|Literal meaning||compromising materials|
In Russian politics, kompromat, short for "compromising material" (компрометирующий материал), is damaging information about a politician or other public figure used to create negative publicity, for blackmail, or for ensuring loyalty. Kompromat may be acquired from various security services, or outright forged, and then publicized by use of a public relations official. Widespread use of kompromat has been one of the characteristic features of the politics of Russia and other post-Soviet states.
The anglicized term kompromat is a borrowing of the Russian KGB slang term компромат from the Stalin era, which is short for "compromising material" (компрометирующий материал). It refers to disparaging information that can be collected, stored, traded, or used strategically across all domains: political, electoral, legal, professional, judicial, media, and business. The origins of the term trace back to 1930s secret police jargon.
In the early days, kompromat featured doctored photographs, planted drugs, grainy videos of liaisons with prostitutes hired by the KGB, and a wide range of other primitive entrapment techniques. However, more contemporary forms of kompromat appear as a form of cybercrime. One aspect of kompromat that stands the test of time is that the compromising information is often sexual in nature.
Kompromat is part of the political culture in Russia, with many members of the business and political elite having collected and stored potentially compromising material on their political opponents. Kompromat does not necessarily target individuals or groups, but rather collects information that could be useful at a later time. Compromising videos are produced long in advance when in need for leverage of people.
Opposition research is conducted in the U.S. to find compromising material on political opponents so that such material may be released to weaken the opponents. Kompromat differs, however, in that such information is used to exert influence over people.
In the 1950s, British civil servant John Vassall was a victim of a gay honey trap operation, which would be used as a form of kompromat against him since homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time. During a 1957 visit to Moscow, American journalist Joseph Alsop also fell victim to a gay honey trap operation conducted by the KGB.
In 1997, Valentin Kovalev was removed as the Russian Minister of Justice after photographs of him in a sauna with prostitutes controlled by Solntsevskaya Bratva were published in a newspaper. In an interview with another newspaper, Kovalev said, "Kompromat is vile. Once it starts, it knows no limits. Kompromat is always effective in Russia". In 1999, a video aired with a man resembling Yury Skuratov in bed with two women that later would lead to his dismissal as Prosecutor General of Russia. It was released after he began looking into charges of corruption by President Boris Yeltsin and his associates.
In August 2009, videos allegedly released by the FSB purportedly featured American diplomat Brendan Kyle Hatcher making telephone calls, presumably to a prostitute, then engaging in sexual activity with a woman. The United States Department of State protested that it was a doctored, unproven tape. In April 2010, politician Ilya Yashin and comedian Victor Shenderovich were involved in a sex scandal with a woman claimed to have acted as a Kremlin honey trap to discredit opposition figures. The video was released only two days before the wedding of Shenderovich's daughter.
In cases of kompromat during the early 21st century, Russian operatives have been suspected, or accused of, placing child pornography on the personal computers of individuals they were attempting to discredit. In 2015, the Crown Prosecution Service of the United Kingdom announced that it would prosecute Vladimir Bukovsky for "prohibited images" found on his computer; however, the case against Bukovshy had been put on hold as investigators are trying to determine whether the pornographic images were planted.
Ahead of the 2016 Russian legislative election, a sex tape of Mikhail Kasyanov emerged on NTV. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it emerged on 10 January 2017, that U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating possibly compromising personal and financial information on President-elect Donald Trump, leading to allegations that he and members of his administration may be vulnerable to manipulation by the Russian government. Following these allegations, British Labour MP Chris Bryant, an ex-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Russia, who claims that the Russian government orchestrated a homophobic campaign to remove him from this position, has claimed that the Russian government has acquired kompromat on high-profile Conservative MPs including Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Alan Duncan, and David Davis. Following a 2016 phone call between incoming-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Flynn allegedly lied to the White House on the extent of those contacts placing him in a position vulnerable to blackmail. According to congressional testimony delivered by former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, the Department of Justice believed that "General Flynn was compromised," and placed Flynn in “a situation where the national-security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
- Active measures
- Character assassination
- Discrediting tactic
- Donald Trump–Russia dossier
- False evidence
- Negative campaigning
- Opposition research
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