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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 38 min 42 sec ago

Russia can only affect Lithuanian society with internal problems – analyst

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 15:12

By The Baltic Times

The Kremlin can only have an effect on Lithuania’s society, if it is shaken by internal problems, says Lilia Shevtsova, political scientist and analyst at the international policy institute Chatham House.

“I do not believe that Russian disinformation, the activity of Russia Today, Sputnik, Russian media or Russian social networks is a very powerful factor of influence. It could be a factor of influence only when local, native discourse is weak, when there are local problems,” Shetvsova told BNS.

In her words, it is difficult for the Western world to build a relationship with Russia because the Russian elite is currently closely related with Western politics and economy, unlike during the years of the Cold War.

“Russia has succeeded to penetrate the Western society: the Russian elite is living in the West, keeping accounts, educating their children, buying houses. It was absolutely unimaginable to have a personal integration of Soviet elite into the Western society. There’re a lot more differences but the personal integration of the Russians into the Western society, makes the Cold War totally impossible. It makes it very difficult for the west and for the United States to contain Russia because how come one can contain Russia when its elite is in your own society? It’s like a worm in your body. It’s one of the reasons why the western powers have no coherent strategy towards Russia,” she said.

In Shevtsova’s words, the search for new foreign policy directions with Russia will remain one of the main challenges for the Western world next year along settlement of the crisis inside Europe. Nevertheless, regardless of the problems that the Western countries encountered this year, the expert said the outgoing year was a good one, as the West managed to handle the unexpected challenges of 2016, including Brexit or Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“This year, from the view of the challenges and crises, was much more optimistic than year 2016. Year 2016 was a black hole: everything became a shock, unexpected for western political elite. They were not ready for Trump election – having in the white house irrational, inadequate, absolutely politically uneducated personality. It was unexpected to have Brexit, to have Russia and aggressive Putin, trying to fill the void, to have China, for the first time during the last 100 years pretending to be a global empire. And the west was paralyzed (…). This year was much softer, more promising. True, the Western societies and western elites still didn’t have time and courage to find a response to the challenges, so it will be for the future, for 2018,” said Shevtsova.

The analyst noted that Lithuania is one of the few European countries that defend foreign policies based on values and European standards rather than mutual benefit.

By The Baltic Times

Categories: World News

RT: U.S. LNG Reduces Europe’s Energy Security

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 14:49

By Polygraph

Ivan Karyakin

Investment analyst

“Brussels surely understands that replacing the Russian pipeline gas with American LNG does not increase, but reduces the energy security of the EU.”

Source: RT, December 16, 2017 False

Increasing the number of potential energy suppliers will enhance the EU’s energy security

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in late October described the U.S. export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the European Union as a “political step” motivated by “Russophobe hysteria” and aimed at “preventing the Russia-EU relations from normalization,” as well as an “unfriendly” act that will “undermine Europe’s energy security.”

Moscow also claims that U.S. sanctions against Russia are part of a struggle for domination of the EU energy market. As reported by the Russian government-funded broadcaster RT, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, commenting on the U.S. sanctions back in September, said that the U.S. was seeking to “bury” Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project and “force-feed” its own LNG to Europe.

Russian media coverage of the issue generally has a similar spin. In a recent example, RT’s website posted an analysis headlined: “How long can Europe survive without Russian gas?”

The RT piece cited a report by Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, but misrepresented it. The La Stampa piece examined possible scenarios and consequences “if new supply problems arise from Russia,” noting that such “blockade crises” occurred in the past, when Gazprom, Russia’s giant natural gas monopoly, left entire countries without gas for a week during bitterly cold winter weather.

However, the thrust of the La Stampa piece was contrary to RT’s claim that “replacing the Russian pipeline gas with American LNG does not increase, but reduces the energy security of the EU.”

What does “energy security” actually mean?

The International Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization consisting of 29 member countries, defines energy security as “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.”

In supplying gas to Europe, Russia has clearly not provided for “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.” Indeed, it has repeatedly failed to provide for an “uninterrupted availability of supplies” to its European clients, not because of accidents or other circumstances beyond its control, but because it intentionally cut off or significantly reduced gas supplies to Europe in the dead of winter, leaving millions without heat.

Russia has dominated the European energy market for nearly two decades, supplying the continent with more than 34 percent of its entire gas consumption.

During that time, European governments repeatedly accused Russia of systematically abusing its dominant position in the market and using the EU’s dependency on Russian gas supplies as leverage against those Moscow considered political rivals.

Based on these accusations, the European Commission in 2012 initiated an anti-trust case against Gazprom. In announcing the investigation’s preliminary findings in April 2014, the Commission accused Gazprom of “unfair practices,” saying the Russian gas monopoly “had used its commanding position in the region to demand high prices and restrict its captive customers’ ability to secure supplies from other sources.”

Belgium — EU Commissioner for Energy, German Guenther Oettinger gives a press conference on the Gas stress test at the EU commission headquarters in Brussels, October 16, 2014

Meanwhile, 38 European countries, including all of those in the EU, carried out energy security stress tests in 2014. They simulated two energy supply disruption scenarios for a period of one or six months: a complete halt of Russian gas imports to the EU and a disruption of Russian gas imports through the Ukrainian transit route.

Still, the Russian government and Gazprom’s management continue to insist that Russia is “one of the world’s most reliable” suppliers – a claim Polygraph.info previously investigated and debunked.

But is U.S. LNG export really “replacing” Russia on the EU market, and is it “reducing” European energy security?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. exported LNG to Europe in 2017, with three shipments to Portugal, two to Lithuania and Italy and one each to the United Kingdom, Poland and Netherlands. All the shipments totaled 33,915 MMcf (million standard cubic feet), which is less than one percent of Europe’s gas consumption.

The European Union estimates that LNG from providers including the U.S., Norway, United Arab Emirates and Russia could represent 25% of the total EU gas supplies by 2030.

This means, however, that even from a long-term perspective, the U.S. will not become a dominant trader in the EU energy market even if demand for American LNG increases significantly. The “Roadmap of the EU-Russia Energy Cooperation until 2050” plan demonstrates that, despite all the problems, Russia will remain one of Europe’s main natural gas suppliers.

Russia’s projected long-term domination of the European energy market is most likely due to the fact that five major EU companies have been investing in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which is 100 percent owned by Gazprom. Austria’s OMV, France’s Engie, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, and Anglo-Dutch Shell together invested 1.43 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in Nord Stream 2 in 2017, and committed to fund up to 10% each of the project’s total estimated cost of 9.5 billion euros ($11.2 billion), if needed.

Therefore, RT’s claim about U.S. LNG “replacing” Russian gas in Europe is exaggerated, if not false.

Contrary to RT’s claim, the U.S. entry into the EU energy market is helping to provide energy security as defined by the IEA, experts say.

“The U.S. LNG is the price setter driving down Gazprom prices,” Anders Aslund, a Senior Fellow in Global Business and Economics at the Atlantic Council, told Polygraph.info.

Former Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Aleksashenko, currently a Senior Fellow in Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, called RT’s claim “definitely not accurate.”

“The more suppliers you have to choose from the more stable and secure is your position as a consumer. Normally, competition leads to lower prices. I do not understand why the European gas market should be different,” Aleksashenko told Polygraph.info.

According to U.S. government data from 2011, the most expensive natural gas on the international market at that time was from Japan and Russia.

In response to Lithuania’s decision at the end of 2014 to import U.S. LNG, Gazprom offered a 23% discount on pipeline gas supplies. This was evidence that the arrival of U.S. natural gas in the European market is lowering prices, particularly given that Russia does not want to give up its market share. Russia has also recently discounted supplies to Ukraine in an attempt to make its gas exports competitive now that Kyiv can import gas from the West.

The U.S.’s stated goal in entering the EU energy market is to provide Europeans with alternative energy supplies.

In a speech in Warsaw on July 6, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “We are committed to securing your access to alternate sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy.”

Speaking at a Warsaw press conference ahead of the G20 summit meeting, Trump stated: “Let me be clear about one crucial point. The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so. You don’t want to have a monopoly or a monopolistic situation.”

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Claire Wardle: Disinformation gets worse

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 15:21

By Claire Wardle, for Nieman Lab

“We’re in a terrifying moment where our global information streams are polluted with a dizzying array of mis- and disinformation. Politicians are targeting the professional media as a way of building direct connections with citizens through social media.”

In 2017, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted the term “fake news” would become so stretched and contorted as to render it utterly meaningless, much less weaponized by world leaders. I wouldn’t have predicted so little concrete action had been taken to mitigate information pollution globally. I also wouldn’t have predicted the scale of coordinated media and platform manipulation.

