Kremlin In Denial Over Clear Evidence of Russian COVID-19 Disinformation Campaign

Sputnik’s affiliate in Belarus published a story claiming the virus is an “Anglo-Saxon” plot to counter China. EUvsDisinfo also cited a report by Sputnik’s affiliate in South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia occupied by Russian troops, which claimed the epidemic had been turned into a “weapon” for “information warfare” by the West.

In another case, Sputnik’s Armenian affiliate put out a story claiming, without any evidence, that the COVID-19 virus was created in a U.S. laboratory. Sputnik Latvia ran an article suggesting the virus could have originated in Latvia.

EUvsDisinfo also cited disinformation that appeared on websites that are not owned by the Russian government but regularly promote Kremlin talking points.

‘Russophobic’: Kremlin Denies Evidence of Russian COVID-19 Disinformation Campaign



Vladimir Putin Is Rewriting World War II History

[Putin] appeared to blame Poland for the outbreak of the war while downplaying if not altogether denying Soviet responsibility.

“It was them,” he said, “who, while pursuing their mercenary and exorbitantly overgrown ambitions, laid their people, the Polish people, open to attack from Germany’s military machine, and, moreover, generally contributed to the beginning of the Second World War.”

…“Insane,” former Belgian Prime Minister and prominent European Parliament member Guy Verhofstadt tweeted. “Denying that Stalin colluded with Hitler and destroyed Poland. A monster still glorified in the Russia of Putin.”

…Putin’s long-winded foray into historical revisionism was a reaction to the European Parliament’s Sept. 19, 2019, resolution, “On the Importance of European Remembrance of the Future of Europe.”

That resolution, among other things, condemned Russia for “whitewash[ing] crimes committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime,” blamed the Soviets (alongside the Nazis) for starting World War II, and called for the removal of Soviet war memorials across Europe.

…The verdict is that Putin the amateur historian would not get a passing grade at any reputable university. Nor would he be able to get his views published in any peer-reviewed journal. Although the factual side of his presentation checks out, he has twisted his evidence to support preconceived notions. He is also guilty of gross omissions.

…First, he argues that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, an agreement that mainstream historians would agree, contributed handsomely to the outbreak of World War II by partitioning Poland, was not particularly unusual in the context of the times.

…Putin goes on to argue that had the French stuck by their commitments to defend Czechoslovakia against a German invasion (Paris and Prague signed a treaty of alliance in 1924), the Soviet Union—which also had a treaty with Prague—was prepared to come to the latter’s aid. The problem was that the Soviets had no common border with Czechoslovakia and so depended either on Romania’s or Poland’s willingness to allow the transit of Soviet troops.

…It is naive to argue that Stalin, for his part, would have jumped at the chance to join France in a war against Germany in 1938. Indeed, none of the evidence he cites shows that the Soviet Union was genuinely committed to Czechoslovakia’s defense. Even as he accuses the British and the French of “cynicism,” he seems unwilling to see Stalin as a cynical operator who would have been overjoyed to see Germany and the West at each other’s throats.

…The second part of Putin’s revisionist narrative concerns Poland’s policies in the run-up to World War II. In a nutshell, he argues that Poland was an architect of many of its misfortunes as it not just prevented the Soviets from helping Czechoslovakia but actively colluded with Germany to partition it.

…The problem with Putin’s interpretation is that he fails to distinguish between Poland opportunistically seizing a part of a long-disputed territory deemed essential for national defense, not least against Germany, and active collusion with Nazi Germany to bring about this result.

Indeed, as the prominent Polish-American historian Anna Cienciala has long argued, the Polish cabinet kept its options open and was not averse to taking military action against Germany in defense of Czechoslovakia if France and Britain joined in the fight. 

…It is hardly a revelation that anti-Semitism was pervasive in Eastern Europe both in the interwar period and after the war; Poland was no exception. Soviet leaders, too, shared anti-Semitic views, and Stalin himself waged an anti-Semitic campaign in the final years of his life. Seen in that broader context, Putin’s attack on Lipski is nothing short of bizarre.

Vladimir Putin Is Rewriting World War II History


Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (and entire cabinet) Helpfully Resign To Help Vladimir Putin Consolidate Power

The principal ministers of the Russian government, from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on down, resigned Wednesday in a move designed to ease a constitutional overhaul recently proposed by President Vladimir Putin. The president accepted Medvedev’s resignation and said he would appoint his longtime loyalist to the Russian Security Council.

…”After those amendments are adopted — and it was said that this is likely to be done following discussion — there will be significant changes not only to a variety of constitution articles, but to the balance of power, namely to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of power,” Medvedev explained in the meeting, Tass reports.

The package includes proposals to strengthen the country’s State Council and boost lawmakers’ power over nominations for prime minister and other major government positions. In his address, Putin said the moves are meant to buttress Russia’s democratic processes — though many observers find it more likely that they have to do with Putin’s as-yet-unclear plans to maintain influence after leaving the presidency.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev Resigns As Vladimir Putin Seeks Change : NPR


U.S. Probes If Russia Is Targeting Biden in 2020 Election Meddling

The probe comes as senior U.S. officials are warning that Russia’s election interference in 2020 could be more brazen than in the 2016 presidential race or the 2018 midterm election.

