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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 20 weeks 4 hours ago

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

Putin and Trump understand propaganda; their liberal opponents don’t, Moscow commentator says

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 12:25

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

An anonymous commentator on Telegram’s Red Zion channel who was picked up today by Novyye izvestiya says that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump understand how and why propaganda works while their liberal opponents do not and thus the latter completely fail to recognize that “good sense will never defeat it.”

As a result of their failure to understand the nature of propaganda, he continues, “the attacks of liberal American society on Trump or of its Russian counterpart on Putin are not only useless but even destructive” ( published

From a Russian perspective where the liberals are also far removed from the people, everything is clear, the Red Zion writer says.  But it isn’t for American liberals. “The US never before landed in a situation where the centrists were not in the majority in power and thus could not sell their point of view as the most authoritative one.”

“In reality,” he says, “Trump is a radical in all sense of the word, and the party has adjusted itself under him. For the rednecks and angry white people, truth is on his side regardless of whether his actions are absolutely in accord with his words.”

“Many American liberal activists up to now laugh over how stupidly Trump and his supporters put forward their point of view, inconsistently, constantly changing direction and denying the obvious. It would seem that even an amoeba would understand that something isn’t right.”

“But the white man in the street isn’t following facts, doesn’t compare them, and isn’t interested in logic.” He listens to FOX news and everything is clear: “investigations of Trump are a witch hunt, and besides, look at Obama and Clinton – they are the real criminals and no one touches them!”

“The white man in the street doesn’t like Obama and Clinton and dutifully nods his head,” the Moscow writer says. “In Congress, Republicans also nod their heads and say that is the way it is. And the white man in the street receives yet another confirmation” of what he has been told to believe – and does.

As an aide to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, observed, “Propaganda is always directed only toward the masses and not to the intelligentsia. Therefore, its level must be oriented to the abilities of its acceptance by the most limited among those on whom it is intended to have an impact.”

“This principle is observed 100 percent of the time everywhere and always where propaganda works,” the Red Zion writer argues.

And that has consequences: “Good sense,” he says, “never defeats propaganda,” however often it is presented. “Still more destructive are attacks of this establishment on Trump (or if you like Putin),” given how much the white man in the street hates that group of people. Indeed, these attacks confirm for him what he is told and what he believes.

“Only a few understand that it is necessary to act in places where propaganda still doesn’t have an impact – in the area of social problems.” For Russia, this is already “useless” because the population has lost all faith in the opposition. But “there is still a chance in the US – everything depends on the candidates.”

The Red Zion writer says that it is worth noting “how rarely Bernie Sanders refers to Trump’s behavior and the investigations, focusing instead on the immediate problems of people.” Trump may be in power, but “people in choosing their representatives want to hear how their personal problems will be solved – and not about the problems of democracy as a whole.”

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Scottish sheriff slams Russia’s fake justice system

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 14:54

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Russian state witnesses used ad hominem attacks and whataboutism – standard tactics by Vladimir Putin’s regime – in a failed attempt to achieve the extradition of Russian businessman Alexander Shapovalov from Scotland. Instead, the sheriff overseeing the case accepted volumes of well-researched evidence from two highly-respected British experts on human rights cases in Russia. He also gave a devastating account of how Russia’s justice system is a sham dependent on politically-motivated decisions and a ruthless FSB that “raids” successful companies.

Scottish Sheriff Nigel Ross has refused to extradite 58-year-old Russian businessman Alexander Shapovalov, issuing a decision that is scathing about Russia’s justice system and brutal prisons. Shapovalov fled to Scotland shortly before the end of his trial for fraud in Russia, where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in August 2015. The amount of the alleged fraud was about £40,663. He had spent two years under house arrest. Shapovalov lives with his partner, Regina Imamutdinova, and their two children aged six and two. The younger child has Down’s Syndrome and the older one may be autistic.

“It was a feature of this case that the Russian Federation provided very little evidence, and the evidence provided was of limited assistance,” Sheriff Ross wrote in his judgment. He describes how Shapovalov’s career flourished thanks to his friendship with Vasily Shestakov and their shared enthusiasm for martial arts. Shestakov is a close friend and judo partner of Putin, and was a Russian MP for 13 years. Interestingly, he was a guest at a UK Conservative Party summer ball for rich donors in June 2013, which then-Prime Minister David Cameron attended, and tried to improve Russia’s image in the UK through the Positive Russia Foundation, now defunct.

FSB decides everything

Under Putin the FSB became “the most powerful body in Russia, and in Dr Shapovalov’s words ‘decides everything’, controlling all political and economic life and taking over economic entities and state enterprises,” the sheriff wrote. “Dr Shapovalov’s first experience of the FSB was in 2000, when he was proposed as an office holder in a large state-owned oil company. The FSB opposed him and succeeded in getting their own nominee appointed, who would run the financial affairs through the FSB,” he continued.

Shapovalov came into conflict with the FSB again after turning a failing chemical plant around. The FSB runs the state-sponsored electronic bidding system for construction contracts. “Dr. Shapovalov’s view is that this system was manipulated to ensure FSB-linked companies win the tenders,” the sheriff wrote. “Such a contractor ‘won’ the tender for the construction of new buildings. It demanded thirty per cent payment in advance, and then demanded the remaining seventy per cent prior to completion, despite the project being unfinished.”

After Shapovalov refused payment to the FSB-linked contractor, police arrived at his door to investigate a complaint against him, but found nothing wrong. Subsequently the FSB brought the fraud charges against Shapovalov. He was held in a two-person cell for 36 hours “with a notorious robber from Central Asia” before being sent into house arrest in his flat, banned from making contact with the outside world and placed under surveillance. After fleeing to Scotland, Shapovalov spent six months in Saughton Prison.

Shapovalov “was clear in his view that his trial verdict was pre-determined,” the sheriff wrote. “He was also given a chance at an early stage to pay a bribe to a judge, but refused as he had not committed any offence. During his trial there were 36 witnesses against him, but all the evidence was poor quality, with no evidence of intention, or gain, or conspiracy. The main witnesses did not appear, but signed similar statements.”

Dire conditions in Russia

If Shapovalov were to be extradited to Russia, his partner Imamutdinova would have difficulty living in Scotland, unable to drive, but could not return to Russia with their youngest child “because Down’s children are very poorly treated,” the sheriff wrote. “She thought not a single Downs person was employed in Russia. Eighty percent of families reject a Downs child after birth, and these children ‘don’t survive’. In the UK, he would get an education and probably a job. In Russia he would face discrimination and would have no prospects for education or employment. Disabled people are not seen on the streets.”

The sheriff praised a 94-page report with 115 annexed documents and two supporting volumes of materials prepared by Bill Bowring, a professor of law at Birkbeck College, University of London, who is also a barrister and expert on human rights in Russia. Bowring’s evidence in court was taken over two days. The sheriff said he considered it “credible and reliable”. According to Bowring, the Russian state abuses the legal system in two ways, prosecutions to order and corporate raiding. “These are assisted by the lack of independence of the judiciary, the excessive influence of the state, in the form of the FSB, in judicial, police, prosecutorial, commercial, political and other areas, and oppressive penal conditions,” the sheriff wrote. “This is set against the traditional Russian view that the courts are not primarily an instrument for individual justice, but rather an instrument for educating the population.” He added that there is “a culture of ‘telephone justice’, when a judge will receive a verbal instruction from a senior colleague, or political figure, as to how to decide a case.”

