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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 14 weeks 5 days ago

Figure of the Week: 70 million

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 00:24

By EU vs Disinfo

Since the US election in 2016, the social media giants have been stepping up their action against disinformation and fake accounts in their networks. Facebook has recognized the use of its platformfor information operations and the Mueller report showed the scale of Russia’s operation aimed at influencing public opinion on social media before the 2016 US Presidential elections.

Another study has shown that over 156,000 Russian-based Twitter accounts had massively tweeted about Brexit in the days leading up to the June 2016 referendum.

One response by the platforms has been to suspend suspicious accounts. According to an article by the Washington Post, Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July. 

Del Harvey, the vice president for trust and safety at Twitter explains the shift in how the company defines its role in public debate. “One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else’s speech,” Harvey said. “Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.”

 Read the whole article from the Washington Post here.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

NATO’s Summit disinfo targets Latvia

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 00:17

By Anna Ūdre, for CEPA

On 15 June, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti published a fake news story, “President of Latvia: the U.S. will not protect Europe from Russia,” intended to undermine popular support for NATO before the Alliance’s summit in Brussels in July.

The article was published in Russian two days after Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis gave opening remarks at a discussion at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA) on the upcoming NATO summit. The article accurately recounts only some of Mr. Vejonis’s remarks – for example, he noted that “Europe has begun to realize that our protection can’t be relied solely on the United States, therefore we must do our utmost to guarantee our own security.” These remarks were correctly reported by the independent news agency LETA, other established media in Latvia, and the Chancery of the President of Latvia.

The version published by RIA Novosti was distorted, employing a frequently used technique: using some correct or mostly correct facts or statements, but a misleading title. The LIIA panel that Mr. Vejonis spoke at was titled “NATO in 2018: Constraints and Opportunities in Response to Existing and Emerging Challenges.” In the discussion, the Latvian president addressed the challenges the alliance is facing today – for example, “instability in the South, Syria, and North Africa, as well as in the East, where Russia is ‘flexing its military muscles.’” According to LETA, Vejonis also mentioned China’s increasing economic and military influence in the Far East, expressed his hopes for “a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear deal,” and addressed such challenges as terrorism and migration. Said Vejonis, “Western unity is at stake,” making it necessary to strengthen both “hard” and “soft” security. “There are forces trying to split us, therefore it is important to stick to our common values. It is time to wake up, be more proactive and remain united.”

TVnet, one of the leading online news media in Latvia, which also publishes in Russian, accurately reported on the discussion. RIA Novosti cited what Tvnet had written, but distorted facts. This is a frequently used misinformation technique: the use of facts and statements that are reported from other sources, but that differ from the original or do not account for the latest editorial changes. There are three differences between RIA Novosti and Tvnet’s article: the title, one paragraph, and graphics. Tvnet’s article was titled, “Vejonis: Europe has begun to understand that its defense can not rely solely on the U.S.” But RIA Novosti reported the address under the title “President of Latvia: U.S. will not protect Europe from Russia.” Moreover, RIA Novosti added a paragraph citing American expert Ted Galen Carpenter from the Cato Institute, arguing that “Washington and NATO continue to turn Moscow against themselves.” Carpenter noted that “Norway recently asked to double the amount of American troops on their territory in order to place armed forces closer to the border with Russia.”

As found in a report published by the Centre For East European Policy Studies in Latvia, many pro-Russia media operate in Latvia and promote Kremlin-friendly messages that resonate with local Russian-speaking populations. Among such media is the newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, news agencies RIA Novosti (including Russia Today, or RT), and ITAR TASS. TV channels available in the country include Russia Today, TVc, MIR TV, RTR, Pervy Kanal, and Golos Rossiji. These media outlets use narratives that stir pre-existing sentiments within the Russian population, such as the “Second World War victory cult” (Kremlin-cultivated propaganda that the Second World War ended with victory over fascism), and anti-Western sentiment. Research suggests that local media cannot effectively compete with financially stronger Russian TV channels.

The timing of the RIA Novosti article on the NATO conference indicates that the Kremlin is seeking to undermine the head of Latvia and the state’s allies before the NATO summit in Brussels. Russia’s state news agency is known for relying on a different set of experts than other media do, discrediting Latvian institutions and its transatlantic alliances, and pushing a pro-Kremlin narrative. It is likely that similar, distorted articles will follow as the summit unfolds.

By Anna Ūdre, for CEPA

Categories: World News

Russian UK Embassy flubs, misstates U.S. military posture in Ukraine

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 00:13

UKRAINE — During tactical exercises on the Yavoriv landfill in the Lviv region

By Polygraph

Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom

“Americans always said they had no troops in Ukraine.”

Source: @RussianEmbassy, July 8, 2018

FALSE

The U.S. is transparent about military deployments in Ukraine

In a July 8 tweet, the Russian Embassy in London accused the United States of lying about its military presence in Ukraine.

The tweet read: “Americans always said they had no troops in Ukraine. And now this.” Underneath the comments was a photo of the lead paragraph of an article published in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, with the phrase “pull US troops out of Ukraine” underlined.

Americans always said they had no troops in Ukraine. And now this. pic.twitter.com/Ru7wwX31h6

— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) July 8, 2018

The Telegraph article, written by the paper’s Whitehall editor, Edward Malnick, and headlined “Nato fears Donald Trump may pull troops out of Europe if countries do not increase defence spending,” was published on July 7 ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s arrival in Brussels for this week’s NATO summit. The article’s lead paragraph reads: “Donald Trump could threaten to pull U.S. troops out of Ukraine and refuse to take part in joint Nato exercises if Britain and other European countries fail to commit to increased spending on defence.”

A version of the article was also posted on the Telegraph’s website.

“American (and Canadian, Polish, and Lithuanian) military personnel have been in Ukraine for years supporting training efforts with the Ukrainian armed forces. No U.S. combat troops are – or ever have been – stationed in Ukraine,” U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker told Polygraph.info.

The United States announced in March 2015 that American military personnel would be deployed in Ukraine by the end of April of that year.

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told Polygraph.info that the U.S. Defense Department will use its authorities under the Global Security Contingency Fund as part of a joint DoD-State Department initiative to strengthen Ukraine’s internal defense capabilities.

​ “We plan on sending about 290 U.S. service members, specifically paratroopers from the [Army’s] mighty 173rd ‘Sky Soldiers’ Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy,” Warren said. He noted that the U.S. personnel would train six Ukraine National Guard companies with a focus on internal security and territorial defense.

The U.S. military personnel in Ukraine are part of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U) based at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center. The JMTG-U has a public website and maintains a social media presence. According to its latest update, the training center is currently manned by the New York National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Fly with us, fight with us. Soldiers of the 2-80th Air Assault Brigade conducted transportation and air support operations in conjunction with a company-level field training exercise.

For the actual 360 experience, click on this link : https://t.co/Px3yfj4XoP pic.twitter.com/yGCu9EipaD

— JMTG-U (@JMTG_Ukraine) June 12, 2018

​Independent sources confirm the numbers provided by the Pentagon. According to Bloomberg, last August there were approximately 250 U.S. military instructors of Oklahoma National Guard in Ukraine.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Russia’s UN Mission tags friends on Twitter to spread message

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 16:18

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Some of the individuals tagged in tweets recently by Russian Mission UN (@RussiaUN), which has 31.1K followers, provide insight into who the Kremlin relies on to spread its propaganda message. They include well-known RT contributors and “independent bloggers”, as well as anonymous accounts or accounts with the name of a person whose identity can’t be verified. On a day when Twitter plans to remove millions of locked accounts from people’s follower counts, it’s worth noting that Russia still has a wide range of options for exploiting social media.

Two tweets from July 10 included most of the tagged accounts. One presumably referred to Ukraine and Latvia and said, “It is unacceptable to impose on #children ideology of #nationalism, to teach them false history and values. They should not be discriminated on national origin or be denied the right to learn in native language. We’ll continue to draw intl attention to such violations in some States.”

The other said, “#Polyanskiy: #Jihadists dare to involve #children in their vicious plans aimed at plotting provocations, including alleged #CW attacks.

Their goal is to discredit legitimate authorities in #Syria and call for the punishment by the international community.”

The tagged individuals also often contribute to and retweet stories from a number of supposedly independent websites on the left and the right, including Grayzone Project, The Canary, NewsBud, Sqwawkbox, 21st Century Wire and Antiwar.com. The outlets’ slant on everything is almost identical to RT’s, despite their asserted independence. A person who thinks the US government is imperialist and militaristic is also likely to deny Assad’s use of chemical weapons and believe that the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal was staged, and that Ukraine is governed by neo-Nazis. Russia is never accused of imperialism or militarism.

The following is a rundown of the most notable people tagged by Russian Mission UN, in order of their Twitter follower numbers. Hopefully Russia’s official Twitter accounts will continue tagging friends and supporters so that we can learn more about who is doing their dirty work.

Max Blumenthal @MaxBlumenthal

Followers: 113K

Well-known pro-Russia American journalist. Senior editor of the Grayzone Project, which tweets frequently about Ukrainians being neo-Nazis. On July 2 the Grayzone Project announced a partnership with the UK’s far-left outlet The Canary, which also promotes Russian propaganda. A typical comment by Blumenthal to Russia’s RT in December 2017 was expressed in their headline: “’Russia collusion allegations unproven; what we are looking at is Israel-gate’ – Max Blumenthal.”

Partisangirl @Partisangirl

Followers: 96.7K

Maram Susli, popular Syrian-Australian YouTuber who denies the use of chemical weapons by Assad. Tweeted on July 10: “#BorisJohnson once said that Assad should be decapitated, which showed us that Boris is exactly like the ISIS terrorists his government supports. I’m not sure that the #Assadcurse is done with him.” Her tweet included a picture of Johnson with a headline saying “Assad must go,” and a picture of Assad saying “Who must go?” after Johnson’s resignation as UK foreign secretary. On July 6 she tweeted, “Not content with gassing just #Syrians and #Russian [sic] in false flag chemical attacks, the UK government is now gassing its own citizens to score political points. #AmesburyNovichok.”

Sibel Edmonds @sibeledmonds

Followers: 45.9K

Editor-in-chief of website NewsBud and FBI whistleblower. A typical NewsBud YouTube video that she presented in April was called “They Lied About Iraq, They Lied About Libya, They’re Lying About Syria!” Also in April, an article by Kurt Nimmo on NewsBud repeated a Russian propaganda lie that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by the substance BZ, not Novichok. Nimmo presented the claim of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a distortion of a report by a Swiss lab, as fact.

Graham Phillips @GrahamWP_UK

Followers: 43.4K

Notorious British “independent blogger” who supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been seen tormenting Ukrainian POWs. As he says in a pinned tweet, “Guys, I rarely ask, but all my work is completely crowdfunded, and I’m always struggling to just about cover costs! If you can be a part of making it all possible, click here!” On July 10, in response to Croatia’s Domagoj Vida saying “Glory to Ukraine!”, Phillips tweeted: “Where there’s Croatia, there’s fascist banners…” He also retweeted the account English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) saying “Because of the football story people learned that there is an active Ustash (Nazi, Fascist according to Wikipedia) movement active in Croatia.” The English Russia account has 64.2K followers. On July 12 Phillips tweeted that he planned to return from Russia to live in England.

