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#PutinAtWar: How Sputnik Secures Russia’s Interests

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 17:01
Assessing the propaganda role of the Kremlin’s “news” wire

Victim mentality: Sputnik tags on (left to right) “anti-Russian bias,” “anti-Russian sentiment” and “Russophobia.” All archived on May 10, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

By Ben Nimmo, for DFRLab

On February 16, 2018, the U.S.-based company responsible for the Russian government’s “Sputnik” online service in America registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

FARA was created in 1938 to expose Nazi propaganda in the United States. It obliges “every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice” and to label their publications with a “conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal.”

In the case of Sputnik, RIA Global LLC registered as an agent of Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency,” insisting that Rossiya Segodnya “acts completely independently based on its editorial policies.”

Despite that claim, the evidence shows that Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik are overwhelmingly subservient to Russian state interests and foreign policy — not just defending the Kremlin, but attacking and interfering in Western democracies.

Their official tasks include “securing the national interests of the Russian Federation,” and their performance lives up to that goal.

Foundation and Charter

The executive order creating Sputnik, with paragraph four highlighted. (Source: Kremlin)

The Rossiya Segodnya news agency was created by executive order of Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 9, 2013. The order took the formerly state-run, but editorially respected, RIA Novosti news agency, and the Voice of Russia radio station, and transferred them to the new agency, whose name means “Russia Today.”

Paragraph four of the executive order defines the new agency’s “main direction of activity” as “reporting abroad on the state policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation.”

The same month, Rossiya Segodnya registered with the Moscow tax authorities. That registration included a copy of the agency’s founding charter, which is available online via the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.

According to paragraph 2.1 of the charter, Rossiya Segodnya was created and acts with the following goals:

“Reporting abroad on the state policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation;

Securing the national interests of the Russian Federation in the information sphere.”

1Paragraph 2.1 of the Rossiya Segodnya charter, as filed in its tax submission. (Source: Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications)

Both these tasks position Rossiya Segodnya as a government communications agency. In particular, the task of “securing the national interests of the Russian Federation in the information sphere” marks Rossiya Segodnya as an instrument of Russian state power — not an independent journalism outlet.

For Russia, With Love

The role of Rossiya Segodnya, and thus of Sputnik, as state mouthpieces is confirmed by the agency’s director, Dmitry Kiselev, who was sanctioned by the European Union in 2014 as the “central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine.”

Instagram post showing Kiselev’s address to RIA Novosti staff, archived on May 1, 2018. The post summarizes Kiselev’s speech as, “At the moment, I can’t answer your questions, I need to investigate the agency’s work. It’s not a liquidation, it’s a reorganization. I ask you all to keep calm and stay in your places.” (Source: Instagram / kufungisisa_and_me)

A few days after Putin signed the executive order creating Rossiya Segodnya, Kiselev addressed a meeting of journalists at RIA Novosti. One journalist filmed the speech on his mobile phone; the original post was deleted from YouTube, but not before Interpreter magazine provided a translation.

The speech includes this comment:

“We are a state agency which exists on government funds. I am not against other points of view, they can be diverse even within this field about which I am speaking. But if we are to speak about traditional politics, then of course we would like it to be associated with love for Russia.”

The following year, when Rossiya Segodnya officially launched Sputnik as its export brand, Kiselev explained the outlet in terms of Russia’s geopolitical opposition to the United States:

“There are countries that impose their will on the West and on the East. Wherever they interfere, blood flows, civil wars break out, ‘color revolutions,’ and even countries break up: Iraq, Libya, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria … Many already understand that it is not necessary to assist the Americans in all this. Russia offers a model of the world for the good of humanity. We are for a multicolored, multi-layered world, and in this we have many allies, therefore our media group is launching a new global brand, Sputnik.”


Kiselev and Sputnik’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, who also heads RT, at the launch of the Sputnik brand. As @DFRLab has already reported, she has spoken of RT’s task in terms of the “information weapon” and “waging the information war against the entire Western world.” (Source: RIA Novosti / Alexei Philippov)

This places Sputnik explicitly in the context of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions, and its opposition to the United States: “therefore our media group is launching a new global brand, Sputnik.”

By June 2016, Kiselev was comparing the agency’s role directly with that of Putin, as an advocate for, and defender of, the Russian government’s policy, in a conference in Moscow in June 2016:

Source: YouTube / Россия 24)

Translated from Russian, he said:

“We try to explain our positions to the world — yes, of course, we try to explain Russia’s actions, openly, of course. But all Putin does is to explain Russia’s actions everywhere, in all forums, in all press conferences, Direct Lines, in his endless interviews. He does it tirelessly, meets his colleagues. What’s that, propaganda? Of course not, it’s just transparency, that’s what it is, transparency, he tries to explain the logic of Russia’s actions.”

This erases any of the distinctions which should exist between a head of state, whose task is to represent the country and its government, and a news outlet, whose task should be to report independently of the government line.

Confirmation that this approach is not confined to the general director, but is expected of all staff, comes from the Rossiya Segodnya style guide. Style guides are a common feature of news agencies, and explain the details of the “house style,” from the mission to the use of punctuation.

According to a copy of the style guide shared with @DFRLab by a former employee, much of the Rossiya Segodnya text is consistent with other outlets’, insisting on fact-checking, accuracy, and balance.

However, it includes, under the heading “Credibility,” the following crucial paragraph:

“It is also important that our journalists maintain allegiance to the larger national and public interest. Our main goal is to inform the international audience about Russia’s political, economic and ideological stance on both local and global issues. To this end, we must always strive to be objective, but we must also stay true to the national interest of the Russian Federation.”

The BBC’s fifth Public Purpose, from the charter. (Source: BBC)

Defenders of RT and Sputnik regularly argue that this is no different from the charters of other international state-connected broadcasters, such as the BBC. This is false. The BBC Charter lists five “public purposes,” of which the fifth is “To reflect the United Kingdom, its culture and values to the world.”

The underlying text explains that those “British values” are “accuracy, impartiality and fairness,” and that the broadcaster should aid “understanding of the United Kingdom as a whole, including its nations and regions where appropriate.”

“Reflecting” the UK as a whole is a very different mission from “reporting on the state policy of the Russian Federation,” let alone “securing the national interests of the Russian Federation in the information sphere.” It is the essential difference between a public service broadcaster, and a state one.

The Rossiya Segodnya founding documents and style guide, and Kiselev’s comments, are mutually consistent. They describe an outlet whose purpose is to communicate on behalf of, and in defense of, the Russian government — rather than being independent of it.

Selling The Product

One of the most obvious ways in which Sputnik fulfils this purpose is its coverage of the Russian state arms industry.

Archived on May 1, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

Analysing the industry would be a justifiable part of any outlet’s output. Sputnik’s coverage, however, reads more like advertising. For example, one piece, on November 10, 2017, was headlined, “Russian military producer: S-400 systems working flawlessly in Syria.”

It quoted Sergei Kornev, the head of the aerospace division of Russia’s state armaments exporter, as saying that Russia’s modern S-400 surface-to-air missile system was working “impeccably” in Syria, and that Middle Eastern countries were “paying great attention” to Russia’s weaponry in Syria. Kornev was the only commentator quoted.

This is not balanced journalism; it is not even news. Praising Russian weapons is Kornev’s job: it would be newsworthy if he failed to do it. Sputnik’s piece serves no apparent purpose other than to promote Russian air defense systems to a foreign readership.

Archived on March 29, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

Another piece, published on March 27, 2018, had the equally enthusiastic headline, “Why Russia’s air defense is second to none.”

Listed as an opinion piece, this article began with the following sentence: “Russia attaches great importance to its air defense systems, which could be regarded as second to none, Sputnik contributor Andrei Kots notes.”

The Sputnik piece appears to be largely a translation of a Russian-language original by RIA Novosti writer Andrei Kots, published on March 26: the structure, sources, quotes and main points are all identical.

However, nowhere in the current version of the Russian-language piece is there any sentence which could be construed as calling Russia’s air defenses “second to none.”

It is therefore unclear where Sputnik found its headline quote, or whether the outlet simply made it up in an effort to boost the reputation of Russia’s arms industry.

By contrast, recent Sputnik articles on Western weaponry included reports that half of the United States’ F-35 planes are “not ready for battle,” that a new S-97 helicopter “failed to impress,” and that Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, built in Soviet times, has a “big advantage” over Britain’s new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth.

Criticism of military equipment is an important feature of journalism. However, Sputnik’s criticism seems restricted to Western systems. Placed alongside its lavish praise for Russian systems, this gives the strong impression that Sputnik’s job is to make Russian arms exports look good.

Bring Out The Bikinis

Sputnik also praises Russian tourist destinations and the Russian tourism industry, often using pictures of women in bikinis to do it.

A photo montage published on December 18, 2017, proclaimed the opening of the Rosa Khutor ski resort, “one of the main ski resorts in Russia’s Krasnodar Region,” and stated that “Countless numbers of amateur and advanced skiers and snowboarders flocked to Rosa Khutor to have some winter fun as the season started.”

The top picture showed a young woman in a swimsuit taking a selfie — a classic piece of visual marketing.

Archived on May 8, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

Other photo montages dwelt on “bikini slalom” ski events in the Russian resorts of Sheregesh and Sochi, and the “Khibiny-Bikini festival” in the Khibiny region, while articles under the “tourism” tag included claims of tourists “flocking” to Chechnya and Russia more broadly.

A Google search for the term “bucket list” limited to the Sputnik site returned a “bucket list of must-see destinations in Russia,” a list of “Russia’s most irresistible destinations,” and a list of “Red Square and other sights in Europe ‘you must see before you die.’”

Left, the Daily Telegraph original; note that the Charles Bridge in Prague takes the top spot. Right, the Sputnik pick-up. Note that Sputnik puts the words “You must see before you die” in quotes, even though the Daily Telegraph used a different phrase. This appears to be a piece of simple incompetence, betraying ignorance of what quotation marks are for. (Source: Daily Telegraph / Sputnik)

The latter list was based on a Daily Telegraph article which listed 30 top European destinations, under the headline “30 places in Europe you must see in your lifetime.” Red Square was thirteenth on the Telegraph list, but the only one named in Sputnik’s headline.

As the Telegraph story shows, bucket lists are standard fare for news outlets. However, the Google search did not reveal any Sputnik bucket lists or photo montages of destinations in other countries, again marking it out as an apparent advertising agency for Russian destinations.

Political Messaging

As with bombs and bikinis, so with politics: Sputnik amplifies and validates Russian government positions, posting opinion pieces which echo the Kremlin’s stance, or interviewing external speakers who support the Kremlin line in a way that brings out their opinions without challenging them.

Some of these opinions come with disclaimers which say that they do not reflect Sputnik’s official position. However, the opinions are so routinely pro-Kremlin and anti-Western, and so rarely anything else, that they effectively constitute an editorial line.

Victim mentality: Sputnik tags on (left to right) “anti-Russian bias,” “anti-Russian sentiment” and “Russophobia.” All archived on May 10, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

One of the most glaring examples is Sputnik’s use of the word “Russophobia,” which it deploys so consistently that it is actually a tag on the Sputnik website, alongside “anti-Russian bias” and “anti-Russian sentiment.”

Mentions of “Russophobia” and its variants, 2001–2017. (Source: DFRLab, based on the websites of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sputnik, and RT.)

This narrative of victimization has been a stock Kremlin defense ever since the illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014, as @DFRLab has reported; it ignores the wealth of evidence which shows that, for example, Russia provided the weapon which shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, shelled civilians in Mariupol, Ukraine in 2015, and interfered in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

Sputnik commentators and hosts often use official Kremlin terminology to characterize events in which Russia is involved, without acknowledging that those characterizations are, at best, disputed.

Russian Ministry of Defense page on “combating terrorism;” note the reference to “international terrorist groupings.” (Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

For example, in a Sputnik radio broadcast on December 30, 2017, in the U.S., the host referred to the “success of Russia’s anti-terrorism military intervention in Syria.” This is the Russian government’s standard term for the operation, despite the evidence that Russia’s main target has been Syria’s domestic opposition, not “international terrorist groups.”

The same host spoke of the defeat of Islamic State “at the hands of the Syrian and Iraqi militaries, the Russian aerospace forces and Iran and its allied militia,” entirely omitting the role of the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq and eastern Syria, and claimed that “Russia’s all about stabilising, balancing and bringing everybody together.”

