Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign

European Values & Atlantic Council Online Talk

Post-COVID World & Russia: Domestic and International Implications


  • Pavlo Klimkin, Director of European, Regional and Russian Studies, Ukrainian Institute for the Future, former Foreign Minister of Ukraine
  • Ambassador John Herbst, Director of the Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council, USA
  • Rebecca Harms, former Member of the European Parliament, Germany
  • Egor Kuroptev, Director of the Free Russia Foundation in South Caucasus, Georgia
  • Moderator: David Stulík, Senior Analyst of the Kremlin Watch Program, European Values Center for Security Policy, Czech Republic
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Topics of the Week

The EEAS published the report on the COVID-related disinformation, amidst claims it was watered down to appease China.

Anti-lockdown protests in the US could be Kremlin-directed “astroturfing” efforts.

Kremlin's Current Narrative: Trump allegedly wants to lure Greenland by driving a wedge between the island and the Danish government. 

Good Old Soviet Joke

Old Soviet Myth:

Years ago, the Soviets sent a scientific expedition to Egypt to explore a pyramid. They discovered an unknown chamber in it, where a pharaoh walked from wall to wall. They called an interpreter and learned that the pharaoh had been going from wall to wall for a few thousand years.

"And what have you been eating all this time?" The Soviets wanted to know.

"The Roc's dung," the pharaoh replied.

"And what does the Roc feed on?"

"My faeces," Pharaoh explained.

After this enlightenment, the Soviets returned home and established the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

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Policy & Research News

EU COVID-disinfo report Chinese controversy

The EEAS published its periodical report on the COVID-related disinformation last Friday, amidst claims it was watered down to appease China.

The report was expected to be published on Tuesday and is not too harsh in its criticism of China especially. In fact, the delay in its publication appears to have been due to a revision, required at a political level, after alleged protests from Chinese officials, the New York Times reports. This amendment would have resulted in a significant softening of the accusations towards China and would have been ordered by no less than Josep Borrell’s cabinet, in what can be considered a major attack to the independence of analysis and information from political exploitation.

On the other hand, such a move could be understood as “a test” for China to weigh its leverage in the EU, Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Center for Security Policy says, and would set a dangerous precedent for China to meddle in the EU internal affairs.

To the Chinese, the controversy comes at a time when important economic deals are at stake between China and the EU, whose member States foreign policy stances are not always uniformly adamant in prioritizing a value-based approach to international politics. 

EEAS spokesman Peter Stano responded the NYT article was “inaccurate” and rejected the claims that the report was watered down, while the Dutch MEP Bart Groothuis asked for a formal inquiry on the anomalies exposed and partly substantiated by Groothius himself, who has had access to the original version of the report. 

FSB Yegorov exposure kick-starts a domino of key findings

14 April SBU Major-General Shaitanov was arrested, accused of defection to Russia and plot to murder prominent Chechen combatant Osmayev. Shaitanov’s handler was identified as KGB veteran, FSB Colonel Yegorov.

Yegorov figure was known, but now linked to several other pendant cases: he appears to be “Elbrus” of the  FSB “V” department, operative in organizational capacity along with two GRU high-ranks in Donbas since 2014, after serving in Crimea annexation. While deployed by FSB in Ukrainian occupied territories, he is said to have been handed the pilot Savchenko before her switching to Russia; also resulted linked to the downing the MH17. In fact, while “Elbrus” identity was unknown, he was listed as such among the defendants by JIT (Joint Investigation Team) as connected to the delivery of the BUK from which the flight was shot down. Moreover, the killing of Osmayev that Yegorov was orchestrating with Shaitanov, is similar to the case of Khangoshvili, killed in Berlin last year: both Chechen combatants targeted in Russia’s terrorist list, under unsubstantiated accuses.

Additionally, the investigation conducted by Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel, locates him in Montenegro before the failed coup of 2016 and highlights the variety of venues to which he travelled denotes the large scope of his duties.

Along with the exposure of FSB deputy-chief of border service Burlaka as involved in the MH17 case that makes Russia’s agency undeniable in the terrorist act killing 298 people, a deep dig in Yegorov’s past may prove a game-changer in giving answers not only regarding the Ukrainian conflict, that so far killed 13.000 people but also to other dirty cases whose perpetrators are still unnamed.

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US Developments

Articles warn about turning too much attention towards fighting COVID-19

In the midst of a health crisis, U.S. officials appear to primarily be turning their attention away from Russia and to fighting the pandemic. This is especially tempting given the struggles the Russian economy is enduring due to the oil price fiasco, which may make Russia look weak. However, some analysts warn that in the absence of American attention, the Kremlin may be fine-turning their hybrid war tactics. While it has been established that Russia, among other countries, is directing a disinformation campaign designed to discredit the United States and spread untruthful COVID-19 information, it is also possible that the Kremlin could become more aggressive with Ukraine and against the West. Some have cited Trump and Putin’s joint statement as evidence of this phenomena, and others the Kremlin’s collection of information on American supply chains. Another report suggests that Russia could be gearing up for more aggressive action against Ukraine. All these reports highlight how critical it is to remain vigilant now to prevent future crises in Europe and in the United States.