Eva Bartlett @EvaKBartlett

Followers: 41.7K

Canadian freelance journalist and Assad supporter. Works hard to attempt to refute allegations that Assad committed chemical weapons attacks. Retweets British left-wing writers and outlets such as John Pilger and Sqwawkbox. Writes regularly for RT, for example on June 28 an article with the headline “Bellingcat & Atlantic Council join to award exploited Syrian child & American mass murderer.” The “mass murderer” she was referring to was former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. On June 1 she wrote an article for RT with the  headline “Syrian civilians from ground zero expose chemical hoax.”

Vanessa Beeley @VanessaBeeley

Followers: 39K

British blogger based in France who writes in support of Assad. According to Wikipedia, she believes that the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France in January 2015 was a false flag operation and that “Zionists rule France”. She devotes an enormous amount of effort to trying to prove that Assad’s chemical weapons attacks are also “false flags”. For example, on July 2 she wrote an article for her regular outlet 21st Century Wire with the headline “False Flag Fail: How Syrian Civilians Derailed White Helmet ‘Chemical Stunt’ in Eastern Ghouta.”

Justin Raimondo @JustinRaimondo

Followers: 23.6K

American conservative, editor of Antiwar.com. On July 9 he tweeted: “The sanctions on Russia should never have been imposed in the first place, but the support for Old-fashioned diplomacy – talking! – is encouraging. After all, Trump voters voted for peace with Russia.” On the same day he tweeted: “US out of NATO – let the Eurovision-weenies pay for their own defense. Ditch Article 5 – cut the tripwires of war. #AmericaFirst.”

Maurice Schleepen (@MauriceSchleepe)

Followers: 7,995

Profile description says: “News from the East, #Novorossia, #Russia and the Middle East. Stop #NATO.” Retweets Russian propaganda and writes own tweets about attacks by the “Ukrainian regime” and Syrian government successes.

Missilito @Missilito

Followers: 7,613

Tweets (mainly retweets) about the Russian military. Identity not known.

Caleb T. Maupin

@calebmaupin

Followers: 6,874

Left-wing American journalist whose biography on RT’s website says: “Caleb Maupin is a radical journalist and political analyst who lives in New York City… He is a youth organizer for the International Action Center and was involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement from its planning stages in August 2011. He has worked against police brutality, mass incarceration, and imperialist war. He works to promote revolutionary ideology, and to support all who fight against the global system of monopoly capitalist imperialism.” On July 11 he tweeted: “Gotta love anti #DPRK #Propaganda. One minute they claim #KimJongUn is ‘starving his own people.’ Then… They attack and mock him for inspecting a new agricultural project. @AJplus never fails to disgust me.”

NO WAR IN SYRIA OUTRAGED

@SenseOf_Outrage

Followers: 3,592

Anonymous account purporting to be a supporter of left-wing US Senator Bernie Sanders. Account consists almost exclusively of retweets about US and international politics.

Peter William Moss @PeterWilliamMos

Followers: 1,460

Profile description says: “Anti war, anti NATO, anti EU, pro UK, pro Russia, pro humour, pro cat, pro mini dachshund. Believe that good will win! Optimist! Ardent Brexiteer, bot :).” Location displayed as London. Timeline is exclusively retweets.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Scores of Russian media featured

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 08:53

Scores of Russian media featured stories this week claiming that a man displaced by the war in Donbas currently living in the small northern Ukrainian town of Buymer in Sumy province was attacked for speaking Russian. As a result of the attack, the man allegedly suffered a torn mouth. Russia’s Defense Ministry’s organ Zvezda, Komsomolskaya Pravda ad Life all featured this glaring fake.

Website screenshot Life News

Website screenshot Komsomolskaya pravda

The source of this story was a report on the local Sumy ATV television station. The station’s director Serhiy Klochno posted a video report of this alleged incident on his Facebook page. Klochno tells the story of Vyacheslav Rozhkov, a retired miner from Donbas who moved to Buymer because of the war in eastern Ukraine.

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Порвали рота через російську мову. В такий спосіб, в селі Буймер, на Тростянеччині, місцеві вирішили привчити до рідної, української мови, інваліда, переселенцем із Донецька. Нажахані цим випадком жінки-переселенки тепер не виходять на вулицю поодинці. А через резонанс, який виник, побоюються самосуду від селян.

Posted by Sergey Klochko on Thursday, July 5, 2018

 

Allegedly on June 2 a fight ensued outside the local grocery store resulting in Rozhkov requiring stitches to the corner of his mouth. There is no mention of the Russian language being the cause of the alleged fracas until Lidia Rozhkova, the victim’s wife appears in the video report. She claims Buymer residents objected to Rozhkov speaking Russian, beat him and even rode a vehicle over him several times.

This is how Buymer residents want to teach Ukrainian to an immigrant from Donetsk, by tearing a man’s mouth. Now women are too afraid to go out alone, fearing retribution, Klochno editorializes in his video report.

Meanwhile, witnesses. the local police and Rozhkov himself tell a somewhat different story. Vitaliy Razbeyko, the deputy police chief investigating the incident says it was nothing more than an alcohol-fuelled fight. The stories being told by Rozhkov’s wife are simply not true, Rozhkov has no complaints and doesn’t want to be bothered, Razbeyko said.

Buymer mayor Viacheslav Komyshansky  confirms the police version  of events and says this was an altercation between two drunk men, one hit the other, afterwards they made up.

Rozhkov meanwhile says there was no fight at all.

StopFake called the alleged victim and asked him if he was attacked for speaking Russian.

“There was no fight. I simple fell in the cellar” he said.

While there is no definitive account of something that was probably just a drunken brawl, neither the injured manor the authorities say language issues were involved. As the Sumy region is heavily Russian-speaking, it is difficult to imagine locals objecting  to someone using the language.

Categories: World News

In France, RT is getting no love

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 01:12

By EU vs Disinfo

It’s been just over six months since RT, the controversial Russian channel funded by the Kremlin, aired its first French broadcast from a sleek green-and-white studio in the outskirts of Paris.

Despite what RT boss Margarita Simonyan claims is a “strong demand for an alternative perspective” among French-speaking audiences, RT’s launch on French airwaves has been anything but smooth.

Now, a formal warning from France’s broadcasting authority and a new law cracking down on disinformation have poured cold water on the channel’s French ambitions.

‘Lack of Honesty’

French lawmakers adopted the draft law in the night of 4 July after deliberating for eight hours. Several weeks earlier, a first heated debate in parliament had ended at 1am with the vote being postponed amid concern about potential infringements on freedom of expression.

The bill will allow judges to remove or block content deemed to be “false” during a period of up to five weeks before elections.

It will also force platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of funding for sponsored content, in an effort to fight what the text describes as “any attempt at destabilization” by foreign-funded organisations.

The proposal was announced in January by President Emmanuel Macron, who famously accused RT and Sputnik of spreading “lying propaganda” during a press conference with Vladimir Putin last year. Macron’s government still routinely denies the two Russian outlets accreditation for covering official events.

The bill could still be challenged by France’s Constitutional Council.

Its approval in parliament comes just days after the French broadcasting regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), issued a warning to RT over a falsified report contesting the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.

The April report wrongly dubbed the voices of Syrian civilians, making them say things they didn’t say — a well-honed tactic on Russian state television.

The report also included a number of factual distortions.

In a statement on 28 June, the CSA accused RT of displaying a “lack of honesty, rigour, and diversity of points of view.” The regulator imposed no sanctions on RT over the incident, although it has the authority to fine a broadcaster or suspend its license.

RT France denied any wrongdoing, claiming the mistranslation was due to a technical error.

One day after the CSA’s warning, Russia’s own communications regulator, the state Roskomnadzor, accused French broadcaster France 24 of violating Russian law on foreign media ownership and threatened to revoke its Russian license.

Pushback against RT 

The anti-disinformation bill and the CSA’s warning against RT illustrate the broader dilemma faced by Western governments in handling Russian state-owned media that promote the Kremlin’s agenda while pouring scorn on the institutions and values of the Western world, often through distorted and false information.

France is indeed not the only country grappling with the question of whether, and how to tackle pro-Kremlin disinformation.

As RT and Sputnik seek to build their presence in Europe and the United States, a number of countries are divided between their wish to fight disinformation and their commitment to safeguarding freedom of speech.

In Germany, a new law intended to curb fake news, hate speech, and online threats on social networks — where Russians bots and trolls are accusing of seeking to influence several Western elections — came into force last year despite criticism that it could lead to censorship.

RT is in hot waters in Britain, whose media regulator is probing the channel over breaches of impartiality rules since the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil. The regulator has launched a total of 11 investigations into RT but has so far stopped short of forcing the channel off British airwaves.

And in the United States, RT was forced to register as an agent of the Russian government after being accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of spreading anti-American propaganda. Its accreditation to cover Congress was subsequently revoked.

A Chilly Welcome

Before its first French broadcast in December 2017, RT already had a foothold in France through a French-language website run from Moscow

The Russian state network, however, is viewed with scepticism in France, a country that prides itself on having a strong tradition of independent journalism.

Another reason for this scepticism is the French president’s open war on pro-Kremlin disinformation.

Before denouncing RT and Sputnik as liars and “agents of propaganda,” Macron had banned them from his headquarters during his 2017 presidential campaign. The two outlets were accused of spreading lies about him, including allegations of an extra-marital gay relationship.

Understandably, RT’s début on French airwaves received a rather chilly welcome.

Despite its comfortable 20-million-euro budget and its announced plans to hire 150 people, including 50 journalists, French media reported that RT was having difficulty recruiting any prominent journalists in France.

In the months that preceded the launch of RT France, a string of French journalists and public figures had expressed concern about the channel’s arrival in their country.

Some of the strongest criticism came from Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, who denounced RT and Sputnik as “enemies of journalism.”

Deloire’s comments drew a particularly spiteful response from RT chief Margarita Simonyan, who published an open letter urging Reporters Without Borders to “quietly dissolve itself.”

Meanwhile, a group of French experts of Russia published its own open letter calling on the CSA to deny RT a license to broadcast in France on the grounds that the network’s objective was to “sow chaos and undermine democracies.”

Sharp Scrutiny

In line with French law, RT France was also asked to put together a five-person “ethics committee” to monitor its content and report any violations of journalistic principles to the CSA.

The committee is composed of former diplomat Anne Gazeau-Secret, journalists Jacques-Marie Bourget and Majed Nehmé, Radio France’s ex-president Jean-Luc Hees, and Thierry Marianni, a former senator and fervent admirer of Vladimir Putin who paid a controversial visit to Crimea in 2015 following its illegal annexation by Russia.

CSA head Olivier Schrameck also said his agency would keep a close eye on RT and would “react promptly to any anomaly.”

Probably mindful of the sharp public scrutiny, RT France had so far steered clear of the cruder disinformation it is known for peddling elsewhere. The network also broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and it has announced plans to open a German-language channel.

Its French programming mostly stuck to RT’s usual cocktail of slanted news about the Syrian war, sensationalist reports on crises in the EU, and Russian news extolling the virtues of Vladimir Putin.

Despite the CSA’s watchful eye, it took just four months for RT France to commit its first major slip-up and receive a warning.

The Russian network is no stranger to controversy; to a certain extent, it thrives on it.

In France, like in other countries where it is implanted, RT has consistently played the victim and brushed off any criticism as part of a repression campaign it claims is being waged against the channel.

