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

Topics of the Week

The Kremlin disinformation machinery recruits local freelancers to target left-wing audiences in the UK, US, and beyond.

Department of Homeland Security warns of disinformation spread by Russia about mail-In voting with the aim to undermine the integrity of the election process.

Kremlin's Current Narrative: Did Russia win the vaccine race?

Good Old Soviet Joke

A CIA agent is sent on a spy mission to Moscow, Soviet Union. He goes to a grocery store and writes down in his diary "There is no food".

He then goes to a clothes shop and puts down in the diary "there are no shoes".

He goes out of the shop and a KGB agent waits for him outside. "You know, 10 years ago we would have shot you for that."

The CIA agent writes in his diary "There are no bullets".

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Policy & Research News

Freelance writers are employed by the Kremlin apparatus to target left-wing audiences in the UK and the US.

The investigation conducted by Facebook revealed that the Kremlin’s sophisticated disinformation efforts are not solely limited to the (in)famous troll farms. It was revealed that U.S. journalists were recruited by Russia to orchestrate influence operations by means of dismantling support of the liberal voters.

Overall, Facebook with a tip of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force managed to track and remove 13 accounts that directed users to the PeaceData site, which is intertwined with the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). Their activities primarily covered the US, UK, Algeria, and Egypt. PeaceData was tasked to ‘build a left-wing audience and ‘steer it away from Biden’s campaign”. Precaution measures were taken earlier and prevented the expansion of a large dubious network of provocateurs. 

One of the major features of PeaceData content generation is that almost all publications were created by the external writers or copied publications from other resources. Generally, PeaceData took the trajectory of the left-wing camp and was seeding the anti-Western expansionism and anti-capitalism ideas. Currently, PeaceData’s main page welcomes readers with the notification of suspension of their activities and blaming the FBI, Facebook, Washington Post, and others for suppressing the freedom of speech. 

One of the employees shared his experience in the recent interview. He mentioned that he was succumbed by the lure of easy money amidst the coronavirus-propelled pandemic and was recruited through Twitter by a representative of PeaceData. He was asked to produce materials on ‘anti-war, anti-corruption, abuse of power, or human rights violation’. PeceData's agenda seemed to correspond with his outlooks - judgemental of US foreign policy vector and Trump’s politics. The other writers also had verified accounts at first sight.

Shortly after that, one of Alex’s pieces was re-posted by an unfamiliar GlobalResearch site, which actively amplified conspiracies on Covid-19 treatment, the 9/11 attacks, pro-Putin and pro-Lukashneko materials. Eventually, the author dropped out of the PeaceData project. He also discovered that PeaceData’s editors were blocked, and also was informed via Twitter that PeaceData promoted the Russian disinformation campaign. 

Russian style of coordination of the disinformation campaign is always seeking new tactics and adjusting the old ones to push more disinformation, sway voter’s decisions in their favor and foment distrust in democratic institutions. Although this is considered to be the smallest effort of the IRA-linked campaign, this case evidently illustrates how domestic and foreign entities are engaged in Kremlin’s information warfare, while the Western bloc of democracies remains to be susceptible to this dimension of warfare.

Financial interference into the media dimension

The Alliance for Securing Democracy at The German Marshall Fund of the United States has released findings of their research ‘Covert Foreign Money: Financial Loopholes Exploited by Authoritarians to Fund Political Interference in Democracies’The report flagged the problem that Russian and Chinese modern influence operations are not confined by disinformation or cyber disruption efforts. These are always backed up and intertwined with the massive money fuelling and finance interference across the democratic countries.

According to the estimations, the number of such money-stipulated influence operations has accelerated dramatically since 2016 and covered over 30 democratic countries with a total of $300 million spendings done by Bejing and Moscow. The report revealed that around 83 percent of such activities were implemented through policy and legal loopholes. 20 percent of those are attributed to funding online political ads and media outlets. 

Covert sponsorship of online media outlets is one of the burning issues elaborated in the report. Moscow’s funds are allocated to maintain foreign domestic media enterprises to pollute the digital environment with subversive info-operations. Some of these Moscow’s attempts were uncovered by the European intelligence services. The list encompasses junk-websites in Sweden, Ukraine, Berlin-based online outlets, Baltic states, or websites pretending to be based in the U.S. Those are exploited to disseminate pro-Russian narratives or discredit unfavorable political candidates for the Kremlin establishment.