The laws on fraud in Russia are so vague that any receipt of profit or transfer of ownership can be investigated as a crime, the sheriff said. Nearly all trials in Russia result in a conviction. There were 240,065 economic prosecutions in Russia in 2016, the majority of which were started for the purpose of corporate raiding, which is “no more than organised crime using the weapon and cover of the law,” the sheriff wrote. Examining a large number of news stories about abuse of the legal system in Russia and the murder of Putin critics, the sheriff said, “I accept that all of these sources create a bleak picture of a consistent and increasing refusal by the Russian state to observe either its international obligations, or its domestic obligations toward its own people and the rule of law.”

Judith Pallot, a professor emeritus at the University of Oxford, who has been researching Russian prisons since 2005, gave evidence on the conditions of detention in Russia. The sheriff described her evidence as “authoritative and accurate”. He commented: “The prison system in 1991 was acknowledged as the most inhumane, along with that of Nazi Germany, in the 20th century. The FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] has stated that it is committed to modernisation, but has failed to invest sufficiently or bring about a change of culture… The whole thrust of Prof Pallot’s opinion is that the problems are systemic and structural. She could ‘safely say’ that anyone in any penal colony within Russia will suffer inhumane and degrading treatment.”

Russian case inadequate

Russia submitted two written reports to support its case for the extradition of Shapovalov. One was from Sergei Gorlenko, assistant to the prosecutor-general. It called Bowring biased because of his human rights cases and said he had been campaigning to defame the Russian judicial system. “The letter does not address the alleged systemic problems at all,” the sheriff commented. “The tenor of the letter is to rely on the formal legal protections afforded to an accused. These by themselves might be acceptable. It does not, however, provide any reassurance for the point that these legal protections are, in practice, ignored or circumvented,” he added.

The other report was from Alexander Khaliulin, a professor at the Academy of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. Khaliulin referred to Shapovalov’s “negative moral qualities” and called one of Bowring’s arguments “amusing”. “In dismissing Prof Bowring’s conclusions, it relies on corruption being in all countries, not just Russia and the inappropriateness of reference to other cases,” the sheriff wrote. “The report amounts to a judgment both on Prof Bowring’s evidence and on Mr Shapovalov, rather than a source of positive evidence to allow this court to make favourable findings.” The sheriff added that he was not able to accept the report as a source of independent, fair or informative evidence.

A formal request by the court to allow live evidence by video link of Gorlenko or Khaliulin was ignored, and representatives of the Russian consulate failed to show up at scheduled meetings about Shapovalov’s case. The lack of cooperation by the Russian side coincided with the deterioration in UK-Russia relations after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the sheriff said.  “The evidence for the Russian Federation was poor quality, inadequate and misdirected, and I reject it as any reliable source of information,” he concluded.

The sheriff rejected the extradition request on the grounds that Shapovalov did not have the right to a fair trial, the extradition process was being abused by Russia because they prosecuted him without sufficient evidence, and he would be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment if sent to prison in Russia. If Shapovalov’s partner and their children had to return to Russia their human rights would also be breached, the sheriff said. Even if they remained in the UK, the loss of one parent would severely diminish the quality of the children’s care.

Hope for others

Commenting on the judgment to Stop Fake, Bill Bowring said, “It isn’t binding, and is in the Scottish jurisdiction – I think the first extradition case to be heard in Scotland. In fact, since 2003 when I first aced as an expert in Chechen War and YUKOS-related extradition requests by Russia, there have been quite a number of very hard-hitting judgments in the London magistrates court against Russia. Indeed, Russia has succeeded in securing the extradition of very few of the people it has requested. But this is a very pithy judgment! For which I take some credit – as does Prof Judith Pallot.”

The sheriff’s assessment of prison conditions in Russia contradicts that of a judgement in an asylum claim from 2015 seen by Stop Fake. A Russian businessman in the UK who feared being sent back to prison in Russia had his claim rejected, and was told: “Whilst this evidence does not paint the Russian Federation’s prison system or conditions in a good light, it is noted that the authorities are doing all they can to make them better, also the conditions and treatment are not evident in all institutions nor are they experienced by all prisoners… As it is not considered that the prison conditions in the Russian Federation would breach your rights under Articles 2 or 3 of the Immigration rules you do not qualify for Humanitarian Protection.”

Whether more UK judges and Home Office officials will in future agree with the Scottish sheriff or the earlier ruling remains to be seen. But now at least, any Russian fearing prosecution in the UK can refer to the evidence submitted in Shapovalov’s case and the sheriff’s indictment of the Russian system, and they may have a far stronger case. Russia might want to think about taking British justice more seriously. Their lies don’t work in our courts.

By Sarah Hurst (@XSovietNews), for StopFake

Categories: World News

What Putin says about rights and freedoms in Russia vs. the facts

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 08:31

RUSSIA — Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) gives an interview to Austrian public broadcaster ORF in Moscow, June 1, 2018

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President of the Russian Federation

Our mass media is free. People are free to speak out and make a name for themselves as representatives of many political movements do.”

Source: Kremlin, RU, June 4, 2018


Russia is rated “Not Free” by an independent democracy watchdog

In an interview with the Austrian TV Channel ORF in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin claimed that his government does not restrict political freedoms and civil liberties of the Russian people.

“Our mass media is free. People are free to speak out and make a name for themselves as representatives of many political movements do,” he said.

We find Putin’s statement is false.

His comments came the day before Putin met with the Austrian chancellor.

AUSTRIA — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (R) welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin during a one-day visit in Vienna,June 5, 2018

The Freedom House 2018 Freedom in the World report rates Russia “Not Free,” based on Russia’s score on the “Freedom rating” – 6.5; For “Political rights” – 7; And for “Civil liberties” – 6 on a scale of “1=Most Free; 7=Least Free.

“Power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition groups, the Kremlin is able to manipulate elections and inhibit genuine opposition. The country’s rampant corruption is one notable threat to state power, as it facilitates shifting links among bureaucrats and organized crime groups,” Freedom House said.

PUTIN: “Media is free”

“The media is not free in Russia, unfortunately,” Roman Badanin, former editor-in-chief of an independent and privately owned television station TV Rain told “Putin says many lies. He is very much aware of the pressure on the media and cases of government pressure on press freedoms in Russia.”

Roman Badanin, Editor-in-Chief of “TV Rain,” Russia

The non-state Russian pollster Levada-Center found that in 2018, television remains the main source of information for 85% of Russians, or almost 125 million people.

RUSSIA — A Russia’s state-controlled Russia Today (RT) television broadcast van is seen parked in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin next to Red Square in Moscow, March 16, 2018

There are twenty-two major national TV channels in Russia, and the federal government owns twenty of them either directly or via proxy firms such as Gazprom, a gas giant with state-controlled majority shares.

During Putin’s 16th “online town hall” with on June 7, Putin said the government does not interfere with the editorial policy of one of the major radio stations, the Echo of Moscow, despite the fact that the station is financed by Gazprom.

“Gazprom does, in fact, pay for Echo of Moscow operations but does not interfere with its editorial policies,” Putin said during the broadcast of Direct Line. “In part, this points to the fact that we pay attention to the so-called ‘freedom of press’.”