So with these caveats, here are my predictions for 2018, and some suggestions for remedying the problem that I wish I could predict to happen.

The term “f*** news” will continue to be peppered into news articles, used by editors who claim SEO leaves them no choice, and added to academic articles by researchers riding a trend in hopes for more grant money. It will appear in government inquiries that want to seem relevant, and will continue to be weaponized by politicians wanting to undermine the media and, ultimately, free speech.

I wish I could predict that in 2018 most people would use more nuanced terms to describe different types of mis- and disinformation.

Visual disinformation will become much more prevalent, partly because agents of disinformation will recognize its power to instantly fire up emotions, evade tripping critical engagement from the brain, and be consumed directly from the News Feed. Visuals are also much harder to monitor and analyze computationally.

Technology companies are working on solutions to these challenges, and I wish I could predict that this subject would become a global research and technological priority so we might have a comprehensive solution to visual disinformation in the next twelve months.

Computational techniques that allow realistic audio, still images, and video to be automatically manipulated or created are just in its infancy, but reporting on these technologies will begin to have a significant impact on people’s trust in audio and visual evidence. Politicians will claim negative clips of them were manipulated or fabricated. We won’t see a major successful hoax using this technology in 2018. But despite that, we will spend a lot of time writing about it, raising fear and potentially jeopardizing people’s trust in audio and visual materials.

I wish I could predict fewer of these types of stories.

Techniques to manipulate platforms and the media will become much more sophisticated. There will not be enough engineers at the technology companies, nor enough reporters at news organizations, assigned to monitor these techniques. Most senior staff will continue to lack a serious understanding of how these systematic disinformation campaigns are damaging their respective industries.

I wish I could predict that technology companies and news organizations would begin to share “intelligence,” becoming much more aware of the consequences of publishing, linking to, or in any way amplifying mis- and disinformation.

Though media companies may not effectively combat disinformation, they will continue to report about disinformation and use headlines with terms like bots, Russia, cybersecurity, hacking, and fake news to generate traffic. Though the news industry will continue to use these terms, it will not explain them responsibly. Moreover, senior editors will not consider how these terms might affect the public’s trust in democratic systems and the media itself. The race for clicks may have some unintended consequences at the ballot box in elections.

I wish I could predict more nuanced reporting on disinformation that has considered the potential unintended consequences of these types of stories.

Governments around the world will continue to hold “fake news” inquiries, and some will pass knee-jerk, ill-informed regulation that will do little — or worse, suppress free speech. If a European government passes a well-intentioned law, a regime far away will use the precedent to pass similar legislation aiming to stifle what it decides is “fake news.”

I wish I could predict a truly global, regulatory conversation which recognises the cultural, legal, and ethical complexities of dealing with mis- and disinformation.

Most governments will continue to work independently on information literacy programs, despite the fact that a truly global response to this problem is required. Programs will not fully incorporate materials on the impact of big data, algorithmic power, ethical considerations of publishing or sharing information, or emotional skepticism. The programs will not be future-proofed, as they will not adequately focus on making sense of information in augmented and virtual reality environments.

I wish I could predict a global coalition bringing together the smartest minds, along with the best content creators from all companies from Netflix to Snapchat, to create information “literacy” content of global relevance.

Philanthropic organizations will continue to give relatively small grants to independent projects, meaning the scale and global nature of this problem will not be adequately addressed.

I wish I could predict the creation of a significant global fund that is supported by money donated by governments, the technology companies, and philanthropists, and is managed by a coalition of organizations and advisors.

Closed messaging apps will become even more prevalent than they are today (which is already significant in a number of countries in Latin America and Asia-Pacific). We will continue to be blind to what is being shared and will therefore be ill-equipped to debunk rumours and fabricated content spreading on these platforms.

I wish I could predict that there would be a significant, new focus on studying these apps, and testing experimental methods for effectively slowing down the sharing of mis- and disinformation on them.

Anger at technology companies will continue to rise. Consequently, platforms will be less likely to collaborate.

I wish I could predict that there would be greater moves towards transparency that involves greater data sharing, independent auditing, and collaborations with trusted academic partners.

I am unapologetic about the depressing nature of these predictions. We’re in a terrifying moment where our global information streams are polluted with a dizzying array of mis- and disinformation. Politicians are targeting the professional media as a way of building direct connections with citizens through social media. Journalists and platforms are being targeted and manipulated by agents of disinformation who crave and require the credibility that comes with their exposure. Political polarization is creating dangerous schisms in societies worldwide, and the speed of technological advancements is making manipulation increasingly difficult to detect. These are all reasons to be depressed.

It doesn’t have to be this dire. As outlined here, if everything I wish I could predict actually happens, we might have a fighting chance. I would love to be proved wrong.

By Claire Wardle, for Nieman Lab

Claire Wardle is strategy and research director of First Draft News and a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Categories: World News

Russia Today video has Father Frost tying up Santa Claus, forcing US сhild to recite poetry

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 08:23

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

In “celebration” of Western Christmas, Russia oday featured a video clip showing an American child putting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, then waking up and discovering that Russia’s Father Frost has tied Santa Claus up in the kitchen and being forced to recite some Russian poetry.

At the end of the clip, the following words appear: “We’ve hacked Christmas!” with the signature line, “Russian hackers.” Even Znak described this as aggressive (znak.com/2017-12-25/russia_today_vypustil_agressivnyy_novogodniy_rolik_so_vzlomannym_rozhdestvom). Other, more critical words come to mind.

To get the full flavor of this tasteless performance, view it at t.me/lentachold/12730.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

StopFake #163 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 12/25/2017 - 11:50

Fakes: UN Fabricating Human Rights Violations in Crimea; Europe Accuses Ukraine of Flooding the EU with Heroin; UN Demands Ukraine Recognize Occupied Territory Documents.

Categories: World News

Fresh battle lines drawn in Russia’s culture wars

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 08:54

Russian theater director Kirill Serebrennikov (C), who was accused of embezzling state funds and placed under house arrest, is kissed by a supporter after a court hearing in Moscow in September

Outside the doors to the Moscow courthouse, the crowd of supporters, and reporters, swelled into the hundreds. Inside, one of Russia’s most famous theater directors was on trial for embezzlement. Just meters away, on a street corner, a young woman stood with a small sign: “Return our artist to us.”

Such are the times in Russia, where art — theater, literature, painting, music, film — has again become a political battleground, where left and right fight over values and culture with increasing intensity.

In President Vladimir Putin’s current term alone, the country’s cultural space has already been buffeted by an artist who nailed his scrotum to Red Square and the jailing of masked musicians whose collective sobriquet, Pussy Riot, became a byword for protest.

But for many observers, the fervor of debate and clashes in the past year over what constitutes art has been symptomatic of creeping authoritarianism under Putin and the conservative, nationalist, and sometimes religious agenda that may keep him in the Kremlin longer than any leader since Stalin.

A Russian film about the last tsar and his Polish mistress attracted angry protests and threats against cinema owners. An acclaimed director branded himself a “coward” and denounced his own TV spy series as “defending the regime.” And the prolific artistic director of Moscow’s avant-garde Gogol Center was charged with financial crimes after clashing publicly with Russia’s culture minister.

Under Putin, artists have gone from being “neutral” outsiders to being pulled into the country’s cultural struggles, says Marat Guelman, an influential Moscow gallery owner who once clashed with cultural authorities over artwork that satirized the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

“Now it’s not just enough to be for Putin,” Guelman says. “We’ve arrived at the moment in time when the administration doesn’t just want loyalty, not just those who have joined Putin. They want people who are united in their thinking with the administration. They want to work people who say: ‘We are patriots. We are for isolation. My creative work is against America, against liberals.'”

Keeping Things ‘Traditional’

As recently as a month before his August arrest, the Gogol Center’s Kirill Serebrennikov had clashed with outspoken Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky over a new ballet based on the life of famed Soviet dancer Rudolph Nureyev.

Serebrennikov’s production, to be staged at the Bolshoi Theater, alluded to Nureyev’s sexual orientation, and the Bolshoi director later announced a postponement. Though no official reason was given, Medinsky reportedly disapproved of the homosexual references in an echo of a controversial 2013 law criminalizing the propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors.

Serebrennikov’s detention on accusations of embezzling state funds for another project stunned Russia’s artistic community. Many saw Serebrennikov’s domestic and international accolades as sources of pride for the country’s rich artistic traditions.

It was Serebrennikov’s first appearance in court that drew hundreds to the Moscow street, many carrying signs and photographs and jeering the proceedings.

