KREMLIN WATCH IN THE MEDIA
An article for The American Interest describes the Kremlin’s relationship with Czech President Miloš Zeman and its potential influence to orchestrate future energy deals in the Czech Republic with Rosatom. European Values director Jakub Janda is quoted: “The President’s office is blackmailing the Prime Minister that if he fails to award the CZK 150-200 billion ($6.6-8.8 billion) to the Russians, he will lose Zeman’s support, who will then destroy his coalition by using Communists and some Social Democrats.”
In an interview for the Polish-Ukrainian Portal, analyst and coordinator of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová presents our recent publication: “2018 Ranking of countermeasures by the EU28 to the Kremlin’s subversion operations.” She highlights that “people often fail to understand that propaganda is not just disinformation. It is intimately linked to other forms of subversion, including political corruption, abuse of minorities, and espionage. Countries need a comprehensive strategy to combat it, but few use a complex approach.” She also evaluates the European Union’s approach as inadequate: “In the European Union, there is only one small team focusing on Russian disinformation. Some member states have been calling for an enhancement, but the official bodies of the European Union have not come through. We will see if that changes next year with a new President of the European Commission and a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”
Topics of the Week
A senior Russian official lost his race to become new Chief of Interpol, partly due to public outrage over the Russian Federation’s systematic abuse of the institution to serve its own interests.
Hackers with alleged links to Russian intelligence services have impersonated US State Department officials in order to attack networks across the US public and private sector.
A new publication by Internews Ukraine and Ukraine World calls for EU institutions to “act, not just study” Russia’s information aggression.
Good Old Soviet Joke
Three convicts discuss why they have been sent to a labour camp:
“I spoke badly about comrade Popov in 1939.”
“I spoke well about comrade Popov in 1943.”
“I am comrade Popov.”
Policy & Research News
The Kremlin failed to win control over Interpol
The Times of London reported that Alexander Prokopchuk, a senior Russian official, was expected to be elected as the next president of Interpol at the organization’s General Assembly meeting this week. The position has been vacant since the arrest of former president Hongew, who was detained under opaque circumstances by the Chinese government. Prokopchuk currently serves as Interpol’s vice president and also heads the Russian National Central Bureau, which coordinates work between Interpol and Russia. In this latter role, Prokopchuk directly oversaw, facilitated, and endorsed Russia’s abuse of Interpol in order to harass Kremlin critics around the world and attempt to influence elections in Estonia. Several European countries, the United States and numerous human rights organizations expressed their worries that Prokopchuk’s win would indicate that Interpol no longer serves an unbiased platform for international law enforcement but rather as an instrument of power for authoritarian nations. During the Interpol congress in Dubai today, Alexander Prokopchuk was defeated by the South Korean candidate Kim Jong Yang.
Hepatitis C: A source of Russian disinformation in Georgia
The BBC has investigated a major piece of Russian disinformation alleging that the United States conducted illegal human experiments in Georgia with 24 casualties. The investigation concluded that there is no evidence of the US conducting human experiments involving biochemical weapons and that the drugs used by the laboratory in Georgia were clinically approved and widely used to treat Hepatitis C across the world. Igor Giorgadze, former security minister of Georgia and the source behind the false allegations, said in an evasive interview with the BBC that he has “no desire whatsoever to prove anything” and that he “[doesn’t] know” whether the claims of illegal experimentation were a disinformation campaign or not.
France’s flip-flop on RT and Sputnik
During Macron’s first meeting with Putin, he was hailed for calling out Sputnik and RTas agents of influence and propaganda whilst standing beside the Russian leader at a joint press conference. This came after RT and Sputnik released an avalanche of fake news online about Macron during the 2017 presidential campaign. However, a year and a half later, the Élysée has reversed its position and offered media accreditation to RT and Sputnik. This decision was weakly justified by an Élysée spokesperson on grounds that since they are accredited by the French authority on audio-visual publication, it doesn’t make a difference whether they are also accredited by the Élysée. This comes a year after France allowed RT to launch its own TV channel in France.
Why Putin is interested in AI
In a series on the future of artificial intelligence, the Brooking Institute examines why the Kremlin is interested in becoming part of the AI race. Putin infamously remarked: “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” In the report, Alina Polyakova identifies three main realms where Russia could use AI in asymmetric warfare: first, to manufacture false audio and video content (so-called deep fakes); second, to gather information without needing to hack personal accounts; and third, to improve the precision and targeting of disinformation. While the Kremlin already creates content tailored to specific audiences, AI could increase such accuracy to the personal level.
Has the United States been ‘infected’?