Comparison of comments made on Sputnik radio shows in December 2017 with comments made by Russian officials. All comments archived on May 10, 2018. (Source: Sputnik / Russian Foreign Ministry)

Sputnik radio shows in late December 2017 also referred to the Special Prosecutor’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election as a “witch hunt,” termed the 2014 revolution in Ukraine a “coup” fomented by “neo-Nazis,” and accused the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, of trying to “demonize” Russia.

Almost identical comments have been repeatedly made by Russian government officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei LavrovForeign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, and Ambassador to Indonesia Mikhail Galuzin.

The comments aired on Sputnik may well have reflected the Sputnik presenters’ private convictions; this does not lessen the fact that, if they had been journalists, they would have been obliged to reflect opinions which criticized Russia as well.

In these radio broadcasts, Sputnik’s presenters effectively acted as advocates for the positions of the Russian government which paid them.

Time and again, on a range of issues, Sputnik’s coverage has served to defend the Kremlin against charges of potential crimes, such as the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014, the bombing of hospitals in Aleppo in the second half of 2016, and the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in March 2018.

Sputnik graphic on MH17, archived on May 10, 2018. Note also the date of July 18, 2017, at the foot of the second column (it should read 2014), and the reference to the JIT as “JIC”. While editorial errors are inevitable, the inability to spot two mistakes in a single graphic reflects poorly on Sputnik’s quality control. (Source: Sputnik)

For example, an infographic attached to various Sputnik articles on MH17 systematically placed the word of Russian state-run arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey, which produced the missile in question, over the findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), an international criminal investigation which concluded that the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia.

Sputnik’s graphic portrayed the JIT’s conclusions as hypotheses, using words such as “believe,” “claims” and “disagrees with Almaz-Antey.” It gave column space to Almaz-Antey’s reasoning and alleged evidence, without mentioning any of the evidence on which the JIT based its conclusion. An accompanying article stated that Almaz-Antey had “confirmed that the Boeing was shot down from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces,” as if Almaz-Antey’s allegation was irrefutable.

This is a systematically biased use of language which appears aimed at undermining the JIT at Almaz-Antey’s expense.

Sputnik headlines on the White Helmets (top) and Bana (bottom), archived on November 13, 2016November 24, 2016December 25, 2016 and April 15, 2017. (Source: Sputnik)

On Aleppo, meanwhile, Sputnik published a series of attacks on key witnesses to the suffering of civilians during the siege. The most notable targets were the “White Helmets” rescue group, and a young girl called Bana Alabed, who tweeted about daily life under siege. Both were the subjects of repeated Russian attacks, which appeared aimed at discrediting them as witnesses; Sputnik played a supporting role in the campaign.

Sputnik’s stock language on Bana, repeated verbatim in two articles, betrayed an immediate bias, using the indeterminate phrase “many have called…” without naming its sources:

“Many have called the authenticity of the account into question, pointing to videos where Bana appears to be reading from a prompt. It is also unclear whether Bana’s posts are genuine, since any user, anywhere in the world can post from the account, as long as they have the password.”

Left: Sputnik story on the White Helmets, sourced to 21st Century Wire. Right: One of many 21st Century Wire 9/11 conspiracy articles. Archived on November 13, 2016 and May 10, 2018. (Source: Sputnik / 21st Century Wire)

Sputnik’s very first attack on the White Helmets quoted an article written by Syrian regime supporter Vanessa Beeley for online site 21st Century Wire. This is a conspiracy site which claims that the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, were a U.S. government “false flag” operation.

Sputnik’s choice to quote an article from a 9/11 conspiracy site as its sole source for the attack on the White Helmets appears to confirm its desire to promote Kremlin narratives over the need for credible sources.

The same Sputnik article called the White Helmets “Soros sponsored,” a reference to the Hungarian billionaire who has become a hate figure for the Kremlin and far right for his support for pro-democracy movements.

Where’s George? List of funders of the White Helmets, according to Mayday Rescue. (Source: Mayday Rescue)

According to the website of Mayday Rescue, which founded the White Helmets, this is incorrect: its funders are the British, Danish, Dutch and German Foreign Ministries. It is unclear whether Sputnik’s error was deliberate, or another failure to perform basic due diligence.

It is instructive to contrast Sputnik’s approach with that of fact-checking website Snopes, which investigated Beeley’s oft-repeated claim that the White Helmets had terrorist ties, and concluded, “To date, we have found no credible evidence or reports that link the White Helmets organization with terrorism.”

(Source: Snopes)

Sputnik was also outspoken in its attacks on the British government in 2018, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May accused the Russian state of an “unlawful use of force” in the Skripal poisoning case.

Sputnik articles on the Skripal case made the editorial claims that, among others, May “rushed to” her conclusion, that Britain “failed to provide tangible evidence” for its accusations, that “many people are starting to wonder” about the UK’s claims (note the similarity to the attack on Bana), and that the West expelled Russian diplomats “without providing any evidence” — despite the fact that the British Foreign Office tweeted and published its reasoning, identified the nerve agent involved, and had the identification confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Sputnik headlines on the Skripal case, featuring Putin’s French biographer, the Russian Presidential Envoy to the Volga Federal District, and Joe Quinn, archived on April 19 and May 10, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

Sputnik published standalone interviews on the Skripal case with commentators including Putin’s French biographer, the Russian Presidential Envoy to the Volga Federal District, and an “internet author and researcher” called Joe Quinn.

Title page and extract from the blurb for the 9/11 conspiracy book co-authored by Quinn. (Source: Amazon)

The Quinn in question appears to be the co-author of a book which claims that a “central role” in the 9/11 attacks was “played by agents of the state of Israel,” and that the “arrogant Bush government is now forced to dance to the Zionists’ tune.”

Posts on on the Skripal case, Syria’s downing of an Israeli jet (“It’s about time”) and the U.S. in Syria. All archived on May 10, 2018. (Source:

The same Quinn is a regular contributor to conspiracy site, a leading amplifier of pro-Kremlin and anti-Western narratives. He has his own website, which is routinely anti-U.S. and anti-UK, and features an entire section, critical of Israel, dedicated to “Jews.”

None of these interviewees can be viewed as an impartial observer; given his background in conspiracy theories, Quinn cannot even be seen as a credible one.

Sputnik’s coverage amplified the views of these commentators without making any attempt to challenge them in the interest of journalistic balance. This appears, yet again, to show a policy of amplifying voices which support the Kremlin or attack its critics.

Election Interference

The efforts described above can be seen as primarily defensive, aimed at supporting the Russian government. A separate strand of Sputnik’s work, however, appears aggressive, aimed at interfering in the democratic processes of countries critical of the Kremlin.

To do this, Sputnik uses the same techniques, giving copious, one-sided coverage to incidents and commentators which present the target in a bad light, regardless of their credibility.

Of course, some outlets in the target countries do the same thing; that is the nature of journalism. However, Sputnik is not a commercial journalism outlet. As we have seen, it is a state-owned communications agency whose task is to “secure the national interests” of that state.

Its partisan coverage of democratic processes in other countries, in the language of those countries, therefore appears to be an attempt by the Russian state at interference.

Anyone but Clinton

The most obvious example is Sputnik’s coverage of the 2016 presidential race in the United States. This was routinely hostile towards Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, especially after audio tapes which showed Republican rival Donald Trump making obscene boasts about women were leaked on October 7, 2016.

Sputnik editorials on Clinton, October 11–14, 2016, archived on October 20, 2016, and May 11, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

In the following days, Sputnik ran a series of opinion pieces arguing that a Clinton presidency would lead to World War Three — a literally apocalyptic warning. Each opinion piece came with a disclaimer, but they were so consistent in tone, so close together in time, and so lacking in countervailing voices, that they effectively constituted an editorial line.

The articles included claims that “for anyone interested in peace, stability, and the defeat of terrorism across the world, the prospect of Hillary Clinton in the White House is a chilling prospect indeed;” that Clinton is “pushing the U.S. towards confrontation with Russia without scruple;” and that the “prospect of having axis of evil practitioner Hillary Clinton with her fingers on the nuclear button must be seen as the most life-and-death issue in this whole circus.”

Over the same one week period, from October 7–14, 2016, one Sputnik articlereported on accusations of “horrific” behavior by Clinton against a woman who had accused former President Bill Clinton of rape. Another called Clinton a “clear and present danger to world peace.” Neither gave Clinton the right to reply.

And at least five articles over the period focused on the release, by Wikileaks, of emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta by Russian hackers, in Russia’s most damaging influence operation of the campaign.

Spot the difference. Left: Sputnik article alleging Podesta called the leaks “riddled with fakes and forgeries,” archived on May 11, 2018. (Source: Sputnik). Top right: Podesta’s actual tweets, archived on May 11, 2018. (Source: Twitter / @JohnPodesta). Bottom right: tweet by Malcolm Nance, also quoted by Sputnik, archived on November 26, 2017. (Source: Twitter / @MalcolmNance)

Strikingly, one of the Sputnik pieces claimed, “Podesta asserts that the emails released by the prominent whistleblower are riddled with fakes and forgeries,” citing a tweet as proof. In fact, Podesta made no such claim; instead, it was tweeted by security commentator Malcom Nance.

It is possible that this was sheer incompetence on Sputnik’s part; as we have seen, its editorial standards do not reflect the need for accuracy embodied in the style guide. However, it is equally possible that the misattribution to Podesta was deliberate, and designed to discredit Clinton and her campaign.

Sputnik headlines on Clinton in 2016, archived on March 10, 2018 and May 112018. (Source: Sputnik)

Negative coverage of Clinton was a feature of Sputnik’s output throughout 2016. Earlier articles, for example, headlined her as “trigger happy” (a comment Sputnik admitted it drew from her presidential rival, Trump), a “warmonger” and a threat of “nuclear war with Russia or China.”

The latter pieces covered, respectively, an anti-Clinton article by Jeffrey Sachs, and an interview with former Republican adviser James George Jatras, who has accused Britain of interfering in U.S. democracy, while calling the mass of evidence of Russian interference “bogus.”

Again, Sputnik gave these Clinton critiques extensive coverage, without providing any meaningful coverage of the Clinton campaign’s point of view — a glaring violation of basic journalistic standards.

It is worth questioning how much impact these blatantly one-sided pieces had; the answer is unclear. On one occasion, however, a piece published by Sputnik achieved significant reach, and influenced the election debate.

On September 12, 2016, Sputnik published an extensive piece by U.S. researcher Dr. Robert Epstein, arguing that Google was rigging its autocomplete results in favor of Clinton.

Archived on November 22, 2016. (Source: Sputnik)

Headlined “SPUTNIK EXCLUSIVE: Research proves Google manipulates millions to favor Clinton,” the piece claimed that the search engine “withholds negative search terms for Mrs. Clinton even when such terms show high popularity in Trends,” and that “whatever autocomplete was in the beginning, its main function may now be to manipulate.”

As @DFRLab has already written, the premise of the article was flawed; the theory of rigged auto-complete suggestions had been debunked three months before. Epstein wrote in a subsequent tweet that he had originally pitched the piece to Politico, but that Politico “mysteriously killed” it; in his article, he noted that he gave it to Sputnik “because Sputnik agreed to publish it in unedited form in order to preserve the article’s accuracy.”

Despite its lack of credibility, the Sputnik article was picked up by conservative U.S. media, including Breitbart, which attributed it to Sputnik.

On September 29, 2016, in a prepared speech, Trump accused Google of “suppressing” bad news about Clinton. The likelihood is that his campaign took the allegation from conservative sites; but those conservative sites took it from Sputnik. In this case, therefore, Sputnik’s choice to run a questionable article on an already-debunked theme gave one candidate ammunition to attack the other.

Thus, overall, Sputnik’s coverage of Clinton was routinely hostile, frequently one-sided, and sometimes incorrect, but uncorrected. This bias was so systematic that it can only realistically have been the result of a deliberate choice to undermine Clinton and attack her campaign.

Britain’s Votes

Similar bias can be observed in Sputnik’s coverage of events in the United Kingdom, especially the Brexit referendum of June 2016.

Sputnik opinion pieces give a flavor of the coverage. As before, they often came with disclaimers, but were so consistently one-sided that they effectively constituted an editorial policy.