Kirill Serebrennikov flashes a victory sign as he attends a court hearing in Moscow on December 4

Before his detention, Serebrennikov was outspoken in his condemnation of the 2013 law and the detention of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov for allegedly planning terrorist acts in Crimea after its occupation by Russia in 2014. Serebrennikov was also vocal in his support of Pussy Riot, the performance-art group whose members served prison time over a music video criticizing Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church that was filmed inside a Moscow cathedral.

Serebrennikov’s arrest may turn out to be a watershed moment, according to John Freedman, who has been the Moscow Times’ theater critic since the English-language paper’s founding in 1992.

Russia’s creative classes “realize that the state’s choice to go after art through the way it is funded is a danger to everyone who engages in art in Russia,” Freedman said in an e-mail to RFE/RL. “The laws are a mess. It is virtually impossible for a theater manager, for example, to keep his theater running without breaking laws. This has been true for years and even decades.”

Not Just For Art’s Sake

Unlike during the Soviet era, when nearly all artists had to work under official auspices, Russian artists and cultural figures had relatively free rein during the tumultuous presidency of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and, until recently, Putin’s tenure. Even critics acknowledge that writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians could largely publish, paint, build, and perform more or less what they were inspired to do.

Early in Putin’s presidency, however, the Kremlin moved to take over the country’s TV networks, foreshadowing limits on the medium for artistic expression. The economic boom of the 2000s gave government agencies — the Culture Ministry, above all — more money to hand out to artists.

In the meantime, a donor class of uber-wealthy, well-connected businessmen invested in artistic projects that helped showcase the country’s talent. Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by Dasha Zhukova and her billionaire ex-husband, gained renown in international circles for promoting pioneering artists in an avant-garde venue.

Established artists, such as conductor Valery Gergiyev, the venerated artistic director of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, were lavished with state funds and support. Last year, Gergiyev’s orchestra was flown to the Syrian ruins of Palmyra to perform a live televised concert in celebration of Russian forces’ military successes there.

Russian conductor Valery Gergiyev leads a concert in the amphitheater of the ancient city of Palmyra in May 2016

But other artists were openly scornful of perceived rigidity in the Putin era and groups like the notorious street-art group Voina embraced political protest as a form of performance art. Acts were already testing the limits of official tolerance, in particular with respect to the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, after four years as prime minister for his protege Dmitry Medvedev, was a tipping point for art and politics, Guelman says.

On the heels of major street protests following contentious parliamentary elections and with Putin poised to retake the Kremlin, Pussy Riot in February 2012 shot its now-famous video that sparked a landmark trial and landed three of its members in custody — two for prison terms.

One year later, with the Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominant, lawmakers passed the law on gay “propaganda” and another law that indirectly targeted some forms of artistic expression. The other, on “offending believers,” made it a criminal offense to insult individuals’ religious sensibilities.

Such legislation prompted a backlash not only within Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and artistic communities but also in the West, where some leaders boycotted the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

‘Catalyzing’ Effect

Guelman was one of many artists who mocked the Sochi Olympics, which were the costliest in history and dogged by accusations of corruption. Guelman was fired in the run-up to the games after lampooning their preparations in an exhibition at a museum in the Urals city of Perm.

Guelman, who now spends most of his time abroad, was also an outspoken supporter of Pussy Riot. He says their cathedral performance came at a moment when the country had experienced a burst of liberal optimism under Medvedev and was wary of compromise with the government.

Pussy Riot changed that, he says. “They created something in direct contradiction to Putin.”

“You also have to understand what happened at that moment in time. It was a moment when apathy, among our circles, was great — that there was nothing to be done: ‘Putin is bad, but he’s not going anywhere, and we can’t do anything about it,'” Guelman explains. “And yet these girls managed to do something.”

Russia — Members of Pussy Riot sing a protest song against Vladimir Putin and the support of the Orthodox Church for him in Moscow’as main cathedral

Pussy Riot, in turn, inspired one of Russia’s most shocking performance artists. Pyotr Pavlensky made his own name sewing his mouth shut to draw attention to Pussy Riot’s plight, nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones outside the Kremlin to protest public indifference, and otherwise challenging the government and Russian society.

“The authorities themselves catalyzed this with their punitive action against the group Pussy Riot,” Pavlensky told RFE/RL’s Russian Service in 2016. Earlier this year, he and his partner fled Russia and sought political asylum in France.

Mark Teeter, a Moscow-based Russian-language professor and longtime TV critic for the Moscow Times, says artists of an earlier generation who have remained resolute in their contempt for the authorities include Yury Shevchuk, front man for the rock band DDT.

“Various artists have refused to be intimidated, and shown it by more conventional means than nailing their scrotums to something downtown,” Teeter says. “Rock artists of my generation have kept on doing what they do with undisguised contempt for” Putin.

While Putin has weighed in periodically on far-reaching cultural legislation — he endorsed the gay “propaganda” law and called Pussy Riot “talented girls” — it’s Medinsky who has led the charge against art deemed inappropriate.

The Culture Ministry is among the largest sources of funding for artistic projects, so its ability to approve or influence directors, gallery owners, or performers is unmatched. (The embezzlement charges against Serebrennikov stem from a project involving a Shakespeare play that received state money.)

At least one prominent director has openly lamented a willingness — his own and others’ — to sacrifice artistry in the service of the Kremlin. After his TV series Sleepers debuted, lionizing Russian security agents battling CIA sleeper cells, director Yury Bykov apologized, saying he had “betrayed” his fans by “defending the regime.” The series was funded by the Culture Ministry and produced by Fyodor Bondarchuk, a filmmaker who is also on United Russia’s top council.

In the meantime, religious and nationalist groups have also stepped into the culture wars, taking on the feature film Matilda, which depicts a romantic affair of Tsar Nicholas II, who has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. One group calling itself Christian State-Holy Rus threatened this year to burn down cinemas if they showed the film, and director Aleksei Uchitel’s office in St. Petersburg was hit with Molotov cocktails.

Three years before he ended up in a Moscow jail cell, Serebrennikov gave an interview to online culture website Colta.ru in which he was blunt about his country’s future.

Russia “is an unbelievably dark and ignorant country,” he warned, “and it’s only getting darker.

By Mike Eckel, for RFE/RL

Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington.

Categories: World News

Russian Embassy in the UK Claims the US Arms and Trains Islamic State Fighters

Sat, 12/23/2017 - 08:17

By Polygraph

Russian Embassy in the UK

“US training a “New Syrian Army” near refugee camp in Al-Hasakah to fight the government, core fighters of the group are ISIS terrorists allowed to leave Raqqa (as BBC has revealed)”

Source: Twitter, December 16, 2017

FALSE

The claims are baseless, and the BBC did not report any such story.

On December 16 the Russian Ministry of Defense’s official Facebook accountposted a claim that U.S. Special Forces were “arming and training former Islamic State (IS) and Al Nusra” fighters.

“The U.S. instructors of the Special Operations Forces are forming new military units called the New Syrian Army from separate groups of militants at a training center at the refugee camp. According to the returnees, the U.S. instructors are to be redeployed to south Syria after the training to fight the Syrian Government forces,” the statement read.

The sole source for the claim are unidentified “returnees” from an unnamed refugee camp “located 20 km north-east of al-Shaddadi, al-Hasakah province,” according to the statement.

The Russian UK Embassy’s official Twitter account tagged the Russian Ministry of Defense in a tweet where it not only repeated the claim that the U.S. was training former IS fighters, but also claimed that the BBC had supposedly exposed the story.

.@MoD_Russia : US training a “New Syrian Army” near refugee camp in Al-Hasakah to fight the government, core fighters of the group are ISIS terrorists allowed to leave Raqqa (as BBC has revealed) pic.twitter.com/athFbJZ6mm

— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 16 декабря 2017 г.

There are two major problems with the claims, apart from the lack of corroborating evidence.

First, the New Syrian Army (which has been known as the “Revolutionary Commando Army” since December 2016) has fought several major operations against the Islamic State since its founding in May 2015.

In May 2017, the group managed to seize a large swath of territory from the Islamic State.

The New Syrian Army is still engaged in operations against IS presently.

The second major falsehood concerns the Russian Embassy’s claim that the BBC “exposed” this alleged “training operation.” In a follow-up to the original tweet about the U.S. training IS fighters, the embassy gave a link to a BBC story about a deal made between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants who were holding out in the remnants of their de facto “capital” Raqqa.

While the article details how hundreds of IS fighters were allowed to escape Raqqa (in some ways apparently violating the agreed upon ceasefire terms), it suggests that concern for civilian casualties may have been one of the main motives for making the deal.