In an explosive three-part series, The New York Times assesses the Kremlin’s influence over the US presidential election and the history of disinformation. The first part looks at KGB active measures and how they were used to try and change the “perception of reality” of US citizens, specifically in the case of Operation Infektion, a story concocted by the KGB alleging that the US had invented AIDS.
The second part looks at Russia’s disinformation apparatus after the fall of the Soviet Union. It follows the rise of Putin and the evolution of the FSB’s manipulation campaigns, beginning within Russia before expanding to the international community. The finale is focused on the lessons learnt from around the world in fighting back against disinformation and calls out big tech companies and the US administration for failing to respond adequately. We recommend reading the tripartite series in its entirety.
Future of US primacy facing “grave” crisis
In a bleak review of the current US defense strategy, a bipartisan commission has warned that the United States faces “a grave crisis of national security” and potentially risks “unacceptably high casualties”, possibly including a decisive military defeat in a war with China or Russia. Citing deep atrophies in America’s hitherto unchallenged military and technological edge, as well as significant concern over the threat of China’s and Russia’s authoritarian regimes, the report finds that America’s capacity to defend itself and its allies is “increasingly in doubt” and faces “grave and lasting” consequences if prompt remedial action is not taken.
Acknowledging Russia’s ‘invasion and dismemberment’ of neighboring states, the review outlines the dangerous prevalence and “considerable success” of Moscow’s “grey-zone” tactics, leveraging upon surreptitious instruments of proxy, cyber, and information warfare to undermine sovereign nations and weaken NATO and the EU. In containing the aggression of a “revanchist” Russia, the report recommends that US and NATO allies must work to rebuild a conventional NATO force along the Baltics and Europe’s eastern quarters in order to keep pace with Russia’s military modernization.
Russian hackers found impersonating US officials
After a relative lull in activity, hackers allegedly linked to Russian intelligence services have been found impersonating US State Department officials in order to infect networks across the US public and private sector. As part of a ‘surprise’ spear-phishing campaign, hackers sent emails imitating a State Department public affairs specialist, encouraging recipients to download malware-infested documents. The cyber operation reportedly targeted over 20 industries across the private and public sectors, including defense, military, law enforcement and local government.
While formal attribution for the attacks is described as ongoing, cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike asserts that the “Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and targeting are consistent with previously identified campaigns from the Russia-based actor COZY BEAR”. Cozy Bear, otherwise designated as “APT29”, is one of the Kremlin-linked hacking groups responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack, linked to either Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) or federal security service (FSB).
US distances itself from global cyber initiative
This week, 51 nations and over 150 technology firms lodged their support for an international effort to regulate the internet and “improve trust, security and stability in cyberspace”. Launched by French President Emmanuel Macron, the “Paris Call for Trust & Security in Cyberspace” initiative calls for, among a number of international measures, action to strengthen defenses against malign electoral interference, prevent proliferation of malicious cyber-tools, and mitigate cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property. However, the United States sits amongst the nations that have refused to take part – notably including Russia and China – The Associated Press reports.
Although the global effort is supported by numerous US tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, Reuters and The New York Times write that Washington’s critical opposition is reflective of Trump’s reluctance to commit the US to programs seen as a bid to encroach upon national sovereignty and, more notably, of US apprehension over relinquishing or limiting its own options for using offensive and defensive cyberweapons in the future.
Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion
Taming the Hydra: How to Resist Kremlin’s Information Aggression?
Internews Ukraine has published a comprehensive report detailing ways to resist the Kremlin’s information aggression. The report compares Russian disinformation to a hydra, a serpentine monster from Greek mythology with multiple heads and the ability to self-regenerate, sprouting two heads for every one that was chopped off. Similarly, Russia information warfare consists of a dynamic, multi-faceted network that involves various information sources which are easily replaced if censored or taken down.
The report suggests that the international community should de-weaponize information by:
1) Gaining a better understanding of the threats,
2) Increasing the transparency of traditional and social media, including the identification and exposure of agents of information influence,
3) Increasing the transparency of political and information campaigns,
4) Creating a new regulatory framework for combatting disinformation,
5) Coordinating cooperation between public authorities and civil society,
6) Reducing room for malicious agents to manoeuvre,
7) Strengthening democratic narratives, and
8) Developing media literacy.
EU institutions are encouraged to ‘act, not just study’. The EEAS East StratCom Task Force, arguably the most important government-sponsored attempt to respond to Russia’s information subversion, demonstrates that Russian disinformation is largely overlooked in EU institutions. The Task Force should be expanded to include analytical networks in each EU member state, platforms which publish in all languages of the member states and East Partnership states, and similar units in the domestic branches of the EU.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.