…A signature trait of Russian President Vladimir Putin “is his ability to convince people of outright falsehoods,” said William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

…Russia’s campaign interference in 2016 resulted in a multiagency investigation that led to a highly classified intelligence assessment, part of which was made public in January 2017. Trump has questioned the finding of Russian meddling and has asserted that government agents biased against him conducted a “witch hunt” into whether his campaign conspired with Russia.

The potential for Russia to spread falsehoods — and to develop increasingly sophisticated techniques to do so — is one of the bigger concerns that U.S. officials have as the 2020 election approaches, Demers said.”It’s possible that you will see the creation of false documents,” Demers said. “They could be mixed in with real information, which would make it very difficult to discern the difference. I worry about that as the next evolution of some of their means.”

…Russia has been openly promoting the controversy over Biden and Ukraine, feeding information back into the U.S. where there is an audience that’s receptive to it, Watts said.

Russia has been using its state-run media RT and Sputnik News to selectively promote favorable and unfavorable information about presidential candidates, according to an analysis by the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Foreign Influence Election 2020.

…Russia has a history of staging cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns in Ukraine, where it annexed Crimea in 2014 and backs armed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

The Justice Department exposed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election through public indictments of operatives who hacked Democratic organizations, leaked information damaging Clinton and used social media to sow divisions.

U.S. Probes If Russia Is Targeting Biden in 2020 Election Meddling


Ukraine Condemns Apple For Changing Map To Show Crimea As Part Of Russia

Ukraine on Wednesday criticized Apple for changing its location-based apps to show Crimea as part of Russia, implying that the company “doesn’t give a damn” about its pain, as U.S. tech companies face criticism for complying with controversial local laws in order to keep doing business in those countries.

Ukraine Condemns Apple For Changing Map To Show Crimea As Part Of Russia


That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It

[The] goal was two-fold: Grow an audience in part through heartwarming, inspiring messages, and use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt.

…This tweet didn’t seek to anger conservative Christians or to provoke Trump supporters. She wasn’t even talking to them. Melanie’s 20,000 followers, painstakingly built, weren’t from #MAGA America (Russia has other accounts targeting them). Rather, Melanie’s audience was made up of educated, urban, left-wing Americans harboring a touch of self-righteousness. She wasn’t selling her audience a candidate or a position — she was selling an emotion. Melanie was selling disgust. The Russians know that, in political warfare, disgust is a more powerful tool than anger. Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.

…Professional disinformation isn’t spread by the account you disagree with — quite the opposite. Effective disinformation is embedded in an account you agree with. The professionals don’t push you away, they pull you toward them. While tweeting uplifting messages about Warrick Dunn’s real-life charity work, Tyra, and several accounts we associated with her, also distributed messages consistent with past Russian disinformation. Importantly, they highlighted issues of race and gender inequality. A tweet about Brock Turner’s Stanford rape case received 15,000 likes. Another about police targeting black citizens in Las Vegas was liked more than 100,000 times. Here is what makes disinformation so difficult to discuss: while these tweets point to valid issues of concern — issues that have been central to important social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo — they are framed to serve Russia’s interests in undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions.

…They attacked moderate politicians as a method of bolstering more polarizing candidates.

…Russia strategically employed social media to build support on the right for Trump and lower voter turnout on the left for Clinton. …Russia’s goals are to further widen existing divisions in the American public and decrease our faith and trust in institutions that help maintain a strong democracy.

…Their work was never just about elections. Rather, the [Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA)] encourages us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy. Russia has dug in for a long campaign. So far, we’re helping them win.

That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It – Rolling Stone


Russian Trolls Came for Instagram, Too

Russia’s Internet Research Agency operated a vast network of accounts on Instagram that sought to infiltrate American identity groups, harden ideological divides and sow distrust in the American political system.

Much of the group’s activity was concentrated among several dozen large accounts, …[two] of which had more than 200,000 followers. Many of the group’s accounts targeted specific identity groups, including African-Americans, gun-rights supporters and anti-immigration activists.

In total, posts from Instagram accounts linked to the I.R.A. received nearly 185 million likes during the two-year period reviewed by the researchers, and about four million comments, according to the researchers.

…One post, made by an Instagram account called @feminism_tag, accused Ms. Clinton of insulting women who had accused her husband, Bill Clinton, of sexual misconduct. Another post targeted at African-American voters showed a manipulated image of Ms. Clinton with braided hair, and was captioned “when you need the black vote.”

In all, roughly 7 percent of the more than 100,000 Instagram posts included in the data set mentioned Ms. Clinton, while 11 percent mentioned Mr. Trump. There were no instances of pro-Clinton content on Instagram, according to the New Knowledge report.

…Several of the Instagram posts traced to Russia offered merchandise for sale. 

Researchers suggested, selling merchandise …allowed Russians to collect names, addresses and other personal information from users; second, it allowed them to identify strong supporters of a cause, who could then be targeted with advertisements.