But with the new anti-disinformation bill gaining ground and the CSA ruthlessly picking through its programmes, France is giving RT more trouble than it bargained for.

RT France director Xenia Fedorova certainly seems to be bracing for the worst.

“I’m responsible for the staff I hired, I want to protect them,” Fedorova lamented in a recent interview.

As for the channel’s ambitious plans to extend broadcasts to 24 hours daily by the end of 2018, Fedorova says RT France first needs to make sure the channel “won’t be shut down before then.”

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Russia’s denials poison atmosphere after British woman dies from Novichok

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 17:26

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Last night British police announced that 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess had died in Salisbury as a result of Novichok poisoning. She and her partner Charlie Rowley were hospitalised in critical condition on June 30. Rowley remains in critical condition. The couple are believed to have touched a contaminated item left over from the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, but the item has not been found and police say they can’t guarantee local residents’ safety. Russia maintains its denials about any involvement, but is struggling to come up with a convincing alternative theory.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, commented cynically: “We offer our condolences in connection with the death of British citizen Dawn Sturgess, who died on July 8 after poisoning by a paralytic nerve agent in the British town of Amesbury, and as before we are deeply concerned about the continuing appearances of poisonous substances on the territory of Great Britain. This poses a danger not only for British people, but also for all other Europeans. The Kremlin doesn’t know that ‘Russia is somehow associated’ with the incident in Amesbury, such accusations would be absurd.”

Russia the real victim?

Russia’s permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Alexander Shulgin, gave an interview to Izvestiya in which he suggested that the poisoning of Sturgess and Rowley was timed to coincide with the World Cup semi-finals and Putin’s forthcoming summit with Trump. “Recently these kinds of stories have been happening on the eve of important events,” he said. “Now we’re approaching the final stage of the World Cup and the Russia-US summit in Helsinki. It’s difficult to rid oneself of the thought that all this was planned and deliberately put out there to exacerbate the international situation and do damage to Russia’s authority and its relations with other countries.”

However, Theresa May’s cabinet is mired in crisis for another reason: the deal on what Britain wants from Brexit that she supposedly thrashed out at a weekend meeting at Chequers has fallen through, with the minister for Brexit, David Davis, handing in his resignation, closely followed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. May could face a leadership contest or even a general election, with the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party defeating her divided Conservatives.

Russia’s leading TV news programme Vesti captioned its report on the death of Sturgess “Provocation in Amesbury” and led with Shulgin’s comments. The reporter said that “many experts” doubt that Sturgess and Rowley could have been poisoned by the Novichok four months after the Skripals, and concluded that British police don’t seem to be considering the theory that the Porton Down defence laboratory could be the source of the poison (probably because it’s ludicrous).

Novichok branding

Treating the whole incident as a joke is another Kremlin tactic, and Russian companies have risen to the challenge by naming products “Novichok”. In April an Ulyanovsk Oblast farmer launched a Novichok cooking oil. Now there are also Novichok T-shirts and Novichok beer.

As the Belarusian radio station Euroradio reported, a Russian microbrewery called Alaska manufactures the beer and it is now available on the shelves in Minsk. The advertisement for it says, “The mesmerising taste draws your receptors and consciousness into a paralytic nerve nirvana… Strictly secret. Trump won’t be able to prove anything.”

Russian media also plays up the claim that Sturgess and Rowley may have been recovering drug addicts, implying that they could have been poisoned by drugs, and that anyway their lives weren’t worth much. As Sputnik author Jon Gaunt wrote on July 6, before Sturgess died, in an article titled “UK needs US and Russia, NOT EU”: “Pantomime season has clearly arrived early in the sleepy city of Salisbury. Can you believe the latest twist in the Skripal saga? Now two druggies have fallen ill after picking up a contaminated syringe or vial with the deadly (or not so deadly as it turns out) Novichok.” In fact no one knows what kind of contaminated item Sturgess and Rowley touched.

Attacks on critics

RT’s response to the death of Sturgess was to attack leading commentators who believe that Putin was behind the Novichok poisonings. In an article titled “British MP, establishment journalists rush for Putin’s blood after Amesbury chemical death,” RT criticised Labour MP Mike Gapes, who has frequently spoken out about Russian aggression, unlike Jeremy Corbyn. Gapes tweeted, “Sad news that Novichok victim Dawn Sturgess has died. This was a murder of a British citizen as a result of use of a chemical nerve agent produced by the Russian state.” RT commented that Gapes “recently got some limelight by urging British parliamentarians against providing any commentary to RT,” and added, “Gapes’ vitriol was joined by Kremlin watchers from UK establishment media, Russia correspondent for The Telegraph Alec Luhn, and The Guardian’s Luke Harding.”

Luhn tweeted, simply stating facts: “Vladimir Putin previously argued that the Russian state couldn’t have used a military nerve agent in the UK because the victims would have died. Now one of them has.” Harding tweeted: “Dawn Sturgess dies after exposure to #novichok. The circumstances unclear. An utter indifference to collateral damage one of the hallmarks of the #Putin regime and its extra-territorial operations.”

Gapes continued to fend off Russian trolls today, asking one called Paddy (@TattyStrat), “A bot with 3 followers. What’s the weather like in Russia?” in response to Paddy’s comment, “No motive, no evidence, no way Russia involved. Obviously Dawn Sturgess, a heroin addict, was expendable in the hope this pathetic, murderous charade would get more Brits on Govenrments [sic] side. It hasn’t worked. So who’s next?”

World Cup boycott collapses

Yesterday, just before the announcement of Sturgess’s death, RT published a poll asking if British royals and officials should “witness World Cup history” and watch the England-Croatia semi-final instead of boycotting the event because of the attack on the Skripals. Britain is one of the only countries maintaining the promised diplomatic boycott, since the Croatian president has been to Russia and France’s Emmanuel Macron plans to go for the France-Belgium semi-final. Out of 5,031 votes at the time of writing, 45 percent were for the royals attending because “Russia’s involvement in the Skripal case is not proven,” with only 12 percent of RT readers saying the royals shouldn’t go.

Russian authorities insist that they want to help with the investigation into the poisonings and are not being allowed to do so by Britain. If they really want to help, they can tell police what the contaminated item is and where it was dumped. Since they have no intention of admitting their involvement in the case, the massive police effort will have to continue in the hope that at some point Salisbury residents can feel safe again. For now, the terrorist attack isn’t over.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

StopFake #191 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:41

Fake: Displaced man from Donbas attacked for speaking Russian. Future Maidan Museum copies Hitler’s architecture projects. EU financial aid in exchange for migrant centers in Ukraine.

Categories: World News

A checklist of Kremlin narratives in mainstream Western media

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 11:07

By Ariana Gic, for StopFake

In the fifth year of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Kremlin propaganda and disinformation continue to pollute the pages of popular and influential western media. Kremlin lies and manipulations are often presented as fact, or given equal weight in coverage of Russia’s undeclared and unlawful war on Ukraine, and of Ukraine in general.

According to most western media, from Reuters and AFP to the New York Times, “the Ukraine conflict” in the “east of Ukraine” is fought by “Russia-backed, pro-Kremlin, Ukrainian separatists” who “want independence” against the “corrupt” “nationalist” and “oligarchic” “Kyiv government”.

Ukrainian legislation which deems Russia as the occupier and aggressor of the country is constantly ignored. What we see in much western media is that Kremlin messaging and narratives about Ukraine are often treated as far more credible and trustworthy than what Ukrainians themselves have to say, and what observable facts tell us.

If we patch together all the Kremlin narratives about Ukraine that find their way into mainstream western press, a horrendously distorted picture emerges. This can only be regarded as a victory for Moscow, and should shine light on the problem of the extent and reach of the long arm of Kremlin information warfare in its larger, multi-vectored war on Ukraine.

Thanks to western media echoing Kremlin talking points, most ordinary people around the world who know little or nothing about Ukraine and Russia have likely formed a perverted impression of what has happened in Ukraine since the early days of the Maidan revolution. That impression and resulting opinion likely looks something like this:

“Ukraine had an “illegal” revolution which caused “tensions” between Ukraine and Russia and triggered a “crisis in Ukraine”. Moscow was concerned by the revolution because it ousted a good president who was replaced by a dangerous, “nationalist” “Nazi junta”.

Russian speaking Ukrainians in Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine were “opposed” to the “nationalist revolution”. Fearing “persecution” at the hands of the “Russophobe government” in Kyiv, and desiring “independence” from the “Kiev regime”, the “disenfranchised” Russian speakers took up arms they “found in old Soviet mines”. Ukraine tried to put the “separatist” “rebellion” down, so these “pro-Kremlin Ukrainian separatists” had no choice by to turn to Moscow for “help”.

As the “Kiev regime” tried to “ban the use of Russian” and “banned all Russian books”, Russian speakers faced brutal “discrimination” in the country. In fact, Ukraine’s “racist” policies of cultural revival and “Ukrainianization” which were based on “ethno-nationalism”, gave rise to “dangerous” “ultra-nationalist” movements, and “alienated” Russian speakers.

At the same time, the existence of a separate and distinct Ukrainian culture and language is “questionable”. The two countries are “brotherly nations”, and as President Putin likes to say, they are really “one people”. In reality, Ukrainian is an artificial language – a “lesser” version of Russian for peasants, the uneducated and uncultured. In fact, Russian is an “inherent and important part of Ukraine’s identity” which should have the status as Ukraine’s second official language.

Yes, Russia “took over” Crimea, but only after Crimeans had a “referendum” to “secede” from Ukraine and “reunify” with Russia. Regardless, Crimea was “always part of Russia” and ended up as part of Ukraine’s territory purely “by chance” as a “political gift” by Khrushchev.

Crimea and Donbas are entirely separate and unrelated matters even though Russia is involved in both Crimea and Donbas. Russia’s involvement in “the Ukraine crisis” in “the east of Ukraine” is limited to “backing” the “pro-Russian separatists” who shot down commercial passenger jet, flight MH17, killing all on board. The “breakaway regions” of Donbas and Luhansk organized “self-proclaimed” “People’s Republics” with whom the Ukraine government refuses to hold direct talks to “negotiate peace”.

“Both sides” are always violating the Minsk peace accords. The Ukrainian government is “provoking Russia” with its “creeping offensive” into the grey zone, trying to take back territory from the “militants”. Ukraine does not really want peace because of political expediency and upcoming elections. Moreover, Kyiv won’t stop the “civil war” effort because the “corrupt politicians” that Ukraine is overrun with make money off the war.

The Ukrainian government has “abandoned the people of Donbas”, and “does not take care of their basic needs”. Kyiv “has no strategy” to “win the hearts and minds” of the people in eastern Ukraine. Everyone in Kyiv “wants to get rid of Donbas” but they cannot say so publicly. As a result, President Poroshenko does nothing to try to reintegrate those in “separatist-controlled” Ukraine. The hatred for people who fled the “conflict” in Donbas is palpable – Kyiv “does nothing” for the nearly 2 million internally displaced people, leaving them to “fend for themselves” in the “hostile” and “unwelcoming” west of the country where they “face discrimination”.

The Ukrainian government “cannot provide safety and security for its citizens”. The police “cannot prevent crimes” like political assassinations from happening, and instead, they “protect ultra-radical groups”.