This is important to point out, because at the end of October this year, the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly condemned the coalition bombing of the Islamic State capital, comparing it to the destruction of Dresden in 1945, a claim Polygraph.info fact checked.

However, despite Russian embassy claims, there is nothing in the BBC article about the New Syrian Army (AKA Revolutionary Commando Army), U.S. Special Forces instructors, training camps, or former IS fighters receiving arms and training from the U.S. or other coalition members.

Thus, the Russian embassy in Britain, in its Tweet, repeats a false claim made by the Russian Defense Ministry adding to it another false claim.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Fake: Europe Accuses Ukraine of Flooding the EU with Heroin

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 18:52

Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda reported that the European Commission has published a document in which it accuses Ukraine of flooding the EU with heroin. The document in question is the European Commission’s first report to the European Parliament and the EU Council on EU visa liberalization pertaining to the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries. The report concerns three former Soviet republics, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, all of whom have a visa free arrangement with the European Union. As regards Ukraine, the report states that Ukraine is “a transit country for various illicit commodities trafficked to the EU”. Nowhere in the report is Ukraine accused of flooding EU countries with heroin nor does the report allege that crime has increased since Ukraine entered into a visa free regime with the EU.

Pro-Kremlin site Ukraina.ru went even further claiming the European Commission called Ukraine a hotbed of drug trafficking, fraud and cyber- crime. Antifascist, Times.com, Svobodnaya Pressa and other pro-Kremlin sites disseminated this fake.

Website screenshot tvzvezda.ru

Website screenshot ec.europa.eu

Visa free travel can be rescinded for various reasons, most of which have to do with migration and the EU closely monitors that countries adhere to agreed EU rules. In the report the European Commission noted that in Ukraine “the criteria for visa liberalization continue to be met,” but also pointed out the need to implement already enacted reforms, especially those related to combating corruption.

Regarding organized crime, the EU report states that heroin is trafficked in large quantities along the Caucasus route via Ukraine to the EU. Organized criminal groups originating from Ukraine are involved in excise fraud, particularly the production and smuggling of illicit tobacco products to the EU. The report also notes that Ukraine is a potential source country for illegal firearms trafficking to the EU.

The 2016 Drug Markets Report issued by the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol states that the majority of heroin coming into the European Union originates in Afghanistan, while Turkish, Albanian and Pakistani organized criminal groups are the key suppliers of the EU heroin market.

Website screenshot emcdda.europa.eu

Website screenshot radiosvoboda.org

 

Categories: World News

What didn’t happen in 2017?

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 07:38

By EU vs Disinfo

As the year comes to an end, one tends to look back over the past twelve months to try to sum up what has happened. But summing up the pro-Kremlin disinformation year is more about what didn’t happen.

During the year we have witnessed plenty of spectacular claims from pro-Kremlin mouthpieces, such as the imminent threat of civil war in Sweden, that an American plane dropped a nuclear bomb over Lithuania, and that the US aims to occupy Europe.  Among the things claimed just last week that didn’t happen, we can find a clumsy Ukrainian soldier who didn’t blow himself up (it was a video made for fun), the rape cases in Sweden that rose by a thousand percent (in fact a rise of 1,4% since 2015) and Pope John Paul II claiming that the invasion of migrants has to stop (he just didn’t). Apart from this, we have also seen the usual recurring pro-Kremlin narratives repeated over and over again.

Within the constant flow, one can notice some overarching themes. Here we have summed them up for you.

Good Russia

With this theme, Russia is described as an innocent actor which does everything it can to solve the world’s problems, but is constantly mistreated by the “West”. During his annual press conference last week, President Putin repeated two favourite recurring themes: that Russia is not involved in the war in Ukraine and that Crimea decided its own fate. As we know, the European Union does not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has concluded that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, Russian state TV repeated the claim that sanctions are aimed at destroying Russia, when it is clear that they have been imposed by the international community because Russia decided to break international law.

The Evil West

In the pro-Kremlin disinformation sphere, the “West” is described as Russophobic, and determined to humiliate and discredit Russia; it is undemocratic, untrustworthy and guilty of double standards; it is immoral and in decline; and it is an international aggressor. For example, this week on Russian state TV, Poland was accused of aiming to enslave Russians, in cooperation with other European states. And the UK was accused of attempting to humiliate Russia during the upcoming Olympic Games. Russia’s Foreign Minister repeated some of these claims in an interview, and said that NATO made a promise to Russia not to expand eastwards and that NATO is deploying troops in Poland and the Baltic states in a non-transparent way. Find the debunk for the claims here and here.

The case of Ukraine

As followers of the disinformation review must have noticed, Ukraine has a special place within the disinformation (un)reality. Ukrainians are often described as fascists, oppressors, aggressors and xenophobes; Ukraine is portrayed as an artificial country, failing, disintegrating and alone; and Russian actions concerning Ukraine are described as legitimate and legal. This last week we saw several examples of this theme. In pro-Kremlin outlets it was claimed that President Poroshenko was brought to power by the US to establish a nationalist regime and that the Ukrainian state denies Donbass access to water, among other things. As we know by now, the regime in Kyiv is not nationalist and came to power through popular protest and democratic elections. The water in Luhansk was turned off by the local energy company since the bills were not paid.

All we want for Christmas is a disinformation-free information space. But we regret to say that it is probably not the last time you will see the narratives above.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

British Intelligence Report Confirms Russian Military Origin of MH17 Murder Weapon

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 01:51

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Today, December 20, the British Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published its 122-page annual report. This report covers a wide range of topics, including cyber security, the status of the UK’s international relationships, the threat of foreign fighters, and so on. However, one almost anecdotal detail in the Russian objectives and activity against UK and allied interests section states a key fact in absolute terms: the Russian military bears direct responsibility for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17).

On page 52 of the report, when discussing Russian disinformation activities, a British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) source described how “we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian military supplied and subsequently recovered the missile launcher” after “the shooting down of MH-17.”

Western governments and the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the tragedy, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), have been reluctant to outright name the Russian military as the responsible party for providing the murder weapon for the downing, and even more reluctant to name the Russian military as the actors who carried out the shoot down. While the latter concern is understandable, as there is still no direct evidence placing specific active Russian servicemen with the Buk at the time of the downing, there is no reason to avoid naming the Russian military as the guilty party in providing and retrieving the Buk missile launcher

It is widely acknowledged by official bodies that the Buk that downed MH17 came from Russia and was returned there after the shoot down, but the language describing these events has been deliberately obfuscated to avoid a direct accusation at the Russian military. For example, the U.S. State Department’s press statement on the third anniversary of the tragedymentioned that the Buk was brought “from Russia” and fired by “Russian-led forces,” but avoided direct accusations of the Russian military.

The reticence to directly name the Russian military can be seen clearly in the JIT’s 28 September 2016 press conference, where the investigators did all they could to avoid directly naming the actors who facilitated the transfer of Buk 332 across the Ukrainian border. For example, in one segment of the press conference, the Buk is described as crossing from the Russian Federation into Ukraine, with a map clearing showing the crossing point near Donetsk (Russia).

Later, the JIT showed a number of intercepted phone conversations from the morning after the downing. Some of the people in these conversations are unidentified, but at least one is the Russian Sergey Dubinsky, who worked as Igor “Strelkov” Girkin’s intelligence head in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). In the conversations, Dubinsky and others describe how the Buk was transported back to Russia and left with some “guys” (парни).

By following the statement in the British intelligence report, we can confirm that these “guys” who retrieved the Buk after it crossed the border were indeed Russian soldiers.

Previous Bellingcat Research

Since late 2014, Bellingcat has published a series of detailed reports outlining exactly which Russian military unit (53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in Kursk, Russia) supplied the Buk 332, the Buk-M1 missile launcher that downed the passenger plane, along with the potential suspects and witnesses from this military unit who either participated in the transfer/use of the missile launcher or have direct knowledge of it. Additionally, we have published reports on the Russian soldier-drivers who were involved in the transport of the eventual MH17 murder weapon through Russia towards the Ukrainian border, along with two specific Russian suspects — one of which is a Colonel General in the Russian Armed Forces— who were key actors in the procurement and transfer of Buk 332. A summary of all of Bellingcat’s research into MH17 up to the the third anniversary of the tragedy can be found here.

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Categories: World News

Silencing the haters: German facebook group talks back to trolls

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 01:23

Susanne Tannert and Hannes Ley at a #ichbinhier workshop, image by Thilo Schacht

By EU vs Disinfo

Reading hateful comments on social media can be distressing. According to Susanne Tannert, reading them for several hours each day requires nerves of steel.