RUSSIA — Workers of the ELSIB machine building company watch a live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual question and answer session in Novosibirsk, June 7, 2018

Alexey Venediktov, the chief editor of the “Echo of Moscow” radio station, told “Gazprom does not interfere into the editorial practices at the radio, the president is correct.”

However, according to Venediktov, “The freedom of press in Russia is constantly diminishing. Specifically, amendments and changes into the law in the recent years as well as court practices and police standards (that) are obviously repressive towards the press freedoms.”

Alexei Venediktov, Editor-in-Chief of radio “Echo of Moscow,” Russia

According to Freedom House, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has passed laws that have been used as leverage against independent media.

Since 2014, the Russian government implemented policies targeting influential bloggers. The security forces have the authority to monitor and oversee Russian bloggers with daily audiences over 3,000. Such bloggers are required to register as media and obtain a media license.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called Russia one of the deadliest countries for independent media and in most cases crimes against reporters remain unsolved.

“Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice,” said CPJ in a meeting announcement last year.

PUTIN: “People are free to speak out” debunked, in the past, Vladimir Putin’s claims regarding political freedom in Russia. Recently, Putin called the 2018 presidential elections the “most transparent and clean vote in Russian history.

The conclusion drawn by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was just the opposite.

“The 18 March presidential election took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.,” The OSCE reported. “Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition. The extensive and uncritical coverage of the incumbent as president in most media resulted in an uneven playing field.”

RUSSIA — A combination picture shows a voter, holding a ballot before casting it at a polling station number 216 (L) and casting a ballot at a polling station number 215, during the presidential election in Ust-Djeguta, March 18, 2018

Russia’s past elections have been characterized by a number of irregularities, including changes to the rules for candidate registration which favored the incumbent, as well as election day irregularities such as ballot stuffing and carousel voting, the report said.

Below are some Individual cases that demonstrate the types of the consequences people in Russia face for attempting to “speak out.”

June 8- Varvar Mikhailova was fined 160,000 rubles ($2,560) by a St. Petersburg court for participating in the city’s May Day march with an anti-Putin banner.In 2012 Vitold Filipov was charged with extremism for “liking” a photo from the film American History X on the social network VKontakte. Filipov argued that the film is “anti-fascist” and has been shown on Russian television, but he was still fined 1000 rubles (approximately $30 at the time).

In May 2018, 28 organizers from Navalny’s organization were taken into custodyand charged with “inciting riots” for retweets and shared posts on social media.

Participants of an unauthorized opposition rally gather in Tverskaya street in central Moscow on June 12, 2017

In June 2018, a court sentenced Vladimir Egorov, an activist with Russia’s Yabloko Party, with extremism after he published a post on social media calling for Putin to be removed. He received three years of probation.

In May 2017 a court gave Ruslan Sokolovsky a 3.5 year suspended sentence for “offending the feelings of religious believers” after he played Pokemon Go in a church and later posted a video of himself doing it on Youtube. Sokolovsky did not disrupt the church service in any way.

Volodymyr Balukh, a resident of Russian-occupied Crimea, was arrested after police searched his house when they noticed a Ukrainian flag flying from it. They later claimed to have found 90 rounds of ammunition and some explosives in the house, but this evidence has been largely refuted.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine Boasts about Crimea Drought

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 06:47

Several pro-Kremlin Russian media disseminated stories this week claiming that Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis representative council boasted about the water problems Ukraine had created for Crimea and said that even if Ukraine allowed water from the mainland to reach the Russian annexed peninsula, it could always turn it off again and that Ukraine would not negotiate Crimean water issues with Moscow.

RIA Novosti, Russia’s Defense Ministry’s television channel Zvezda, Izvestia,, and Eurasia Daily all featured this distorted story with headlines such as Ukraine brags about Crimea drought, Ukraine causes drought in Crimea.

Website screenshot RIA

Website screenshot Zvezda

Website screenshot Izvestiya

The stories are filled with phrases pulled out of context and claims that Ukraine created Crimea’s water problems by shutting off the taps from the mainland and that agriculture in Crimea is being destroyed because of drought. While quoting Mustafa Dzhemilev out of context, none of the Russian publications mention the fact that he is in fact talking about the emergency situation that Russian occupying authorities declared in Crimea due to the severe drought that has hit the annexed peninsula.

On June 2 Crimea’s new Russian masters called for an emergency situation in four regions of the peninsula brought on by severe drought. The state of emergency declaration was published on Russian occupying authorities government portal. At the beginning of June Crimea’s Agrarian Ministry also announced that this year’s projected harvest would be half of the previous year’s due to drought.

The Ukrainian web publication Obozrevatel published Mustafa Dzhemilev’s reaction to Crimea’s drought. There is certainly no boasting or bragging in what Dzhemilev says, he simply confirms that Crimea has water problems and as a result, agriculture on the peninsula is suffering. Russian media totally ignored him saying if Crimea wasn’t under Russian control, Ukraine would have to invest greatly to restore the peninsula’s agricultural sector.

Ukraine provided up to 85 percent of fresh water supplies to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal from the Dnipro River. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 Crimea stopped paying its water bills to Ukraine resulting in massive debt. Ukraine then ceased supplying water to Crimea.

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: and Belt and Road Tracker launched, East Stratcom still needed

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 06:17

Topics of the Week

New projects to follow: Atlantic Council’s and MERICS’s Belt and Road Tracker.

Lithuanian MEP Laima Andrikiene: We still need East Stratcom against Kremlin trolls; the EU’s response has been dangerously inadequate.

Russia is diversifying its influence operations in the US, creating new websites and internet accounts to sway voters in anticipation of the upcoming midterm elections.

Triggering new alarm about Facebook’s data sharing policies, the company shared data with 60 device-makers, including four Chinese firms, one of which is considered a national security risk by the US government.

Good Old Soviet Joke

An artist is commissioned to create a painting celebrating Soviet-Polish friendship, to be called “Lenin in Poland”. When the painting is unveiled at the Kremlin, there is a gasp from the audience. The painting depicts Lenin’s wife naked in bed with Leon Trotsky.

“But this is a travesty! Where is Lenin?” asks one of the guests.

“Lenin is in Poland,” replies the painter.

Policy & Research News New projects to know about

The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based policy think tank, has, an interactive online guide that tracks the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns abroad. The portal aggregates expert and media content produced by the Atlantic Council and its partner organizations and brings together 23 leading think tanks and more than 80 experts fighting Russian disinformation in the United States and Europe. The new website also allows users to find and connect with experts by country and expertise, as well as explore in-depth analyses from individual countries.

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China, has inaugurated theBelt and Road Tracker, a database of publications on China’s ambitious endeavour to connect the economies of the East and the West and expand its influence in the region and beyond. Apart from the database of Belt and Road-related publications, the Tracker also includes a wide range of regional and thematic maps to visualize the initiative’s scope and progress.

Analysis: Hybrid threats as a new ‘wicked problem’ for early warning

“Hybrid threats are designed to blur the distinction between peace and war, as well as complicate and fall below the target’s detection and response thresholds,” Patrick Cullen, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), wrote in his analysis for the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE). According to Cullen, the nature of hybrid threats, including the use of proxies, plausible deniability and uncertainty over who or what the adversary is, makes it difficult to provide adequate advance warning for hybrid threats. The author argues that these “wicked problems” require new solutions for warning intelligence – including through finding ways to better understand the weaknesses of our societies beyond the traditional realm of military activity. How we monitor not just ourselves, but also our adversaries, is no less important in order to address the “wicked problem” of hybrid threats.