The “regime in Kiev” unjustifiably restricts civil liberties, making the country one which is quite “unfree”. “Freedom of expression is stifled” in the country because of the ban on Russian social networks, and because Russian “journalists” from Kremlin “media” like RussiaToday are banned from entering the country. Criticism of the government is censored which is evidenced by pro-Moscow editors working for Kremlin media being charged with treason, and by the murders of critical journalists.

Kyiv is “backsliding on reforms” it promised to implement. The “counter-revolutionary” “obstruction to reforms” by old elites “has made things even worse than before the Maidan revolution”. Anti-corruption NGO’s are “prosecuted” for threatening the old ways, and face harassment. Because of the “backsliding reforms, the country cannot attract foreign investors”, and the government “uses Russia’s war as an excuse”.

The European Union has every right to worry about Ukraine because the country is also an “unreliable gas transit country” – when Russia cuts off gas supplies, it is Ukraine’s fault that gas is not flowing to the EU. Nord Stream 2 “will ensure EU energy security” by dealing directly with Russia. It will not be the EU’s fault that Ukraine will lose billions in gas transit fees as a result, but “greedy” Ukraine officials who “set fees too high”.

Moscow has legitimate interests in Ukraine. NATO and EU “expansion” should “take into account” Russia’s “security concerns” of “being encircled”. The West should not “provoke” Russia by engaging Ukraine in closer political and economic relations.”

This distorted picture defies facts and reality. But when every bit of Kremlin disinformation about Ukraine in major western media like AFP, Reuters, New York Times, the Guardian, etc., is pieced together, this is indeed the picture one gets. Russia has successfully drawn world media into its alternative reality on Ukraine.

Disappointingly, many “experts” who are supposed to have knowledge and expertise to challenge this “unreality” are instead lending credibility to Kremlin lies with their dishonest analysis about Ukraine and Russia’s unlawful war.

Sadly, pointing out the many manipulations, distortions, and outright lies that find their way onto the pages of respected western media, often gets defenders of truth tarred and feathered as having a “Ukraine bias”, being “Russophobic”, “nationalist”, or “supportive of corruption” in Ukraine.

It is said that Russian propaganda is not truly effective, but what dominates the pages of most media proves otherwise. Lies become truth, and the truth becomes a lie. If we do not start to turn our focus on the very real dangers of Kremlin narratives woven through major western media, the fight against Moscow’s information war will never be won.

By Ariana Gic, for StopFake

Ariana Gic is independent legal and political analyst focusing on Ukraine.

Categories: World News

Fake: Kyiv Preparing PR Attack on Crimea to Disrupt Tourist Season

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 22:53

The Ukrainian government is preparing an information attack aimed at occupied Crimea with the goal of disrupting the peninsula’s tourist season, Russian and Crimean media declared last week. As proof of this nefarious plot, publications such as Politnavigator, RIA Novosti Krym, Eadaily, Antifascist, KrimInform, Krimpress and others point to an official letter from a Ukrainian ministry that was published by a former MP from the disgraced pro-Russian Regions Party Alexei Zhuravko on his Facebook page.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = 'https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v3.0'; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Дорогие друзья!Мне попал очень интересный документ из Киева. Недавно, в четверг, 28-го июня, я публиковал пост о том,…

Posted by Игорь Крупиков on Sunday, July 1, 2018

Website screenshot Antifascist

Website screenshot RIA

Zhuravko published what purports to be a letter from the Ukrainian Minister for the Temporarily Occupied Territories Vadym Chernysh to Information Policy minister Yuriy Stets. Chernysh writes that Ukrainian media are reporting about the growing number of Ukrainians going to Crimea for holidays and proposes to Stets to use media and certain bloggers to ruin the tourist season on the peninsula.

After the publication of these fakes on various Russian and Crimean sites, the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy issued a statement saying the story was a fake.

Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy

The fake letter is dated June 28, an official holiday in Ukraine. The correspondence number on the fake letter is written by hand, official Ukrainian governmental correspondence is done through an automated system which automatically issues numbers for all letters and memos.

This crude fake is intended to disorient the inhabitants of occupied Crimea, the statement says, and points out that Regions Party MP Alexei Zhuravko, who published the fake letter, left Ukraine in 2014.

Categories: World News

How Kremlin uses the “European field” to win the propaganda game

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 13:11

By Viktor Denisenko, in cooperation with Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, for StopFake

On February 23, 2018, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania blocked the transmission of RTR Planeta – a Russian-state television channel – for 12 months. RTR Planeta was already temporarily banned in Lithuania twice before for one- and three- month periods respectively. Similarly, other Russian-state channels have also faced similar fate before.

Even today, 27 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian television channels are still operating in Lithuania. They have a stable audience, mainly comprising local Russian-speaking and Polish-speaking minorities. Russian TV channels attract the audience by quality entertainment and cultural production. The latter practice could be seen as acceptable if these channels stopped “selling” their viewers not only entertainment or culture but also propaganda.

In Europe and the United States, almost everyone knows that information channels such as RT or Sputnik are just another tool of the Kremlin aggressive and revisionist foreign policy. But these channels do not challenge the Lithuanian information space – they are simply not that popular there. The real danger for Lithuania are the Russian state TV channels adapted specifically for the Baltic market. In this case, adaptation largely means replacing Russian advertisement with local commercials. Aside from that, the programs of these channels repeat the programs of their original Russian counterparts.

It is also no secret that the national state TV channels in Russia are directly or indirectly controlled by the Kremlin. The latter is the leading provider of state-sanctioned narratives, including all kinds of propaganda stories Moscow uses for internal and external political purposes. Famous TV presenters such as Dmitry Kiselyov or Vladimir Solovyov cannot be called journalists in any meaningful sense – they are mouthpieces of state propaganda. For example, Vladimir Solovyov’s show regularly spreads disinformation and misleading narratives about the Baltic States and the West. Such TV talk-shows in general (not only Solovyov’s program) are widely seen as “a part of a general trend of media mobbing in Russia, which mirrors the treatment of opposition voices in the country”.

For his part, Dmitry Kiselev is described in the EU sanctions list as a “central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine”. Kiselyov in his program regularly spreads outrageous lies about events in Ukraine, often spinning false narratives about “fascist coup” in Kyiv, and claimed that Russia is the only country in the world which could turn United States into “radioactive ash”. In short, Russian-state TV channels have become the primary source of anti-EU, anti-NATO and anti-American fake news. We may also remember the much-commented false story about the alleged “crucifixion of a little boy in Slovyansk”, which was spread by Pervyj Kanal in 2014 with the aim to discredit the Ukrainian army.

Through adapted TV channels the above-mentioned and similar malign anti-Western narratives are directly transmitted to Lithuanian information space. People who watch only these channels are receiving the Kremlin-constructed image of world. This image is sustained by a constant flow of lies and fake news. Russian TV watchers are becoming, as articulated by Peter Pomerantsev, inhabitants of Kremlin’s hall of mirrors.

Ban of retransmission

Temporary bans on the transmission of several Russian state TV channels were pursued by the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (a similar practice was implemented in Latvia too). Such a decision is made if the content of a channel breaks the Lithuanian law. In fact, this issue is directly related to the issue of propaganda. The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania notes that the freedom to express opinions and to spread information is incompatible with criminal actions such as “incitement of national, racial, religious, or social hatred, incitement of violence or discrimination, as well as defamation and disinformation”. Russian state TV channels sometimes violate these rules. Decisions to temporarily stop the broadcasting are made after an investigation. Such a decision can only be made by the court following an appeal of the Commission.

A temporary ban was first issued in Lithuania in 2013. It ensued after Pervyj Baltijskij Kanal (PBK) broadcast a television show “Man and the law” which repeated the Soviet authorities’ lie that during the tragic events of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius, the responsibility for 14 civilian fatalities fell not on the Soviet army but on the “unknown Sajūdis’ (Lithuanian national independence movement) snipers”. In fact, during the night of January 13, 1991 Soviet regular troops and special forces stormed the building of Radio and Television Committee and the TV tower. As a result of the action, 14 civilians were killed, hundreds injured.

According to the court’s decision, for three months the PBK channel could not broadcast on Lithuanian territory any media production that was not made in the EU and/or not in the European Convention on Transfrontier Television signatory countries. Russian Federation has not yet signed the Convention. But PBK found a way to circumvent the decision. During the three-month ban, the channel broadcast movies and TV series made by Russian producers in Ukraine – a country which had signed the Convention.

Subsequent court decisions were more resolute, aimed at stopping the broadcasting entirely for a certain period of time. It became a usual practice since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent intensification of the Kremlin propaganda activities. In 2014, RTR Planeta and NTV Mir Lietuva were banned for three months. RTR Planeta was also repeatedly suspended for three-month periods in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, another channel TVCI was blocked twice, first time for one month, second time for six months. Finally, in 2018, RTR Planeta broadcasting was blocked again, this time for one year.

In February 2017, Lithuania received support from the European Commission. In a statement, the Commission noted that the decision to suspend the channel RTR Planeta due to incitement of hatred was compatible with the EU law. The European Commission provided similar support in 2018 as well.

No frontiers for television

The idea of television without frontiers is not new: it correlates with the fundamental single-market principle of European Union. The European Convention on Transfrontier Television was adopted in 1989. It also become a ground for Directive “Television without Frontiers” of the European Economic Community (European Union) adopted the same year. In the regulation of the European Union, this Directive was replaced in 2007 by the new Audio-Visual Media Services Directive, which was changed once more in 2010. The Directive, as well as Convention, is meant to protect the free flow of information.

Notably, the Convention was intended for all member states of the Council of Europe. For example, the Ukrainian parliament ratified the Convention in 2008.  It was “the first international treaty creating a legal framework for the free circulation of transfrontier television programmes in Europe”.

The main idea of both Directive and Convention was a free circulation of information. The preamble of Convention affirmed “the importance of broadcasting for the development of culture and the free formation of opinions in conditions safeguarding pluralism and equality of opportunity among all democratic groups and political parties.”

The idea of free exchange of information is one of the cornerstones of liberal democracy, but it may become a weakness in the face of malign propaganda and disinformation interference. The success of Moscow’s hostile actions is a case in point. On the one hand, the Russian Federation has not ratified the Convention, which allows Moscow to keep its information sphere closed to other broadcasters. On the other hand, Kremlin uses these legal loopholes to pursue its nefarious activities in Europe’s information sphere.

As mentioned before, many Russian state TV channels operate in Lithuania. The problem is that formally these are not “Russian channels”. For example, the infamous RTR Planeta is registered in Sweden. Similarly, PBK is a “Latvian channel”. In this way such channels become resident players in the European single market.

Importantly, the transmission of PBK in the Baltic States is in the hands of the Latvian-registered Baltijas Mediju Alianse Ltd. Another company bears a very similar name – yet in this case, it is registered in the UK: Baltic Media Alliance Ltd (BMA Ltd). This company provided UK Ofcom licenses to several Russian channels (e.g. NTV Mir Baltic, NTV Mir Lietuva, REN TV Estonia, REN TV Lietuva etc.). The Latvian BMA used these licenses for broadcasting in the Baltic States. All the aforementioned channels could be found on the list of Ofcom-licensed channels in the category of “Cable and Satellite Channels”.

In other words, the Kremlin-backed propaganda in Lithuania (and the other Baltic States) is currently spread via European channels. As a result, we have a very complicated situation. Being a member of the European Union, Lithuania cannot close its information sphere to European channels without breaking the international law. Hence a temporary ban of transmission is the most Lithuania is legally allowed to do in these circumstances.

