countries, supports dictatorial regimes, and brutally violates human rights, but is simply the result of the US media propaganda. Thus, it is insinuated that Kremlin is not guilty of anything and all the blame rests with the Western media. This kind of rhetoric is dangerous not only because it seeks to place responsibility on Washington rather than Kremlin, but it also seeks to discredit free and independent media.
  • When asked why the US media seems angry about Trump and Putin’s meeting, R. Paul explained that the US is actually governed by “a secret government that likes to control things and most people know what we talk about when we talk about the ‘deep state’”. According to R. Paul, members of this secret government have infiltrated into all parties and the media and they really hate Trump’s independence. Such statements bring to mind the idea expressed by Ivan Krastev that in today’s politics efforts to mobilize citizens are not based on ideology or party programmes, but rather on conspiracy theories. This is very dangerous as in this way rational, reasonable discussion and argumentation are eliminated from the political field, and everything becomes the question of believing or not believing. Those who talk about “the secret government” do not actually seek to prove that it exists: they only appeal to their listeners’ prejudices and grievances.
  • When asked about the accusations against twelve Russian intelligence operatives for interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, R. Paul was quick to explain that this is “an argument why Russia is an enemy and we have to quit talking about them”. In his telling, “it’s just a propaganda stunt and not seeking justice”. R. Paul’s stance is a wilful creation of conspiracy in order to devalue rational discussion, which would have to revolve around the available public evidence. This is not only an attempt to defend the accusations for Russia, but also a conscious endeavor to boost citizens’ mistrust in the US legal system. R. Paul sends the message: “If you thought that the Russian legal system is awful, look at what’s happening in the US where justice is exploited in propaganda wars.” In R. Paul’s worldview, the US and Russia become morally equal, which downgrades the US and the legitimacy of liberal democracy in general, and masks the real evils perpetrated by the authoritarian regimes.

The public activity of such “experts” as R. Paul is not only an attempt to acquit Kremlin, but also to discredit the Western democracy. These talks are not yet another side we have to hear in order to fully understand, but simply an avalanche of disinformation, which seeks to destroy rational discussion, to spread the poison of conspiracy theories and to turn the media into a broadcaster of lies.


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

Categories: World News

Figure of the Week: 32

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 11:01

By EU vs Disinfo

Since the US election in 2016, Facebook has worked with improving its knowledge of and resilience towards information operations that are using the platform to spread disinformation and sow discord.

On 31 July Facebook announced that they had removed 32 pages and accounts from their platforms (Facebook and Instagram) for “coordinated and inauthentic behaviour.” Facebook concludes so far that the actors behind the accounts (called ‘bad actors’ by the platform) have been more careful covering their tracks than previous bad actors, in part due to the measures Facebook have taken over the past year to prevent abuse of the platform. However, using lessons learned from the previous investigation into the operations conducted by the St Petersburg troll factory – the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – Facebook could identify the recently disabled inauthentic accounts. The deleted accounts and pages had created about 30 events since May 2017 of which the largest had approximately 4,700 accounts interested in attending, and 1,400 users saying that they would attend. One of the accounts had created a Facebook event for a protest on August 10 to 12 which enlisted support from real people, indicating an active influence operation.

To help with the analysis, Facebook has shared the information with the Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab), who will conduct a thorough analysis of the accounts. An initial analysis from the DFRLab shows that although attribution is hard to make at this early stage, behavioural and language patterns were similar to the operations run from the Internet Research Agency from 2014 to 2017; such as non-native language use, plagiarism and divisive content.

Follow the ongoing analysis here.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

WhatsApp is a black box of viral misinformation — but in Brazil, 24 newsrooms are teaming up to fact-check it

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 07:38

Photo by Senado Federal used under a Creative Commons License

And unlike previous efforts, WhatsApp is giving the fact-checkers an important tool to reach the public more easily.

By Shan Wang, for NiemanLab

Another big national election means another big collaborative fact-checking initiative. But this one will get a small but important assist from the Facebook-owned messaging behemoth WhatsApp — where a healthy share of the world’s misinformation gets distributed.