1Sputnik opinion pieces on Brexit, May 2016. Note the Nazi reference in the central headline. All archived on May 11, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

In the case of Brexit, Sputnik appeared to have given free rein to commentaries which cast the European Union in a negative light. For example, blogs in May 2016 called EU leaders “power-grubbing opportunists,” characterized the Leave campaign as an attempt to “liberate Britain from globalist inspired tyranny,” and compared the EU and NATO with the fascist Axis of World War Two.

Sputnik’s analytical content was equally one-sided. For example, articles in the two months before the referendum alleged that criticism of Russia was being “used to force Britain [to] stay,” and that an EU trade deal with Canada was “set to undermine democracy and destroy basic rights of workers.”

Sputnik analytical pieces in the build-up to the Brexit referendum, all archived on May 11, 2018. (Source: Sputnik)

One piece attacked the economists who warned of a Brexit-driven economic downturn, saying that they were “members of the Royal Economic Society and the Society of Business Economists, which implies their tighter affiliation with the narrow interests falling in line with the current political agenda prevailing on Downing Street.”

As in the case of the UK election, these pieces were so one-sided that they effectively constituted an editorial policy of promoting Brexit, and attacking the EU and the Remain camp.

Of course, some commercial UK outlets made the editorial choice to be equally outspoken in favor of Brexit; but Sputnik is not a commercial concern. It is a Russian state outlet, whose editorial line on key issues is indistinguishable from that of the Russian government. Its one-sided editorial stance therefore resembles an attempted influence campaign.


This is only a snapshot of Sputnik’s output, but it is sufficient to illustrate the overall trend.

Sputnik’s behavior in its reporting is consistent with the documents which created the outlet. It praises Russian weaponry, while criticizing Western models; it boosts Russian tourist resorts and events.

On issues of foreign policy, it routinely endorses the Kremlin’s view of events, attacks Kremlin critics and amplifies speakers who do the same, regardless of their credibility (or lack thereof). It also covers domestic politics in target countries in a way which targets Kremlin critics and maximizes division.

None of this is consistent with the demands of balanced and independent journalism. Sputnik was created by the Russian state to “secure the national interests of the Russian Federation;” its publications are fully in line with that mandate.

By Ben Nimmo, for DFRLab

Ben Nimmo is Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from #DigitalSherlocks.

Categories: World News

Commission’s approach to tackling online disinformation is an empty box

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 16:12

European Commissioner for Security Union, British Julian King, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel (R) during weekly college meeting of the European commission in Brussels, Belgium, 28 March 2018. [Aris Oikonomou/EPA/EFE]

By Jakub Janda, for Euractiv

EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel are keeping their eyes wide shut to the Russian disinformation threat, writes Jakub Janda.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, massive disinformation campaigns were launched by Moscow and its proxies.

Ukrainians defending their own country were first to respond, initiatives like became a benchmark for the Western world of how exposing and debunking of disinformation should look like.

EU leaders have made this a priority when they voted on conclusions calling for EU institutions to respond to this threat in March 2015.

Later, EU expert community on disinformation started to map and expose the individual samples from late 2015 when EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force started to publish its weekly summary named Disinformation Review.

Around 4,000 samples of pro-Kremlin disinformation has been collected, stored and analysed, and this work has been widely praised in the expert community since it filled the gap and it introduced day-to-day exposing of disinformation to the Western world.

After almost three years, this effort still remains tragically under-resourced and under-stuffed, which is even more absurd when compared to the incredibly vast and constantly growing size and budget of the Kremlin’s disinformation army aimed at poisoning European democracies.

In almost complete parallel to this on-going struggle, DG CONNECT has set up a High-Level Expert Group (HLEG). Unfortunately, from the 39-individuals group allegedly representing the expert community on the issue of fake news, none has been a regular contributor to the work of the only EU body tackling this issue – East STRATCOM Task Force.

The Commission decided not to involve the major European expert NGOs and think-tanks who have been working in practical terms on this issue from the start – since 2014-15.

The  expertise of many of the members of the HLEG is debatable: one of the members openly declared she is unaware of publicly described, major Russia’s operations in Spain or Italy: Another of the HLEG experts even absurdly defended the right of Sputnik employees to be called journalists – meaning he actually defends a major source of disinformation, rather then fighting against it.

For example – if the Commission listened to the expert community, it would have learnt that there already are several existing hubs for stakeholders in this field already. Instead, the Commission now says that it will launch a “secure European platform on disinformation”.

This is how it looks if you are two years late. It will be a waste of resources which should have been put into specific polling focused on impact of disinformation in targeted EU member states.

First step in solving any problem is recognising you have one. Still, there are massive efforts at the Commission not to upset Russia by even naming it. Despite hundreds of studies and reports by European expert community which prove the links between Moscow and this threat, still the Commission’s efforts  continued in its appeasement mode.

The HLEG report does not even mention Russia as the major source of hostile disinformation in Europe. Reportedly, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel even pushed for not mentioning Russia in the new policy document.  It is like discussing terrorism without naming and analysing role of ISIS.

After this long struggle and internal clashes at the Commission in recent weeks, Russia is mentioned just once when it points to Russian military doctrine, plus two references to previous EU decisions.

We might consider it a victory of common sense, but is it? If this Communication should be considered a major EU policy document on this issue, allegedly setting up “European approach to tackle online disinformation”, it completely lacks analysis of who exactly is the main penetrator and what is the modus operandi.

This EU publication resembles a Wikipedia sample more than a substantive policy document setting up practical guidelines.

Similar observation can be made about a special Eurobarometer poll which is supposed to show proportion of this problem. Instead of for example mapping the level of public support for the most common Russian disinformation narratives (such as “Ukraine is run by a Nazi government” or “There are no organised Russian solders in Ukraine”) which could show the basic vulnerabilities in targeted member states (as previous think-tank research has done on a regional scale), only generic questions support an argument that fake news is a problem.

This is exactly how EU money can be wasted – instead of specific EU-wide research conducted on basis of expert knowledge and testing of empirical data coming from the EEAS East STRATCOM database of the strongest disinformation narratives, we only have a general poll which doesn’t say anything new.

When you read the EU document in detail, you will basically learn that we need social media to be more responsible and that more media literacy is needed.

That is true, but these are the most obvious steps well known to everybody in the expert community at least since 2015. If the Commission wanted to do something real about disinformation, it could have just suggested something practical from all the policy papers by real European specialists which are listed by the EEAS East STRATCOM.

When the Commission says that it wants fact-checkers to work closely together, it is a nice proclamation, but many similar networks already exist and the only thing is lack of substantial funding. One must wonder why the Commission pretends to start something new when a network of dozens of volunteer experts and fact-checkers already exists under the umbrella of EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force.

The whole Commission efforts looks as a way how to get around this team which was again officially praised by all EU foreign ministers just few weeks ago. The aim appears to be clear – not to upset Russia again by substantially directing resources to research its role in spread of hostile disinformation.

I really wish that one day, the European Commission wakes up to reality in this area.

By Jakub Janda, for Euractiv

Jakub Janda is the Director of Prague-based European Values Think-Tank, one of the most active contributors to the weekly Disinformation Review published by the EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force

Categories: World News

Terrorists or Political Prisoners? Russia Responds to U.S. State Department

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:20

UKRAINE — Activists holds posters with images of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, during a rally in support of Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners jailed in Russia, in front of the Russian embassy in Kyiv, June 13, 2018

By Polygraph

Sergei Ilyin

Radio Sputnik

“Some of the people, supposedly repressed for political reasons, whose release Washington is calling for, have been convicted of grave crimes such as terrorism and murder. Their guilt has been completely and exhaustively proven.”

Source: RIA Novosti


The trials of the three prisoners named by the author are highly suspect.

On June 18, the U.S. State Department held a press briefing on “individuals wrongfully imprisoned” in the Russian Federation.

“We are especially concerned about the welfare of four Ukrainians unjustly imprisoned who are currently on hunger strike—Oleh Sentsov, Stanislav Klykh, Oleksandr Shumkov and Volodymyr Balukh,” the statement read in part.

It also mentioned those imprisoned for religious beliefs, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The next day, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti posted a scathing reply written by Sergei Ilyin, a contributor to Radio Sputnik, Russian government media. In the opinion article, Ilyin claimed that some of the people cited by the U.S. State Department were convicted of “grave crimes” such as “terrorism” and “murder.” However, he only named three Ukrainian citizens who were also named by the State Department — Oleh Sentsov, Stanislav Klykh and Volodymyr Balukh.

Oleh Sentsov

Sentsov and Balukh were charged and convicted of “terrorism” in Russia, while Klykh was convicted of fighting on the side of Chechen separatists during the first Chechen War of 1994-1996. However, in all three cases, the “evidence” presented has been questioned by international observers and human rights groups, many of which have labeled the cases to be politically motivated.

The Kharkov Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), an internationally-recognized human rights advocacy organization which won the E.U./U.S. Democracy and Civil Society Award in 1998, has reported extensively on the cases of these three prisoners.

Oleh Sentsov was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in occupied Crimea in May 2014. He was held incommunicado for three weeks, during which he says he was tortured by his FSB captors. Sentsov and three other Ukrainian men with whom he had no prior connection were accused of belonging to the far-right organization Right Sector and planning terrorist attacks against infrastructure targets in Crimea.

KHPG says the FSB provided no concrete evidence showing that Sentsov or any of the other men were involved in terrorist activities or planning terrorist attacks. And, without evidence, it blamed Sentsov and the other defendants for a Molotov cocktail attack on an empty office of a Russian political party.

Sentsov was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment based on the forced confessions of two other men, according the KHPG. One of those refused to testify in court during the trial, while the other stood in court and openly retracted his testimony, claiming that it was obtained under coercion by the FSB.

Volodymyr Balukh was arrested in December 2016. The arrest came shortly after he mounted a plaque on his house dedicated to the Maidan supporters killed by sniper fire in February 2014, flew a Ukrainian flag from his house and refused demands from local Russian authorities to remove the plaque and flag. Police searched Balukh’s property and claimed to find 90 rounds of ammunition and some small explosives. Neither the ammunition nor the explosives had Balukh’s fingerprints on them. In addition, the ammunition was traced back to Russia’s Altai region, and was manufactured in 1989. Other details of the case make Balukh’s conviction highly questionable.

Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh, 15 May 2018

Stanislav Klykh, along with another Ukrainian citizen, Mykola Karpyuk, together were accused of fighting on the side of the Chechen separatists during the First Chechen War and committing atrocities against 30 Russian servicemen. Both men were arrested in Russia in 2014; neither had ever been to Chechnya, said KHPG.

Stanislav Klykh

Klykh was held incommunicado for ten months and convicted on the testimony of another Ukrainian citizen who was already serving a 23-year sentence in Russia. Documentary and eyewitness evidence cited by KHPG confirms that at the time he was allegedly fighting in Chechnya, Klykh was actually in Ukraine taking exams, while Karpyuk was busy taking care of his terminally ill mother.

These are the three cases Sputnik writer Ilyin cited specifically in his response to the U.S. State Department. Unlike the State Department, he did not mention the Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned or persecuted in Russia after Russia’s Supreme Court deemed their church and its literature “extremist.”

KHPG, which is cited throughout, investigates human right issues not only involving Russia but also domestic Ukrainian concerns.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Kremlin plans to replace fraud Ilyumzhinov with slick Dvorkovich in chess world

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 21:54

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

For 23 years the world chess federation, FIDE, has been held captive by one of the most cynical and fraudulent people on the planet, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. That may be about to change at last, but perhaps not for the better: former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich hopes to replace Ilyumzhinov as president of the federation. The Kremlin has no intention of losing its grip on the chess world, with the international prestige and opportunities for money laundering that come with it.

The problem is that the FIDE president is elected by less than 200 national chess federation delegates to the FIDE Congress, who, to put it bluntly, can easily be bribed. There is no mechanism for impeaching or expelling a FIDE president. Former World Champion and anti-Putin activist Garry Kasparov tried and failed to win an election against Ilyumzhinov in 2014. Ilyumzhinov referred his losing opponent to the FIDE “Ethics Commission”, which disqualified Kasparov from playing for two years for alleged corruption and vote buying.

Murder of a journalist

Ilyumzhinov’s track record of corruption and other criminal activity is not in question. As president of the small southern Russian republic of Kalmykia, two of his aides were convicted of murdering Larisa Yudina in 1998, the editor of opposition newspaper Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya. A few months before Ilyumzhinov hosted the world Chess Olympiad in the capital of Kalmykia, Elista, they stabbed her to death and threw her body into a pond. She was 52. Ilyumzhinov was also accused of enriching himself by using Kalmykia as a tax haven, and was removed as president of the region in 2010.