Another interesting fact: Baltic Media Alliance Ltd is a registered lobbyist in the EU. In the register, the company is described as “Broadcaster of non-EU-language and EU-language TV channels on the territories of Latvia and Lithuania representing second largest TV media holding in the Baltics”. Data shows that from 2014 BMA Ltd spent more than 15 000 euros every year on lobbying activities. In other words, BMA not only takes care of providing UK licenses for Russian state televisions but also seeks opportunities to influence European policymaking and legislation processes.

Conclusions

TV channels specialising in pro-Kremlin propaganda feel comfortable in the European Union. Moscow knows how to use various loopholes and opportunities provided by the free market and liberal democracy (for instance, the principles of freedom of speech and access to information) for its own anti-democratic purposes. In short, the Kremlin is playing “on the European field” and winning the game with the West’s own tools.

Lithuania and Latvia are trying to draw attention to this problem. Some experts and politicians have proposed to revise the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. It was agreed that this document should be updated to include “stronger rules against hate speech and public provocation to commit terrorist offences”. It is one of the ways the West could respond to the challenge of (not only Russian) propaganda. On the other hand, this measure alone will not be sufficient.

Of course, every country could try to find an individual solution. For example, Latvians are pondering the idea that in the basic package of TV channels offered to cable network users, no less than 90% of content should be produced using the official languages of EU. The proponents of this decision hope that it will “reduce the level of Kremlin propaganda in Latvia”.

In any case, the crucial question in these circumstances is how to stop the Kremlin propaganda without compromising the fundamental principles of Western liberal democracy. Finding an answer to this question should be the primary task not only for Lithuania and other Baltic States but also for the West as a whole. In order to meet this urgent challenge, the West needs to find effective ways to control pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation flows in the European information sphere while preserving the democratic values it espouses.

By Viktor Denisenko, in cooperation with Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, for StopFake

Viktor Denisenko is a lecturer of Faculty of Communication of Vilnius University. The article was produced in cooperation with Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, a Lithuanian think tank.

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

Categories: World News

Steven Seagal – a foreign policy pundit, Putin’s hope for better ties with America

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 12:37

Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to U.S. actor Steven Seagal (R), while visiting the oceanarium on Russkiy island outside Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, September 4, 2015

By Polygraph

Steven Seagal

Actor, musician, martial artist

“I am sure that President Putin … is trying to create a situation in which the balance of powers is more stable, and a little more logical and predictable” [as quoted in Russian].

Source: Russia 24 TV “International Panorama”

MISLEADING

Since 2014, Putin has been involved in military aggression in Ukraine and Syria and has meddled in other countries’ elections.

Steven Seagal was a guest analyst on the June 22 edition of “International Panorama,” a weekend talk show on Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24 channel. The host introduced Seagal as a “Russian actor of American descent” and asked Seagal to explain his “deep ties with Vladimir Putin.”

International Panorama is a TV program first aired in 1969, that became one of the Soviet Union’s main informational weapons against the United States during the Cold war. The program survived throughout the years without even changing its theme music, and in many respects the show remains unchanged from 49 years ago.

“I am a Russian citizen since 2016. My father was an ethnic Russian from Vladivostok, Baikal, Irkutsk, Yakutiya,” Seagal said.Then the actor said President Vladimir Putin is a “personal friend” due to their mutual love for martial arts.

When the host asked about Russia’s foreign policy and how it is reflected on Russia’s international reputation, Seagal first said he “wants to stay away from politics.” However, Seagal went on to say he would do everything in his power to improve U.S.-Russian relations, adding that there is no reason for the bilateral relationship not to be “great.” He then praised Putin for pursuing a foreign policy aimed at “fixing” the “imbalance of power” that has been “confusing” the world since the “collapse of the USSR.”

“I am sure that President Putin… is trying to create a situation, in which the balance of power is more stable, and a little more logical and predictable,” the actor said.

Seagal’s interview with the Info Wars Alex Jones (in which he claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin has defeated ISIS) translated into Russian and published on YouTube channel belonging to a group positioning themselves as Russian nationalist.

The Polygraph.info verdict on Seagal’s claim is “misleading,” since policy is always open to some degree of interpretation.However, let’s look at the facts.

Since 2014, Putin has faced international criticism and Russia has endured sanctions for its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in February of that year. Seagal is well aware of those actions, as he performed at a concert celebrating the annexation in the Crimean city of Sevastopol in August 2014.

Ukraine — A Ukrainian woman speaks with armed men in military uniform, believed to be Russian Soldiers, who block Ukrainian navy base in Novoozerniy village near of Yevpatoriya, Crimea, March 3, 2014

In addition to the annexation of Crimea, Putin also instigated a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced many more. The so-called “pro-Russian rebels” receive ammunition, financing, supplies, and training from Russia’s Defense Ministry and intelligence agencies.

Russia’s intervention in Syria emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad, allowing it to prolong the war by launching offensives to retake Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, and most recently, Daraa. During this time there have been three documented chemical attacks on civilians.

SYRIA — A Russian soldier gestures to Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint near Wafideen camp in Damascus, Syria March 2, 2018

Russia’s military has also been involved in a number of other incidents since 2014, typically violations of the airspace of neighboring countries. One study found 39 such incidents in 2014 alone.

U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although President Donald Trump tweeted as recently as this week that Russia has said it “has nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”

Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2018

Seagal applied for and was granted Russian citizenship in 2016, and Putin personally presented Seagal with his new Russian passport in the Kremlin.

“I hope this will be yet another step, albeit small, probably a sign of normalization of our interstate relationships,” Putin said, offering Seagal his pen to sign the passport.

The Russian leader might have placed his hope in a wrong celebrity. Seagal’s reputation in the country of his birth is not spotless. What is more, his political influence in the United States seems non-existent, although last year he weighed in against professional American football players protesting treatment of African Americans by the police, and was quoted by a conservative newspaper.

The actor faces accusations by two women of rape and assault, which have been covered extensively in the mainstream Western media as well as the Hollywood press.

Polygraph.info attempted to reach a talent agency that lists Seagal as a client, and a lawyer who has been quoted in recent news stories, but received no reply.

Belarus — US actor Steven Seagal seen during a meeting with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at his residence near Minsk, August 24, 2016

Seagal’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Russia. The actor himself was born in Lansing, Michigan.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

“Concentration camps in Europe – again” – A guide to the emotions disinformation exploits

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 12:15

By EU vs Disinfo

The pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign excels in manipulating the emotions of its audiences. Its orchestrators collect information about the divisions and weaknesses of societies and further exploit these weak spots to fuel polarization.

This week, the disinformation campaign focused on migration and the Syrian war, and for an understandable reason – but let us guide you through the emotional smokescreen step by step.

First, pro-Kremlin disinformation stirs up feeling of INSECURITY. Here, particularly hot-button topics like migration offer a natural starting point. We heard, among other things, that not a single criminal case has been opened in Germany for sex crimes committed by refugees, hence signalling that the authorities are hushing up crimes related to migrants. In reality, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) releases an annual situation report on crime in Germany, including on criminality among immigrants. Last year it reported thousands of non-German or immigrant suspects in rape or sexual assault cases. The overall crime fell 9.6 percent in Germany in 2017.

The next step is to spread FEAR. Last week, European leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss measures against migrant smugglers. The centres for migrants discussed at the summit are assimilated to WWII Nazi camps. The conclusion on Russian TV: “Germany has a habit of building concentration camps in Poland”. The word “concentration camp” was repeatedly used on Russian state-controlled TV channels also by the hosts of news shows and the Chairman of the Federation Council. And this is nothing new: the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine has previously issued claims that Germany sends kids to concentration camps, that Ukraine planned to build camps in Donbas, and that Estonia is building concentration camps for its Russian-speaking population.

At the same time, as the UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday, intense air and ground-based strikes at multiple locations in Syria’s south-western Dara’a governorate have resulted in the “largest displacement” in over seven years. As many as 330 000 people have been displaced by the heavy fighting.

Conclusion on Russian TV: Instead of building “concentration camps” in Europe, the EU should send money to Syria and other countries and then “refugees will go back home”. These comments create a classical smokescreen to take advantage of the audience’s CONFUSION and to detract from the facts: Russia backs a Syrian government offensive in the southern province of Daraa which has huge humanitarian costs, and the EU has for a long time been the leading donor in the international response to the crisis.

The topic of migration was further manipulated to provoke DISGUSTDisinformation claimed that it was migrants, not birds, that brought West Nile Fever to the Czech Republic. The source is a vocal critic of migrants from Muslim countries with no expertise in epidemiology or contagious diseases.

Another way to make use of the audience’s feelings is to inspire CYNICISM and APATHY. Therefore the ongoing pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign repeated messages like economic disaster awaits Ukraine and the West is to blame for it,  the White Helmets prepares yet another chemical attack(when in fact these has been perpetrated by the Syrian government), Pentagon admits that US will be unable to protect Poland from a Russian invasion and Czech politics are decided in Berlin.

After this rather tiresome walk through the emotional jungle of pro-Kremlin disinformation, we can reward our readers with some good news.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Fake: Donbas Displaced Person Attacked for Speaking Russian

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 11:06

Scores of Russian media featured stories this week claiming that a man displaced by the war in Donbas currently living in the small northern Ukrainian town of Buymer in Sumy province was attacked for speaking Russian. As a result of the attack, the man allegedly suffered a torn mouth. Russia’s Defense Ministry’s organ Zvezda, Komsomolskaya Pravda ad Life all featured this glaring fake.

Website screenshot Life News

Website screenshot Komsomolskaya pravda

The source of this story was a report on the local Sumy ATV television station. The station’s director Serhiy Klochno posted a video report of this alleged incident on his Facebook page. Klochno tells the story of Vyacheslav Rozhkov, a retired miner from Donbas who moved to Buymer because of the war in eastern Ukraine.

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Порвали рота через російську мову. В такий спосіб, в селі Буймер, на Тростянеччині, місцеві вирішили привчити до рідної, української мови, інваліда, переселенцем із Донецька. Нажахані цим випадком жінки-переселенки тепер не виходять на вулицю поодинці. А через резонанс, який виник, побоюються самосуду від селян.

Posted by Sergey Klochko on Thursday, July 5, 2018

Allegedly on June 2 a fight ensued outside the local grocery store resulting in Rozhkov requiring stitches to the corner of his mouth. There is no mention of the Russian language being the cause of the alleged fracas until Lidia Rozhkova, the victim’s wife appears in the video report. She claims Buymer residents objected to Rozhkov speaking Russian, beat him and even rode a vehicle over him several times.

This is how Buymer residents want to teach Ukrainian to an immigrant from Donetsk, by tearing a man’s mouth. Now women are too afraid to go out alone, fearing retribution, Klochno editorializes in his video report.

Meanwhile, witnesses. the local police and Rozhkov himself tell a somewhat different story. Vitaliy Razbeyko, the deputy police chief investigating the incident says it was nothing more than an alcohol-fuelled fight. The stories being told by Rozhkov’s wife are simply not true, Rozhkov has no complaints and doesn’t want to be bothered, Razbeyko said.

Buymer mayor Viacheslav Komyshansky  confirms the police version  of events and says this was an altercation between two drunk men, one hit the other, afterwards they made up.