Comprova, a fact-checking collective made up of 24 newsrooms around Brazil, launched Monday. It will monitor mis- and disinformation in the lead-up to the country’s elections on October 7 (and the second round of runoffs October 28).

Like the 90-organization strong Verificado in Mexico, and First Draft-run fact-checking collaborations like CrossCheck before it, the partner newsrooms will collect tips, respond to rumors and information that it finds spreading, publish stories, and sometimes report collectively. But the newsrooms in Comprova will benefit from access to the just-launched WhatsApp Business API, which will allow newsrooms on the Comprova side to respond to reader submissions (and refute misinformation) at significantly greater scale.

(Comprova won’t, however, have any special access to information on what rumors are circulating among users — and at what speed and by what means. That’ll still be a mystery.)

WhatsApp is a black box of viral — and deadly — misinformation many news organizations have been trying to hack for years. Verificado, which recently wrapped up its 2018 fact-checking collaboration for the Mexican elections, managed to handle tens of thousands of messages through its WhatsApp hotline. The Colombian news outlet La Silla Vacía tried to help its fact checks spread on WhatsApp by asking readers who submitted a question to commit to sending the fact check to their friends on the platform. WhatsApp itself is reportedly building a team in India to help deal with the spread of fake news on its platform.

From an announcement sent Monday by First Draft, a project of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center:

The WhatsApp number is +55 (11) 97795-0022, and the public will be prompted to submit tips about confusing or false content related to the election…

The WhatsApp number will accept questions and tips from the public, and will facilitate the detection of trends in misinformation reported around the country. Researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School will later investigate how misinformation circulates on WhatsApp. The findings will help inform newsroom best practices for requesting tips about misinformation and disseminating debunks to the public on WhatsApp.

Not all questions posed on WhatsApp will be answered, but journalists will strive to address content that has the potential to misinform a large proportion of the electorate. The website — the engine that powers the collaborative element of Comprova — has a proprietary content management system designed specifically for this project, and will be used in future election projects around the world.

As was the case in the CrossCheck fact-checking projects, no stories can be published for the public until three newsrooms in the consortium sign off on the verification process and conclusion.

“With about 120 million Brazilians using WhatsApp, it is the primary communication platform for most people, and as a result all kinds of information flows across the platform, including misinformation,” Claire Wardle, who leads First Draft at the Shorenstein Center, said. “Comprova gives us a real opportunity to understand the role WhatsApp plays in Brazil, particularly how voters use it to during an election campaign.”

The Google News Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project are providing funding and technical assistance and training for Comprova. Abraji, the Brazilian investigative journalists association, is coordinating the consortium, with additional support from the journalism institute Projor.

You can visit the project site (in Portuguese) here, which includes a full list of partners. First Draft’s English-language site is here.

Note: After the story was published, WhatsApp provided the following statement regarding the kinds of data Comprova participants won’t be able to get:

“The Comprova project will help news organizations in Brazil better inform their readers during the election period. This is a great example of how technology companies and civil society can work together to identify misinformation and provide factual answers to the community right within WhatsApp. WhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users and due to end-to-end encryption cannot see the content of messages being shared on our system.”

By Shan Wang, for NiemanLab

Categories: World News

Russia hides truth about death of American student in Siberia

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 23:05

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Russian authorities say 25-year-old Colin Madsen from Missouri died from hypothermia in Buryatia under the influence of drugs. His mother, Dana Madsen Calcutt, a doctor, is determined to prove that he was murdered, and has recently received a forensics report that concludes Colin’s death was a homicide. US embassy officials say they can’t acknowledge homicide as the cause of death unless Russia does this, which is unlikely to happen. But Dana is not giving up on finding the truth.

Colin had been studying Russian in Irkutsk and was in Buryatia on a hiking trip with friends. He had hiked in the mountains there before and loved the outdoors, volunteering with environmental groups during his time in Siberia. In the early hours of March 27, 2016, he walked out of the cabin where he and his friends were staying, probably to use the outhouse. He went missing and Dana flew to Russia to participate in the search for him. Colin’s body was found eight days later in the woods outside the town of Arshan. His left arm was extended and his fists were clenched.