The latest developments in Europe

Spanish authorities have tappedPedro Baños, an army reserve colonel openly sympathetic to Russia, to lead Spain’s National Security Council, the Prime Minister’s advisory body on national security issues. Baños, who describes himself as an “analyst and speaker on geopolitics, strategy, defense, security, intelligence, terrorism and international relations,” has been a regular contributor to the Spanish branches of RT and Sputnik. More recent reports, however, indicatethat the Spanish government may be reconsidering the decision.

Aleksandrs Krasnopjorovs, a former employee of the state-owned Latvian Railways, has been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison by a Latvian court on charges of spying for the Russian Federation. Krasnopjorovs, a military veteran, was accused of filming videos of trains carrying NATO equipment and passing them on to a Russian security operative based in the Kaliningrad region since 2015. Krasnopjorovs admitted to sending videos and pictures but denied that he cooperated with the Russian intelligence services.

Repressive regimes target cell phones, not personal computers

Repressive political regimes are now more likely to hack into the smartphones of political opponents rather than their personal computers, security researchers told the Wall Street Journal. The trend reflects the overall proliferation of cell phone usage around the world, as well as the increase in smartphone applications use.

Points of view

We still need East Stratcom against Kremlin trolls. The European Union and its member states are facing an organized and aggressive fake news, manipulation and disinformation campaign by the Russian state, but the EU’s response “has been dangerously inadequate,” argues Lithuanian MEP Laima Andrikiene. According to Andrikiene, the establishment of the EU East Stratcom Task Force was an important step to that end, but insufficient to counter the scope of the Kremlin’s propaganda and influence efforts. To win the battle, she argues, East Stratcom needs to be removed from the External Action Service and endowed with more financial resources.

The West is still unprepared to stop Russian meddling in its elections, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff stress in their joint op-ed for Politico. According to the authors, Western governments are stuck in the 2016 lexis of “fake news,” while contemporary trends “indicate that Russia and similar adversaries are sharpening their toolkit,” including through changing their focus to spreading hyper-partisan narratives with the aim of polarizing the public story. To bridge the gap, Rasmussen and Chertoff will launch a Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, an organization bringing together politicians, media and civil society professionals from both sides of the Atlantic to “amplify the work already being carried out and to fill the gaps that exist in our collective response.”

US Developments Russia continues to escalate online operations to interfere in US politics

McClatchyDC reports that the Russian Federation is again ramping up its disinformation efforts in anticipation of the upcoming US midterm elections, this time through the creation of new websites and internet accounts to sway US voters. One such website, usareally.comprofesses to “uncover crucial information hushed up by the American media controlled by the establishment and oligarchy of the U.S.” The site, which was founded in May, posts an average of nine articles per day and, tellingly, exhibits poor knowledge of English grammar and syntax. According to FireEye Inc., a California-based cybersecurity company, is a Russian-operated website designed to undermine social cohesion, spread disinformation, and inflame sentiments of discord, racial division, and fear-mongering. The company is monitoring several other domains that have not yet launched but follow the same pattern of activity.

Russians involved with work for the Federal News Agency, whose ownership is not publicly known, but which closely adheres to the Kremlin line on international issues. The site also appears to have links to the Internet Research Agency – the notorious troll factory indicted in February 2018 on charges of interfering in the 2016 election. Its operators originally worked out of the same St Petersburg building where the IRA is headquartered.

New National Security Council hire is a pro-Russia conspiracy theorist

The new chief of staff to National Security Adviser John Bolton – a political contrarian known for his zero-sum view of international relations and staunch opposition to give-and-take diplomacy with US allies – is a Russia ‘truther’. Prior to his appointment, Fred Fleitz publicly claimed that US intelligence reports on Russia’s electoral interference were “rigged” and that it is “impossible” to know whether Russia was involved at all; he has also called for President Trump to pardon everyone currently undergoing investigation on this issue. Fleitz has also speculated that the Obama administration manipulated intelligence about Russia and schemed to “trap” Trump officials by sanctioning Moscow. In a January 2017 article for Fox News, he wrote that US intelligence agencies were “led astray by the Obama administration’s partisanship and national security incompetence.” These comments place him in good company with Trump, who continues to espouse the same conspiracy theories, denying evidence of Russian interference in US politics and smearing the special investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘Democratic political conspiracy’.

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation has brought new charges against former Trump Campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as against Konstantin Kilimnik – a business associate with deep ties to Russian intelligence services – on grounds of obstructing justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort and Kilimnik allegedly worked together to tamper with potential witnesses in an effort to influence their accounts of Manafort’s lobbying activities on behalf of political parties in Ukraine.

Trump calls for Russia to be reinstated to the G7

Before departing for last weekend’s disastrous G7 summit in Canada, President Trump called for Russia’s readmission to the G7, adding insult to injury after alienating allies with tariff threats and abandoning his endorsement of the joint communique. The statement on Russia – made amidst feuding between Trump and some of his closest allies, including Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, which continued throughout the summit – drew immediate condemnation both internationally and domestically (from both parties). Meanwhile, Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, expressed approval for the idea on Twitter.

Senator John McCain, a frequent Trump critic, voiced his opinion in a statement sent to reporters last Friday: “Vladimir Putin chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Nothing he has done since then has changed that obvious fact.” He added: “The president has shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies.”

Angela Merkel agreed with Senator McCain while addressing questions from the Bundestag about whether kicking Russia out of the G8 was right thing to do. She stated that a defining feature of the group is that its members are leading economic powers who abide by international law. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was a “flagrant breach” of international law, so its ousting from the group was “unavoidable.”

Facebook shared user data with questionable Chinese firms

Facebook shared data with 60 device-makers, including four Chinese firms, one of which is considered to be a national security risk by the US government. The revelationbrings new alarm about Facebook’s data sharing policies. Although the social network has been blocked in China since 2009, the company Huawei, among others, was interested data-sharing with Facebook in order to create similar Facebook user “experiences” on their own devices. Facebook confirmed this data sharing but claimed that the data collected remained on users’ phones. Huawei said its cooperation with the social network was meant to improve its services and that it “never collected or stored any Facebook user data.” A 2012 report by the US House Intelligence Committee warns US companies about working with Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese firm, citing fears that these companies have close ties with China’s Communist Party and the military.

In other Facebook news, the social network will be updating its Government and Politics portal in order to streamline the way candidates and campaigns worldwide use Facebook as a campaigning tool. Facebook is also rolling out a new video service called “Watch” and paying networks like CNN, Fox News, and Univision, among others, to provide “high quality journalism” on the platform in an effort to counter fake news. “Watch” is also expected to bring in more video advertising revenue for the company.

This latter development is ironic, considering that just a few weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg insisted to Congress that Facebook isn’t a media company, since it only pays for news content but doesn’t produce it. But continuing to deny the increasingly undeniable – that Facebook indeed is a media company that should be subjected to the same strict advertising guidelines that regulate the news industry – gives the company cover to evade responsibility for the real consequences its editorial decisions have on users.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Putin, military, and unique spirit

Some readers may find this entry provocative, given a popular paradigm distinguishing the Kremlin’s actions from ordinary Russian citizens: “Putin is bad, and the Russian people are his unfortunate hostages”. A recent survey shows that this may not be entirely true. “Patriotism in Russia at highest level in 18 years”, RT tells us. The problem isn’t so much that Russians are proud of their country, but rather the attributes of Russian greatness that they name.