In November 2015 Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for materially assisting the government of Syria and central bank of Syria. Due to the sanctions FIDE had to close its accounts in UBS bank and move them to fiduciary accounts in Hong Kong and Switzerland. Ilyumzhinov has also boasted of his friendships with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and has said that he was once abducted by aliens. It goes without saying that he is on amicable terms with Vladimir Putin.

IIlyumzhinov’s rap sheet is far longer than that, but the latest embarrassing episode was when he added someone called “Glen Stark” to his FIDE presidential ticket for the election in October, as a candidate from the USA for secretary general. Clever chess journalists, including Peter Doggers, quickly discovered that Glen Stark was actually a Russian using multiple names. Ilyumzhinov’s reign appeared to be over, and the new president was likely to be top FIDE official Georgios Makropoulos, who has sidelined Ilyumzhinov and amassed considerable power, or anti-corruption candidate Nigel Short, one of Britain’s top players.

Dvorkovich more presentable

Dvorkovich’s candidacy has thrown a spanner in the works, and is extremely worrying. He has been an official in the Russian Chess Federation for several years, maintaining a political presence there. He was deputy prime minister of Russia from 2012 until May this year, when after the Russian presidential election Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev made a few changes to his cabinet. He is also chairman of the board of directors of Russian Railways and chairman of the World Cup organising committee.

By the standards of Putin’s regime, Western-educated Dvorkovich is considered a liberal. To suggest that he doesn’t share responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine, bombing of Syria and domestic repressions would be ludicrous. But he is able to make the regime seem more presentable, which is a valuable quality. In April he also let some truth slip out, saying that there would be no economic growth in Russia if not for the World Cup. Since then the government has increased the age at which Russians receive their pensions, to 65 for men, which is higher than a large proportion of men’s life expectancy. Dvorkovich is also well aware that former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev has been jailed for eight years and that a similar fate could await him if he fails to toe the Kremlin line.

British rivals

Another Putin ally can hardly be expected to clean up the corruption in FIDE. But since Soviet times chess has been an important propaganda weapon for the Kremlin, and they don’t want to give it up. Dvorkovich may be able to attract Makropoulos onto his ticket, neutralising him, and Nigel Short will face an uphill battle to stop them. Commenting on Makropoulos and Ilyumzhinov, before Dvorkovich got into the race, Short said, “It’s quite true that I have never discussed business deals with genocidal dictators. However, I have never had the slightest difficulty opening or keeping bank accounts, and quite frankly I think that already puts me well ahead of the other two.”

British international master, businessman and chess organiser Malcolm Pein, who is currently on the Makropoulos ticket as candidate for deputy president, thinks that his experience and Makropoulos’s knowledge of how FIDE works would be more effective than a Short presidency. Short says it’s as important to stop Makropoulos as Ilyumzhinov. To go ahead with his candidacy Pein first had to successfully push for the removal of Aguinaldo Jaime as a candidate for vice president. Jaime is already a vice president and during his time as head of Angola’s central bank was accused of trying to move $50 million of state funds into a private US account.

“FIDE needs to be more Western-facing. Under Kirsan it’s been eastern-facing,” Pein told StopFake. He added that FIDE would not hold international events in Russia because it abides by decisions of the IOC, to which it is affiliated. But Pein will have to rethink his plans if Dvorkovich teams up with Makropoulos: he is adamant that he won’t be on a Dvorkovich ticket and strongly opposes the Kremlin.

Outlook not optimistic

In Russia a few people commemorated the 20th anniversary of Larisa Yudina’s murder on June 8, 2018. Yabloko politician Sergei Mitrokhin tweeted: “Her blood is on Ilyumzhinov’s hands. 20 years ago his aide brutally murdered the editor of Sovietskaya Kalmykia Larisa Yudina. The one who ordered it still ‘hasn’t been found’. She wrote about corruption in the republic, accusing the president above all. UNTIL A COURT DECIDES DIFFERENTLY, I CONSIDER ILYUMZHINOV THE ONE WHO ORDERED IT.” Yudina’s friends and family think she should be given the “Hero of Kalmykia” award and that her story should be told in courage lessons in schools, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

For over two decades the chess world has not found the courage to take the necessary action against Ilyumzhinov to remove him as their leader, and now players are wondering where all their federation’s money has gone. It looks like Ilyumzhinov’s career will finally collapse under the weight of his own lies, but FIDE delegates must stop the Kremlin in the form of Dvorkovich too if they want FIDE to be an organisation that is even remotely respectable. History suggests, however, that they will continue on the path of disgrace and self-destruction. Reformers are getting outplayed time and time again.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

Edwars Lucas: Don’t play risk with Europe

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 14:08

Flickr/Tambako The Jaguar

Edward Lucas explains why the West should not treat the “in-between” states as objects on a gameboard.

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

My introduction to geopolitics came from the game of Risk. In our 1970s Cold War household, this board game, invented in 1957, had a particular sizzle. The board features an outsized Ukraine, stretching from the Arctic to central Asia, and territories called Irkutsk, Kamchatka, Siberia, Ural, and Yakutsk in the area then occupied by the Soviet Union. On long rainy afternoons, as my siblings and I hurled the dice at the board, I pondered the odds, not only of a winning throw, but on what then seemed the impossibly distant prospect of a collapse of the evil empire.

But moving armies around a board gradually palled. The great powers’ success rested on luck and skill, not ideas. Alliances were based on short-term tactics, rather than values. And all conflicts were zero-sum games. You could conquer the world, but not make it better.

The more interesting questions, I reckoned, were what did people want, why they wanted it, and who was stopping them from getting it. The answers to that lay in books, not board games—and, as soon as I was old enough, in travels behind what was then the Iron Curtain.

I suspect the authors of a new paper on European geopolitics published by the RAND think tank and edited by Samuel Charap, an Obama administration State Department official, would be excellent Risk players. They argue for a new approach to what they call “in-between” countries, such as Ukraine, which they depict as caught between currently unattainable European and Atlantic aspirations, and the Kremlin’s security interests.

To be fair, the authors – mostly Americans, Germans, and Russians – accept that the in-between countries are not all in the same category. Belarus and Armenia are more-or-less loyal Kremlin allies. Georgia and Ukraine are in a quite different category, and Azerbaijan is different in another way, as is Moldova. They also decry any talk of a “grand bargain” between East and West: their main argument is for small steps, confidence-building measures, and efforts by all sides not to make matters worse.

But their study has the same flaws as does Risk. For a start, it assumes moral equivalence between all parties. There is no difference between the red team and the blue team. That is fine in a board game. But in real life that assumption puts Russia, the successor and in large part unrepentant defender of the mass-murdering Soviet Union, on the same level the European Union, which is the world’s largest and most prosperous democratic entity, and NATO, a uniquely successful military alliance of democracies.

Secondly, it largely ignores the wishes of people in the countries directly concerned. Ukrainians died carrying blood-soaked European flags on the streets of Kyiv in 2014, because they wanted the same dignity, liberty, security, and justice that their fellow-Europeans enjoy. Too bad. The word “Maidan,” which epitomizes that glorious idealistic insurrection, appears only once, in a timeline which dismisses Ukraine’s foreign policy as a “chaotic and unsustainable” attempt to balance the West and Russia. This leaves no room for Ukrainians’ own views of, and struggle against, their corrupt, oligarchic, and often treasonous political rulers.

Any discussion of regional security has to start with the who-wants-what questions that perplexed me as a teenager. Ukrainians and others yearn to be part of the West, for entirely understandable reasons; the Kremlin wants to stop them for deplorably selfish, imperialist reasons.

Come to think of it, the Russian leadership’s ruthless, zero-sum thinking probably makes them good Risk players. Perhaps they should invite Mr. Charap and his co-authors round to the Kremlin for a game. But not, please, at the expense of real countries and real people.

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

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

Categories: World News

Distinguishing between factual and opinion statements in the news

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:49

The politically aware, digitally savvy and those more trusting of the news media fare better; Republicans and Democrats both influenced by political appeal of statements

By Amy MitchellJeffrey GottfriedMichael Barthel And Nami Sumida, for Pew Research Center

In today’s fast-paced and complex information environment, news consumers must make rapid-fire judgments about how to internalize news-related statements – statements that often come in snippets and through pathways that provide little context. A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.

The findings from the survey, conducted between Feb. 22 and March 8, 2018, reveal that even this basic task presents a challenge. The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.

For example, 36% of Americans with high levels of political awareness (those who are knowledgeable about politics and regularly get political news) correctly identified all five factual news statements, compared with about half as many (17%) of those with low political awareness. Similarly, 44% of the very digitally savvy (those who are highly confident in using digital devices and regularly use the internet) identified all five opinion statements correctly versus 21% of those who are not as technologically savvy. And though political awareness and digital savviness are related to education in predictable ways, these relationships persist even when accounting for an individual’s education level.

Trust in those who do the reporting also matters in how that statement is interpreted. Almost four-in-ten Americans who have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations (39%) correctly identified all five factual statements, compared with 18% of those who have not much or no trust. However, one other trait related to news habits – the public’s level of interest in news – does not show much difference.

In addition to political awareness, party identification plays a role in how Americans differentiate between factual and opinion news statements. Both Republicans and Democrats show a propensity to be influenced by which side of the aisle a statement appeals to most. For example, members of each political party were more likely to label both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed more to their political side.

At this point, then, the U.S. is not completely detached from what is factual and what is not. But with the vast majority of Americans getting at least some news online, gaps across population groups in the ability to sort news correctly raise caution. Amid the massive array of content that flows through the digital space hourly, the brief dips into and out of news and the country’s heightened political divisiveness, the ability and motivation to quickly sort news correctly is all the more critical.

The differentiation between factual and opinion statements used in this study – the capacity to be proved or disproved by objective evidence – is commonly used by others as well, but may vary somewhat from how “facts” are sometimes discussed in debates – as statements that are true.1 While Americans’ sense of what is true and false is important, this study was not intended as a knowledge quiz of news content. Instead, this study was intended to explore whether the public sees distinctions between news that is based upon objective evidence and news that is not.

To accomplish this, respondents were shown a series of news-related statements in the main portion of the study: five factual statements, five opinions and two statements that don’t fit clearly into either the factual or opinion buckets – termed here as “borderline” statements. Respondents were asked to determine if each was a factual statement (whether accurate or not) or an opinion statement (whether agreed with or not). For more information on how statements were selected for the study, see below.

How the study asked Americans to classify factual versus opinion-based news statements

In the survey, respondents read a series of news statements and were asked to put each statement in one of two categories:

  1. A factual statement, regardless of whether it was accurate or inaccurate. In other words, they were to choose this classification if they thought that the statement could be proved or disproved based on objective evidence.
  2. An opinion statement, regardless of whether they agreed with the statement or not. In other words, they were to choose this classification if they thought that it was based on the values and beliefs of the journalist or the source making the statement, and could not definitively be proved or disproved based on objective evidence.

In the initial set, five statements were factual, five were opinion and two were in an ambiguous space between factual and opinion – referred to here as “borderline” statements. (All of the factual statements were accurate.) The statements were written and classified in consultation with experts both inside and outside Pew Research Center. The goal was to include an equal number of statements that would more likely appeal to the political right or to the political left, with an overall balance across statements. All of the statements related to policy issues and current events. The individual statements are listed in an expandable box at the end of this section, and the complete methodology, including further information on statement selection, classification, and political appeal, can be found here.

Republicans and Democrats are more likely to think news statements are factual when they appeal to their side – even if they are opinions

It’s important to explore what role political identification plays in how Americans decipher factual news statements from opinion news statements. To analyze this, the study aimed to include an equal number of statements that played to the sensitivities of each side, maintaining an overall ideological balance across statements.2

Overall, Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their side. Consider, for example, the factual statement “President Barack Obama was born in the United States” – one that may be perceived as more congenial to the political left and less so to the political right. Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) correctly identified it as a factual statement, compared with 63% of Republicans. On the other hand, almost four-in-ten Democrats (37%) incorrectlyclassified the left-appealing opinion statement “Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is essential for the health of the U.S. economy” as factual, compared with about half as many Republicans (17%).3

News brand labels in this study had a modest impact on separating factual statements from opinion

In a separate part of the study, respondents were shown eight different statements. But this time, most saw statements attributed to one of three specific news outlets: one with a left-leaning audience (The New York Times), one with a right-leaning audience (Fox News Channel) and one with a more mixed audience (USA Today).4

Overall, attributing the statements to news outlets had a limited impact on statement classification, except for one case: Republicans were modestly more likely than Democrats to accurately classify the three factual statements in this second set when they were attributed to Fox News – and correspondingly, Democrats were modestly less likely than Republicans to do so. Republicans correctly classified them 77% of the time when attributed to Fox News, 8 percentage points higher than Democrats, who did so 69% of the time.5 Members of the two parties were as likely as each other to correctly classify the factual statements when no source was attributed or when USA Today or The New York Times was attributed. Labeling statements with a news outlet had no impact on how Republicans or Democrats classified the opinion statements. And, overall, the same general findings about differences based on political awareness, digital savviness and trust also held true for this second set of statements.