“Many of us become exhausted, discouraged; all this hate is really hard to deal with,” says Tannert, a member of Germany’s anti-hate-speech initiative #ichbinhier. “But we cannot remain silent.”

Like Tannert, members of #ichbinhier (“I am here” in English) routinely track down and counter malevolent remarks, insults, and disinformation that appear in the comments sections of German news stories on Facebook.

The group was founded in December 2016 by Hannes Ley, a digital communications expert from Hamburg, and is inspired by a similar Facebook initiative in Sweden, #jagärhär.

The underlying idea behind the movement is to prevent malicious users from highjacking social media to spread hatred and lies.

On its Facebook page, #ichbinhier describes itself as promoting a “constructive dialogue” on social media “without hate, without hate speech, without fake news.”

Growing popularity

The concept has struck a chord among Germans: the group has already attracted almost 36,000 members since its creation and enjoys the backing of prominent public figures such as TV journalist Dunja Hayali. In June, it won Germany’s prestigious Grimme Online Award.

#ichbinhier currently has a team of 30 moderators sifting through the comments sections of popular media outlets on Facebook. They select posts that contain particularly violent comments – Islam, immigration, and economic hardship usually spark the most vitriol — and invite members to write comments presenting counter-arguments or citing facts and statistics that set the record straight. The only rule is to always keep a respectful tone.

The group, which operates on an entirely voluntary basis, launches an average of three “actions” per day.

To combat hate speech, #ichbinhier takes advantage of Facebook’s algorithm, which pushes the most popular comments to the top. By bombarding the targeted posts with constructive remarks and by “liking” each other’s comments — which all carry the #ichbinhier hashtag – the group usually succeeds in drowning out the hate speech.

Tannert says joining the initiative has been an empowering experience.”

“I used to feel very lonely and upset when reading the comments under news articles,” she recalls. “I was about to quit Facebook when I heard about #ichbinhier. Seeing how my comments were being ‘liked’ by fellow members and were actually pushing down hateful comments really inspired me.”

After volunteering as a moderator, Tannert is now in charge of the group’s outreach activities.

She says the initiative is particularly relevant in Germany, where Nazi slurs that had long been banished from public discourse are resurfacing on social media.

‘Hate is repetitive’

A year since its creation, however, the group’s biggest challenge is to keep its members actively engaged.

Despite its popularity, #ichbinhier is fighting an uneven battle against Facebook trolls and many of its members are, or have become, what Tannert calls “silent observers” — people who ‘like’ comments written by other members but stop short of writing their own.

“Every day, we go to these pages and write comments that often provide the same facts and the same statistics, again, and again, and again,” she says. “Hate is so repetitive. Some people get discouraged.”

To build a sense of community and provide emotional support to its members, moderators make sure they regularly post positive, friendly messages into the group. They also hold an online debriefing session every evening where members can share experiences and evacuate their frustration.

The group is now developing new software that will enable it to identify the most active trolls and to better understand the patterns of hate speech on social media.

“It’s an uphill battle, of course, but civil society needs to act,” says Tannert. “Hate speech not only targets vulnerable groups, it also undermines our democratic institutions.”

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Fake: UN Fabricating Human Rights Violations in Crimea

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 21:29

Russian government controlled news agency Sputnik’s Spanish language version announced that Ukrainians living in Crimea were accusing the United Nations of making up human rights violations on the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. This claim was in response to a UN resolution adopted on November 19 condemning human rights violations in Crimea and referring to Russia as the “occupying power”. The resolution is based on myths as there are no human rights violations taking place in Crimea, Sputnik avows.

Website screenshot Sputnik

Aside from Sputnik, TASS, Pravda.ru, RIA Novosti, Rambler and other pro-Kremlin sites carried this fake story.

Website Rambler

Website screenshot RIA

Sputnik cites Anastasia Gridchina, the president of the Ukrainian Community in Crimea, who said the “UN has never visited Crimea,  has not spoken to Ukrainians or Crimean Tatars about life there and is inventing myths and stories about nonexistent persecution”.

The Ukrainian Community in Crimea is a Kremlin controlled organizationheaded by members of Russia’s ruling party United Russia. The organization was established in 2016, two years after Russia annexed Crimea and its purpose is to show how wonderful life is for Ukrainians on the occupied peninsula. The organization regularly uploads feel-good type posts to its Facebook page but in the three years since its inception has managed to garner all of 45 likes and 65 followers.

Gridchina’s accusation that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission did not visit Crimea is telling as the UN resolution condemns Russia for failing to provide access to Crimea for the Mission, despite the Mission’s mandate calling for such access.

Claims that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights did not speak with Crimean Tatars and victims of human rights violations is also patently untrue.  According to Fiona Fraser, the head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, data was collected through personal interviews and monitoring of court proceedings and trials in Crimea. Presenting the Mission’s report in Kyiv on December 12, Fraser outlined concrete examples of human rights violations against Crimean Tatars, indiscriminate arrests, detentions, torture, ill-treatment and restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression.  Only in November of this year, the UN recorded 49 arrests of Crimean Tatars for holding individual peaceful protests, 10  unlawful searches and 18 raids of Crimean Tatars’ homes.

Fraser described how a Crimean Tatar was detained by the Russian security service the FSB on September 13 without explanation only to be left at a bus stop in Simferopol the following day with beaten and bruised.

Earlier this year Ms. Fraser pointed out that Russia as the occupying power in Crimea  is enforcing the laws of the Russian Federation on the peninsula , thereby violating UN Resolution 68/262 concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

StopFake reached out to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine for details about the methodology of information gathering. Communications coordinator Iryna Yakovleva explained that the Mission has many times requested access to Crimea, but the Russian Federation has always refused. Despite two UN resolutions calling for unfettered access for the UN Mission, Russia continues to deny such access.

Moscow says Crimea is part of Russia – something rejected by the international community – and as the monitoring mission’s mandate is for Ukraine, it is therefore invalid in Crimea.

The Mission therefore gathers information from witnesses who travel to and from Crimea. Since March 2014 hundreds of Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars were interviewed by UN field officers. Despite lack of access to Crimea, the quality of interviews the Mission has been able to conduct in person, by telephone and Skype with Crimea residents provide a fairly accurate picture of the human rights situation there, Yakovleva says.

Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report also determined that Russian authorities have intensified the persecution of Crimean Tatars with the goal of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula.

Categories: World News

Manipulation: Ukraine – Europe’s Poorest Country

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 13:25

The poorest country in Europe:  Ukrainians fleeing from poverty – such was the topic of an online press conference RIA Novosti Ukraine held on December 21.  Using data presented by the independent journalist data base  center Texty.org about average salaries in Europe, pro-Kremlin Russian sites had a field day manipulating already misleadingly presented data that was simply Wikipedia information presented in a more attractive graphic form.

Website screenshot RIA Novosti Ukraina

RIA Novosti presents the salary information as special Texty research which shows that Ukraine comes in with the lowest salary in Europe with 190 euros per month. Texty however did not do any research, they simply created a graphic, said Nadia Romanenko, a Texty journalist. “We just made a bar chart based on available data” she said.

Nearly 100 Russian sites gleefully republished the graphic Texty prepared.

Website screenshot Теxty.org.ua

Texty meanwhile issued a statement saying they did not conduct any research themselves and explained that the reason for the low number in average Ukrainian salaries is the fall of the Ukrainian currency in recent years.  In terms of purchasing power, Texty explain, Ukraine is third place, Moldova and Armenia have the lowest purchasing capacity in Europe. Their salaries are higher than Ukraine’s, but so are prices.

According to the World Bank, the poorest country in Europe based on gross national income is Moldova. Ukraine is the third poorest European country according to the World Bank.

Categories: World News

Bild: Russia practiced war against NATO, capture of Baltics during Zapad

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 18:25

By The Baltic Times

Russia’s recent large-scale military exercise Zapad was neither an “anti-terror exercise” nor “purely defensive”, but a “dry run” for a “full-scale conventional war against NATO in Europe”, the German daily Bild reports, citing two analysts.

According to Bild’s sources, the drill rehearsed the capture of the Baltic states and Belarus as well as a “shock campaign” against Western European NATO nations such as Germany and the Netherlands, but also against Poland, Norway and the non-aligned states of Sweden and Finland.

According to the two sources, Kremlin forces rehearsed capturing NATO’s “region of vulnerability, according to the Russian view”, namely the three Baltic states. “To realize this, you would have to quickly do the Suwalki gap operation” in order to cut off Poland and NATO reinforcements from Lithuania. This is exactly what Russia did, creating the artificial state of “Veyshnoria” at the exact location of the 40-kilometre land bridge between Poland and Lithuania, carried out on Belarusian territory, however.