When asked what makes their country strong and respected, 26 percent replied it is the military, 22 percent said “the strong spirit and will of the Russian people,” and 17 percent attributed Russia’s success to the “good and powerful president,” Vladimir Putin”. As RT summed it up: “Putin, military power and unique spirit make [Russia] a glorious nation”.

Vzglyad has even more details about the poll, having interviewed Sergei Lvov from VTSIOM, the organization that carried it out. He explains why, in just two years, the number of Russian patriots grew from 80 to 92%. “Sergei Lvov assumes that this development is a “long echo” of the milestone events that took place since 2014: the Olympic Games, the accession of Crimea, and military victories in Syria that led to the strengthening of Russia’s international status.

Crimea’s “accession”. Military “victories” in Syria. Yes, we all know that propaganda is churning full force in Russia. But these figures should also remind us that with such high levels of public support, there’s little chance that Putin will change his policies and stop flouting the rules of the international order. Apparently, the paradigm holding that “the people are just hostages” in Putin’s Russia doesn’t suffice, and we should think about how we can work with and engage ordinary Russians to ensure that they, at least, don’t treat military crimes as reasons for national pride.

And one more thing. Note that the Olympic Games in Sochi were amongst the reasons that increased Russian patriotism and support for Putin. The upcoming World Cup will also serve as a popularity boost for the Kremlin. Western politicians and leaders should think very carefully about whether they want to be cheerleaders for Putin’s ratings in Russia.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion A Definition of Contemporary Russian Conflict:

How Does the Kremlin Wage War?

A recent study by the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society attempts to establish a definition of Russia’s aggressive actions, which they call ‘Contemporary Russian Conflict’. The study argues that Contemporary Russian Conflict is holistic and encompasses all aspects of Russia’s current individual conflicts. It finds that this type of conflict builds heavily on the KGB concept of ‘active measures’ and identifies a six-stage sequencing framework including both military and non-military elements, namely: Political Conflict, Culture and Governance, Economics and Energy, Military Power, Diplomacy and Public Outreach, and Information and Narrative Warfare, with a central seventh element of Command and Control.

The aim of Contemporary Russian Conflict is to divide and demoralise the West by undermining NATO, the EU, and other Western institutions and by utilising disinformation and subversive warfare as a tool to undermine trust in Western values and leaders. This type of conflict therefore utilises the full spectrum of state power, integrating military and non-military means, and operates in a flexible and creative way. The study argues that it is centred around the presidential administration but other agencies influence it as well. Russia’s information operations are used by the Kremlin as both a prelude to war, an alternative to war, and a handmaiden in war.

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

Categories: World News

Russian journalist forced to resign for criticizing pro-Putin propaganda on Instagram

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 00:45

Russian police cadets from Volgograd, Russia, singing a praise song for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Screenshot by Runet Echo. Source: YouTube

By Global Voices

On May 24, 2018, reporter Alexandra Terikova was forced to resign for posting an Instagram video of kindergarten students singing a song for Russian president Vladimir Putin and then giving an interview about it to an independent channel.

Terikova, who works with N1, a small local TV network in Nizhnevartovsk in western Siberia, posted a video of her daughter and other children in their nursery school singing a song with the chorus “Uncle Vova, we are with you!”

On May 24, 2018, reporter Alexandra Terikova was forced to resign for posting an Instagram video of kindergarten students singing a song for Russian president Vladimir Putin and then giving an interview about it to an independent channel.

Terikova, who works with N1, a small local TV network in Nizhnevartovsk in western Siberia, posted a video of her daughter and other children in their nursery school singing a song with the chorus “Uncle Vova, we are with you!”

Дядя Вова, мы с тобой. Теперь и в нашем садике. Почему-то не хочется, чтобы командир звал Алису в последний бой. #дядявовамыстобой #скрепы

Публикация от Легендарная Курочка (@aterikova_official) 24 Май 2018 в 6:44 PDT

Uncle Vova, we are with you. Now in our kindergarten as well. I’m not actually very keen about any commanders leading my Alisa to a last-ditch battle. #unclevovawearewithyou #staples

The hashtag #staples (#скрепы) is a sarcastic nod to Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Russian parliament in 2012 where he lamented Russian society’s lack of “spiritual staples” holding the nation together. She also quotes the song’s lyrics (Vova is short for Vladimir):

The twenty-first century is here, the planet is tired of wars,
The planet’s population is tired of hegemony,
There’s no unity in the European Union, the Middle East is languishing in misfortune
And a president across the ocean is robbed of his power.
And our land is the northern seas, all the way to the southern frontiers,
From the Kuril islands to the Baltic shores.
We wish the Earth could live in peace, but if our commander in chief
Beckons to fight the final battle, we are with you, Uncle Vova!
And what will my generation have left,
If we let our guard down and lose the country?
Our truest friends are our Army and the Navy,
The memories of friendship and my grandpa’s red star.
We will never surrender this ridge to the Samurai,
We will defend the amber capital [Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost exclave] with our lives,
We will preserve Sevastopol and our Crimea for future generations
And we will return Alaska to its home harbor in the motherland.


The song initially appeared last November as a music video directed by Anna Kuvychko, a State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian parliament) lawmaker with the ruling party United Russia. The video, starring students from a local cadet school in Volgograd — formerly Stalingrad, the site of the most ferocious and deadly battle of the Second World War — has a ratio of 17,000 likes to 40,000 dislikes on YouTube and caused a massive backlash online for its jingoistic tone and exploiting children for militaristic propaganda:

On June 6, Terikova gave an interview to TV Rain (Dozhd), an independent TV channel, where she explained that some of her fellow parents in the kindergarten were quite supportive of the performance and cheered on their four and five-years-old kids as they awkwardly sang out lyrics. She protested to the teacher, but her complaints were dismissed, she says.

On June 8, Terikova’s supervisor, her network’s chief executive officer, “very rudely” informed her that “with political ambitions like yours, your place is at the channel you just gave an interview to”, said Terikova in a follow-up interview to TV Rain.

She then posted a photograph of her resignation notice, saying that she was the first Nizhnevartovsk reporter to be fired for her dissident views.

Journalists losing their jobs over critical statements or attending opposition rallies are a common occurrence in Russia. In 2012, Pavel Lobkov, who now works for TV rain, was fired from the NTV channel. In 2015, Konstantin Goldenzweig was fired from the same NTV for giving an interview to a German TV station where he referred to Vladimir Putin’s “well-known cynicism.”

By Global Voices

This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet.

Categories: World News

Austrian TV confronts Putin with the issue of disinformation

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 23:55

By EU vs Disinfo

Ahead of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Vienna on 5 June – his first trip to the EU after he was re-elected – Austria’s national public service broadcaster, ORF, sent journalist Armin Wolf to Moscow to record an interview with the Russian president. A transcript has been made available in English on the official Kremlin website.

A unique opportunity 

A number of Armin Wolf’s questions to Putin directly addressed the issue of disinformation. Given Russia’s highly controlled media environment and low degree of press freedom, Putin is only rarely, if ever, confronted with questions that throw a critical light on Russian disinformation.