Police were hostile and rude to Dana when she arrived, trying to get her to agree with her claim that Colin was gay (he wasn’t), and refusing to bring dogs into the search. Russian authorities refused to let Dana and US embassy personnel go to the spot where Colin’s body was found, calling it dangerous terrain, but the site was 500 metres from an access road and journalists were able to visit it, Dana told Stop Fake. At least 10 men with horses could be seen in photographs of the crime scene. If Colin was murdered, his body could have been brought there on horseback. Dana wonders if red fibres on his shirt could have been from a horse blanket.

Blunt injuries and suffocation

The forensic pathological report on Colin’s death written by a Colorado company in June this year concludes that he probably died from suffocation. It notes that there were several blunt injuries on Colin’s extremities and head, including two abrasions surrounded by bruising on his scalp, “which cannot be caused by a fall”. They were most likely caused by an external force to the head, the report says.

“Furthermore, there are remarkable abrasions on the left ear, which cannot be explained by post-mortem skin dry up,” the report continues. “They are sharply bounded instead of more diffuse. Also, there is a suspicion of bruising on the left ear and the skin behind the left ear.” The different colourations of Colin’s lips and nostrils are notable and point to external mechanical asphyxiation, “like smothering or other external blockage of the airways,” the report says. “The lumbar area showed a big bluish discolouration caused by an external blunt force to the body,” it adds.

The autopsy video showed no signs of hypothermia or particular damage from predators, which you would expect if Colin’s body had been in the woods for eight days, the report says. Nor were there signs of insects and eggs in the body. The pathologists estimated that Colin’s body had been in the woods for somewhere between two hours and a day, maximum. They saw no significant decomposition of his internal organs.

A US toxicology report showed that Colin had not taken drugs, as the police claimed. He was found with no socks on and unlaced boots. Colin always wore socks because his boots rubbed on the scars he had from bilateral ankle surgery, Dana said. The police themselves may have killed Colin, she thinks. They gave her Colin’s necklace after his autopsy, but the necklace was not on his body in the photographs, and it had two knots in it instead of one when she received it. A woman who claimed to be Colin’s best friend, Natasha Yuseva, was allowed into his dorm to pack his things, and to see his body naked in the morgue, while Dana was not. Dana thinks she might have been working for the police.

After Colin’s death Yuseva, a musician, posted numerous messages about how much she loved him on his Facebook page and even played a concert in his memory. But one of her messages from April 12, 2016 attacks journalists: “I miss you every single second,” she wrote. “Yet, the more I live, the more I believe you are in a much better place now. There’s so much rudeness here, so much gossip, so much cheap sensationalism… those fucking journalists eager to seek ‘the truth’ that will bring them more advertising bucks… god… everyone is just trying to cover their asses, to earn money using your name.” Yuseva makes little information public on her own Facebook page, other than a head shot of herself and a picture of a dog and a cat.

Deaths in custody rife

Police brutality is common in all regions of Russia, with deaths in custody so common that they are nicknamed “Russian Ebola”. Last month pro-Kremlin Life News reported that Russia’s Interior Ministry was going to investigate its allegations that Buryatia police illegally detained several people and beat them to death. Among them were 26-year-old Erkhete Ayurzhanayev, 24-year-old Alexander Verkhoturov, and 17-year-old Nikita Kobelev. “Local residents say that the brutality is taking place thanks to an internal Buryatia Interior Ministry order that was signed by Oleg Kudinov back in 2014, when he took the post,” Life News said.

Kobelev and his friend Dmitri Tutynin were arrested in June 2016, accused of stealing a bicycle. Three police officers were subsequently charged with killing Kobelev, and another two were charged with torturing Tutynin. Drugs charges that had been brought against Tutynin were dropped. The issue of torture in Russian prisons has also come to prominence recently, after a video was published showing guards brutally beating a prisoner in Yaroslavl. Several prison service officials now face criminal cases, including the former head of the prison in Karelia where Putin critic Ildar Dadin was tortured in 2016. Now could be the right moment to demand an investigation into Colin Madsen’s case too.

