Russian disinformation in the post-Soviet era

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Four Russian Intelligence Service Disinformation Outlets, per US Dept of Treasury (2021)

Russian disinformation campaigns have occurred in many countries.[1][2] For example, in Africa, disinformation campaigns led by Yevgeny Prigozhin have been reported in several different countries.[3][4] Russia, however, denies that it uses disinformation to influence public opinion.[5]

Background[edit]

During the Cold War the Soviet Union used propaganda and disinformation as part of its "active measures...against the populations of Western nations"."[6]: 51  During the administration of Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "disinformation" was discussed in the Russian media and by Russian politicians in relation to the disinformation of the Soviet era, and to differentiate Boris Yeltsin's "new Russia" from its Soviet predecessor.[7]

Western claims of Russian disinformation[edit]

It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S.

Aleksandr Dugin, The Basics of Geopolitics, (1997), translation by John B. Dunlop[8]

In the post-Soviet era, Russian disinformation has been described as a key tactic in the military doctrine of Russia.[5] Its use has increased under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, particularly after the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. This style of disinformation propaganda has been described as a "firehose of falsehood" by observers due to its high number of channels and willingness to disseminate outright falsehoods, to the point of inconsistency. It differs from Soviet-era disinformation tactics in its use of the internet, claimed amateur journalism, and social media.[9]

The European Union and NATO both set up special units to analyze and debunk falsehoods.[5] NATO founded a modest facility in Latvia to respond to disinformation.[1] An agreement by heads of state and governments in March 2015 let the EU create the European External Action Service East Stratcom Task Force, which publishes weekly reports on its website "EU vs Disinfo."[10] The website and its partners identified and debunked more than 3,500 pro-Kremlin disinformation cases between September 2015 and November 2017.[10]

In 2016, the US set up the "Global Engagement Center" (GEC) as a division of the United States Department of State to oppose foreign propaganda efforts.[11][12]

When explaining the 2016 annual report of the Swedish Security Service on disinformation, the representative Wilhelm Unge stated: "We mean everything from Internet trolls to propaganda and misinformation spread by media companies like RT and Sputnik."[5] RT and Sputnik were created to focus on Western audiences and function by Western standards, and RT tends to focus on how problems are the fault of Western countries.[13] Russia's television outlet RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency are state-sponsored media.[5][2]

Alexander Rahr (born 1959) is a German of Russian ethnicity born in Taiwan, educated in Munich, lobbyist for Wintershall from 2012 to 2015 supporting pro-Russia oil and gas interests, Putin's mouthpiece for Germans known as "famous German political scientist", very staunch supporter of Russian aggression against Ukraine and has been called a Kremlin lobbyist.[14]

Social media platforms and the internet[edit]

In the 2010s, as social media gained prominence, Russia then began to use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread disinformation. Russian web brigades and bots, typically operated by Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA), were commonly used to disseminate disinformation throughout these social media channels.[15] As of late 2017, Facebook believed that as many as 126 million of its users had seen content from Russian disinformation campaigns on its platform.[16] Twitter stated that it had found 36,000 Russian bots spreading tweets related to the 2016 U.S. elections.[17] Elsewhere, Russia has used social media to destabilize former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Western nations such as France and Spain.[18]

In 2020, the US State Department identified several "proxy sites" used by Russian state actors "to create and amplify false narratives." These sites include the Strategic Culture Foundation, the New Eastern Outlook, Crimea-based news agency NewsFront and SouthFront, a website targeted at "military enthusiasts, veterans, and conspiracy theorists."[19]

Internet Research Agency[edit]

Poster and text from Mueller Report about 2016 rallies organized by Russia's Internet Research Agency