Rozhkov meanwhile says there was no fight at all.

StopFake called the alleged victim and asked him if he was attacked for speaking Russian.

“There was no fight. I simple fell in the cellar” he said.

While there is no definitive account of something that was probably just a drunken brawl, neither the injured manor the authorities say language issues were involved. As the Sumy region is heavily Russian-speaking, it is difficult to imagine locals objecting  to someone using the language.

Categories: World News

Russian state media try to hijack new Novichok poisoning narrative

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 00:57

U.K. — A general view of Amesbury Baptist Church which has been cordoned off by police after it was revealed that a poisoning victim had visited before being found unconscious, in Amesbury, Britain on July 5, 2018

By Polygraph

RIA Novosti

State-owned media outlet

“According to preliminary data, the incident in Amesbury was not a ‘Russian attack’, said Deputy Chief of the British Interior Ministry Ben Wallace.”

Source: RIA Novosti

FALSE

Wallace implicated Russia in the incident and demanded an explanation.

On July 5, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published a story saying that Britain’s “Deputy Interior Minister” –who is actually Britain’s Minister of Security – Ben Wallace ruled out Russian involvement in the poisoning of two British citizens in Amesbury.

According to British authorities, two Britons in their mid-forties, a male and a female, were hospitalized in critical condition on June 30 after being poisoned with the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok.

The two victims are residents of Amesbury, a small town located 11 kilometers north of the city of Salisbury, where ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with Novichok in March.

Home of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, who was found poisoned in March

“Knowing that they (Russia) developed Novichok, that the targets were connected, we affirm with a high degree of certainty that Russia is behind the initial (i.e. Skripal) attack,” RIA Novosti quoted Wallace as saying.

“At the moment, we see no evidence of a connection between the last two victims, neither with the Skripals, nor with the previous place where they were poisoned,” he added.

RIA Novosti used this quote to claim falsely that Wallace ruled out Russian involvement in this latest poisoning case. However, the Russian news agency’s version of the quote is incomplete and taken out of context: it leaves out an important part of the Minister’s statement.

The Guardian newspaper quoted Wallace as saying: “Based on the evidence we had at the time of the Skripal attack, the knowledge they [Russia] had developed Novichok, they had explored assassination programs in the past, they had motive, form and stated policy, we would still assert to a very high assurance that the Russian state was behind the original attack.”

RIA Novosti’s version of the quote leaves out the references to assassination programs, motives, etc., without the use of ellipses.

More importantly, the RIA Novosti article omits that Wallace implicated Russia in the attack, and demanded an explanation from the Russian government to clear up the matter.

“The Russian state could put this ‘wrong’ right,” the security minister said on BBC radio, according to the New York Times. “They could tell us what happened, what they did and fill in some of the significant gaps that we are trying to pursue.”

U.K., March 19, 2018 — Flowers are left at the cordon near the tent covering the park bench where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury, Britain

Wallace specifically relates this new incident to the Skripal case.He is quoted as saying “the working assumption” is that the new victims were poisoned as “the consequence of the previous attack,” though he holds out the possibility of some other cause.

Russia continues to deny involvement. The Kremlin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said: “I know nothing about any appeal [from the UK being conveyed to Russia over the incident].” He added that the British government has never presented credible evidence of Moscow’s ties to the Skripal’s poisoning.

Moscow’s own versions of the incident in Salisbury have been thoroughly examined and proven false.

U.K. — Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury remains closed and cordoned off as investigations continue into how Dawn S. and Charlie R. were found unconscious on Saturday night, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018

The Western news media has already noted that “Russia’s spin operation has gone into overdrive” on the new poisoning. The Daily Beast points to quotes from a Kremlin spokesman, denying Russian involvement, and the deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of the parliament, accusing Britain of trying to spoil soccer fans positive reactions to the World Cup tournament.

Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab tweeted that Russian embassies are “already dismissing, distorting and distracting.”

#Novichok: Russian embassies already dismissing, distorting and distracting.

You’d almost think there was a guilty conscience there. pic.twitter.com/bTy6bKpFWH

— Ben Nimmo (@benimmo) July 5, 2018

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Russian unleashes torrent of alternative facts in Amesbury poisoning case

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 16:23

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Within hours of British police announcing last night that a couple from Amesbury, Wiltshire had been poisoned with Novichok, Russia’s propaganda machine was firing out projectiles in all directions with the usual aim of casting doubt and confusion in people’s minds. The real story is fairly straightforward: Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were taken ill on June 30 and are now in critical condition, probably due to coming into contact with Novichok residue in Salisbury from the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.

By now Russia’s tactics in these situations are tried and tested, and even boring, but they’re still effective. Plenty of people in the UK would rather believe that they are being duped by their own government than by Russia – supporters of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn in particular – and they form a fertile audience for Russia’s lies, which they then repeat and embellish themselves. The cycle continues with Russian media quoting the British “sceptics”, who are depicted as being smarter than those who trust the “official narrative” – in other words, stick to known facts.

Undiplomatic embassies

Predictably Russian embassy Twitter accounts joined in the action, and one tweet that attracted particular attention was from the Russian embassy in the Netherlands, which said, “How dumb they think [Russian flag symbol] is to use ‘again’ so-called ‘Novichok’ in the middle of the FIFA World Cup and after the special session of the CSP (convened by the way by [UK flag symbol]) that gave the #OPCW attribution functions. The show must go on?”

This is a typical example of Russia asking an irrelevant and illogical question. Virtually no one thinks that Russia has attacked the Salisbury area with Novichok for a second time. On the other hand, UK authorities seem to have dropped the ball in terms of tracking down the container that the Novichok was in, and any other discarded materials such as protective clothing that the perpetrators wore. The Sun recently reported that two Russian suspects left the UK immediately after attacking the Skripals, which fits with another rumour that a Russian message was intercepted confirming that the suspects had returned home. Here the UK government could really help by making a statement about the suspects, who are unlikely to ever be brought to justice in any case. The public also needs to be much better informed about the current risk in Salisbury, since more Novichok could be out there.

The Russian embassy tweet is disingenuous for another reason: Russia annexed Crimea during the Sochi Olympics in 2014, so obviously has no qualms about committing major crimes while hosting international sporting events. The other part of the tweet refers to the recent vote at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that empowered it to assign blame in chemical weapons attacks, in the wake of numerous attacks by the Russia-backed Assad regime in Syria and the Novichok attack in the UK. The result of the vote was 82-24, with Russia voting against, claiming it prefers the UN Security Council to deal with such matters – where Russia has a veto. Russia also groundlessly accused the UK of bribing delegates to support the reform. The tweet seems to suggest that this decision by the OPCW would deter Russia from committing chemical weapons attacks, although Russia denies all involvement in such attacks.

The Russian embassy in South Africa tweeted: “Two British subjects were allegedly poisoned in #Amesbury by ‘Novichok’. Fact: Porton Down military biotech lab capable of producing said nerve agent is in close proximity to both #Salisbury and #Amesbury. Question: What pretext will be invented to lay blame on Russia this time?” The answer to this is rather easy: it was one attack, an attack by Russia. Since the attack on the Skripals Russia has energetically pushed the claim that the Novichok was produced at Porton Down. More likely, Sergei Skripal was chosen as the target precisely because Porton Down is near Salisbury and could be blamed. The chances that UK authorities themselves poisoned the Skripals for their own nefarious reasons appear to have diminished since this latest incident: were the poisoners also absurdly careless, costing the country millions of pounds for multiple clean-up operations?

The Russian embassy in the UK hasn’t had very much to say on the subject yet, other than that Russia should be included in the investigation, but has been busy tweeting more “letters from ordinary British citizens” – this time about the World Cup. One of today’s letters said: “I would like to thank the Russia government for what will be the greatest World Cup ever, Congratulations. Every body saying they wish they had gone, and what a great job you’ve done, and how beautiful Russia is. Congratulations.”

Blaming the UK

RT opted to ridicule the whole poisoning incident, claiming that most people found it all very funny. In an article titled “’New legal high?’ Twitter awash with mockery & conspiracy after Novichok hits UK again,” the propaganda channel presented a selection of supposedly humorous tweets, along with alternative theories that it appeared to endorse. A user called “Martin 93-20” (@SolomonLX11) tweeted: “All this novichok in Salisbury makes me think it’s nothing to do with the Russians but some one in Salisbury. Most things are on your doorstep. #closertohome.”

“Rob” (@Robgreeen1) tweeted: “What if the government are just going to randomly poison someone with Novichok every time people start to realise what a car crash Brexit is?” Russia has frequently pushed the suggestion that the Skripals were poisoned by the UK government as a distraction from Brexit, which, it is becoming increasingly clear, was also a project that the Kremlin was involved in, for example via offers of gold mining investment deals to Brexit campaign sponsor Arron Banks.

A user called “Paul Mansfield” (@azardsphere) who retweets Russian propaganda almost exclusively, tweeted with an image of a couple from an old horror film: “The horror returns. #SkripalPoisoning number 2: The #Amesbury Poisonings. Durable, weather impervious Novichok strikes again. #FalseFlag #Russophobia #WorldCupRussia #PortonDown #MI6.” This is another of Russia’s common false refrains: Novichok would have degraded so couldn’t poison anyone three months later. Russia also keeps reminding us that if the Skripals or the British couple had been poisoned by Novichok, “they would have died” – something Putin once claimed, which again is untrue. The Guardian published an article on March 22 about Soviet scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov, who was accidentally exposed to Novichok in 1987 and died in 1993 of a brain seizure, after the nerve agent had wrecked his mind and body.

Sputnik, meanwhile, attempted to deflect attention to the UK media, in an article titled “Cart before the horse: UK media immediately blame Russia for Amesbury incident.” British tabloids have already pointed the finger at Russia, but reader comments show that people aren’t buying it, Sputnik said. They quoted someone called “Notbeingfooled” writing in response to a Daily Mirror article: “Here we go again. The police aren’t sure whether a crime has been committed, yet the media and security services are trying to link this with the Skripal incident; by the way Sergei and Yulia Skripal made a ‘miraculous recovery’ and haven’t been seen in public since leaving the hospital. Which is to say this isn’t just a diversionary tactic to give the government breathing space over their own problems with things such as the state of our NHS and Brexit and a divided government.”

Left-wing fellow travellers

Former left-wing British politician George Galloway, who now hosts a programme on RT, has been pushing all of Russia’s conspiracy theories about the Skripals since their poisoning in March, and published a rant on the subject on RT’s website on July 3, the day before the news broke about the British couple.

“But IS what we have been told about the chain of events the truth? I have met no one, literally no one, who believes so,” he wrote. “And NO evidence, none whatsoever, has been produced by the government or any state authorities which gives the slightest justification to Theresa May’s rush to judgment and blame issued peremptorily against the Russian Federation and – in the mouth of both the foreign secretary and the defense secretary – against President Putin himself. It is established by the very fact the Skripals survived that what struck them was not Novichok,” Galloway continued.

Galloway also made a completely baseless allegation that police officer Nick Bailey, who was also poisoned by the Novichok while investigating the Skripal case, may have been paid “half a million pounds or so” to remain silent about the supposed truth of the story. Left-wing Corbyn-supporting website The Skwawkbox also weighed in with an article titled “Is BBC already priming us for government narrative on #Amesburynovichok?”

