|Literal meaning||compromising materials|
In Russian politics, Kompromat (Russian: компромат; IPA: [kəmprɐˈmat] ( listen), short for компрометирующий материал, literally "compromising material") is compromising materials about a politician or other public figure used to create negative publicity, for blackmail, or for ensuring loyalty. Kompromat can 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 politics in Russia and other post-Soviet states.
There is no single-word English equivalent for kompromat. The literal translation of the word is "compromising material", which refers to discrediting information that can be collected, stored, traded, or used strategically across all domains: political, electoral, legal, professional, judicial, media, or business. The origins of the term trace back to 1930s secret police jargon.
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 there were no existing LGBT rights in the United Kingdom 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 photos 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, which would later lead to his dismissal as Prosecutor General of Russia, which 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 phone 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 recent cases of kompromat, 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 has been 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.
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.
In the United States, opposition research is conducted in way to find compromising material on political opponents so that such material could be released to weaken the opponents. However, kompromat differs in that such information is used to exert influence over people.
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.
- Active measures
- Character assassination
- Discrediting tactic
- Donald Trump–Russia dossier
- False evidence
- Negative campaigning
- Opposition research
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