When Americans call a statement factual they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate; they tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions

The study probed one step further for the initial set of 12 statements. If respondents identified a statement as factual, they were then asked if they thought it was accurate or inaccurate. If they identified a statement to be an opinion, they were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with it.

When Americans see a news statement as factual, they overwhelmingly also believe it to be accurate. This is true for both statements they correctly and incorrectly identified as factual, though small portions of the public did call statements both factual and inaccurate.

When Americans incorrectly classified factual statements as opinions, they most often disagreed with the statement. When correctly classifying opinions as such, however, Americans expressed more of a mix of agreeing and disagreeing with the statement.

About the study

Statement selection

This is Pew Research Center’s first step in understanding how people parse through information as factual or opinion. Creating the mix of statements was a multistep and rigorous process that incorporated a wide variety of viewpoints. First, researchers sifted through a number of different sources to create an initial pool of statements. The factual statements were drawn from sources including news organizations, government agencies, research organizations and fact-checking entities, and were verified by the research team as accurate. The opinion statements were adapted largely from public opinion survey questions. A final list of statements was created in consultation with Pew Research Center subject matter experts and an external board of advisers.

The goals were to:

  1. Pull together statements that range across a variety of policy areas and current events
  2. Strive for statements that were clearly factual and clearly opinion in nature (as well as some that combined both factual and opinion elements, referred to here as “borderline”)
  3. Include an equal number of statements that appealed to the right and left, maintaining an overall ideological balance

In the primary set of statements, respondents saw five factual, five opinion and two borderline statements. Factual statements that lend support to views held by more people on one side of the ideological spectrum (and fewer of those on the other side) were classified as appealing to the narrative of that side. Opinion statements were classified as appealing to one side if in recent surveys they were supported more by one political party than the other. Two of the statements (one factual and one opinion) were “neutral” and intended to appeal equally to the left and right.

How Pew Research Center asked respondents to categorize news statements as factual or opinion

As noted previously, respondents were first asked to classify each news statement as a factual statement or an opinion statement. Extensive testing of the question wording was conducted to ensure that respondents would not treat this task as asking if they agree with the statement or as a knowledge quiz. This is why, for instance, the question does not merely ask whether the statement is a factual or an opinion statement and instead includes explanatory language as follows: “Regardless of how knowledgeable you are about the topic, would you consider this statement to be a factual statement (whether you think it is accurate or not) OR an opinion statement (whether you agree with it or not)?” For more details on the testing of different question wordings, see Appendix A.

After classifying each statement as factual or opinion, respondents were then asked one of two follow-up questions. If they classified a statement as factual, they were then asked if they thought the statement was accurate or inaccurate. If they classified it as an opinion, they were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

  1. For example, fact-checking organizations have used this differentiation of a statement’s capacity to be proved or disproved as a way to determine whether a claim can be fact-checked and schools have used this approach to teach students to differentiate facts from opinions. 
  2. A statement was considered to appeal to the left or the right based on whether it lent support to political views held by more on one side of the ideological spectrum than the other. Various sources were used to determine the appeal of each statement, including news stories, statements by elected officials, and recent polling. 
  3. The findings in this study do not necessarily imply that one party is better able to correctly classify news statements as factual or opinion-based. Even though there were some differences between the parties (for instance, 78% of Democrats compared with 68% of Republicans who correctly classified at least three of five factual statements), the more meaningful finding is the tendency among both to be influenced by the possible political appeal of statements. 
  4. The classification of these three outlets’ audiences is based on previously reported survey data, the same data that was used to classify audiences for a recent study about coverage of the Trump administration. For more detail on the classification of the three news outlets, as well as the selection and analysis of this second set of statements, see the Methodology. At the end of the survey, respondents who saw news statements attributed to the news outlets were told, “Please note that the statements that you were shown in this survey were part of an experiment and did not actually appear in news articles of the news organizations.” 
  5. This analysis grouped together all of the times the 5,035 respondents saw a statement attributed to each of the outlets or no outlet at all. The results, then, are given as the “percent of the time” that respondents classified statements a given way when attributed to each outlet. For more details on what “percent of the time” means, see the Methodology.

By Amy MitchellJeffrey GottfriedMichael Barthel And Nami Sumida, for Pew Research Center

Categories: World News

Putin: Olympic Venues in Sochi Are “Very Busy”

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:28

RUSSIA — A picture taken on November 6, 2012 shows the newly constructed Iceberg skating palace, which will host the short track speed skating and figure skating events in Sochi, part of the coastal cluster for the upcoming 2014 winter olympics

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President of Russia

“We managed to address a very difficult challenge that other countries which have hosted the Olympic Games have not been able to address so effectively.All of Sochi’s infrastructure – practically all – is very busy throughout the year. And both the coastal and mountain clusters are busy.”

Source: Vladimir Putin


Only some of the Olympic venues are somewhat busy during some parts of the year.

According to a report commissioned by the Russian Government Financial Institute, the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, cost $51 billion (1.5 trillion rubles), “which made it the most expensive event in the history of the Olympic Games.”

The report stated that out of the $51 billion spent on Sochi (including both government and private funding), $3.4 billion (214 billion rubles), or 33% of the government funds allocated for games, were spent on construction of the sports venues, while $20.6 billion (1.3 trillion rubles), or 47% of the government funds allocated, were spent on regional infrastructure.

In spring 2015, Russia’s Audit Chamber, the parliamentary-controlled budgetary watchdog, issued a report stating: “The cost of preparations and hosting of 22nd Winter Olympic Games and 11th Paralympic Winter Games (construction of sports venues, temporary infrastructure and the organization of the games) cost Russia a total of $51.6 billion (324.9 billion rubles). $35.1 billion (221 billion rubles) came from private investments, $16.3 billion (103.3 billion rubles) came from the federal budget, and $95 million (0.6 billion rubles) from the budgets of Krasnodar Region and the City of Sochi.”

Boris Nemtsov, who was governor of Russia’s Nizhny Governor Region and the country’s energy minister in the 1990s and assassinated in 2015, co-authored a report in 2013 titled “Winter Olympics in the Subtropics.” Calling the cost of the construction of the Sochi Olympic venues “a monstrous scam,” the report claimed $25 billion-$30 billion of the $50 billion spent on the Olympics was stolen.

The most expensive piece of the infrastructure built for the Sochi games was a 48-kilometer (29 miles) road from the city of Adler to the Red Meadows in Sochi that cost the Russian federal budget $9 billion – three times more expensive than “Curiosity,” the unmanned rover vehicle the U.S. space agency NASA built and sent to Mars.

RUSSIA — An aerial view from a helicopter shows the Olympic Park under construction in the Adler district of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, December 23, 2013. Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February

However, none of these reports looked at the issue of how busy the Sochi Olympic venues have been in the years since 2014. Information gathered by regional reporters says that it has varied depending on the season.

Fisht Olympic stadium

Russia — Grounds stadium Fischt, Sochi, 30 January 2014

Construction of the Fisht stadium cost $373 million (23.5 billion rubles) — three times more than originally planned. The stadium, which was built to accommodate 40,000 people, was used during the 2014 Olympics for the opening and closing ceremonies, and to award the winners.

As soon as the games were over, the stadium was closed for renovations until March 2017. Those renovations, which cost $74 million (4.7 billion rubles), expanded the capacity of the Fisht stadium to almost 48,000 people. In March 2017, the venue hosted a test match between Russia and Belgium which was attended by 40,000 people. The following month, it hosted a match between teams from Sochi and Volograd, and in May 2017, it hosted a Russian National Soccer Cup match attended by 24,500 people. The following month, the venue hosted four more soccer games. The highest attendance of those games was for a match between Germany and Mexico, which attracted 37,923 spectators.

In 2017, the Fisht stadium was used seven times, after which it was closed down for almost a year. It has been reopened for six planned matches during the World Cup 2018.

Iceberg Winter Sports Palace

This venue, which can seat 12,000 people, was originally projected to cost $22 million (1.43 billion rubles) to build but ended up costing $76 million (8.9 billion rubles). The Iceberg winter Sports Palace opened in 2012, and prior to the 2014 Olympics it hosted five competitions, including the Grand Prix Final and National Championship of Russia in figure skating.

In May of this year, the venue hosted the Black Sea Cup, a three-day international junior hockey league championship.

Overall, competitions and tournaments keep the Iceberg Winter Sports Palace busy for several days each month. It is also used for concerts once or twice a month, as well as other performances. Those events sell from 300 to 5,000 tickets.

Bolshoi Ice Dome

Russia — A person climbs on the Bolshoi Dome, one of the ice hockey venues, before the medals ceremony during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 14, 2014

With a 12,000-seat capacity, the Bolshoi Ice Dome was supposed to cost $95 million (6 billion rubles) to build, but ended up costing $158 billion (9.9 billion rubles). During the 2014 Olympic Games, it hosted a hockey tournament. Prior to the Games, it hosted a junior hockey world championship; after the Games, it hosted the Channel One Cup international hockey tournament.

The Bolshoi Ice Dome is the busiest Olympic coastal cluster venue. As the home base for the Sochi hockey club, it is where the team practices and plays three to six home games every month.

The Bolshoi Ice Dome also hosts a training center for figure skaters and a school run by Olympic champions Tatiana Volosojar and Maxim Trankov, which provides instruction to children of different age groups, and hosts practice sessions and local competitions several times a month.

Sochi Autodrom

RUSSIA – Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Sochi, 12 Oct 2014

Originally known as the Sochi Olympic Park Circuit, the Sochi Autodrom was not used as a sports venue during the 2014 Olympic Games, but was built under the federal program titled “Construction of Olympic Venues and Development of the City of Sochi as a Mountain Climate Resort.” This race track cost more than $125 million (7.9 billion rubles) to build.

From 2014-2017 the race track was used for annual Formula-1 races and the Russian Grand Prix event. Each such event lasts three days. The race track is also used for up to five smaller-scale motor racing events each year.

When not hosting car races, the Sochi Autodrom offers paid racing sessions to anybody with their own vehicle. Those events are held two to four times a month, but only during the winter.

Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort

The project to build Rosa Khutor started well before the 2014 Olympics — in 2003 – and the ski resort hosted its first group of tourists in 2010.

However, the Russian government built a ski center at Rosa Khutor specifically for the 2014 Olympic Games. The ski center can accommodates 7,500 visitors at a time, and also has an “Extreme Park” (for sports like snowboarding) that can hold up to 10,250 people.

The total cost of preparing the ski resort for the 2014 Olympic Games was $873 million (55.7 billion rubles).

Today, Rosa Khutor continues to operate as a ski resort that hosts up to 800,000 visitors in the winter and 300,000 in the summer.

Rosa Khutor’s owners say the resort, including the Olympic venues, costs $31 million (2 billion rubles) a year to maintain. In 2016, the resort made $69 million (4.4 billion rubles). However, while the profits continue to grow, it will take 20 years to cover the costs of preparing the resort for the 2014 Olympics.

Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex

RUSSIA — A general view of the shooting range of the Laura Cross Country and Biathlon Center in Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 3, 2013

The Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex and the infrastructure attached to it – the Olympic villages, a road, electric grid stations, water supply, etc. — cost more than $1.5 billion (100 billion rubles) to build.

The venue holds 9,600 people. During the 2014 Olympic Games, it was site of skiing and biathlon tournaments, which continue to be held there. The Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex also operates a ski resort. While it does not disclose the total number of visitors a year, its annual profits — around $57 million (3.6 billion rubles) — are slightly lower than those of Rose Farm and just a fraction of the complex’s construction costs.