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, who constantly promotes the Russian line, tweeted: “We are continually presented with experts by the mainstream media who will validate whatever miraculous property of ‘novichok’ is needed to fit in with the government’s latest wild anti-Russian story.”

Many tweets by Corbyn supporters expressed a belief in a government cover-up and a Porton Down link to the poisonings. For example, “Neil Turner” (@chezzy51) tweeted: “Another poisoning! And yet again it’s only 6 miles from Porton Down?… funny that!” He also tweeted: “Who benefits from more claims of another poisoning… UK government!… Why?… to deflect attention away from a very successful World Cup in Russia in which they’d said there would be no people smiling and a spy every few yards.” Turner’s profile description says: “Life long socialist and trade union member. Rejoined Labour Party in 2016 to get Corbyn elected leader.”

The reality is that the British government is indeed under immense pressure over Brexit, which is shaping up to be a catastrophe that ought to be avoided at all costs. Negotiations with the EU over the Brexit terms have made hardly any progress, with the Conservative Party consumed with in-fighting over what its leading MPs want. Prime Minister Theresa May doesn’t want to have to deal with an escalation of the Skripal poisoning or the problem of attempting to reassure Salisbury residents that their town is safe. Additionally, England is about to play in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and May has to support players and fans while maintaining a tough line against Putin. Five people have now been poisoned by Russia’s attack, and Britain should respond with sanctions, not just the expulsion of diplomats – but whether it will is another matter.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: Will Federica Mogherini finally listen to EU Member States?

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 06:10

Topics of the Week

he European Council’s conclusions call for a more coordinated and better resourced response to disinformation on part of the EU. Will the High Representative ever acknowledge the will of the Member States?

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, praising him for “courtesy and graciousness” and planning the bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Russian leaders.

New report by Marcel H. Van Herpen: Pro-Kremlin populism and Russian influence is on the rise in the Netherlands.

New Russian law requires internet services to keep records of their clients’ traffic and hand them over to the state security services on demand

Good Old Soviet Joke

Bedbugs appeared in the house occupied by the secretary of the region Party committee. The Party boss summoned an expert on insects and asked him how to get rid of bedbugs.

The expert said, “The best way is to organize them into a collective farm,” he tells the Party boss. “Half of them will flee and the rest will starve to death.”

Policy & Research News EEAS StratCom teams should have appropriate mandates and resources

After the last meeting of the European Council at the end of June, most of the debate and reports understandably focused on migration. However, some of the session’s conclusions also address disinformation and strategic communication and should not go unnoticed. Specifically, the European Council stated:

“The European Council invites the High Representative and the Commission to present, in cooperation with the Member States and in line with the March 2015 European Council conclusions, an action plan by December 2018 with specific proposals for a coordinated EU response to the challenge of disinformation, including appropriate mandates and sufficient resources for the relevant EEAS Strategic Communication teams.”

Somebody might ask: what are the relevant EEAS Strategic Communication teams? The conclusions refer to the European Council conclusions from March 2015, which were highlighting the “need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns” and asked for the action plan on strategic communication. On this basis, the East StratCom Task Force was established.

Since then, despite several calls on part of the European Parliament, several Member States, and the expert community, the Task Force remains without institutional funding, with only a handful of people dealing with pro-Kremlin disinformation in Europe. Now, after more than three years of existence, Member States are again requesting that Federica Mogherini provide them with “appropriate mandates and sufficient resources”. Will she fulfil the request of European leaders in her five-year term? We remain sceptical.

Strategy and tactics of pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns

To give you a glimpse of what the East StratCom Task Force addresses on a daily basis, here is an article written by one of its members – Jakub Kalenský, a seconded national expert from the Czech Republic. For the Diplomaatia, he makes the following points:

  • Disinformation has different messages, tactical aims and perspectives for different audiences, using an unknown number of channels and speakers, not all of which are public.
  • Disinformation messages are often embedded with elements of truth to appear more convincing and legitimate.
  • Agents of disinformation have different levels of ambition and contrary to a common belief, they do not exclusively target electoral processes.
  • Disinformers have a highly developed, localized knowledge of their audience(s), with the gap between our knowledge and theirs growing.
Dutch team investigating MH17 was spied on

According to the RTL Niews, the Dutch TV Broadcaster, the Dutch members of the Joint Investigation Team that included security officers, legal experts, diplomats, and civil servants were spied on by Russian and Ukrainian services while investigating the shooting down of MH17 on Ukrainian territory. Eavesdropping devices were found in investigators’ hotel rooms and their electronic devices were compromised by malware. It is unclear if the foreign operatives managed to obtain any information relating to the investigation.

Chinese influence: What does it look like and how do countries counter it?

Bilahari Kausikan, former Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore and an ex-Ambassador to Russia, has often been called an “undiplomatic diplomat”, famous for saying exactly what he thinks – a rather atypical trait for official representatives. At a recent conference on Chinese public diplomacy, he stated that “Chinese influence operations are aimed at swaying leaders and people abroad to China’s positions,” according to The Straits Times. He also noted that the Chinese modus operandi significantly differs from that of other countries since it rejects the norm of interfering in domestic affairs of other states, uses more covert and often illegal deployment of agents of influence whose aim is to condition behaviour, making political leaders and the public think that their decisions are their own.

Australia seems to recognize that it has been a subject of Chinese efforts to spread influence. Recently, the Australian House of Representatives passed new legislation banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics. Individuals lobbying for foreign governments will have to publicly register in order to increase transparency. The legislation also includes 38 new crimes, including stealing trade secrets on behalf of a foreign government. Many organizations are, however, exempt from the legislation, including charities accepting foreign funding or the Catholic Church. Despite these protections, the bill has been criticised by some Australian opposition MPs, as well by Amnesty International.

A series of unfortunate events at Uppsala University in Sweden

In Postimees, you can read about the experience of a group of Estonian journalism students at a summer school organized by Uppsala University in Sweden. The program, which focused on war reporting, was organized by assistant professor Gregory Simons and included a peculiar speaker – Vanessa Beeley, a freelance blogger with no journalistic qualifications whose articles are often published by Sputnik and RT. Ms. Beeley, whose RT profile tellingly describes her as “independent investigative journalist”, is an ardent supporter of Bashar al-Assad and regularly promotes conspiracy theories, particularly about 9/11. Among other things, she has claimed that the Charlie Hebdo shooting was a false flag operation.

Beeley’s presentation included the following points:

  • The Soviet Union and Russia have always been promoters of world peace (e.g., the 1953 proposal by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to ban all manner of war propaganda)
  • The chemical attack in Douma in April 2018 was a false flag operation staged by the White Helmets
  • Human Rights Watch is part of a Jewish conspiracy
  • The United Nations is anti-Russian
  • There were free elections held in Crimea on joining Russia

Despite (or for) this gibberish, Beeley was awarded a certificate by the university. In protest, the students from the University of Tartu and their professors decided to boycott the rest of the summer school. The University claimed it will issue an apology, unlike Gregory Simons, who sees no reason to do that. The academic environment should always stay objective, unbiased and open to different ideas, opinions, and philosophies. But since when has spreading outright lies become an alternative philosophy legitimized by recognized experts and academic institutions?

US Developments Continued Alarming Reversal of United States Foreign Policy

On June 27th, US National Security Advisor John Bolton met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, discussing issues related to “strategic stability in the world” and praising the Russian leader for his “courtesy and graciousness”. It’s worth remembering that Bolton previously referred to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as an “act of war” against the United States, warned that the nation could not trust Russia, and argued that a national security policy based on blind faith that the Russian regime will honor its commitments to peace is doomed to fail. Since then, Bolton has exhibited a complete reversal of rhetoric – a contradiction he refused to address when pressed by reporters. His performance in Moscow was followed by the announcement that, following the July NATO summit in Brussels, Donald Trump will meet with Putin in Helsinki on July 16th for their first one-on-one summit.

Bolton acknowledged that such a meeting would be in the “interest of the United States, Russia, peace and security”, while also noting that Trump will use the opportunity to raise a “full range of issues”, including Russian interference in US politics, conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and his recent calls for Russia to be readmitted to the G7. From one perspective, Trump’s planned meeting with Putin could be, as noted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a “sign of strength” and dialogue necessary for the mitigation of further tensions. However, given Trump’s refusal to accept the conclusions of the US intelligence community concerning Russian electoral meddling, combined with his gratuitous criticism of the European Union and his recent appeasement of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during their meeting in June, much concern surrounds the  president’s anticipated behavior. The meeting is likely to further legitimize Putin’s regime and his image as an international leader, while at the same time, as noted by Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia, “produce concessions that do not serve American national interests”.

Trump continues voicing support for Russia

Donald Trump has once again defended  Vladimir Putin’s denial of interference in the 2016 election, contradicting the US intelligence community and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation. These remarks come amidst growing anxiety among US allies about the planned Trump-Putin summit and Trump’s criticisms of the EU and some member states. Trump has referred to “NATO being as bad as NAFTA”, criticized the EU for being designed specifically for the purpose of “taking advantage of the United States,” and for classifying NATO as “obsolete”. Trump’s repeated rejections of longstanding US policy led to the recent resignation of James D. Melville, Jr., the U.S. Ambassador to Estonia.

Perhaps the most alarming consequence of Trump’s attempts to undermine the EU and transatlantic alliance is the windfall this brings to the Putin regime. A divided Europe with a strained relationship with the United States runs the risk of vulnerability to other forces, namely Russian geopolitical influence.

Facebook is asking law enforcement for help spotting election interference

Last month, Facebook held an election security meeting at its Menlo Park headquarters in California and invited officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. The goal of the meeting was to address the risk of Kremlin information interference campaigns directed at the 2018 midterm elections. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats has said that propaganda, false internet personas, and bots will be used against the American electorate in 2018 and 2020 in an attempt to influence the outcome of the elections or to stoke conflict in the country.

According to Guy Rosen, a top Facebook security executive, for 2018 so far, no interference has been detected from the Russian Internet Research Agency. Nonetheless, tech companies agree that they need help from law enforcement intelligence capabilities that the private sector does not have access to. Facebook has complained on multiple occasions that they do not get the crucial instruction and assistance needed from law enforcement. The meeting also included several other major players in the tech industry.

Manafort’s ties with Russian oligarch deepen

Last Wednesday, a search warrant application revealed that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort received a $10 million loan from Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and aluminum magnate with close ties to the Kremlin. This revelation offers further details about Manafort’s connections with the Russian billionaire, a relationship that has already come under scrutiny through the Mueller investigation. Manafort is known to have provided consulting services to former Kremlin-backed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. He is expected to go on trial in Virginia and Washington D.C. in July and September respectively and faces charges including conspiracy to launder money, bank and tax fraud, and failing to register as a foreign agent for a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Black is white and 2+2=5

A Russian law requiring internet service providers to keep records of their clients’ traffic and hand them over to the state security services on demand came into force on July 1. This is yet another “wonder” from the Yarovaya package of laws that gives the FSB direct access to online providers and platforms. “The new law required communications companies, including internet providers, to keep information about their clients’ data traffic for three years (one year for messengers and social media networks) and to keep the records of phone calls, messages, and transferred files for six months[…] The bill also requires communications companies to hand over encryption keys to state security agencies on demand, allowing them to read encrypted data. Non-compliance could cost companies between 800,000 and one million rubles ($13,000 – $16,100) in fines”. As Yarovaya said, the law was necessary to fight the “global information monopoly of the United States” .