For this reason, the interview is a unique opportunity to understand the thinking with regards to disinformation on Russia’s highest political level; to see if the Russian President is willing to engage in a discussion about the issue, and which defensive positions he chooses.


“The governments of Western countries, Europe and, first of all, the United States, are accusing Russia of using hackers to meddle in other countries’ domestic politics. In all of your interviews you say that this is not so; however, there is no doubt that the so-called Internet Research Agency based in St Petersburg has been seeking for many years to influence public debate on Facebook”. “Mr President, it may be good or bad, but it is not the truth. Mr Prigozhin does not only run restaurants, he has many businesses that have contracts with the Defence Ministry and receive a lot of government orders; he spends millions of dollars on the troll factory and people there write these posts. Why does a restaurant keeper need this?”

About MH17:

“There is a video; there are telephone conversations and dozens of eyewitnesses. You have been saying that this is not true for about a year but practically nobody believes your words. Are you not thereby putting the veracity of Russian statements at stake? Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the insurgents in eastern Ukraine used Russian military equipment to commit that horrendous crime?” “[The investigators] know what missile it was: a Buk system missile. It was a Russian army brigade in Kursk. This is known for a fact, yet you still deny it. Would it not be better to admit that the missile had indeed come from Russia?”

About the annexation of Crimea:

“Many people do not believe Russian arguments because a few years ago in Crimea you said that the famous “green men,” the fighters in green uniforms without identifying insignia, were all local self-defence forces. But a little later it was revealed that they were indeed Russian soldiers. After that, you admitted many times that those were Russian army personnel even though you denied that earlier. Why should we believe you now?”

Whataboutism and counterquestions

As Armin Wolf says in a comment about the interview on his blog, Putin’s tactics include “whataboutism”, counterquestions instead of answers. Also, as the Austrian journalist puts it, “if [Putin] wants to deny something, he denies it, no matter how much proof is available to support the case”.

Russian media rebut, accusing the West of “Lügenpresse”

Pro-Kremlin media and commentators saw the Russian president as a victim of a reporter who “violated journalistic ethics”. Vladimir Solovyov, who hosts a disinformation-oriented show on Russian state television, complained on his Twitter about Putin having been interrupted 11 times during the interview. And state-owned Russian TV Rossiya 1 covered the interview under the headline “The Lying Press: Putin Absolutely Destroys Dishonest Austrian Journalist During State TV Interview“.

For a detailed analysis, see this article about the interview published by The Insider (in Russian).

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Zika rumors got three times more shares than real Zika stories. What can health educators do?

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 23:51

Illustration from l.M.Glackens’ The yellow press (1910) via the public domain review

By Laura Hazard Owen, for NiemanLab

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

Blame and pesticides. Fake health news gets less attention than fake political news (and inaccurate science stuff has been shared to Facebook as long as there’s Facebook), but it’s a fascinating thing to study. (And the willingness to believe different kinds of fake news is linked.) A new paper in the American Journal of Health Education looks at how Zika rumors spread on Facebook compared to verified information; the researchers — who include University of South Florida’s Silvia Sommariva and her husband, Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis — found that Zika rumors were shared three times more than verified news, which could “hinder disease prevention efforts.”

Using BuzzSumo, the researchers tracked the reach of Zika-related information across Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus. “We retrieved monthly data for the top 10 Zika-related stories by popularity for the period from February 2016, when the WHO declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern, to January 2017. Overall, a sample of 120 stories was analyzed (top 10 for each month over a 12-month period).” Sommariva and Mantzarlis fact-checked the stories and coded their source: “legacy media,” “digital media,” “alternative media,” and “scientific/institutions,” with the difference between “digital media” and “alternative media” being that “digital media maintain an editorial structure and verification process similar to that of print newspapers, whereas alternative media are mostly run as individual or collective blogs.” Finally, the researchers analyzed the stories’ headlines and compared that to how often they’d been shared, “to explore the characteristics driving stories’ popularity and neglected aspects of the Zika crisis.”

What they found:

— Sixty-six percent of the 120 most popular news stories were produced by alternative media sites like GMWatch, US Uncut, and The Free Thought Project. “On average, alternative media had the highest reach of news stories (44,673 shares per story), followed by digital media (36,340 shares per story), legacy media (12,482 shares per story), and scientific organizations or institutions (9,656 shares per story).” And fully half of the top 10 Zika-related stories on social media were rumors.

— Twenty-seven of the 120 news stories analyzed (remember, these were the 120 most popular Zika news stories) were categorized as rumors (22.5 percent). Rumors were shared, on average, three times more often than verified news stories — though “the proportion of rumors dropped substantially over the course of the period considered…concurrent with the overall decline in shares of Zika-related news stories.”

— “The most popular rumors had headlines that covered issues such as blame (often associated with the actor or organization to be blamed) and pesticides.”

— One thing the authors suggest is that health educators look at the content of stories being shared, beyond just how many times they’re shared:

Several fabricated stories portrayed Zika as a low-risk issue; however, this type of framing did not appear in verified stories. Such framing represents a threat to the implementation of disease prevention efforts and prevention behaviors, because the virus may not be perceived by the public as a public health priority. This understanding could prompt Health Educators not only to disseminate content that refutes the “low-risk” view but also to try to meet the information needs of users by promoting accurate content on the risks of Zika. Moreover, information on which topics have been neglected in the social media debate would prove helpful to redirect communication efforts toward less-discussed issues. In our study, for instance, few verified news stories explicitly addressed the impact of Zika on men’s health, which suggests the need for Health Educators to focus on risk-related messages that target the male population.

France’s proposed fake news law would let judges block access to content.On Thursday, the French legislature began debating President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed bill to fight fake news. From Agence France-Presse

Under the law, French authorities would be able to immediately halt the publication of information deemed to be false ahead of elections.

Social networks would have to introduce measures allowing users to flag up false reports, pass their data on such articles to authorities, and make public their efforts against fake news.

And the law would authorise the state to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they were attempting to destabilize France — a measure seemingly aimed at Russian state-backed outlet RT in particular.

From The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter, who notes that Macron’s majority means the bill is likely to pass:

Under the new law, judges would have 48 hours to decide if “any allegation or imputation” in a news item was “devoid of verifiable elements that would make it credible.” Only items written “in bad faith” could be blocked, and again it would be up to the judge to decide.

Critics say that among the law’s other problems, 48 hours is too short to make such judgments. They also expressed concern that the process could put journalists’ sources at risk.

“Persian Gulf regimes create — or order the creation — of thousands of bots to tweet in a coordinated fashion.” Twitter bots are a problem in the Persian Gulf. In May, 29 percent of a random sample of Arabic tweets mentioning Qatar were tweeted by bots, according to researchers Marc Jones and Alexei Abrahams, up from an already-high 17 percent last year.

Propaganda bots operating in the gulf do not attempt to engage other users directly, tending instead to focus on increasing the public salience of statements tweeted by prominent human accounts. For example, bots often amplify tweets by critics of the Qatari government or royal family, such as the leader of the Qatari opposition abroad, Khalid al Hail, or @QatariLeaks, an anti-Qatar website. Thousands of bots have been mobilized against Qatari news station Al Jazeera. Bots even promoted the pro-Saudi tweets of President Trump during his May 2017 visit to the region.