The Sanki (Sled) Sliding Center

RUSSIA — The Sanki Sliding Center is lit up for the start of the men’s skeleton final competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia

This venue ended up costing $125 million (7.9 billion rubles) — twice as much as originally projected. It holds 5,000 people. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, it hosted tournaments in bobsleigh, luge and skeleton racing. Prior to the Olympic Games, it hosted International Luge Week and the Luge World Cup.

In 2015 and 2016, the venue once again hosted the Luge World Cup, as well as the World Cup in Bobsleigh and the European Championship in Luge. Similar tournaments take place several times a year.

The Sanki Sliding Center is the national tournament center for the Russian team. Like the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex, the Sanki Sliding Center holds periodic practices. The tracks, however, are open for training members of the general public and tourism only during the winter season.

RusSki Gorki Jumping Center

RUSSIA — A picture taken on December 18, 2013 shows a view of the “RusSki Gorki” Jumping Center at the Krasnaya Polyana resort near the Black Sea city of Sochi

With an initial projected cost of $19 million (1.2 billion rubles), the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center ended up costing $127 million (8 billion rubles) to build. It has a seating capacity of 7,500 people. During the 2014 Olympic Games, it hosted the ski jumping competition.

However, even while the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center was still under construction, various competitions were held on the facilities there that had already been built.

Since 2014, the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center has hosted an annual summer ski jumping championship, which lasts 3-4 days. However, during most of the year, the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center is closed.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

We still need East Stratcom against Kremlin trolls

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 23:28

By Laima Andrikiene, for EUobserver

The EU and its member states are facing an organised and aggressive Russian state fake news, manipulation and disinformation campaign.

Its objective is to destabilise the Western democratic order, confront and weaken states and ultimately to break up EU unity and support those that wish to destroy it.

Unfortunately, given the scale of the challenge, the EU’s response so far has been dangerously inadequate.

For Baltic states, Russian propaganda and disinformation are nothing new. We have been fighting against such campaigns on a daily basis since the 1990s.

One of the latest examples – in March 2018 – saw Russian trolls announce that the minister of national defence of Lithuania, Raimundas Karoblis, recognised the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The ministry of national defence of the Republic of Lithuania immediately disproved this fake message.

Russia’s playbook is not new, but it has been evolving to take advantage of the digital age.

The internet, social media, ‘troll farms’ and bots allow the spreading of fake news to hundreds of thousands of recipients within a short timeframe and with little effort.

Conventional warfare has been joined by information warfare. The objective is not to make you believe the Kremlin, but to make you question which ‘alternative reality’ you can trust.

The Kremlin invests more than €1bn a year for its propaganda machine, which includes television RT, with a presence in 100 countries, and Sputnik, which publishes stories in 33 languages.

On top of that, the famous Kremlin ‘troll farms’, which spread fake news using the newest technologies, are also heavily financed from the state budget.

The EU’s response so far to this serious threat, backed by a billion euros of Russian finance, is only €1.1m.

For several years, politicians from the Baltics and central and eastern Europe have been sounding the alarm. Finally, our warnings are being heeded by the institutions and most member states.

The establishment of the EU East Stratcom Task Force in 2015 was an important, however modest, step forward.

In 2015 East Stratcom had only one officer working to fight the Russian information war, now there are 14 people doing this job, but their positions are temporary and may not be renewed this summer.

While I admire their work, they are the EU’s David to Russia’s Goliath in this fight.

Thanks to a proposal by the European Parliament, East Stratcom was allocated its €1.1m budget for the period 2018-2020. It has yet to receive the money.

One of its main tools for analysing misinformation is the EUvsDisinfo site, which serves as a platform to correct or contextualise hyper-partisan narratives.

However, this platform itself faces censorship from the External Action Service if it risks offending a member state, and the platform could even be closed entirely, leaving East Stratcom as a shell tasked with spreading positive EU news only.

A knife to a gunfight

In tackling disinformation, the EU has brought a knife to a gun fight; and rather than upgrade its weaponry it is considering fleeing altogether.

This would be a major strategic mistake, not just for the democratic processes of our member states, but for the EU institutions themselves, which make easy targets for Russian hyper-partisan narratives.

Firstly, we must substantially increase resources for East Stratcom. Their work should be able to reach well beyond the Brussels bubble to inform EU citizens about how outside forces are seeking to manipulate their views, and how to protect themselves.

East Stratcom should also be removed from the External Action Service as its primary goal is to address misinformation within the EU, not to liaise with external actors.

It may even make sense to form a separate agency, similar to the EU’s network and cyber security agency, Enisa, which has around 60 staff.

Regardless, now is the time for some leadership on this issue within the EU. Rather than discussing whether to wind down the work of East Stratcom, the level of threat demands that we significantly beef up our work.

The EU and all its member states must acknowledge that the Russian disinformation threat is serious. Failing to build the necessary resilience will lead to far more headaches for ‘Brussels’ as Russia and other actors use the misinformation playbook to dissolve public trust, and to lead people to vote on the basis of confusion and fear. Rarely do such motivations deliver good results.

We can win this battle, but we must first decide to enter it with more than an empty gesture in the External Action Service. The battle for truth is worth fighting, for our generation and future generations to come.

By Laima Andrikiene, for EUobserver

Laima Andrikiene is a Lithuanian MEP since 2004, a member of the European People’s Party group and member of the parliament’s security and defence subcommittee

Categories: World News

StopFake #188 with Marko Suprun

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 20:59

Fake: Ukrainian soldier deserts and joins separatists; Hungary to shoot down Ukraine airplane; Ukrainian parliamentary speaker is a Neo-Nazi and an anti-Semite; Serbia says Maidan revolution really a coup.

Categories: World News

Thief cries, catch the thief!

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 17:14

By EU vs Disinfo

When pro-Kremlin commentators attempt to blur the facts about MH17, they insist that any investigation that does not include Russia among the investigators cannot be considered credible (despite the fact that the only “evidence” Russia has presented was fabricated).

This strategy, when an actor creates a problem and insists the problem cannot be solved without his permission and cooperation, can have multiple applications – and it can also be very effective in the communication domain.  

Fakes about fakes

Thus, Russia – whose aggressive dissemination of fakes and disinformation have made it the only international actor to concern the 28 Heads of EU States enough for them to ask for a dedicated counter-disinformation unit by way of response – has publicly declared concern about “the spread of fake news”, as Vice News informed in May. A senior official from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the problem should be dealt with at the level of United Nations.

“[Maxim] Buyakevich proposed that countries work together to develop a system under the auspices of the U.N. to tackle the proliferation of fake news, one that would meet the interests of all countries,” says the article.

It is hard to see how this initiative could ever have any meaningful result.

Accuse your enemy of what you are guilty of

It is not the first time that the Kremlin feigns an interest to enter the field of countering disinformation. One year ago, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a project that would track “fake news” about Russia in the Western press.

The fact-checking attempts of the Kremlin were limited to a huge red stamp saying FAKE, and they were soon ridiculed by the expert community. For comparison, please, see the disproof section for one of the cases reported in the last #DisinfoReview.

Around the same period of time, also the Kremlin’s disinformation bulwark Russia Today announced its fact-checking service called “FakeCheck”. Also in this case, the attempt to enter the field of countering disinformation was described as feeble by real experts in this topic, see another article by DFRLab: “The final four FakeCheck entries also recycle content, but they appear to have done so, not to expose disinformation, but to perpetuate it,” writes Ben Nimmo.

Apart from the above, there is one more benefit for Russia in launching initiatives like these. When you pretend that you are concerned about a problem, it gives you the opportunity to present yourself as a victim of a problem, not as its instigator. To put it in simpler words often used by our favourite satirical account: “Accuse your enemy of that which you are guilty

It is no wonder that for an average media consumer, these matryoshka dolls of endless deceptions inside bigger deceptions covered in deception can appear rather… deceptive.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Thief cries, catch the thief!

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 10:46

By EU vs Disinfo

When pro-Kremlin commentators attempt to blur the facts about MH17, they insist that any investigation that does not include Russia among the investigators cannot be considered credible (despite the fact that the only “evidence” Russia has presented was fabricated).

This strategy, when an actor creates a problem and insists the problem cannot be solved without his permission and cooperation, can have multiple applications – and it can also be very effective in the communication domain.  

Fakes about fakes

Thus, Russia – whose aggressive dissemination of fakes and disinformation have made it the only international actor to concern the 28 Heads of EU States enough for them to ask for a dedicated counter-disinformation unit by way of response – has publicly declared concern about “the spread of fake news”, as Vice News informed in May. A senior official from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the problem should be dealt with at the level of United Nations.

“[Maxim] Buyakevich proposed that countries work together to develop a system under the auspices of the U.N. to tackle the proliferation of fake news, one that would meet the interests of all countries,” says the article.

It is hard to see how this initiative could ever have any meaningful result.

Accuse your enemy of what you are guilty of

It is not the first time that the Kremlin feigns an interest to enter the field of countering disinformation. One year ago, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a project that would track “fake news” about Russia in the Western press.

The fact-checking attempts of the Kremlin were limited to a huge red stamp saying FAKE, and they were soon ridiculed by the expert community. For comparison, please, see the disproof section for one of the cases reported in the last #DisinfoReview.

Around the same period of time, also the Kremlin’s disinformation bulwark Russia Today announced its fact-checking service called “FakeCheck”. Also in this case, the attempt to enter the field of countering disinformation was described as feeble by real experts in this topic, see another article by DFRLab: “The final four FakeCheck entries also recycle content, but they appear to have done so, not to expose disinformation, but to perpetuate it,” writes Ben Nimmo.

Apart from the above, there is one more benefit for Russia in launching initiatives like these. When you pretend that you are concerned about a problem, it gives you the opportunity to present yourself as a victim of a problem, not as its instigator. To put it in simpler words often used by our favourite satirical account: “Accuse your enemy of that which you are guilty

It is no wonder that for an average media consumer, these matryoshka dolls of endless deceptions inside bigger deceptions covered in deception can appear rather… deceptive.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Russian Foreign ministry spreads fake Margaret Thatcher quote

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 09:18

UK — London, United Kingdom. Mikhail Gorbachev (2nd R), General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with his wife Raisa (2nd L) are welcomed by Margaret Thatcher (R), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

By Polygraph

Russian Foreign Ministry’s Official Twitter Account

Russian Foreign Ministry

“In November 1991, in her speech in Houston, ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that ‘according to the estimates of the world community, it is economically feasible for only 15 million people to live in Russia.’”

Source: Twitter


The quote is fake.

In a Twitter thread on the subject of Anglo-Russian relations, the official Russian Foreign Ministry Twitter account cited what it said was anti-Russian statement made by the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In 1991, Thatcher allegedly told an audience in Houston, Texas that it would be “economically feasible for only 15 million people to live in Russia.”

#Захарова: В ноябре 1991 г. в своей речи в Хьюстоне экс-премьер-министр Великобритании М.Тэтчер заявила, что «по оценкам мирового сообщества, экономически целесообразно проживание на территории России только 15 млн. чел»

— МИД России

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukrainian Soldier Willingly Joins Separatists

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 11:59

Ukrainian soldier surrenders to separatist militia because of the drunkenness of his colleagues, blared the headline in the pro-Kremlin internet newspaper, Argumenty i Fakty, Russian Defense Ministry’s web site Zvezda all featured this fake story claiming that Sergeant Taras Hapliak from Ukraine’s 24th mechanized brigade deserted his post and surrendered himself to Russian militants in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

Website screenshot

Website screenshot AiF

Website screenshot

These stories appeared after a video of Hapliak being questioned by the LPR “people’s police” was published online. In the video, 24-year old Hapliak describes working conditions in the Ukrainian army which “forced him to surrender himself to the LNG” and says that Ukrainian soldiers “in a state of drunkenness open fire” on Russian militants.


Taras Hapiak is a real person and a sergeant in the Ukrainian army. According to the Ukrainian Security Service, in March of 2017 he was captured by LPR militants. Hapiak was freed in a prisoner exchange on December 27, 2017. After his release he related how he was forced to record the video under torture.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = ''; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Служба безпеки України спростовує чергову фейкову інформацію, що поширюється «ручними» інтернет-ресурсами терористичних…

Posted by The Security Service of Ukraine on Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Hapiak said he was kept in a small basement room during his entire captivity. On the first day of his capture he was questioned by nine men, three were interrogators, the other six their security detail. They all kept their faces covered. Hapiak described beatings with rubber batons and the use of electric shock. When he refused to read a text his captors wanted to videotape, Hapiak says he was beaten.