If the US State Department lists Colin’s death as a homicide, “it will bring us closer to finding justice for Colin’s untimely death and those of others that were murdered before him and those that will be murdered after him,” Dana wrote on Facebook on August 4. “I know that Russia must seem far away and not in our immediate concern but this behavior in any country has to be stopped. The only way it will be stopped is if we all fight together to end this corruption and evil.”

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Disinformation Analysis on the Western Balkans: Lack of Sources Indicates Potential Disinformation

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 07:37

By EU vs Disinfo

One key feature of disinforming news stories is that they are most often published without quoting any sources, alongside having a biased or subjective tone. In the Western Balkans, the largest number of news articles without sources has been seen in Serbia, while news pieces quoting ‘unnamed sources’ were most common in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These are some of the findings of a one month regional monitoring project run by the Belgrade-based civic association CRTA.

A regional analysis of media reporting in the Western Balkans carried out by the Belgrade-based Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), in the period from May 14 to June 10, showed that approximately one third of media reports about international actors in Serbia did not mention any source for their news, thus creating a basis for potential disinformation. And the majority of them carried pro-Russian and anti-US stances.

In monitoring leading media in four countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), CRTA focused on the portrayal of international actors (the EU, USA, Russia and NATO). As a first indicator of disinformation they considered news articles that contained information without mentioning sources. The monitoring showed that Serbian media were leading with 33 % of such articles/news pieces, while the most articles (43%) with unnamed sources were found in the media in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Further research showed that in Serbia among the news content that did not quote sources, the dominant tone was pro-Russian and anti-US. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), most of such content was anti-US and pro-EU. Only in Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the period analysed was some pro-US media content noted, i.e. 31% and 26% respectively.

In general, while the presence of pro-EU commentaries and EU-neutral news content varied from 19 to 25 % in BiH, FYROM and Montenegro, CRTA highlighted that in Serbia the EU-neutral news content dominated (at 27%). Pro-EU reporting is significantly lower compared to other countries in the region, and is almost equal with pro-Russian content (14%).

In terms of main topics addressed in the media content about the international actors, the research found that politics is a top topic in all the surveyed countries. This is followed by either the military (Montenegro, FYROM), the economy (BiH) or Kosovo (Serbia).

“To be able to efficiently counter disinformation, it is necessary that media and journalists double check data and their sources instead of only transmitting information”, Vukosava Crnjanski, Director of CRTA said at the presentation of the report on 28 June in Belgrade. “In addition, decision-makers and institutions should initiate media literacy programmes, and citizens themselves should read through the news and check sources before they share it on social media.”

Find the full report in Serbian language here.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

“Finland puts Russian kids in prison” – Disinformation that Shaped the Minds of Millions

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 06:08

By EU vs Disinfo

“We are at the Finnish Gestapo. Russia, help us.” “Finnish government’s policy against Russian kids – genocide or fascism?” And “Finland – a concentration camp for kids”.

These headlines are examples of Russia’s years-long, coordinated and persistent disinformation campaign targeting Finland. And this is a story of how Russia has over the years developed its capacity in influence operations, creating campaigns that artificially generate narratives to manipulate public opinion, and using a vast variety of channels, tools and policy instruments to achieve its goals.

Finland, an EU country and Russia’s neighbour with a 5,5 million population, is usually almost absent from the agenda of the Russian state controlled TV channels. Therefore, the peaks in the visibility are easy to detect.

To understand the motives of this disinformation, we need to step back in time.

It was in the autumn of 2012 – well before the war in Ukraine or the 2016 US elections – that Finland faced an information operation unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For almost a month, day after day, all the Russian main TV channels followed the story of a Russian citizen living in Finland whose children the Finnish social authorities had put in an emergency placement.