Fighting the US’s “global information monopoly” by spying on Russia’s own citizens? Perfectly logical!

Now consider the words of MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova: “We call on our European colleagues to stop practicing double standards when talking about the threat of “fake news” and disinformation and not to use the latter as a pretext to restrain the activity of the resources providing an alternative to mainstream media, because this will deal a severe blow to freedom of speech. We are absolutely convinced that such delicate matters that touch upon the interests of civil society, NGOs, and journalists, should be discussed in a transparent manner with the involvement of all interested parties”.

Zakharova should have directed these comments at the authorities of her own country. But in the twisted world of Russian propaganda, black is white and 2+2=5.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion The Rise of Kremlin-Friendly Populism in the Netherlands

A recent paper by Marcel H. Van Herpen details the rise of pro-Kremlin populism and growing Russian influence in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) initially emerged as a populist party that remained indifferent to Russia and retained few links to other European extreme right parties. This changed in 2013 when Wilders invited Marine Le Pen to The Hague and the two parties began collaborating in the 2014 European Parliament election campaign, which eventually resulted in several far-right parties forming a group in the EP. Although PVV continuously supported Russia in its voting behaviour in the EP, the party continued to downplay its sympathetic stance towards Russia domestically. This changed in 2017-2018 with Wilders visiting the Russian embassy in The Hague and later the State Duma in Moscow.

The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement referendum in 2016 was another indicator of growing Russian influence in the Netherlands. The debate surrounding the referendum was rife not only with disinformation but also active interference by Russia and pro-Kremlin actors. For example, a fake video by the Russian Internet Research Agency allegedly showed Ukrainian nationalists burning the Dutch flag and threatening the Netherlands with terrorist attacks. Therefore, debunking fake news and disinformation should be very important in the Netherlands. However, earlier this year the EU East StratCom Task Force came under attack by the Dutch parliament, which demanded its closure on grounds of its alleged censorship. The reason behind this was that four Dutch media outlets had been accused of spreading disinformation by the Task Force. Although these cases had not outright and intentionally spread disinformation they had nevertheless unintentionally allowed for the Russian narrative to be repeated.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

Figure of the Week: 10,000

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 15:48

By EU vs Disinfo

Russian television viewers were recently told that Ukraine is solely responsible for all the casualties in the country’s war-torn east.

The groundless accusation was made on 21 June during one of Russia’s most popular political talk shows, “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” on the state-run TV channel Rossiya 24.

In an angry tirade against Ukraine, show host Vladimir Solovyov told his Ukrainian guest that “you already killed 10,000 people in Donbas.”

“Who killed 10,000 people?” asked Ukrainian political analyst Vadim Karasyov, who is regularly invited on Russian TV channels to represent his country.

“You!” Solovyov snapped at him. “You killed, you shot civilians!”

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the conflict in eastern Ukraine killed 10,303 pe`ople, many of them civilians, between 14 April 2014 and 15 November 2017.

The figure, however, is a general death toll from the conflict and does not specify which side is responsible for casualties.

Like Solovyov, Russian authorities have sought to cast the conflict pitting Ukrainian armed forces against Russian-backed separatists as an attack on Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Moscow has consistently denied Russian involvement despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

EU restrictive measures against Russia are currently in force over the illegal annexation of Crimea and the deliberate destabilisation of Ukraine.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Decline in public’s trust may prompt Putin to launch new attacks abroad, Yury Gudkov says

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 15:37

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

New Levada Center polls show that Russians are less trusting of Vladimir Putin and other senior leaders including Dmitry Medvedev, Sergey Shoygu and Sergey Lavrov than they were, with fewer than 50 percent of Russians surveyed now saying that they trust the Kremlin leader, Yury Gudkov says.

Several factors are involved, the sociologist says, including the end of election-era mobilization, the growth of tensions over rising prices and falling incomes, and the extreme unpopularity of the government’s plan to raise the retirement age. “All this taken together has given this effect”.

The unfavorable international environment also plays a role, Gudkov continues. “Forced anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian mobilization cannot last too long,” especially given that with the controversy over pensions, “all foreign policy events have begun to seem less significant” to most Russians.

Putin who enjoys the reputation of being a “Teflon” president began to see a decline in public trust immediately after the elections, but the decline has not lasted long enough to say that it is a trend.  Several more soundings of public opinion over the next months will be needed for that, Gudkov says.

What has occurred so far will not necessarily lead to changes in cadres, he adds, because in an authoritarian system like Russia’s today decisions about that reflect the views of the leadership rather than the assessments of the population, a pattern that Gudkov describes as “unfortunate.”

But he says that he “fears there will be changes but not those which we are waiting for. There exists the danger that the [Kremlin’s] course will become as a result harsher and more repressive and the reduction in the support from the population will lead to a return to the use of blackmail in international affairs,” including “provocations” designed to mobilize the population.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Russian arms manufacturer leads gullible citizens of “space nation”

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 01:12

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

The “space nation” of Asgardia attracted global headlines last month when its “Head of Nation”, 54-year-old Igor Ashurbeyli, was inaugurated in a gala ceremony at the Hofburg palace in Vienna.

Ashurbeyli was the CEO of Russia’s arms conglomerate Almaz-Antey from 2000 to 2011, the manufacturer of the Buk missile that shot down flight MH17 and the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that Turkey is currently purchasing, to the dismay of its NATO partners. Many of Asgardia’s “citizens” who plan to colonise space are Russians, but the organisation is also attracting thousands of disaffected or idealistic people from all over the world.

Asgardia’s CEO, Lena De Winne, is a Russian who has worked in the EU and the United States. Its other senior official, Mikhail (Michael) Spokoiny, was born in Odesa in 1955, worked for Almaz-Antey in Moscow, then moved to California and obtained US citizenship in 2009.

After Donald Trump announced the creation of a Space Force last month, De Winne appeared on FOX News to explain why Asgardia opposes this. “There is an outer space treaty which was initiated in the late sixties, also with America as one of the founding initiators, and the purpose of that outer space treaty was to make sure that there is no war proliferation in space,” she said.

However, in October 2016 at a press conference at the Ritz Hotel in Paris announcing Asgardia’s creation, Ashurbeyli said that it would have nuclear weapons to protect Earth from asteroids.

Missiles and Orthodoxy

A year later Ashurbeyli gave a press conference at the Ritz Hotel in Moscow together with De Winne, where he announced that the European Union Intellectual Property Office had confirmed the registration of Asgardia’s own cryptocurrency, the Solar. He claimed that Asgardia represented “more than 107,000 citizens of 204 Earthly countries”. Ashurbeyli noted that Asgardian women are the happiest because 84 percent of the population are men.

An interview with Ashurbeyli by Meduza in January this year provides some fascinating details about his background and activities. Ashurbeyli still works out of the building that houses Almaz-Antey, and his holding company Sotsium, which has ties to the defence industry, is also based there. Ashurbeyli is proud of his achievements at Almaz-Antey but angry that they fired him: “There’s something called the S-400; it’s the pride of the whole country. I’m the person who made this missile system happen. Period. And as thanks they showed me the door,” he told Meduza.

Like Vladimir Putin (to whom he wrote a birthday message last October), Ashurbeyli is nostalgic about the Soviet era but also a big supporter of the Orthodox Church, building cathedrals and acting as the director of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in Israel, according to Meduza. He thinks Russia should be ruled by a tsar. And somehow he finds time to lead the Party of Russia’s Rebirth, which was founded by an old friend of his, former Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev, who died in 2015.

Russians proliferate

Ashurbeyli denies he is trying to scam his “citizens”, but Asgardia welcomes donations and also encourages people to buy shares in its joint stock company, Asgardia AG, which is registered in Vienna, where the space nation’s headquarters is located.

On his YouTube channel Ashurbeyli published interviews with some of the “citizens” who came to his inauguration in Vienna – many of whom were Russian. One was well-known kitsch artist Nikas Safronov, who has painted Putin’s portrait and said of the Russian president: “Putin does things that no one before him would have dared to do – except maybe Jesus Christ. I have great respect for Putin.”

Some of Asgardia’s members of parliament interviewed on Ashurbeyli’s channel are also Russian. They include cosmonaut Sergei Krichevsky, president of the St. Petersburg-based Musical Olympus Foundation Irina Nikitina, and Aleksandr Fokin, who according to his profile on Asgardia’s website is from Chelyabinsk. Ashurbeyli also received a video greeting from a cosmonaut on the International Space Centre to celebrate his inauguration.

A headline on Ashurbeyli’s personal website in Russian from last month says, “Valentina Tereshkova calls on Russians to join the ranks of Asgardia.” The first woman in space, now an MP for the ruling United Russia party, writes in a statement: “Although space should remain an arena for global cooperation, I would like Russian citizens to play a leading role as space pioneers in the wonderful future that undoubtedly awaits the first space nation. I’m sure that my letter won’t leave anyone who reads it indifferent, and in the very near future the number of Russian-speaking citizens of Asgardia will increase exponentially, as it’s in our nation’s blood to be pioneers.”

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Asgardia is not just one man’s quirky and expensive hobby, but has official Kremlin encouragement as yet another vehicle for boosting Russia’s soft power.

Necrophilia

As we know by now, the Kremlin’s hybrid ideology, with the ultimate goal of disruption in all spheres, brings together a wide variety of people. On the Asgardia website’s forum Shawn Crawford from Canada wrote a post with the title “New terrorist group: they MUST be stopped from entering Asgardia!”

It began, “The American Anti-Fascist movement – known colloquially as ‘AntiFa’ – attended the Donald Trump inauguration, ‘DeploraBall’ and several other events in Washington, DC. During their tenure there, AntiFa have utterly destroyed swathes of personal and business property; physically assaulted people, even if they were not actually Trump supporters; set fire to a limosine [sic]; assaulted police officers; and brandished weapons and other implements at both police officers and civilians.”

Meanwhile, someone calling himself “Comrade Luke” posted in support of making necrophilia legal in Asgardia. He argued that since a dead body can’t feel physical or psychological pain, sex with one is less harmful than sex with a living person. “The dead person is not a person anymore, with a non-functioning brain, unworking nerves, and no blood flowing. A meat puppet. An INANIMATE toy,” he wrote. “Having intercourse with a body in private would be as harmless as having intercourse with a tree – for example – in the privacy of one’s own back garden.”

Some of Asgardia’s more prominent citizens might want to think twice about who and what they’re associating with. Lembit Opik, the son of Estonians who fled Stalin’s occupation, is a former Liberal Democrat MP from the UK. At Ashurbeyli’s inauguration in Vienna Opik was chosen as the head of Asgardia’s parliament. He referred to his experience leading a campaign to monitor meteors that could collide with us as a reason for his success.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Parmjit Singh Gill is another Asgardia MP, as is current Conservative MP Nigel Evans. Perhaps he will be able to make a great trade deal with Asgardia after Brexit, which he strongly supports.

 Even without Russian involvement, Asgardia would be a toxic cauldron for fantasists. The Kremlin’s looming presence, though, makes it even more worrisome, especially considering the large amount of publicity it has been receiving. The best thing that could possibly happen would be for its citizens to raise enough money to launch themselves on a very long voyage into outer space. A dream come true for everyone.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News