Anti-lockdown protests could be Kremlin-directed “astroturfing” efforts

 “Open America” protests have been taking place across the 50 states, which attempt to portray that Americans want the COVID-19 lockdown to end. However, the origin of these protests remains in question. An article in the New York Times suggests that they are not entirely organic. While this author suggests this an effort by American conservatives, others suggest that these protests “reek of Russian astroturfing.” For those that could use a refresher, astroturfing refers to the fabrication of what looks like organic grassroots movements. The Kremlin has used this strategy in the past to take advantage of chaos and confusion in the U.S. Putin could be using it now as well, especially given the harmful and even deadly “info-demic” they have started online. It will be worthwhile keeping an eye on these protests in the future.

Kremlin's Current Narrative

Geopolitical competition moves to the Arctic

On April 23, Danish officials, jointly with representatives of the US State Department, announced that Washington would provide Greenland with a $12 million financial package and restore the American permanent mission on the island, as part of an effort to reinforce mutual ties and strengthen the US presence in the Arctic. As stated, the economic development package will primarily support civilian projects in the areas of natural resources and education in the autonomous island under Denmark’s jurisdiction.

Reporting on the issue, Russian channels have strived to promote the idea that after last year’s proposal to purchase the island, Trump’s new “charm offensive” aims this time at luring Greenland into the US orbit by driving a wedge between the island authorities and the Danish central government. From this perspective, the Kremlin’s outlets compare, on the one hand, Greenland’s warm reaction to the US financial support with, on the other, what they present as the strong and unanimous criticism voiced by Danish political forces and public opinion.

In this sense, Sputnik chooses particularly sounding headlines: “Danish Parties [are] Furious”, “Denmark rages”,  while Izvestia explains that the US gesture irritated the Danish authorities, according to whom the American plans would amount to “provocative interference” in the country's affairs. In a similar vein, RT raises suspicions in relation to the fact that the funds, instead of being given directly to the government of Denmark, will be administered under USAID, in what seems an attempt to reinforce the idea that the US intends to bypass the control of the authorities in Copenhagen to become Greenland’s “priority partner”.

To support their claims, Russian outlets include in their accounts exclusively the negative reactions that the announcement has received in Denmark. In fact, while the US pledge of financial support has drawn criticism especially from the Danish Conservatives, it has also been praised from many quarters. For instance, Greenland premier Kim Kielsen’s words that the US package was “good news” and “the confirmation that the work on building a constructive relationship with the US is bearing fruit” were echoed by Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who remarked that Greenland had for years sought to develop its small economy by opening up and seeking foreign investments.

Equally, among lawmakers, Aki-Matilda Hoegh-Dam considers the US assistance as a “fantastic opportunity”, hoping that it would “strengthen human capital” on the island. For its part, the US State Department has dismissed the idea that the proposition was intended to create divisions, reassuring that the US had been working closely with Denmark for months on the initiative.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Engaging With Others: How the IRA Coordinated Information Operation Made Friends

By Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren

During the 2015-2017 IRA's English-language information operation, IRA trolls engaged extensively with external, non-troll accounts on Twitter. This research paper from the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review analyses the timing and type of engagement from IRA accounts and identifies the life cycle of this engagement.

Networked output, or replying and tweeting outside accounts, is defined as making a connection with another user and has the goal of communicating a greater volume of messaging, amplifying the original poster and signalling acceptance or rejection of the original post. This report finds that external accounts were central to every stage of the IRA's operation. The operation's life cycle consisted of three periods: introductory, growth and amplification. In the introductory period, trolls produced original content and replied to other accounts, effectively developing their “character”. In the growth period, they transitioned to producing original content and engaging in external retweets, resulting in a growing number of followers. Finally, trolls shifted to an amplification period, where they retweeted outside accounts at a very high rate. This period lasted from October 6th, 2016 and persisted until May 2017. The amplification strategy resulted in a high level of activity from organic, non-IRA accounts, highlighting the importance of real users' voices in the disinformation operation.

The findings of the report suggest that the IRA operation's final purpose was at least in part to raise the prominence of organic accounts actively engaged in communication messages in line with IRA goals. Further, the findings suggest that the regimented life cycle patterns of coordinated activity can be identified and removed from platforms, as organic users rarely conduct their social media activity in the procedural manner demonstrated by the IRA.

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

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

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