In reality such a measure is only taken when the health or development of a child is in immediate danger were they to stay with their parents. But the coverage in Russian media suggested just the opposite: that children had been taken from their parents and put into prison without any reason, among other claims. Lists were shared with the media offering distorted figures of the number of Russian speaking children allegedly taken away from their parents and announced to be “victims of the Finnish fascism”.

Wide range of tools

Since 2009, these campaigns have come as waves, sometimes more frequent, sometimes less. The latest smaller campaign appeared at the end of 2017. The campaigns are not limited in making use of TV, which is one of the most powerful tools the Kremlin has in its hands to direct the flows of information space. They aim to politicise the issue further: Russia has attempted to raise the topic in the Council of Europe and has demanded that Finland set up a bilateral committee on the topic. Finnish pro-Kremlin propagandists have also played a central role in organising the disinformation campaigns, and even Russian diplomats have been involved, for example taking children from emergency care – without the permission of the Finnish authorities, which is illegal – with a diplomatic car. After the incident, the Russian ambassador was called to the Finnish Foreign Ministry to explain.

The motives and goals behind this disinformation campaign are various, and the same narrative has been used also against France and Norway. The goal seems to be about provoking tensions within the 75 000 Russian speaking community in Finland, by eroding their trust in local officials, which is traditionally high in Finland, and to test the resilience of Finnish officials, who according to Finland privacy legislation can’t publicly argue why an emergency placement has been necessary in a specific situation.

Another aim seems to be to wear down the overwhelmingly positive image of Finland internally in Russia. There it largely corresponds with the international rankings, which place Finland as having the second lowest inequality rates in the world among children and the third most secure childhood. Finland is also ranked as the second best country to be a girl in the world, the third best country in the world in adhering to the rule of law, and the best country in protecting fundamental human rights.

Other ways how Russia attempts to make use of hostile influence in Finland have been listed by the Finnish expert Janne Riiheläinen in this comprehensive article.

Targeting traveling

For years, Finland has been one of the most popular countries for Russian tourists to travel to. Last year it was the second most visited country after Turkey. But Russia seems to view it as in its interest to take some measures to limit foreign travel: After Russia annexed Crimea, reportedly millions of employees of law enforcement offices were prohibited from travelling abroad.  At the same time, Russia is heavily campaigning for domestic travel, especially to occupied Crimea.

Even if the TV and internet are Russians’ major sources for information, 18 percent of people still give most to first-hand sources: relatives and friends. Here the power of travelling steps into the picture: it is much more difficult to influence the opinions of people who have experienced the everyday reality of Europe themselves rather than perceived it from Russian TV.

In this context, Russia’s former children’s rights commissioner, the politician, celebrity lawyer and TV propagandist Pavel Astakhov, has called for declaring Finland a “dangerous country for families with children”.

Travel warnings and alerts are a common tool that is further used to disinform and to create an image of Europe suffering of moral degradation while Russia supports the “traditional family values”.

There is no reliable way to measure the impact of disinformation on actual holiday planning. But posts on Russian discussion forums still ask: Is it safe to travel to Finland with kids?

Building up defence

What has been the Finnish response to this and other disinformation campaigns that have now a stable position in Russia’s toolkit of influencing abroad?

It has been a combination of proactive public diplomacy and communication, relying on international agreements such as the Hague Convention, rejecting the idea to set up a bilateral commission, and treating the issue as part of the daily work of the local officials and experts, thus avoiding politicising it. Finland has reached out to reliable media in Russia and organised visits for the journalists to Finland, communicating the facts of the Finnish childcare system in Russian and stepping up the capacity to do so immediately when a new campaign starts.

And in 2014 Finland set up a network of government officials to address influence operations and started training officials. In 2016, the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE), open to EU member states and NATO allies, was established in Helsinki. This spring Finland appointed its first Ambassador for Hybrid Affairs.

The story of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the child disputes has revealed some of the mechanisms behind the spread of disinformation, thus in the end resulting in more awareness of pro-Kremlin disinformation both among journalists and the general public in Finland.