Typically, almost 90 percent of tweets in gulf crisis hashtags are verbatim retweets of what others have said. Less than 30 percent of Twitter users post original content, and among these, the top 2 percent (0.6 percent overall) are retweeted so much more than anyone else that they drive roughly 75 percent of the conversation. These elite social media influencers are often given a leg up by bots, particularly if they express anti-Qatari sentiment.

“Many people may feel a sense of anxiety when faced with an uncertain world.” The Swedish government is distributing a pamphlet, “If Crisis or War Comes,” to every household in the country. It’s “the first time it has issued a new one since the end of the Cold War,” writes Joseph Trevithick at The Drive. (The Drive, if you were wondering, is Time Inc.’s automotive site.) The pamphlet includes a section on false information, and an English version is here.

By Laura Hazard Owen, for NiemanLab
Categories: World News

Putin says Russia has not left the G-7 – not true

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 23:01

CANADA — German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G-7 Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, June 9, 2018

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President, Russia

“We did not leave it [G-7], our colleagues refused to come to Russia due to known reasons at some point. Please, we will be glad to see everyone in Moscow.”

Source:, June 10, 2018


Russia declared its withdrawal in 2017

During a press conference in Qingdao, China on Sunday Vladimir Putin said that Russia has not left G-7 – the claim is false.

The term “G-7” refers to the Group of Seven – a political forum of the industrial nations that include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States.

Russia was a member from 1997 to 2014, during which time the Group was referred to as G-8.

Russia was admitted to the club at the annual summit in Denver, Colorado in the Western United States, amid tensions within the group, with U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pushing for Moscow’s inclusion while other members of the G-7 opposing the decision.

The group has an annually rotating presidency, with the presiding nation hosting the summit. Russia held the G-8 presidency first in 2006 with a summit in St. Petersburg.

Putin’s claim that “our colleagues refused to come to Russia due to known reasons at some point,” is true and refers to Russia’s second presidency in 2014, when the G-8 summit was supposed to take place in June in Sochi, the city where Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. That changed when Moscow moved to annex Crimea from Ukraine in March, when the other members of the Group declared the suspension of the G-8 format and return to the G-7.

​The Group’s joint statement strongly condemned but did not permanently ban Russia.

“This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them. Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion” the leaders wrote in The Hague Declaration in March 2014.

The G-7 left the door open for Russia to rejoin if Moscow fulfills its international obligations, which so far Russia has not done.

It was Russia’s own decision to leave the Group permanently in January 2017.

Notably, Vladimir Putin’s personal frustration with the Group had been reported long before the 2014 suspension – the Russian President skipped the world leaders meeting in Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat near Washington, DC, in May 2012, and Putin’s “loneliness” was a trending world headline during the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland in 2013.

​Russia’s partnership in the G-7 had become increasingly problematic due to Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies, at odds with other members of the Group. In 2013, Putin’s pro-Assad positions over the conflict in Syria collided with the other seven – with remarks like then-President Barack Obama’s “of course our opinions do not coincide” and Putin’s, “We have different perspectives on the problem.”

Mr. Putins’ comments Sunday came as the G-7 summit wrapped up in Canadawith President Trump refusing to sign the joint communiqué, Trump suggesting Russia rejoin the G-7 and the U.S. presidential openly feuding with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Russia remains a member of the G-20, the global forum for financial and economic cooperation, which includes South American, South Asian and African representation. The Group will meet at the end of November in Argentina.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Disinfo analysis: Macedonia – to be or not to be… Russia’s satellite

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 20:10

Russia — Kremlin-connected anti-Western ideologue Aleksandr Dugin at a rally in support of Donbas, Moscow, June 11, 2014

By Polygraph

The small Balkan nation of Macedonia is increasingly a destination for the Kremlin’s political strategists, the ideologists of Russian exceptionalism and Moscow’s Orthodox mission in the Slavic world and in Eurasia.


The think-tank and instructors giving lectures and providing training in Macedonia are the same ones that the Kremlin employed in its hybrid war prior to the annexation of Crimea and later in the destabilization of the Ukrainian east, as well as an attempted coup in Montenegro.

As in Ukraine, Russia’s information warfare strategists identify the existing grievances in the target country portrayed in a way to promote Moscow’s interests. In Macedonia, Kremlin’s strategists highlight in their publications existing ethnic and political issues involving the Albanian minority, as well as issues accompanying Macedonia’s NATO/EU aspirations.

The Commissar

According to the Voice of America’s Macedonian service, the key strategist in Russia’s information warfare in Macedonia is Leonid Savin, who in late May provided training for 50 members of the far-right United Macedonia party, which opposes changing Macedonia’s name and views the country’s course towards NATO and the EU as the end of Macedonia’s statehood and independence.

Leonid Savin, according to his biography, is the “Commissar of the Eurasian Youth Union” — a branch of Russia’s ultra-nationalist Eurasian Union, a movement created by Alexander Dugin and his ideological companions.

Leonid Savin, the Commissar of Russia’s Eurasian Youth Union

The “platform” of the Eurasian Youth Union includes such sections as:

  • “Your goal”
  • “You are a Man”
  • “You are a Woman”
  • “Our discipline”
  • “Your Belief.”

There is also an “Our enemy” section, which is entirely devoted to the United States. The section ends with a paragraph that states, in boldface: “Our Union has an absolute enemy. It is the U.S.A. It is the alpha and omega of our hatred.”

Russia’s Eurasian Youth Union platform “Our enemies”

​Along with his affiliation with Alexander Dugin, Savin’s other connections further identify him as a key figure in the Kremlin’s expansionist policy.

Savin is listed as the chief-editor of two agencies: Katehon and Geopolitica, and a regular contributor at the state-backed Strategic Culture Fund.

Katehon is a website funded and owned by Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian multimillionaire sanctioned by the United States for his logistical, financial, ideological and material support of Russia’s operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Katehon – a Website funded and owned by Konstantin Malofeev

However, Ukraine is only a small part of Malofeev’s geopolitical interests.

An investigation by the German newspaper Die Zeit in 2015 revealed ties that Malofeev and Dugin had with Greece’s top political figures, all leading back to Vladimir Putin.

Malofeev, Dugin and Co. were reportedly involved in the attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016 and several other shadow Russian operations in the Balkans.

By Polygraph

At a glance: Macedonia is a small landlocked country in the Balkans approximately the size of the U.S. state of Vermont. The country borders Greece, which is disputing the use of the name “Macedonia” because it has a region of its own also called Macedonia. Thus, the official name of the country is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM). The FYRM aspires to membership in the European Union and the NATO, but Athens opposes Macedonia’s integration until it changes its name.

Categories: World News

TASS omits key comments by the Austrian chancellor, putting a positive Russian spin on his meeting with Putin

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 20:02

AUSTRIA — Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a joint news conference with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, June 5, 2018

By Polygraph


Russian State News Agency

TASS HEADLINE: Austrian chancellor calls Russia superpower, stresses its role for peace.(Later in the article): Russia plays a big role in Syria and in the east of Ukraine, according to Sebastian Kurz.

Source: TASS


The article omits much of the context from Chancellor Kurz’s comments.

On June 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Austria, marking his first trip to a Western European country since his reelection in May. He met with Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s current chancellor, whom TASS quoted as saying:

“As a superpower, Russia not only plays a big role in trouble spots – in Syria, in the east of Ukraine and in other ones, but it also has a big responsibility. And we hope and expect that Russia will make its contribution so that the people there could live the way they would like to, that is in peace.”