At the same time, Russia rehearsed “neutralizing or taking under control air fields and harbors (in the Baltic states), so there are no reinforcements arriving from other NATO states there”, Bild reports.

The sources emphasized that, in the case of an emergency, this would, in the first few days, be a purely military operation. “This does not mean that you have to occupy the countries and declare ‘Peoples’ Republics’ or something like that, but that you have to occupy the harbors, airports and so on”.

The sources revealed that “Russian air force strategic aviation, long-range aviation, took part in the exercise on two days and conducted simulation flights over the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. They exercised bombings of Western European targets, approaching the German and Dutch coast from the North Sea as well as Swedish, Finnish and Polish mainland from the Baltic Sea. The drill included waves of Tu-95 strategic bombers as well as support aircraft like fighter jets and refueling planes.”

These bombers rehearsed launching missiles and cruise missiles. They returned to their bases before reaching NATO shores. In a real-life situation, their targets would include “critical infrastructure, that is, air fields, harbours, energy supplies and so on, in order to shock the countries and make the populations demand from their governments that ‘we shouldn’t be involved here, we should go for peace instead'”, the sources said.

In war, another aim of these Russian activities would be “to prevent them (NATO armies) from taking military action, deploying troops and reversing Russian army gains in the Baltics”. Hence, German naval bases at the Baltic Sea and the North Sea would be prime targets for such aerial attacks. Although the sources did not know which German, and possibly Dutch, targets exactly the Tu-95 bombers were directed at, they stressed: “This was part of their exercise in September!”

The sources added that, “of course, in war time, Russian bombers would have approached from the East as well, but in ‘peace times’, this attack direction (towards Germany) along the Norwegian coast would make sense”. Russia could not practice strategic air attacks from the East due to the Belarusian and Ukrainian airspace between Russia and its potential targets. Moreover, the sources made it clear that strategic air raids would have been flanked by large-scale missile attacks on NATO targets, using Iskander tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad region for targeting NATO strategic assets in the Baltic Sea countries. It is “not clear, but likely” that such attacks were also rehearsed in the Zapad 2017 drills.

According to the sources, these risky manoeuvres (over the North Sea) could show that Russia has planned “show of force attacks” that deeply penetrate Western-dominated air space and a “surprise element”, as NATO missile defenses are better prepared in the East of Europe than in NATO states like Norway, Denmark, the UK, and Germany.

In order to cripple NATO’s capacities in the event of a large-scale ground offensive against Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the exercise involved “anti-submarine warfare and air defense drills throughout the Baltic Sea”. The focus area was the eastern Gotland Basin.

According to the interviewed Western intelligence sources, Sweden and Finland would come under attack in the case of a real war against NATO. These attacks were also rehearsed in September. “We know that, in case of a war with NATO, Russia would not expect Sweden and Finland to remain neutral, although they are not part of NATO. Stockholm and Helsinki would allow NATO aircraft to use their airfields and so on”. The source alleged that most Swedish and southern Finnish air fields would therefore come under Iskander missile attacks.

By The Baltic Times

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: The US Congress is proposing a bill to counter foreign interference

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 01:15

Topics of the Week

The Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament (ALDE) put forward proposals to act on fake news and misinformation and call on platforms to provide more transparency. Moreover, they emphasise education and media literacy as a crucial tool.

Former national security, intelligence, and foreign policy officials wrote an amicus brief(part of a lawsuit brought against President Donald Trump’s campaign) how the Kremlin used local actors to help amplify the scope and impact of its influence operations, including the one targeting the US election in 2016.

Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland has been recently frequented by the press for his long-time questionable dealings with Moscow.

The US Congress is developing legislation to counter foreign interference: a bill “to improve and streamline information about cyber threats between state and federal entities” will be introduced next week.

President Trump has signed into law the 2018 NDAA Conference Report, which builds on the language of the Countering Propaganda and Disinformation Act.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Q: Is it true that the Soviet Union is the most progressive country in the world?

A: Of course! Life was already better yesterday than it’s going to be tomorrow!

US Developments Upcoming bipartisan bill to avert foreign cyber-interference in elections

A group of Democratic and Republican senators, led by James Lankford (R-OK) together with Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), are introducing a bill next week “to improve and streamline information about cyber threats between state and federal entities”. The legislation aims to provide resources for states as well as assist identification of and preparation for potential cyberattacks. To this end, it is intended to improve communication between the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and state election offices. The proposed bill has received wide bipartisan support thus far, and is expected to pass prior to mid-term primaries in 2018.

NDAA Conference Report signed into law

President Trump has signed into law the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report, which builds on the language of the Countering Propaganda and Disinformation Act spearheaded by US Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). Senator Portman issued the following statement with the signing:

“By better coordinating and synchronizing our government’s response to foreign propaganda and disinformation, the United States will be more successful in ensuring that our ideas win. I am pleased the president signed this legislation into law to build on our previous efforts and encourage proper coordination between government agencies so that the disinformation and propaganda used against us, our allies, and our interests will fail.”

US-focused reading suggestions

Edward Lucas argues in The Times of London that the Trump administration, contrary to popular wisdom, has actually been better for European security than the Obama administration. He writes:

“Even those who dislike Mr Trump’s politics are happy with his administration’s help in defending them against the Kremlin. America is selling Patriot missiles to Poland and has deployed a deterrent force there. US special forces are in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, working with local reservists and others to prepare resistance in the event of a Russian invasion. American military ties with non-Nato Sweden and Finland have never been stronger. In Washington, Congress showers money on European defence, not just in bolstering the military deterrent but also for counter-propaganda and other softer forms of security.”

This image is in stark contrast with the Obama White House, according to Lucas: “America’s European allies frequently struggled to get a hearing and senior officials all too often pooh-poohed their concerns. Mr Obama’s disastrous ‘reset’ of relations with Russia in 2009 sacrificed allies’ interests in the illusory hope of a rapprochement with the Kremlin.”

Lucas is not apologetic of Trump’s obvious shortcomings, but rather provides refreshing context for the state of play on transatlantic security relations, concluding: “We may find Mr Trump aesthetically and morally reprehensible. But in many respects that directly concern us and our allies, his administration is still markedly better than its predecessor.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post published a long investigative piece about the Trump White House’s failure to respond decisively to the Russia threat. The reporting provides intimate insight into the dynamics between the President and his aides and advisers, namely their difficulty in reigning in the President’s pro-Russian sentiments and impulses.

Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter have published a comprehensive article in Foreign Affairs where they explain the sources of the Kremlin’s hostility towards Western democracy and outline strategies for standing up to the regime. Correctly, they do not paint the Kremlin as an invincible Leviathan, but rather describe the regime as a house of cards:

“To safeguard its kleptocratic system, the Kremlin has decided to take the fight beyond Russia’s borders to attack what it perceives as the greatest external threat to its survival: Western democracy. By attacking the West, the Kremlin shifts attention away from corruption and economic malaise at home, activates nationalist passions to stifle internal dissent, and keeps Western democracies on the defensive and preoccupied with internal divisions. This allows Moscow to consolidate its power at home and exert untrammeled influence over its ‘near abroad.’”

Biden and Carpenter recommend that the US and its European allies must jointly strengthen their security and energy cooperation and mitigate the “vulnerability of their political systems, media environments, financial sectors, and cyber-infrastructure” against attempted Russian coercion and influence operations. They maintain that such operations are sure to continue in the future, and that the US must develop effective defense mechanisms, including “meaningful costs” (i.e., deterrence measures) against Russia, to protect elections from future meddling.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative “The tsar hears the people”

Every year in mid-December, Putin gives a great gift to all his devotees: a several-hour long press conference where he answers a wide variety of questions from journalists. This year’s Q&A lasted almost four hours and, as a RT faithfully notes, “some participants appear to lack the president’s stamina…”. Well, perhaps this was due to the president’s answers, not the duration of the event?

For Putin and the Kremlin propaganda machine, this Q&A is an ideal opportunity to reemphasise their messages. For us, it’s a good overview of the Kremlin narratives.

On the Winter Olympics ban:

“The recent decisions by the IOC and WADA are no coincidence given the Russian elections next year. Rodchenkov [the doping scandal whistleblower] is working with the FBI – he might be being drugged to say something, how do we know?”

On Russia meddling in US elections:

“That’s been invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump.”

On Syria:

“We see that terrorists are escaping Syria to Iraq and the US doesn’t hit them because they may want to use them later against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad… That’s very dangerous.”