Meanwhile in Russiaaccording to a poll conducted by the Russian independent pollster Levada for the Finnish Foreign Ministry in 2017, 68 % of Russians describe their attitude towards Finland as “good”, the first things that come to their mind being sauna, Nordic countries, Helsinki, nature, high living standards and the welfare state.

55 percent of respondents had never heard of the child custody cases regarding Finland.

But 10 percent had heard a lot about these problems, and 26 percent had heard something but couldn’t remember any details.

So is 36 % a lot?

Overall these figures indicate that the disinformation campaign has not had a definitive role when Russians form their views about Finland. But when you put the figures into the context – when Finland in general has very little visibility on Russian TV, and when the topic would be non-existent were it not for disinformation – 36 % of Russians over the age of 14 years actually equates to 43 million people. That is quite a lot of people to be, potentially, basing their opinions about Finland on disinformation.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Maria Zakharova Claims Ignorance of Slain Journalists’ Activities

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 14:59

Russia — Tatarstan — A memorial for three journalists killed in the Central African Republic

By Polygraph

Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson

“I don’t even know who sent them there. I don’t know whether they represented the media or a public organization there. I have no such information.”

Source: Russian Foreign Ministry Press Briefing, August 3, 2018

FALSE

Information about the slain journalists’ investigation in the Central African Republic has been widely available since July 31, the day the news of their deaths was reported.

During an August 3 press briefing at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, official spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed she had no information about who sent three Russian journalists to the CAR, where they were murdered. She also claimed she had no idea what they were doing there or who they were working for.

“I don’t even know who sent them there,” Zakharova told reporters.

“I don’t know whether they represented the media or a public organization there. I have no such information,” she added.

Zakharova was answering a question from a reporter at a ministry briefing, about the journalists’ investigation of a Russian private military company operating in the CAR.The spokeswoman pointed out the journalist had not followed appropriate procedures to report their activities.She would certainly have had access to such information about the employer and mission of the three journalists, since this was made public just hours after their deaths were first reported.

The three Russian journalists, Orkhan Jemal, Kirill Radchenko, and Alexander Rastorguev, were killed in the Central African Republican (CAR) when their vehicle was ambushed by unknown assailants near the town of Sibut

In a story posted on July 31, the website of the BBC’s Russian service quoted Andrey Konyakhin, head of the Investigation Control Center, a project funded by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Konyakhin said he and the three journalists were working together on a “project.” The BBC story also reported that Maria Zakharova had been in contact with Orkhan Dzhemal’s wife, but did not made clear whether she had informed Zakharova of her husband’s activities.

RUSSIA — Photographs of journalists, (R-L) Orhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguyev, who were recently killed in Central African Republic by unidentified assailants, are on display outside the Central House of Journalists in Moscow

The Russian news agency Interfax also published a story on June 31 which reported that the three journalists had arrived in the CAR on July 28 to work on a documentary film that was joint project with Khodorkovsky’s Investigation Control Center (ICC). Interfax reported they were investigating the presence of Russian private military companies in the CAR.

However, Zakharova had already demonstrated she had some awareness of what the journalists were doing and who sent them. On August 1, Polygraph.info published a fact check of her posting on Facebook earlier that day.

“I’m listening to and reading this nonsense about the ‘investigation’ of PMCs (Private Military Companies) in the CAR,” the post read.


Khodorkovsky himself made a statement about the murdered journalists and their investigation on his official website on July 31, pointing out they were investigating “Russian private mercenaries, in particular the Wagner group.” Zakharova, herself, showed familiarity with these facts in her August 1 Facebook post, in which she quoted Andrey Konyakhin and mentioned the ICC, and noted Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s connection to the project. At the end of the post, she asked the ICC to name the local United Nations officials who allegedly told them where they could travel within the Central African Republic.

In the August 1 fact check of Zakharova’s comments, Polygraph.info pointed out Zakharova made no mention of Wagner. Private military companies are illegal under Russian law and acting as a mercenary carries a criminal penalty in Russia.

Based on those two Facebook posts from Maria Zakharova herself, it’s clear that she is well aware of who the slain Russian journalists were working for and what they were investigating in the Central African Republic.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News