Following the Snow Revolution protests against the outcomes of the 2011 Russian legislative election organized by several persons, including Pussy Riot, Anton Nossik, and Alexei Navalny, who used Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal blogs to organize the events, Vyacheslav Volodin, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time and later became First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia and was responsible for domestic policy, was tasked with countering these efforts and began to rein in the internet using Prisma (Russian: «Призма») which "actively tracks the social media activities that result in increased social tension, disorderly conduct, protest sentiments and extremis" by monitoring in real time from more than 60 million feeds about the protesters discussions on blogs and social networks and perform social media tracking which later led to establishing the Internet Research Agency.[20][21][22] Nossik claimed that the Twitter fueled events in 2009 in Moldova known as the Twitter Revolution and the events of Arab Spring, which Igor Sechin blamed Google for masterminding the revolution in Egypt, were not as devastating to Putin as the events of the Snow Revolution during 2011-2012.[22] Putin announced on 24 April 2014 that numerous laws would be enacted to restrict freedoms of expression on the internet through Orwellian censorship and were signed into law by Vladimir Putin on 5 May 2014 with enforcement beginning on 1 August 2014, according to Nossik.[22]

Twelve of the thirteen Russian nationals indicted by Robert Mueller for conspiracy meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election were employees of the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.[23][24][25][a][b][c] In the runup to and during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) demonstrated evolved tactics for spreading disinformation. Probably to evade the detection mechanisms of social media platforms, the IRA co-opted activists working for a human-rights focused Ghanaian NGO to target black communities in the U.S.[33] Russian campaigns have also evolved to become more cross-platform, with content spreading, not only on Facebook and Twitter, but also on Tumblr, Wordpress, and Medium.[34] The IRA is also more emboldened, with evidence that they recruited U.S. journalists to write articles critical of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden.[35]

Russian Institute for Strategic Studies[edit]

During both the 2016 and the 2020 elections, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) or (RISS) or (RISY) (Russian: Российский институт стратегических исследований (РИСИ)) was integral to disinformation efforts from Putin and the Kremlin. During the 2016 elections, Leonid Reshetnikov headed RISI and during the 2020 elections Mikhail Fradkov headed RISI.[36][37] During the 2016 presidential election, George Papadopoulos met several times with Panos Kammenos who had numerous close ties to Russian intelligence, Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin group tasked with interfering in the 2016 United States elections.[38][39][40] Kammenos formed the Athens-based Institute of Geopolitical Studies which in November 2014 signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the former SVR officer Reshetnikov who headed RISI.[41] In 2009, RISI, which had been an SVR operation, was placed under control of the Russian president with Reshetnikov regularly meeting with Putin and participated in Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections by developing plans of action: for example, with Russian intelligence assets and using a large disinformation campaign, Putin would support Republicans and the Trump campaign and disrupt Democrats and the Clinton campaign, and, if Trump were likely to lose the 2016 election, then Russia would shift its efforts to focus upon voter fraud in the United States in order to undermine the legitimacy of the United States electoral system and the elections.[41][42] Kammenos' positions followed closely with the Kremlin's talking points.[39]

Johan Backman supports RISI's interests in Northern Europe.[43]

Russia's numerous disinformation attacks including support for white supremist activities and attacks of Biden’s mental fitness were utilized by Donald Trump, senior Trump Administration officials, and his re-election campaign.[44][45][46][47] Brian Murphy, who was acting chief of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security from March 2018 until August 2020, said that he was instructed to "to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran."[46][47][48] Chad Wolf, who was acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said that Robert O'Brien, who was President Trump's national security advisor, had the assessments of Russian interference suppressed.[49] John Cohen, who was under secretary of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security during Barack Obama's presidency, stated "By blocking information from being released that describes threats facing the nation... undermines the ability of the public and state and local authorities to work with the federal government to counteract the threat."[44]

Conservative media[edit]

Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, Yuriy Lutsenko, John Solomon, Dmytro Firtash and his allies, Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova were noted in a Fox News internal report Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration: a Full Timeline of Events, which was written by Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy and made public by Marcus DiPaola,[d] as indispensable "in the collection and domestic publication of elements of this disinformation campaign" and numerous falsehoods.[50][51][52][53][54][55][56]