On Donbas:

“There are local militia groups in Donbass ready to counter attacks in the area… we agree with this. Without these, Ukrainian nationalist battalions would start a massacre like Srebrenica there.”

On Ukraine and Russia relations:

“Historically, fundamentally Russia and Ukraine are one and the same nation.”

On the Russian opposition:

“I said the opposition needs positive proposals – what are you offering? The people you mentioned are the Russian versions of Mikhail Saakashvili… Do you want Russia moving from one Maidan-style situation to another?”

Policy & Research News Pro-Kremlin trolls boosted election fraud claims during Scottish referendum

The day after the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, a significant minority of social media accounts amplified allegations that the vote was rigged. Thus far, it is impossible to gauge whether these accounts operated independently or were connected to the Russian troll-factory, Ben Nimmo writes in his report for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. The trolls did not create the claims about the alleged election fraud, but they were among the most vocal amplifiers of the videos supposedly ‘proving’ it.

Facebook and Twitter reveal ads bought by Russian-backed accounts

After pressure from the British political community, Twitter revealed that Russian-backed accounts spent more than 1,000 USD to buy six Brexit ads during the campaign period prior to the referendum. Facebook identified three ads bought by Russian-backed accounts concerning immigration. As reported by Tech Crunch, We still don’t know the exact character of the Twitter ads. Furthermore, their reach is yet to be determined, as we have seen in the case of the ads related to the US presidential election.

EU banning Bulgarian food?

As Bulgaria prepares for its presidency of the Council of the European Union (starting in January 2018), its media space is becoming flooded with false reports about EU bans on Bulgarians’ favourite food items. Not only fringe websites but also mainstream tabloids are falsely warning Bulgarians that the EU wants to prohibit the country from producing items like Rakia, a traditional alcoholic beverage, or Tripe Soup. This disinformation originates both in Bulgaria as well as in other EU countries.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will study Russia’s activist foreign and military policies

As a response to increasing concerns about the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle with and disrupt democratic societies, scholars from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace decided to launch a two-year analysis of its policies and strategies in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to two members involved in the project, these activities are meant to “compensate for lacklustre socioeconomic conditions at home.” The efforts of the CEIP should lead to better understanding of the evolution of the Kremlin’s tactics.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion Inside the Kremlin’s house of mirrors: How liberal democracies can counter Russian disinformation and social interference

This week, we would like to recommend a new study by The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, which offers a great overview of the various approaches that liberal democracies have employed in the fight against Russian subversion operations and utilizes this knowledge to present clever recommendations for both democratic governments and societies on how to deal with this threat.

The report is based on extensive desk research and in-depth personal interviews with relevant high-level representatives of the actors in question (the EU, NATO, Finland, Latvia, and Ukraine). It contains five detailed case studies in which it analyses the postures, strategies, organizational setups, programs, products, and capabilities that these actors have developed in recent years. Among other things, the authors identify the dilemmas that liberal democracies face when attempting to counter Russian interference. Particular focus is devoted to how overall (top-down) visions, strategies, and capabilities can help provide the best circumstances for societal resilience, such as through (bottom-up) social initiatives.

All of the recommendations found in the report can be very handy for democratic governments and societies trying to tackle Russian subversion operations – which is why we recommend you take a look at them!

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

Russia’s RT Launches New French Channel Despite ‘Propaganda’ Charges

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 19:22

By RFE/RL

Russian state broadcaster RT has launched a French-language channel despite being branded this year as a “propaganda” outlet for the Kremlin by officials in the United States, France, and other Western countries.

With a launch budget of around 20 million euros, RT’s French channel launch on December 18 became one of its most ambitious projects to date. RT, formerly known as Russia Today, already broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

RT already has a foothold in France through a French-language website and a popular YouTube channel with videos dubbed or subtitled in French, some of which have chalked up hundreds of thousands of views.

But the channel’s launch from a studio in western Paris comes after the Elysee palace refused to provide RT reporters with credentials to cover presidential news conferences and French President Emmanuel Macron strongly criticized the broadcaster.

Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Paris press conference in April, Macron accused RT and fellow Kremlin-backed outlet Sputnik of being “agents of influence…and deceitful propaganda” who spread “defamatory untruths.”

French regulators say they are on their guard. The head of France’s CSA broadcasting authority, Olivier Schrameck, has warned that the agency will be closely watching RT and will intervene quickly in the event of what he called “anomalies.”

In Britain, RT has received 14 warnings from regulator Ofcom about reporting that it deemed to be untruthful or biased, particularly on matters involving Ukraine, where Russia has backed separatists in a war against the government since 2014, and Syria, where Russia has propped up President Bashar al-Assad in a six-year civil war.

Speaking to journalists in Paris on December 18, Xenia Fedorova, the French-language station manager and editor in chief, conceded that the network has not as yet received credentials to cover the French presidency.

But she brushed off the criticism and cited some well-known and respected networks that receive funding, like RT, from their home countries, including BBC World and France 24.

“RT stands for news that is not covered by the mainstream media,” she said. “We will keep the platform [open] to perspectives and opinions that are either not covered or silenced.”

Russia Today was set up in the mid-2000s to counter what Russian President Vladimir Putin saw as the dominance of American and British media organizations, which he says have a pro-Western bias.

The channel is seen by its critics as giving a platform to conspiracy theorists as well as far-right or antiestablishment figures who attack what they portray as Western hypocrisy and corruption.

RT was accused by U.S. intelligence agencies earlier this year of being used by the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

That charge led to an order from the U.S. Justice Department in September for RT to register its U.S. operator as a “foreign agent.” The allegations also prompted Twitter to ban advertising from RT and Sputnik.

During the French election campaign earlier this year, Macron accused Sputnik of a “smear campaign” after it reported comments from a conservative legislator accusing him of being a “U.S. agent” backed by a “gay lobby.”

At his annual press conference last week, Putin dismissed the allegations of meddling in elections as fiction from a “spy thriller.”

Fedorova told AFP in October that “we are not coming to France with the intention of broadcasting fake or partial news.”

“Our slogan is: Dare to question. We want to encourage viewers to ask questions and to think outside the information bubble of the mainstream media,” she said, adding that editorial decisions will be made in Paris, not Moscow.

The new network aims to recruit a total of 150 people by the end of next year but has struggled to attract top French talent.

In an interview this month with the French daily Le Monde, Fedorova complained of “political pressure on people who want to work with RT or speak well of it.”

RT claims that its affiliates in 38 countries are viewed by 70 million people. In France, it can be viewed only online or by subscribers to the Iliad broadband service.

Bouygues Telecom is also due to start distributing RT France in March 2018.

By RFE/RL

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Categories: World News

Russia is practicing a form of geopolitical guerilla war against the West

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 18:44

By Octavian Manea, for Defence Matters

What does Russia want? How should the Russian campaign against the West be understood?

Mark Galleotti participated via skype in a debate organized in Bucharest by ESGA (Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association) in the context of its project “Dialogues with Russia for a New Generation of Experts“. In his remarks and during the Q&A session, he described the character of the Russian campaign against the West, its aims and what lessons can be learned in return.

Dr. Mark Galeotti is a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and head of its Centre for European Security.

For Putin, the military is an instrument of coercive diplomacy and for regional bullying: “Russia doesn’t need conventional armed forces so that it can fight all of NATO or China. Such a war will move very quickly in the apocalyptical realms. On the other way the Russian military forces were used to bring pressure and in some cases to invade neighboring states within what Russia regards as its sphere of influence. (…) The capacity to use armed forces to bully neighbors is strong, but diminishing. (…) He is using his military as an instrument of coercive diplomacy.”

Putin wants to distract Europe and the West in order to have a free hand in its near abroad: “Putin’s goals in Europe are political. He wants to distract, divide and demoralize us so that we don’t represent any kind of obstacle to what he wants to do within Russia and within what he regards as Russia’s sphere of influence-the post Soviet states with the exception of the Baltic states. These are the true limits to his ambitions: political and economic control on these other countries. He doesn’t want to bring back a new Soviet Union or a new Tsarist Empire. In this context, when you are contesting NATO countries, I think Russia realizes that basically NATO cannot be challenged militarily. (…) So they turn to these non-kinetic political methods (subversion, disinformation) but not as a preparation for a military act.”

In the clash with the West, Russia is practicing a form of geopolitical guerilla: “It has realized that it is in contestation with a West that is far more powerful on most indices, therefore it cannot challenge the West where the West is stronger so therefore it looks for the West’s weaknesses. The Western weaknesses are precisely that we are a constellation of law-based democracies. Essentially what Russia is doing is a geopolitical guerilla. The Russians can very rarely create problems in the West, instead what they can do is exacerbate, worsen problems that are widespread across the West: legitimacy crisis, the rise of populist leaders whose main claim is that they are not like the other politicians. What Russians do is to use any means at their disposal.”

