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

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Topics of the Week

Researchers from the CitizenLab exposed the Iranian disinformation campaign Endless Mayfly, including their sophisticated and influential methods.

The Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis: Russian media criticises Lithuania’s prime candidates for president

Michael Flynn has given Special Counsel Robert Mueller information about attempts by individuals tied to the Trump administration and Congress to obstruct the Russian investigation.

Russian media in Germany appeal to a broad demographic, from right-wing supporters of the AfD to more left-leaning audiences.

Good Old Soviet Joke

After the collapse of communism, a man walked into a coffee shop and asked for a communist newspaper.

"We don't have communist newspapers anymore," the waiter said.

After a while, the guest again requested a communist newspaper.

“We don't have communist newspapers anymore."

A few minutes later, the man again asked for a communist newspaper.

"Don't you understand that we do not have communist newspaper anymore!"

"Yes, but it is so pleasant to hear it. Say it again! Say it again!"

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Policy & Research News

Endless Mayfly: Russia is not the only disinformation actor we need to fear

This week, the biggest news in the disinformation world concerned Endless Mayfly - a disinformation operation spanning several years, which has been credibly attributed to Iran. Research by CitizenLab from the University of Toronto titled “Burned after Reading: Endless Mayfly’s Ephemeral Disinformation Campaign” exposed the operation, which worked to create false information about as well as amplify narratives critical of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.

The main feature of the network was the changeability of its methods as well as its ephemeral quality - meaning that the original false source was deleted once it had gained traction to frustrate research and verification efforts. Most notably, the network contacted known journalists on Twitter with attempts to “collaborate”, and impersonated several known legitimate media outlets, such as The Guardian and Le Soir. Overall, 72 fake domains were created with the explicit purpose of visually and otherwise resembling known news sites to gain legitimacy and traction. In light of this expose, The Atlantic even published an article to respond to its own impersonation, titled “The Telltale signs of a Fake Atlantic Article”. This clearly illustrates both the sophistication and the impact of Iran’s operation, which appears to have evaded detection and public repudiation for several years.

Russian media criticises Lithuania’s prime candidates for president

Brought to you by the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis

Russian media claims that neither Gitanas Nausėda nor Ingrida Šimonytė should be eyed as possible challengers to Lithuania‘s current political line. With only one week left until the second round of Lithuania’s presidential elections, Kremlin-sympathetic media outlets have declared that both candidates are "nothing more but predetermined successors” of acting president Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Conservative Šimonytė, who narrowly beat independent Nausėda in the first round of Lithuania‘s presidential elections has been named as „Grybauskaitė 2.0” implying that Lithuania’s political stance on Russia will most probably remain just as opposing. While Nausėda’s nonpartisan stance has been put under continuous scrutiny for his conservative-like views on the current Russian government. 

Even though the stream of articles related to Lithuania did not experience major fluctuations, Russian media definitely made sure to cover Lithuania’s presidential elections in an interpretive way. According to a recent analysis by, the biggest flow of information about candidates aiming for the presidential seat was recorded on Lithuania-based, and, which are predominantly popular among Russian-speaking audiences in Lithuania. However, less prominent, yet more aggressive coverage was recorded on Russia-based media outlets, such as,, and That being said, it should not be surprising since the above-mentioned news sites are known to be the main perpetrators of spreading false information about Lithuania and other Baltic states.

Israeli political marketing firm turns disinformation into a capital enterprise

On May 16, Facebook announced that it has removed a set of 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, groups, and events, which altogether were participating in a coordinated disinformation campaign. Many of these were led by an Israeli political marketing company called The Archimedes Group. The group specializes in “winning campaigns worldwide”, according to its slogan.

In practice, this has meant running a network of accounts and pages aimed at publishing highly partisan information in at least 13 countries, which were followed by at least 2.8 million people worldwide. According to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, it worked in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, where the main focus seems to have been on recent African elections. The group employed a range of diverse tactics, which included making candidate support and attack pages, pages which posed as fact-checkers and news organizations and creating pages promising to provide leaks about specific candidates. These are tactics which have previously been employed by governments, most notably Russia, however, their availability on the free market denotes a more mainstream use and tacit acceptance of these anti-democratic tactics.

US Developments

Michael Flynn details Trump team attempts to obstruct Russia probe

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn has given Special Counsel Robert Mueller information that details attempts by individuals tied to the Trump administration and Congress to obstruct the Russian investigation. Not too long ago Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his December 2016 conversations with Sergei Kislyak—former Russian ambassador in Washington—about U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama administration. These conversations took place between Trump's electoral victory and his inauguration in January 2017. The documents revealed for the first time sections that had originally been left out before last month’s release of Mueller’s report.

Flynn informed Mueller of multiple instances both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys communicated with individuals connected to the Trump administration of Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the “completeness” of that cooperation. Flynn even provided a voicemail that recorded one of these conversations. Flynn had been scheduled to be sentenced on December 18th, but the federal judge delayed his sentencing until after he had finished helping prosecutors with Trump’s Russia probe and other probes. Mueller notably, has asked the judge not to sentence Flynn to prison given his cooperation with the investigation.

Trump confirms the U.S. conducted a cyber attack against a Russian entity

U.S President Trump confirmed that the U.S. conducted a cyber attack against a Russian entity during last year’s midterm elections on an interview aired on Fox News. When Fox News’ Steve Hilton asked about him authorizing a cyber attack he said, “I would rather not say that but you can believe that the whole thing happened, and it happened during my administration. When pressed as to why he didn’t provide more information Trump said the intelligence desired to keep the majority of the information classified.

The National Security Council did not respond to CNN and other American new sites request for an interview. In response to the common criticism that Trump is a mere puppet of Vladimir Putin, he has said that no president has been tougher on Russia than him.  He referenced an operation detailed last February by the Washington Post where the U.S. military blocked access to the Russian Internet Research Agency and detailed that he gave his approval to the general operation.

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Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Russian Media in Germany: Independent Journalism or Political Instrument?

Our this week’s recommendation is report based on a project by Susanne Spahn, which explores some of the most prominent tools (such as RT) used by Russian propaganda in Germany, supposedly to undermine the “monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon media” and present an objective alternative viewpoint, but in reality, to shape public opinion abroad and advance the goals of Moscow’s foreign policy. In addition to providing a broad overview of the Kremlin’s strategic use of media, the report focuses on some of the specific media outlets that operate in Germany, a country that is one of the major targets of Russia’s foreign media offensive.  In spite of being financed by the Russian government, RT Deutsch claims to “create a public opposition and to reveal media manipulation”. It presents a narrow selection of information, omitting or manipulating issues that do not correspond to its narrative, such as critical voices from within Russia. Some of its journalists have admitted to conforming to the editorial line of Russian state TV, spreading rhetoric that aims to undercut the legitimacy of organisations like NATO and the EU.

With RT being one of the five biggest international broadcasting systems, its German subsidiaries, including Ruptly TV as well as Redfish GmbH and Maffick Media GmbH (two outlets active in the social media realm), appeal to a broad demographic, from right-wing supporters of the AfD to more left-leaning audiences. The report also addresses the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, a body that employed “trolls”, each with a workload of spreading around 150 pro-Kremlin tweets per day based on preassigned topics like Ukraine, the rouble rate, and the EU. Finally it explores some of the main elements of disinformation campaigns, including distortion of facts, countering criticism with counter-criticism, and stigmatisation of political opponents.

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