On 3 February 2022, John "Jack" Hanick, who helped established the Konstantin Malofeev owned Tsargrad TV in 2015, allegedly was working to establish similar networks in Greece and Bulgaria, and worked at Fox News as a founding producer and news director from 1996 to 2011, was arrested in London for violating sanctions against Malofeev whose Tsargrad TV was disseminating Russian disinformation.[57][58][59][60][61][62][e] Hanick was the first person criminally indicted for violating United States sanctions during the Russo-Ukrainian War.[64]

During the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russian state TV channel Russia-1 has used Tucker Carlson interviews on Fox News to support the Kremlin's objectives in Ukraine. Carlson's interview with the pro-Russia Retired Colonel Doug Macgregor was aired on Russia-1 to demoralize Ukraine.[65] Another interview by Carlson of Tulsi Gabbard, who often appears on Fox News as a guest, was shown on Russia-1 to support the Kremlin's position in which Gabbard said "President Biden could end this crisis and prevent a war with Russia by doing something very simple: guaranteeing that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, because if Ukraine became a member of NATO, that would put U.S. and NATO troops directly on the doorstep of Russia, which — as Putin has laid out — would undermine their national security." Russia-1 removed parts of the interview before Gabbard said, "The reality is that it is highly, highly unlikely that Ukraine will ever become a member of NATO anyway."[66] Additionally, numerous clips of Carlson have appeared on RT, which was formerly known as Russia Today or Rossiya Segodnya, that support the Kremlin's objectives.[66]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The indicted individuals are Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov, Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, Gleb Igorevitch Vasilchenko, and Vladimir Venkov.[26] All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, 3 are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and 5 defendants are charged with aggravated identity theft. None of the defendants are in custody.[27]
  2. ^ The Internet Research Agency's American Department was headed by Jeykhun Aslanov, an Azerbaijani who, in October 2017, was 27. Maria Bovda was the previous head of the American Department.[28][29][30] In 2019, Dozhd reported that others working in the Foreign Department included Katarina Aistova, Aistova’s second assistant Maxim Elfimov, and Agata Burdonova who is an excellent English speaker that moved to Bellevue, Washington on 7 December 2017, obtained a United States social security number and has her own YouTube channel.[30][31]
  3. ^ In October 2018 Russian accountant Elena Khusyaynova was charged with interferеnce in the 2016 and 2018 US elections. She is alleged[according to whom?] to have been working with the IRA. She was said to[according to whom?] have managed a $16 million budget.[32]
  4. ^ The briefing book Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration: a Full Timeline of Events by Bryan S. Murphy was first made public by Marcus J. DiPaola. DiPaola was employed by Fox News for three years and was a former freelance producer. DiPaola claims that after he provided information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in January 2019, Fox News let him go under unusual circumstances.[50][51][52][53]
  5. ^ Through Malofeev, Hanick is close to the pro Russia former Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos and Vladimir Putin gives carte blanche to Tsargrad TV which according to Malofeev is the Russian equivalent to Fox News.[63]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ "Russian Disinformation Is Taking Hold in Africa". CIGI. November 17, 2021. Retrieved March 3, 2022. The Kremlin’s effectiveness in seeding its preferred vaccine narratives among African audiences underscores its wider concerted effort to undermine and discredit Western powers by pushing or tapping into anti-Western sentiment across the continent.
  4. ^ "Leaked documents reveal Russian effort to exert influence in Africa". The Guardian. June 11, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2022. The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to 'strong-arm' the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off 'pro-western' uprisings, the documents say.
  5. ^ a b c d e MacFarquharaug, Neil (28 August 2016), "A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories", The New York Times, p. A1, retrieved 9 December 2016, Moscow adamantly denies using disinformation to influence Western public opinion and tends to label accusations of either overt or covert threats as 'Russophobia.'
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  8. ^ John Dunlop (January 2004). "Aleksandr Dugin's Foundations of Geopolitics" (PDF). Demokratizatsiya. 12 (1): 41. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2016. 'It is especially important,' Dugin adds, 'to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements--extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S.'
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  34. ^ Timberg, Craig. "Facebook removes Russian networks tied to intelligence services that interfered in the U.S. in 2016". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
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External links[edit]

EU vs Disinfo and archived website from 24 November 2015