It is in this context that Putin created a some sort of a “mobilization state” : “there is no aspect of the Russian society that cannot be used, coopted, conscripted by the state for its own purposes. (…) Overall, it is a campaign that is not very coordinated from the center. Russia operates very much on the basis of individual political entrepreneurialism. People do things that think the Kremlin might like. In the West, we see a whole variety of different actors – from intelligence officers to business people – creating initiatives in the hope they are successful in the broad terms of Kremlin’s agenda. (…) The vulnerabilities that each country has are very specific to that country. In some countries it is about the high levels of corruption and this is what worries me about Czech Republic. What we have here it is a significant corruption problem the people are not really talking enough. This is what is giving the Russians certain points of leverage.”

One of the core objectives of Russia with a wide impact on the European Security is a rerun of 21st century Yalta talks: ”Putin wants a deal, a rerun of the Yalta talks. He wants clear lines that this is Russia’s territory and sphere of influence. If he would have that I assume he would be willing to stop a lot of his destructive activities.”

Lessons for Romania: “Romania has to do three things. Firstly, shoring up its defenses against domestic manipulation which means be much more aware when Russian money flows into investments, dealing much more directly with corruption which is a force multiplier for any foreign manipulation. So basically, build-up your non-kinetic defenses.  Secondly, Romania needs to build-up better relations with other South-Eastern and Central-European countries. That solidarity will be absolutely crucial. What we not see is country to country solidarity on non-military pressure. If Europe as a whole will not be able to provide solidarity, we should actually start looking for groups and blocks that can provide each other solidarity. Thirdly, Romania should make sure that it is a voice for the continued unity of European and Western countries within NATO and within European Union. Any discussions regarding the future of NATO and EU, must be had without in any way jeopardizing the unity of the West against Russia.”

By Octavian Manea, for Defence Matters
Categories: World News

RT contributor says western press ‘turns a blind eye’ to events in Ukraine

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 06:54

Ukrainian opposition figure and former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (L) waves to supporters after he was released from detention in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 11, 2017

By Polygraph Bryan MacDonald

an Irish journalist based in Russia.

However, the refusal of most prominent western media outlets to cover the breaking story from Kiev spells danger for “Mischa.” As I write, on Tuesday afternoon, the dramatic events [attempted arrest of Saakashvili and protests] are completely absent from the front pages of America’s CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post.

Source: RT, December 5, 2017.

PARTIALLY FALSE

The claim that western media ‘refuse’ to cover the story is completely unfounded.

In his December 5 article for RT, a Russian government-funded broadcaster, Bryan MacDonald, an Irish journalist reportedly based in Russia, claimed that the leading U.S. newspapers refused to cover and “turned a blind eye” to the attempted arrest of Georgia’s exiled ex-President and former Governor of the Black Sea coast city of Odessa Mikhail Saakashvili and related anti-government protests last week in Kyiv, Ukraine.

MacDonald writes: “However, the refusal of most prominent western media outlets to cover the breaking story from Kiev spells danger for “Mischa.” As I write, on Tuesday afternoon, the dramatic events [attempted arrest of Saakashvili and protests] are completely absent from the front pages of America’s CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post.”

MacDonald’s tweet

The author then argues that the alleged stance of the papers contrasts with the way the outlets cover “far less dramatic protests by Russia’s small liberal opposition.”

“When Aleksey Navalny [anti-corruption politician critical of the Kremlin] stages, relatively poorly attended, rallies in Moscow, the breathless reportage gives consumers of western media the impression that the activist is far more significant than he really is in Russia. Yet, as Mikhail Saakashvili … leads thousands of angry demonstrators around the streets of Kiev, the same outlets turn a blind eye,” he says.

He concludes that the papers toe the line of the U.S. government, which “despises” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration but supports that of Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko.

Contrary to MacDonald’s claims, neither the New York Times, the Washington Post, nor a multitude of other western outlets other than the CNN have ignored the events in Kyiv.

The NYT and the WP indeed did not cover them on the front pages. But they did report on them in regional sections and have done so consistently before, on, and after December 5.

Articles by The New York Times on December 5 and December 8, 2017

Andrew Higgins with The NYT wrote on the events on December 5 and December 8.

So did David L. Stern and Rick Noack of The WP, who covered the issues on December 5.

Articles by The Washington Post on December 5 and December 8, 2017

Moreover, both The NYT and The WP have run numerous stories on the ongoing events by wire services, such as the Associated Press, most recently on December 10 and 11.

A list of articles on Saakashvili written by or appearing in The New York Times.

A list of articles on Saakashvili written by or appearing in The Washington Post

President Poroshenko had appointed Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa in 2015, but Saakashvili resigned a year later alleging extensive corruption within the government. Ukrainian authorities stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian passport while he was out of the country last summer. After some absence, Saakashvili returned to Ukraine crossing the border with Poland and has since led anti-government protests in Kyiv.

Saakashvili gestures as he sits in a bus leaving from Rzeszow, Poland, towards the Ukrainian border, September 10, 2017

On December 5, Ukrainian authorities attempted to arrest Saakashvili as part of an investigation into his alleged collaboration with criminal groups and, as the Associated Press reports, with Ukrainian businessmen who allegedly are tied to the Russian government in an alleged plot to topple Poroshenko. However, Saakashvili’s supporters prevented the arrest, which eventually occurred on December 8. Saaskashvili denies claims he is collaborating with pro-Russian elements, given Saakashvili’s role as president in the events leading to the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008.

Saakashvili speaks to journalists and supporters outside the courthouse in Kyiv, December 11, 2017

On December 11, next day after thousands rallied in Kyiv in Saakashvili’s support and demanding the impeachment of President Poroshenko, a judge released Saakashvili, despite the general prosecutor’s call for his house arrest, in a move seen as a victory for the opposition-turned figure.

RT does not have a detailed biography of MacDonald other than that he is an Irish journalist in Russia. Polygraph.info has previously done a fact-check on a story MacDonald penned for RT regarding Russia’s military threat to the West, and similarly debunked that claim.

Not much information is available about him online, either. However, Polygraph.info did locate an article, more an expose, by the Interpreter claiming that MacDonald “has been working for many months to influence more respectable Western outlets’ coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.” MacDonald, it says, “has resorted to means both subtle and not-so-subtle.” The article goes on to note that MacDonald focuses on engaging with journalists “who shape the way the conflict in Ukraine is being reported,” presenting this graphic of associations:

MacDonald’s alleged Twitter associations according to The Interpreter

Polygraph.info has not investigated the claims contained in the Interpreter’s report.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Russia-imposed court in Crimea upholds journalist Semena’s verdict

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 02:20

Journalist Mykola Semena

By RFE/RL

The top court in Ukraine’s Russia-controlled Crimea region has upheld a separatism conviction against journalist Mykola Semena in a case that has been criticized by media freedom advocates and Western governments.

The court, which Russia calls the Supreme Court of Crimea, left the conviction and suspended 2 1/2-year sentence in place in its ruling on December 18.

At the same time, it shortened — from three years to two — the period of time during which Semena is prohibited from working as a journalist.

Semena, an RFE/RL contributor, was sentenced in a case described by rights groups and Western governments as politically motivated.

RFE/RL President Tom Kent condemned the verdict and sentence when they were imposed in September, describing them as “part of an orchestrated effort by Russian authorities in Crimea to silence independent voices.”

A contributor to RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), Semena was arrested by the Russia-imposed authorities in April 2016 and charged with acting against the “territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.’’

Semena says the accusation was politically motivated and violated fundamental freedoms and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of one of his stories from Ukrainian into Russian.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have all condemned the trial and verdict.

Human rights advocates say Russia and the authorities Moscow has installed in Crimea conduct a persistent campaign of oppression that targets opponents of Crimea’s annexation, including many among the region’s indigenous Crimean Tatars, independent media outlets, and journalists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government moved swiftly to seize control over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv.

Russia sent troops without insignia to the Black Sea peninsula, orchestrated a takeover of government bodies, and staged a referendum that was widely considered illegitimate by the international community.

By RFE/RL

Categories: World News

StopFake #162 [ENG] with Marko Suprun

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 09:18

This week we debunk fake claims that Ukraine’s autumn recruitment was a complete washout, that refugees will be resettled from Bavaria to Ukraine and tell you how Ukrainian film is making the propaganda machine apoplectic.

Categories: World News