It is the brevity of the article and the TASS headline, that “stresses its (Russia’s) role for peace” that evokes our “misleading” verdict – an article that was so stark in its inaccuracy that we originally set out to fact check the chancellor.

Chancellor Kurz is correct to state that Russia plays a big role in the two trouble spots he named. Putin’s government instigated the trouble in Ukraine when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula and then facilitated a war in the country’s eastern Donbas region. It was a Russian citizen, Igor Girkin (aka “Strelkov”), the ex-commander of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, who publicly said he “pulled the trigger of this war” – hardly the peaceful role that TASS proclaims.

UKRAINE – Igor Girkin also known as Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian commander, center, arrives for the wedding of platoon commander Arsen Pavlov and Elena Kolenkina in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. July 11, 2014

In the Syrian civil war that began in 2011, Russia backed the regime of Bashar al-Assad but did not militarily intervene until October 2015, when the Russian air force was deployed to support pro-government forces on the ground. With Russian air support, those pro-government forces have managed to retake territory lost in 2011-2015, including major population centers like Aleppo.

While Russia is participating in peace negotiations for Syria, many analysts contend it prolonged the Syrian civil war by providing support to Assad and allowing him to launch major counter-offensives.

“The intervention of Russia in the Syrian Civil War decisively tipped the balance of the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” Christopher Kozak, a senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of War told via email.

SYRIA — Syrian rescuers, known as White Helmets, recover bodies in Zardana, in the mostly rebel-held northern Syrian Idlib province, following air strikes in the area, June 7, 2018

The full context of Kurz’s remarks can be seen on the Kremlin Web site, which published a transcript of the on-camera press conference.

“Observance of human rights is very important for us,” Kurz is quoted on the Kremlin website just before the comments used by TASS.

Kurz also said: “In addition, we hope that progress will also be achieved in eastern Ukraine and that the Minsk agreements will be implemented. This is the scenario we want for our continent. We are deeply convinced that solely through cooperation and joint actions we can make further progress in relations between the two sides.”

The article also leaves out Kurz’s comments about Austria’s intention to continue upholding the EU sanctions against Russia, which were put in place largely due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, part of Ukraine in 2014.

Interestingly, TASS covered this angle in a separate article about the meeting.

“We will continue our efforts to uphold communication channels with Russia, despite the necessary response to its actions, and take steps toward each other,” TASS quoted Kurz as saying.

According to Alexey Kovalev, an ex-RIA Novosti editor who now runs his own blog debunking Russian state media propaganda, the unusually short article on Sebastian Kurz’s comment may have been due to an “overcautious editor” trying to cover themselves.

While the longer TASS article notes Kurz’s positive words about Russia, it also includes his country’s position on “anti-Russian sanctions.” A reader who encounters the shorter article would be left with a different impression of the Austrian Chancellor’s words.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

StopFake #187 with Marko Suprun

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:21

Fake:Kyiv’s involvement in the downing of MH17; Ukraine can’t stand up to Russia in the Azov Sea; Ukraine boasts about Crimea drought.

Categories: World News

#PackOfLies: Inconvenient facts in Babchenko case

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:09

When it was announced that the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was murdered in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday, it did not take long for the Kremlin to use this crime for their propaganda and disinformation purposes. However, when it appeared that Babchenko is actually alive and the reports about his murder are a part of the Ukraine Special Services’ operation, questions whether the media’s involvement in such campaigns will not cause the loss of trust in Ukraine’s authorities have been raised by many, especially in the West.

Mark Galeotti argues that from now on after each report of this kind Kremlin will question whether what is reported is actually true. On the other hand, Atlantic Council’s Maksim Eristavi asks whether it does not seem strange that so many international correspondents and opinion-makers are now concerned not about Babchenko being alive and safe, but about being misinformed. Nina Ognianova, the director of Europe and Central Asia Program of the Committee to Protect Journalists, claims that though it is a great relief that Babchenko is alive, it is necessary for Ukrainian authorities to disclose the information on why this extreme action was taken in order to imitate a death of a journalist. The Secretary General of “Reporters Without Borders” Christophe Deloire expressed outrage in the name of the organization arguing that the Secret Services manipulated the information. He stated that it is always dangerous to play with facts behind the journalists’ backs.

However, let‘s come back to the beginning of the whole story: the initial reaction of the Kremlin to the reports about Babchenko’s murder. It is important because though there might be disagreements between Ukrainian and Western opinion- and decision-makers, they should not forget who is the real enemy here: Vladimir Putin’s regime. So after the announcement of Babchenko’s murder Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the level of physical violence and the number of journalists’ deaths in Ukraine are constantly growing, but the investigations do not bring any results. Kremlin’s stooges tried to claim that unsolved bloody crimes have become a routine in Kyiv. Russia’s MFA demanded Kyiv to investigate the murder as soon as possible.

In another report on the same day Sputnik presented even more “evidence” proving that there is no free media in Ukraine. Petro Poroshenko government’s decision to ban Russia‘s propaganda channels “Rossiya Segodnya” and “RIA Novosti” was criticized. Propagandists portrayed it as allegedly an act of censorship and a violation of freedom of speech.

However, as usual, Kremlin only talks about what corresponds to their preconceived political and ideological position and seeks to ignore or suppress all the inconvenient facts. For example, the facts that Babchenko moved to Kyiv to escape Kremlin’s censorship, threats, and persecution. It is inconvenient for Kremlin to remember or even mention the journalists who were murdered because they were seen as threats to the regime: Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov, Natalya Estemirova, and others.

According to the “Reporters Without Borders” world press freedom index, Russia is 148th out of 180, whereas Ukraine is way higher (101st). “Reporters Without Borders” stress that the strict means against the press have been strengthened from 2012 when Vladimir Putin came back to Kremlin. Independent media is either subjected to the regime or forced to close. It is stressed that now there is an unprecedented number of journalists (at least 5) and many more bloggers that are incarcerated. According to the organization, murders and violent attacks against journalists are not thoroughly investigated, perpetrators do not face justice. The “Freedom House” in their report on freedom of the press also talk about the systematic persecution of journalists in Russia by applying both legal instruments and brutal violence. Having all this in mind, it is certainly not for Moscow to complain about media freedom and safety of journalists in neighbouring countries.


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

Categories: World News

Atlantic Council launches comprehensive website to track Russian disinformation

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 13:13

By The Atlantic Council

June 6, 2018 the Atlantic Council launched, an interactive online guide to track the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns abroad. The portal brings together 23 top organizations and more than 80 experts fighting Russian disinformation in the United States and Europe, and is an initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

The disinformation portal was designed for journalists, governments, and policymakers. It features expert content with multimedia content produced by the Atlantic Council and its partners explaining Russia’s ongoing influence operations. It also allows users to find and connect with experts by country, language, and expertise; view stories and reports from Atlantic Council partners; and explore in-depth country profiles. The portal complements and coordinates existing counter-disinformation efforts across the transatlantic community.

“It’s time to stop ‘admiring the problem’ of Russian disinformation and start fighting back, using the tools of democratic societies to counter the autocrat’s playbook,” said Ambassador Daniel Fried, a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The network launched today is a tool for all those ready to step up in this struggle, be they journalists in the Free World or activists under threat of authoritarians.”

By The Atlantic Council

Categories: World News