Taras Hapiak spent 279 days in captivity with the Russian LNR militants. After he was freed in a prisoner exchange, he was able to identify 19 mercenaries from the military office of the LNR who are implicated in the torture and abuse of Ukrainian soldiers in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk prisons.

Categories: World News

They speak Russian in Crimea, but that doesn’t make it part of Russia

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 16:12

US President Donald Trump arrives for the official welcoming ceremony the G7 Summit in the Charlevoix town of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Counsil

US President Donald Trump made headlines ahead of the recent G7 summit in Canada by calling on his colleagues in the group of leading industrial nations to welcome Russia back into the fold. However, it seems that this was not the full extent of his advocacy for the Kremlin. According to a report published by BuzzFeed quoting two unnamed diplomatic sources, the US president also took advantage of the opportunity presented by the traditional G7 dinner to justify Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The BuzzFeed report quotes him telling his G7 colleagues that Crimea was Russian “because everyone who lives there speaks Russian.”

If this account is accurate, it is difficult to exaggerate how troubling the American leader’s comments are. Here is a sitting US president apparently making light of mainland Europe’s first forced annexation since the days of Adolf Hitler. Nor can there be any suggestion that Trump spoke through a lack of familiarity with the issues. On the contrary, his public comments on Crimea stretch back to long before he announced his intention to run for president, while the subject of Crimea remains central to America’s Russia policy at a time when he finds himself under suspicion of collusion with the Kremlin. Trump is well aware that Russia’s suspension from the G8 was in direct response to Crimea, and must surely appreciate the broader significance of the Russian invasion for the future of international law. The idea that he chose to belittle these concerns while in discussion with his fellow world leaders simply beggars belief.

It is equally alarming to learn that Trump is still repeating Kremlin talking points. Despite having unfettered access to the finest intelligence briefings on the planet, he would appear to prefer getting his news and analysis from fringe websites and Moscow-based sources. The US leader’s latest comments equating Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population with Russia itself are straight out of the playbook used to justify the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine. From the start of the Russian invasion in early 2014, Moscow claimed to be acting in defense of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. As Russian troops fanned out across Crimea and seized control of the peninsula, the Kremlin media broadcast all manner of tall tales about trainloads of Ukrainian nationalists and phantom fascists heading south to oppress Russian-speaking Crimeans. It was the same story in eastern Ukraine, where Russian hybrid forces launched the current conflict while portraying themselves as the saviors of a Russian-speaking population allegedly facing imminent genocidal destruction.

These claims never enjoyed much credibility beyond the alternative reality world of the Russian media and have long since dropped off the mainstream international radar. Nevertheless, the portrayal of Russian-speaking Ukrainians as being essentially Russian rather than Ukrainian clearly still resonates with Trump himself. It is hard to imagine anyone reaching such a conclusion without outside encouragement, least of all the leader of a nation that still speaks the language of its former imperial overlord. Indeed, the entire notion of language as an indicator of political allegiance makes no sense in a world where Spanish, Arabic, English, and dozens of other tongues cross international borders apolitically and enjoy official status around the globe. Even if we applied Trump’s belief in the political significance of language exclusively to Russian, it would raise enormous question marks over the status of the multi-million strong Russian-speaking populations of Israel, Germany, and America itself, not to mention the entire former Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most emphatic response to Trump’s assertions lies inside Ukraine itself, where the rise of Russian-speaking patriotism has been one of the defining themes of the country’s resistance movement. From the first days of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Russian-speakers have lined up to denounce the Kremlin and reject Russian offers of protection as both unnecessary and unwelcome. As the invasion spread from Crimea to mainland Ukraine in spring 2014, Russian-speaking Ukrainians were at the forefront of a grassroots mobilization as makeshift volunteer battalions sprung up to defend the country. Ukraine has since created one of Europe’s largest standing armies with the majority of troops still Russian-speakers. This pattern is also evident among Ukraine’s military casualties, with the highest burden falling on the traditionally Russian-speaking city of Dnipro.

Away from the frontlines of the conflict, the myth of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin Russian-speakers never really needed debunking. While Russian remains the street level lingua franca in most Ukrainian towns and cities, no Ukrainian would interpret this as an expression of geopolitical sympathies, any more than an English-speaking Irishman would come under suspicion of sympathizing with the British. The most striking example of this is the Ukrainian capital city itself. While Ukrainian is commonplace on the streets of Kyiv, Russian is by far the dominant language of day-to-day city life. This makes Kyiv the largest Russian-speaking city in the world outside of Russia itself. Speaking Russian has not prevented the residents of the Ukrainian capital from forming the vanguard of the country’s two patriotically driven post-Soviet revolutions. The language of both Maidan movements that rejected Russian control over the country was overwhelmingly Russian, just as it is in the trenches of eastern Ukraine today.

If the US leader genuinely wants to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, he would be better off coming to Kyiv and gaining some first-hand experience of this Russian-speaking city. He can meet with Russian-speaking Crimean Tatars living in exile from their occupied homeland, and visit Russian-speaking soldiers recuperating from their wounds in Kyiv’s military hospital. Alternatively, he could try listening to his own advisers, who are in no doubt over the nature of the conflict in Ukraine and the responsibility Russia bears for invading, occupying, and annexing their neighbor’s lands.

By Peter Dickinson, for Atlantic Counsil

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

Categories: World News

In the U.S., the left trusts the mainstream media more than the right, and the gap is growing

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 14:32

By Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Richard Fletcher, for NiemanLab

s Facebook moves to privilege “broadly trusted” sources in its News Feed, our research — more of which you’ll find in this year’s Reuters Digital News Report — shows that broadcasters and newspapers are more trusted than digital-born outlets across a number of countries.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would prioritize news from brands that its users perceive as trustworthy, as part of a response to allegations related to the spread of misinformation on the platform. “As part of our ongoing quality surveys, we will now ask people whether they’re familiar with a news source and, if so, whether they trust that source,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote. Facebook measures news brand trust by asking its users if they have heard of a news brand and then to rate it as trustworthy from 1 (entirely) to 5 (not at all).

Critics have speculated that allowing ordinary people to decide what news sources should be deemed trustworthy could result in niche or highly partisan sources being prioritized at the expense of legacy brands that sometimes offer more balanced coverage. Others have worried that sources that produce the most widely shared content could be seen as the most trustworthy. However, data from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2018 Digital News Report shows that on average people have fairly conventional views about what news brands to trust — views that probably differ little from expert consensus. [Ed. note: Research also suggests that Facebook’s plan could work well, but with some important caveats.]

In our survey, people were asked to rate a number of the most popular news brands from 0 (not at all trustworthy) to 10 (completely trustworthy). They could also respond that they had never heard of the news brand. The data presented here represents the views of the online population of each country (unlikely to differ significantly from the views of Facebook users).

In the U.S., we can see that people tend to place more trust in mainstream, legacy news brands. Digital-born and/or partisan sources are trusted less. The users of each brand tended to trust it more than the general population, but particularly so for more right-leaning brands like Fox News and Breitbart.

Across a number of countries, we see that TV brands and newspapers score higher levels on trust on average than digital-born news brands. In addition, we find that Public Service Broadcasters (such as the BBC in the UK) are more trusted in cases where they are perceived as being more independent from the government. There are some exceptions to this pattern. In Hungary, a country with low levels of trust in news, digital-born outlets are as trusted as legacy outlets. Digital born brands also do well for trust in Spain, where journalist led start ups have become a feature of the media landscape.

In many instances, we see large differences between people on the left and the right in terms of how trustworthy they think news brands are. Overall, most mainstream news brands in the U.S. are trusted more by those who self-identify on the left of the political spectrum, while those on the right tend to be much more skeptical of news organizations, with the exception of right-leaning outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart. The differences were very large for outlets like CNN (7.08 score for left-wing individuals and 2.4 for right-wing individuals), The New York Times (7.55 for those on the left, 3.04 for those on the right), and Fox News (2.44 for those on the left, 6.94 for those on the right). Broad trust is rare in the U.S.

These rather striking differences could be a reflection of President Trump’s narrative about the mainstream media. It’s noticeable that outlets with the largest gaps in trust between left- and right-wing partisans (The New York Times and CNN) are those frequently attacked by the president himself. Though people have conventional views about what news outlets are trustworthy in the aggregate, it’s also clear that views can diverge greatly when we consider specific groups.

But not every country is as polarized as the U.S. When looking at brand trust based on political leaning in the U.K., we can see that the gaps are much smaller. This is perhaps surprising given that in the U.K. most print outlets align themselves to the left or the right, unlike the U.S. where the “objectivity norm” has been dominant. We do see some large differences in the U.K. for the right-wing leaning tabloids, such as The Sun and Daily Mail, which tend to be more trusted by right-wing identifiers. But perceptions of quality also seem to matter. The Times and the Telegraph, which are both considered to be right-leaning, also enjoy a relatively high degree of trust from those on the left.

Brand trust scores will be particularly important this year when Facebook will use similar metrics (alongside other signals) to prioritize news from some outlets over others. These algorithm changes have already been made in the U.S., but have still to be rolled out elsewhere. We may never get to see Facebook’s scores, and it’s still possible that they will differ from those presented here, either because of the methodology used or because their sample is different. However, if scores similar to these were to be factored in to Facebook’s algorithms, traditional, non-partisan brands would be most likely to benefit from this change to the News Feed ranking algorithm.

The news brand trust scores for the most popular news brands of all 37 countries of our survey sample are available here.

By Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Richard Fletcher, for NiemanLab

Categories: World News

Anatomy of a Russian ‘troll factory’ news site

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 13:08

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

When browsing through stories on the newly-established media outlet, you may think that you are reading a procedural-generated site that exists entirely from search engine optimization tricks, stealing articles from more established outlets and reposting them as if they were original. However, a closer inspection shows that there are no advertisements on the site — no banners, pop-ups, Google AdSense frames, or any other sign of monetization.

In fact, USA Really is the newest venture of the infamous St. Petersburg Troll Factory, better known by a variety of metonyms and other designations, such as Olgino (northwestern district of St. Petersburg, where the first “troll factory” office was located), Savushkina (reference to 55 Savushkina, the address for a non-descript office building housing some of the functions of the operation), and the IRA (short for the Internet Research Agency, the legal name for the operation).

What can we learn about USA Really by looking at its content, how the site was set up, and the context of how previous astroturfed news sites were operated by the St. Petersburg Troll Factory?

Obvious Russian Origin

There has been no shortage of research concretely linking USA Really to the St. Petersburg Troll Factory, most notably in an April investigation written by Lawrence Alexander. A quick survey of this evidence includes the fact that unredacted WHOIS registration information for the site gives information for a Russian man in St. Petersburg whose organization is the Federal Agency of News (FAN) — a news “agency” that has long been known to be part of the Troll Factory.


Additionally, before the site was launched, FAN announced that they would soon establish a site called USA Really, and a number of sites operating within the Troll Factory ecosystem heralded the start of the American-focused outlet.


In short, it was not an open secret that USA Really was operated by the Russian Troll Factory, as it was not even a secret. Rather, the largest website operated by the Troll Factory literally made a public announcement that it was starting the site a month before it was launched.

Thematic Selection

USA Really posted its first article on May 21, signalling a trend that would continue until the time of this article’s publish date (June 7): complete incompetence, along with a focus on crime and disorder in the United States. Along with the obvious focus on a school shooter, the headline of this inaugural article mixes up quotation marks (used in English) and angled marks (used in Russian and other languages), showing that the writer may not have even proofread his or her headline before posting.


As of June 7, USA Really has published 269 articles, averaging about 16 articles per day. These 269 articles include both “original” articles, polls, and announcements along with posts lifted from regional newspapers across the United States.

The content of these 269 articles ranges, but is generally concentrated into a few categories (note: all titles, grammatical errors intact, are exactly as they appeared on USA Really as of June 7):

While there are a number of articles on USA Really that are categorically untrue or rooted in conspiracy, many are basically correct–which should be expected, as the vast majority of articles on USA Really are heavily plagiarized from more reputable news outlets.

USA Really Incompetent

Writing about sixteen articles per day on topics in the United States is one thing, but actually producing compelling content that can influence the minds of Americans is a totally different matter. Many of the so-called “fake news” sites that found viral success on Facebook and other social network platforms in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election left much to be desired when it comes to site design and eloquent writing–for more information on these sites, see the analysis of Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed News. However, these sites were occasionally able to garner success by demonstrating some basic competency in using a compelling hook to draw in readers, such as a shocking headline or interesting image accompanying the story in social media previews.