This is done through two financial vectors: funding small junk news websites and owning big traditional TV-channels. Usually, it is hard to establish the roots of financial donors due to non-disclosure or classified data, yet most of the cases are supposed to have links to Russia’s resources. For instance, the IRA is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Nowadays Prigozhin went even beyond the European area and launched sophisticated support of media outlets in Africa. 

One of the countermeasures proposed in the research is the establishment of the ‘outlet libraries’, which would be subject to disclosure of their beneficial owners that use the internet services provided by U.S. technology companies. Besides, online outlets should also disclose the identities of their funders, advertisers, and donors to be approved for the list of “outlet libraries’. 

Digital platforms became a primary channel for leveraging political influence over the last decade. However, the scope of manipulation goes beyond the orthodox onslaught of disinformation and fake news. Authoritarian regimes have challenged drastically the ecosystem of ads and online outlets, altered the game rules, and therefore exposed the urgent need to reform this market. The Western countries should develop an effective legislative roadmap to mitigate future risks of malign financial influence from overseas and increase the transparency of funding, so the public could be aware of the scale of outlandish manipulation.

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US Developments

Department of Homeland Security Warns of Disinformation Spread by Russia About Mail-In Voting

According to a leaked U.S. Department of Homeland Security bulletin, Russian state media outlets and proxy websites are spreading disinformation about mail-in voting. The bulletin states that "Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.” The DHS warning states that Russia hopes to create doubt about the integrity of the 2020 elections by disseminating false claims about mail-in voting, such as the likelihood of voter fraud and the postal services inability to cope with the volume of ballots. The DHS’s intelligence branch also stated the bulletin is issued in "high confidence" and that disinformation efforts by Russia targeting the mail-in voting process have been ongoing since at least March.

Kremlin's Current Narrative

Russian launches Sputnik V

On August 11, Russia has registered their first coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, claiming to have “won the vaccines race”. Now Russian media promote the safety of the vaccine, explain why the Russian Gamaleya Research Center was first, and discuss the plans for the groundbreaking Sputnik of 2020.

The first coronavirus vaccine was registered before all three globally accepted stages of the clinical trial were complete. But the early two stages of the trial allegedly showed a 100% “guaranteed” formation of immunity, ensuring the protection from infection for two years. It took only two weeks to design the vaccine, and preclinical experiments on animals began in February-March, RG reports. Such quick success is explained by lots of experience of the Gamaleya Research Center, which have developed the adenoviral platform for the vaccines around 20 years ago. Their Ebola and MERS vaccines were built on this technology, therefore it was used also for Sputnik V.

Of course, the “big news” was that one of the daughters of Putin was vaccinated. The Russian president didn’t specify which daughter has tried the experimental vaccine but said that she felt absolutely healthy.

The international concerns about the safety of the newly registered vaccine point out “worrying opacity and ethical issues”. No official documents were released until recently; until after the registration of the vaccine, moreover, the immune response should not be confirmed (normally) until the large-scale trial (Phase 3) is complete.

The Russian outlets explain the criticism by a combination of geopolitical factors and commercial competition. “[…] We are already competing for the huge markets of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Competitors do not like it, of course.”

Nevertheless, not all the countries have criticized the vaccine: 20 countries (“including the developed ones”) have already expressed their interest in buying the Russian vaccine. The total population of these countries allegedly is 1 billion people. Thus, “every seventh person on Earth is ready to use the vaccine, and that is the brightest proof of its effectiveness”, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Also, Belarus is promised to be the first country, after Russia, to receive Sputnik V.

On September 8, the RIA news reported that the vaccine was released in public circulation, and in the nearest time will be distributed in the regions. Previously it was noted that only healthy citizens, without chronic diseases and over 18 could volunteer to be vaccinated.

To various accusations of cyberattacks and other attempts to steal the data about the vaccines from other countries, Russian media either call the allegations fake or do not mention them at all. On the opposite, they discuss “the wildest western propaganda campaigns aimed to discredit the Russian vaccine.”

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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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