Russian Trolls Came for Instagram, Too – The New York Times


Trump apparently wanted Ukraine to investigate Hillary Clinton in addition to the Bidens: State Department official

He just can’t get over Hillary Clinton.

Before giving U.S. military aid to Ukraine, …Trump wanted “nothing less” than for the European country to announce an investigation targeting Clinton in addition to one targeting Joe Biden and his son, according to a senior State Department official.

…Trump used Clinton’s name as “shorthand” for the investigation he wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch into a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory claiming anti-Trump Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election.

…Trump’s requested Biden investigation centered on unsubstantiated claims that the former vice president’s son, Hunter, evaded prosecution on corruption charges in the country with the help of his powerful father. There’s no evidence to back up the allegation.

…Sondland, a Trump campaign mega-donor, submitted revised testimony to impeachment investigators earlier this week confirming there was quid pro quo involved in the U.S. aid freeze, saying Zelensky had [to] agreed to make the CNN announcement in exchange for the sorely-needed defense cash.

Kent said he and other career officials were instructed to “keep” their heads “down,” as Giuliani and Trump-appointed administration officials engaged in the dubious back-channel efforts.

Part of that shadow policy included aggressive attempts by Giuliani to slander former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and push for her ouster, according to Kent.

Trump apparently wanted Ukraine to investigate Hillary Clinton in addition to the Bidens: State Department official – New York Daily News


Boris Johnson’s Conservatives receive surge in cash from Russians – Business Insider

A new investigation reveals that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has received a surge in cash from Russian donors over the past year, news that comes as his government continues to block publication of a report into Russian influence over recent elections.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives receive surge in cash from Russians – Business Insider

Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard

The Russian propaganda machine that tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election is now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat who earlier this month declared her intention to run for president in 2020.

…[Gabbard] has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.

…[From when] Gabbard announced her intention to run on Jan. 11 [through this article being published a month later], there [were] at least 20 Gabbard stories on three major Moscow-based English-language websites affiliated with or supportive of the Russian government: RT, the Russian-owned TV outlet; Sputnik News, a radio outlet; and Russia Insider, a blog that experts say closely follows the Kremlin line. The CIA has called RT and Sputnik part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

…”Her promulgation of positions compatible with Russian geo strategic interests can help them mainstream such discussion in the [Democratic] party,” said Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook and now an NBC News analyst. Gabbard, said Stamos, helps them with all their “lines of attack.”

…RT began defending Gabbard as soon as she announced.

…Experts in Russian on-line propaganda say Gabbard appeals to pro-Russian sites because her positions —and her appeal as an outsider in her own party — can be used to create division among Democrats.

…The language used to laud Gabbard is reminiscent of Russian media promotion of Jill Stein, the U.S. Green Party candidate for president in 2012 and 2016. Stein received favorable coverage from the same outlets and also benefited from Russian troll accounts.

…Russians may be gravitating to Gabbard not because they think she can win, but because her positions, often in line with those of the Kremlin, will become part of the Democratic primary debates.

…”They want someone like Gabbard to voice a Russian position. They are not telling her what to say but they want her pro-Russian positions play into the debate.”

Stamos agrees that Gabbard could be used to inject pro-Russian positions into the Democratic Party’s discussions and debates during primary season.

“We should expect the Russian intel services and troll farms to be active in the Democratic primary process,” said Stamos, “as this provides them with the best opportunity to create the most division in American society in 2020.”

…In 2016, negative coverage and fabricated stories about Hillary Clinton were amplified by a huge network of fake social media accounts and bots.

Experts who track inauthentic social media accounts, however, have already found some extolling Gabbard’s positions since she declared.

Within a few days of Gabbard announcing her presidential bid, DisInfo 2018, part of the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, found that three of the top 15 URLs shared by the 800 social media accounts affiliated with known and suspected Russian propaganda operations directed at U.S. citizens were about Gabbard.

“A few of our analysts saw some chatter on 8chan saying she was a good ‘divider’ candidate to amplify,” said Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge.

Josh Russell, a researcher and “troll hunter” known for identifying fake accounts, similarly told NBC News he recently spotted a few clusters of suspicious accounts that retweeted the same exact text about Gabbard, mostly neutral or slightly positive headlines.

Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard

Again, whether or not she knows this, whether or not she is willingly cooperating with a foreign government in an effort to effect elections in the United States, Gabbard IS a Russian asset.

NRA Was ‘Foreign Asset’ To Russia Ahead of 2016

Drawing on contemporaneous emails and private interviews, an 18-month probe by the Senate Finance Committee’s Democratic staff found that the NRA underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known — even though the two had declared their ties to the Kremlin.

…Tax-exempt organizations are barred from using funds for the personal benefit of its officials or for actions significantly outside their stated missions. The revelations in the Senate report raise questions about whether the NRA could face civil penalties or lose its tax-exempt status.

NRA Was ‘Foreign Asset’ To Russia Ahead of 2016, New Senate Report Finds : NPR