Wizeus > Religious Affairs | Katriuk2012 | Video Links | Perfidy | Book Reviews | Putin Files | Miscellaneous | Corruption>

Washington Post | 25Dec2017 | Ellen Nakashima

Inside a Russian disinformation campaign in Ukraine in 2014

[W.Z.: I recall the 02May2014 shootings and fire in Odesa during which some 42 people died. Anti-Ukrainian comments and videos (obviously falsified) appeared almost instantly. These must have been prepared by the Russian FSB well in advance of the 02May2014 date.
- The "selected comments" appended below are particularly relevant.
- Finally, one suspects that these techniques are presently being utilized by the political players and oligarchs within Ukraine (as well as the Russian FSB) to confuse the situation.]

By the morning of Feb. 22, 2014, it was clear that the government of Viktor Yanukovych, the beleaguered pro-Russian president of Ukraine, had fallen, amid protests sparked by his decision not to move toward a closer relationship with the European Union.

Yanukovych’s Russian allies denounced his political collapse as a “coup,” and the crisis became a flash point in relations between the Kremlin and the West.

Into the tumult leapt Russia’s military spy agency, the GRU, which launched a covert influence operation -- one that presaged what Moscow would do in the United States two years later. The campaign was part of an all-out propaganda offensive against the new government in Kiev and pro-Western demonstrators.

Its goal was to influence key decision-makers and the wider public to pave the way for the Russian military action that was launched Feb. 27 with the seizure of the Crimean parliament building by armed men, according to a classified GRU report obtained by The Washington Post. Crimea was ultimately annexed by Russia.

The report provides a unique window into one GRU team’s effort across six days in 2014. Starting the day after Yanukovych’s fall, the military spies created a slew of fake personas on the social media platforms of Facebook and its Russian equivalent VKontakte, or VK for short. The personas were meant to represent ordinary people from across Ukraine who were disillusioned with opposition protests at Kiev’s central square, called the Maidan.

On Saturday evening, Feb. 22, 2014, a man calling himself Ivan Galitsin posted a comment on an article in a British newspaper. The story was about the Ukraine opposition leader and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been released from prison that day. “There was a coup in Ukraine,” wrote Galitsin in English. “I live in Kiev. I was on the Maidan, but peaceful protest ended two months ago, when we were displaced by armed nationalists. It’s a nightmare. Fascists came to us again 70 years after the Second World War. I do not want this future for Ukraine.”

Galitsin was the creation of a GRU psychological operations officer, according to the documents. The profile was created on Feb. 22, 2014 and he used as his profile photo a picture of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted Russian drug smuggler serving time in a U.S. prison. Galitsin’s comments also appeared in other English-language outlets.

Overall, the GRU team targeted more than 30 Ukrainian groups and social media platforms, as well as 25 “leading, English-language” publications, according to the report.

Pretending to be ordinary Ukrainians, GRU operatives also tapped out comments aimed at riling up pro-Russian citizens against the protesters, whom they called “zapadentsy” -- or “westerners.” One comment read: “Brigades of zapadentsy are now on their way to rob and kill us. It is very clear that these people hold nothing sacred.’’

Another read: “The rise of the opposition here will be catastrophic. These people are completely different. They have a totally different vision of Ukraine’s future.”

Demonstrators on the Maidan were called “Nazis” and “fascists.”

The military spies posted physical threats on social media against Yanukovych allies in southeastern Ukraine to bolster Moscow’s claim that radical Ukrainians were inciting violence against Russians in the region. In one case, a fake persona named Vova Kravets issued threats on Facebook against 14 politicians.

On Feb. 27, 2014when the Crimean parliament building was seized, the GRU created four groups on Facebook and VK to encourage Crimeans to support secession from Ukraine. “Using our accounts on Facebook, we circulated commentaries informing the population of the Crimean peninsula of a threat from Nazi organizations,” the GRU reported.

The GRU created a Facebook primer for its psyops personnel, although the instructions were fairly basic. One tip said that operatives need not use their own photo. “You can search for a photo on Facebook itself. Find someone who has very few friends and is not an active user.”

The GRU also used paid ads on Facebook to increase the groups’ popularity, according to the report. Together, the groups received nearly 200,000 views on Facebook on Feb. 27 alone, the report said. The content was republished on other groups on Facebook, on VK and on LiveJournal, another Russian social networking site.

It is difficult to gauge the true impact of the GRU’s information operation in Ukraine. But the military spies, no doubt to put their efforts in the best possible light for their superiors, gave this assessment: “[T]he overwhelming majority of social media users agreed with the posted arguments and supported the authors’ positions.”

Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She covers cybersecurity, surveillance, counterterrorism and intelligence issues.

Selected Comments:

alyalayw:  25Dec2017
I remember clearly what the New York Times comment section looked like when the Russians first entered Ukraine. The place was flooded with (what seemed to be) Ukrainian-Americans with very strong feelings about what was happening. They had a VERY different narrative than what was being reported by the Times, but it was compelling. I would like to claim otherwise, but I absolutely believed those commenters, and for a while, believed that the Times was reporting this important story with bias. It's a very effective technique.

catbutt:  25Dec2017
The reason why this kind of tactic worked on our country, is because we have been breaking our own rules of free speech -- there are limitations;
You cannot falsely cry "fire" in a crowded theater just as "opinion" based news, is not news -- it is political propaganda.

If we are going to allow opinion based news on the air as "news" -- then there is no difference between Fox, MSNBC, Reddit, or Russian GRU posted crap. Journalism without standards is like an insurance company that is also a bank; after a while, its simply not sustainable. By allowing a corporate controlled, profit driven news system, we are opening ourselves up to the same kind of weakness that a country with a government controlled news system has. Now combine a corporate controlled news system with government party opinion based news outlets. This should be scaring the crap out of us, not just annoying us.

Look up a set of laws called "the Spitzer act" -- this party based, opinion news crap is completely illegal and there is legislation, written shortly after WW2 inspired by an attempt to prevent Nazi like propaganda from happening in the US. In these laws, the US Government is not to have a "news" channel; and by proxy, political parties "are" government. Think about it -- How are we going to allow the same unmitigated propaganda mechanism that allowed the Nazis to spread their hatred across Europe, into our modern homes and lives unchecked. It has already begun to use fear to drive us against one another here, and now it is slipping out of our control against us by foreign powers.

affectionate hun:  26Dec2017 (reply)
As you’ve mentioned Nazi-propaganda: Have a look at the history of the Weimar Republic before Hitler came to power. You find the collusion of Alfred Hugenberg, an industrial leader of immense wealth who managed to also get next to half of all newspapers under his control, with the "German alt-right" of these days. He paved the way for Hitler. Today you see the same thing on an even grander scale all over the world -- on one side all out state propaganda by Russia or China through a controlled media and the take over of communication structures and news companies by people like Murdoch or Berlusconi. Now the Koch Bros. seem to get their hands on Time Magazine and -- on the other hand -- Mr. Bezos owns this nice news outlet. The danger may be that news corporations become more and more toys in the hands of different players -- be it a state or an oligarch -- and we need to start to develop more mechanisms to sort out what those news organisations present us as "facts". With the Russian’s neo-factual approach being the most "modern" one -- undermine all trust in any facts and set whole societies on a slippery slope downwards by sowing conflicts amongst their people on every possible level while retaining control where you want to have it through sheer power. So it‘s by far not only "The Russians" -- but, yes, they are currently the best players in the field. Interesting times ahead.