It is difficult to make the case that USA Really has shown any competency in these areas, and its site has only gained attention because of its obvious, public origin in St. Petersburg. A sampling of some of the headlines and preview photographs accompanying the stories, which would be visible in social media previews, can be seen below. Many of these headlines, to put it mildly, are difficult to parse, even when it comes from native or near-native English speakers who have contributed editorials to the site.


A History of Incompetence

USA Really is far from the first news site created by the St. Petersburg Troll Factory, though it is one of the most awkward. When creating content in Russian, sites from the Troll Factory are, at the very least, competent. For example, in 2014, they created the site “” (I am a patriot”), with content aimed against Russian opposition figures, such as Aleksey Navalny and Boris Nemtsov. Considering how the Troll Factory employees were far more well-versed in the Russian language and political scene, the content on this site was leaps and bounds more interesting to the average Russian than any of the USA Really content is to the average American. For example, YaPatriot included a comic book drawn by an employee that shows anti-corruption activist Aleksey Navalny as a pro-Western super hero, portraying him as an enemy of Russia and paid agent of the West.


Other “news” sites ran out of the Troll Factory resemble USA Really in that they are astroturfed, pretending to be a grassroots, local site, but actually being directed from the top-down in St. Petersburg. The now-defunct site “Who is Who” pretended to be a Ukrainian site looking to improve the country by exposing internal corruption, but was actually ran entirely out of St. Petersburg. Some of the stories on this site included, as detailed by Lawrence Alexander back in 2015, an imagined story about a mother who had to steal groceries to survive in Kyiv and an anti-Semitic spiel about the leadership of Ukraine.

We do not have to speculate on how the Troll Factory is ran, as Russian journalists obtained leaked documents from Savushkina 55 years ago, which include actual guidelines, templates, and productivity requirements for employees. Practices have surely changed in the last three years, but some things seem to have remained the same, such as the quota system that values quantity over quality. Most of the articles with the author listed as “USA Really” hover around the same word counts (200-350 words), heavy on quotations and copy-pasted portions of other articles. For example, an article about a police bust in Missouri liberally plagiarizes the Springfield News-Leader. Below, the USA Really article (left) is compared with sections of the Springfield News-Leader article (right), with color-coded sentences to show the direct plagiarization.

Much Ado About Nothing

A number of analysts and news outlets have raised alarm about USA Really, calling it a “Russian op designed to sway U.S. voters” and “RT on steroids“. Facebook and LiveJournal, for example, blocked USA Really’s pages soon after McClatchy published an article about the operation, leaving the Troll Factory startup to Twitter, where it tweets out links to its articles to little engagement (other than people replying with nasty messages about Russian trolls) and sarcastically likes tweets about its origins and behavior.

If ‘information warfare experts’ truly believe that USA Really, a site that plagiarizes the vast majority of its articles and writes in barely-functional English, is a threat to the minds of American voter in midterm elections, then either the American information space is in a decrepit state, or analysts should re-examine what constitutes a true danger worthy of public attention.

UpdateFAN published an interview on June 5 with two of the people working at USA Really, where they spoke (in Russian) about how they were being censored by America. In the background, a map can be seen with various labels on each state, signifying different problems. This map was not a secret, as Aleksandr Malkevich, the head of USA Really, explained the system and each of the problems.

Some of these problems include immigration (red), secession (yellow), second amendment/mass shootings (mauve), “the race question” (dark blue), poverty (green), crime (light blue), taxes (brown), unemployment (dark grey), and bankruptcy. Missouri, for example, is apparently concerned with crime according to the map, while Utah has no markers at all. The interview also showed the office of USA Really, which is practically a self parody.

With this interview, the fact that FAN publicly announced the launch of USA Really ahead of time, and how the site seems mostly concerned about talking about being censored by American authorities, it is difficult to take the actual content they produce seriously. The real audience of USA Really may actually be Russians reading and watching Russian-language articles about American censorship of the site, rather than actual American voters.

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Aric Toler has written with Bellingcat since 2015 and currently leads the Eurasia/Eastern Europe team. Along with his research into topics in the former Soviet Union, he organizes and leads Bellingcat’s Russian-language workshops for journalists and researchers. He graduated with an MA in Slavic Languages & Literatures from the University of Kansas in 2013, focusing on Russian literature and intellectual history. After graduation, he worked for two years as an intelligence specialist in the private sector.

Categories: World News

Figure of the Week: 0

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 09:48

By EU vs Disinfo

The downing of flight MH17 has been one of the most lied-about events in recent years, and the disinformation campaign surrounding the tragedy shows no sign of abating.

Revelations that a Russian missile shot down the passenger airplane over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board, have triggered a flurry of fresh disinformation stories from Moscow.

The charge of Russian involvement was made on May 24 by the Joint Investigative Team (JIT), the Dutch-led international group of investigators tasked with probing the crash.

Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media outlets have sought to discredit the JIT’s latest findings, including by claiming that the United States never presented a single incriminating satellite image as pledged in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova blamed Washington for providing zero “satellite images, the presence of which was announced immediately after the catastrophe.”

Zakharova, however, would be hard pressed to back up her claim considering that some of the satellite images released by the United States on 22 July 2014 — just five days after the plane’s downing — were widely published and scrutinised in the media.

U.S. officials say the images and other sensitive intelligence, most of which remain classified, show that Russia trained and equipped the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine responsible for the attack on flight MH17.

One publicly available image shows what U.S. officials identified as a Russian military installation near the southern city of Rostov, close to the border with Ukraine, which served as a support base for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The installation is seen to grow dramatically between 19 June and 21 July 2014.

JIT head Fred Westerbeke has confirmed that his team received satellite images provided by the United States after the crash.

To deflect the blame for the tragedy, Russia has released its own “evidence” allegedly proving that the plane was in fact shot down by Ukraine.

The images, presented by the Russian defence ministry at a press conference four days after the Boeing went down, were later proven to having been falsified using Photoshop software.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Fake: Serbian Defense Ministry Calls Euromaidan a Coup

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 00:04

Several Russian media outlets claim that the Serbian Defense Ministry and therefore the country itself consider Euromaidan a coup d’état  (Pravda news, Rambler  and others). To support their claim, they quote Serbian Minister of Defense who compared recent protests in Serbia with the AutoMaidan movement in Ukraine. While Minister Alexander Vulin did compare the protests in an interview on National television RTS, he never called the Ukrainian protests a coup d’état.

Website screenshot

Due to a sudden petrol price increase, several massive spontaneous protests recently broke out in Serbia. Starting in Belgrade, the protests spread to more than 30 cities, demanding a reduction of the excise taxes imposed by the government and allowing the price of gasoline to remain unchanged.

The Minister declared that these protests have a hidden agenda supported by Western secret services and Serbian opposition leaders  and that their real goal is to destroy the country, like they did in Ukraine. Several media reported that quote. Other media wrote that Vulin said that the recent events in Ukraine, such as Euromaidan, were a project designed by the USA and other foreign secret services (Naspravdi, Topre, Mkru and others ). This statement does not represent the official position of the Serbian authorities.

Vulin said the protesters were organizing traffic jams in order to destabilize the country. “Fortunately for us, we have as Head of State Aleksandar Vucic and not Yanukovich, so they shouldn’t have any hope that they will manage to destabilize and destroy Serbia in that way” declared Vulin.

AutoMaidan was a full-fledged social and political movement and an integral part of the Euromaidan protests, whereby driver activists provided supplies to the demonstrators and organized various public actions involving cars. Their leader was kidnapped and tortured, an act which was condemned by many international actors, including the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

Claims that the Maidan protests were organized by American intelligence services is a regular staple of Russian disinformation about Ukraine.

Website screenshot PTC

Website screenshot N1

Vulin’s position was criticized in certain media.   This is not the first time that Serbian authorities have gone public with such declarations concerning Ukraine’s political situation. Following a bilateral meeting between President Vucic and President Poroshenko during the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) conference on June 12 in Turkey, a joint press release was issued by both presidents. The release included a call from President Poroshenko to Serbian politicians to cease running an anti-Ukrainian campaigns and a thank you to Ukraine for not recognising Kosovo as an independent state. This was reported in several Serbian outlets Danas, Vesti, Novosti, Pink and many others.

Categories: World News

Improving the Western strategy to combat Kremlin propaganda and disinformation

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 16:16

By Anton Barbashin, for Atlantic Counsil

Read the Publication (PDF)

Since Putin’s annexation of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas—and especially since the 2016 US presidential election—the spread of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation has become a dominant subject of discussion and debate in the West. Academic research, investigative journalism, government inquiries, and NGO activities have drawn back the curtain on the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in and distort the Western information space.

This work has created widespread awareness of the issue in NATO countries and Russia’s immediate neighbors to the west and south, but difficult questions remain regarding appropriate countermeasures. For example: How can these countries target Russian disinformation and propaganda without dismissing fair criticisms of Western structures of government? What is an appropriate response that also preserves the freedoms that distinguish the West from authoritarian states? How can countries in Central and Eastern Europe strengthen democratic values when their societies are the most vulnerable to disinformation campaigns?

Read the Publication (PDF)

By Anton Barbashin, for Atlantic Counsil

Categories: World News

Baltic Brutality?

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 14:32

By EU vs Disinfo

A dark image of the Baltic states was (again), painted in pro-Kremlin disinformation this week. Firstly, the Latvian Army was accused of shooting civilians in 1991, during Latvia’s transition to independence from the Soviet Union. In a new Russian documentary covering the topic of ”pseudo-revolutions”, it is claimed that Latvian Army Officers shot civilians, ”much as the case was also on Maidan 2014” according to the movie. Of course, these claims have been debunked several times before as the theme of staged ’colour revolutions’ is recurring in pro-Kremlin disinformation.

Secondly, Latvia was again accused of restricting the rights of ”non-citizens” (primarily ethnic Russians) residing in Latvia. In fact, non-citizens enjoy equal protection under the law both in Latvia and while living or travelling abroad, and are the only group of persons, in addition to citizens, who are granted permanent residence in Latvia ex lege. Furthermore, non-citizens are able to become citizens of Latvia through a naturalization procedure.

Thirdly, we learned from the pro-Kremlin sphere the disturbing story that a child was killed during the ongoing NATO exercise Saber Strike 2018 in Lithuania. Allegedly, a child on a bicycle was run over by an armoured personnel carrier of the US Army carrying American servicemen. According to the pro-Kremlin sources, the child died on the spot and 13 Americans were injured. As so often with disinformation, there is a grain of truth in the story: there was an accident involving 13 U.S soldiers during the exercise. But here the facts stop and a quite elaborate disinformation scheme takes over the story, faking both the news of the killed child and the outlet spreading it to look like one of Lithuania’s main news outlets. The story was quickly debunked by journalists, the Statcom Department of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Minister of National Defence of Lithuania Raimundas Karoblis. Let us also recall that this is not the first time that pro-Kremlin disinformation manipulates sources to look like respected media. It is also not the first time that children are being used in pro-Kremlin disinformation.

The provocation game

With the World Cup in Russia approaching, we have noticed ample use of  the ’provocation narrative’ concerning the conflict in Ukraine from pro-Kremlin sources. As we have previously noted in several cases, pro-Kremlin disinformation uses the word provocation to claim that something was a ’false flag’ operation, as alleged in the case of Skripal or chemical attacks in Syria.

But it can also be used to claim that something is going to happen, as was the case with the Douma attack, where pro-Kremlin media accustomed their audience to the idea that a chemical attack was about to happen in Syria prior to the Douma-attack, while also stressing that Kremlin allies would not be the culprits. The press service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Peoples Republic, a notorious pro-Kremlin disinformation source, claimed that the Ukrainian security forces are preparing a provocation in Donbas against a visiting EU delegationGiven the close partnership between the EU and Ukraine, it of course seems unlikely that something like that would happen.

Furthermore, several Russian TV shows raised the issue of a coming ’provocation’ from Ukraine in the Donbas region during the World Cup in Russia. According to both Russian state-controlled news shows and official Kremlin representatives, such a provocation would have ’grave consequences’ for Ukrainian statehood.

As the World Cup will begin, there is a need not only to be aware of the general situation concerning press freedom and human rights in Russia, but also to be aware of the possible exploitation of the event for disinformation purposes.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News