The fire that devastated cathedral Notre-Dame in Paris is “God’s punishment”, reported on Monday on April 15th two Serbian tabloids Aloand Informer, because last year Kosovo’s flag was hoisted there during the manifestation celebrating 100 years since the end of the World War I. 

The flag of the “fake state of Kosovo” was hoisted at the Cathedral Notre-Dame and this was the reason why “fire has now destroyed it”, was written at the web site of Informer with the attached photo of the Cathedral on fire. “The cause of the fire is unknown so far, but whatever the cause might be, one is clear – apparently, French suffered God’s punishment”, was stated in the text which was later deleted without explanation.

The portal of the tabloid Alo reported that the hoist of Kosovo’s flag represented “spitting on the Serbian victims” of war on Kosovo and that the fire was the punishment for that, adding that the public worldwide was shocked by such French decision.

On the other hand, the very president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, considered a close person to the tabloid Informer, expressed his support to French on Twitter with worlds stating that everyone in Serbia was sad for what has happened.

We are with our French friends and we are ready to help the renewal of this symbol of French and world civilization.

The former secretary general of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) also gave comments similar to those from Informer and Alo.

“Let it burn, better would be to have had it bombed”, wrote Vasic.

After Aleksandar Vucic’s statement expressing regret and offering help to France, and numerous foreign and domestic media condemnations of Informer and Alo because of their writing on unfortunate incidence in Paris which crossed all lines of good taste and professionalism, the two Serbian media took completely reverse stances compared to initial texts. 

Actually, on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, the mentioned portals displayed the following titles “Notre-Dame tolling in the honor of the Serbs’ victory over Turks! According to the folklore, the symbol of Paris celebrated in 1389 the victory of the Serbia army!” and “Bells for the Serbian army, the Cathedral Notre-dame was thundering 600 years ago in the honor of Serbia…”, followed by the famous picture of the Kosovo Maiden.

Whether the initial content was removed and the stance changed due to the condemnation of the media, public, President’s attitude or something else is less important. What remains is the scandal caused by unprofessionalism, which has not only ruined the image of the Serbian media space but of Serbia in the international community.

French Ambassador in Belgrade, Frédéric Mondoloni, said that he was profoundly affected by the titles found in certain Serbian media reporting that the fire in the Cathedral Notre-Dame was “God’s punishment” and expressed the deep contempt for those who do it.

Although the spire and much of the roof of the 850-year-old medieval structure collapsed, which is also one of the world’s most visited cultural monuments, the main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved, as well as most of the treasured artwork and religious artifacts.

During an average workday, a single minute might seem negligible. If you’re lucky, a minute might buy you enough time to write a quick email, grab a coffee from the break room, or make small talk with a coworker

But, when it comes to the Internet a lot can happen in just 60 seconds, as is shown by the data published by the Visual Capitalist. Simply put, the number of actions packed into just 60 seconds is extraordinary.

From year to year, there’s an increase of people having access to the Internet, which contributes to its dynamism and rising numbers on a daily basis. This is best understood through a direct comparison between data for this and the previous year.

The article was taken from Radio Free Europe

Facebook said on March 26 that it has deleted more than 2,600 fake pages and accounts linked to Russia, Iran, North Macedonia, and Kosovo as the firm continues a crackdown against troll networks that try to manipulate public opinion in other countries. 

Facebook cyber security chief Nathaniel Gleicher said 1,907 group pages and accounts linked to Russia were removed for posting spam that included content related to Ukrainian news and politics ahead of Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election.

He said the Ukraine-related content included posts about the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine, local and regional politics; Ukrainian patriotism; refugee issues; Ukrainian military; the situation in Crimea; corruption.

Gleicher said a small portion of the Russia-linked pages were run by individuals who engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Nathaniel Gleicher, a Facebook cyber security chief

Troll Farm

That is a term Facebook uses to describe a social media manipulation tactic it says was used by Russia’s notorious troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, to try to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people, Gleicher said in a March 26 statement.

We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted, Gleicher said. In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves.

Gleicher said rooting out such abuse was an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well-funded.

Facebook did not announce whom it suspects funded the recently deleted Russian troll network pages and accounts, saying they’ve become more sophisticated about hiding their identity than the Internet Research Agency had been in 2016.

Altogether, the recently deleted Russian trolls included just 64 individual Facebook accounts. They included 1,757 Facebook groups and 86 pages on Facebook and its Instagram network.

Gleicher said more than 1.7 million Facebook accounts had joined one or more of the malicious Russia-linked groups and about 50,000 accounts followed one or more of the dubious Russia-linked pages.

Unlike 2016, when accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency had purchased Facebook advertising, Gleicher said no advertisement spending was associated with the most recently deleted Russia-linked accounts.

Facebook said on March 26 that 513 pages or accounts it recently removed as trolls were part of multiple networks tied to Iran.

They operated in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, or broadly across the Middle East and North Africa, Gleicher said.

They represented themselves as locals and made-up media entities, often using fake accounts — and they impersonated real political groups and media organizations, Gleicher said, adding that the Iran-linked pages had copied a Russian troll farm tactic called “alse amplification.

That’s when fake accounts work together with accounts of people who use their real name in order to flood web forums with posts aimed at manipulating online public debate.

They posted news stories on current events and frequently repurposed and amplified content from Iranian state media, Gleicher said.

Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior

Topics of Iranian social media manipulation campaigns included sanctions against Iran, tensions between India and Pakistan, conflicts in Syria and Yemen, terrorism, tensions between Israel and Palestine, Islamic religious issues, Indian politics, and the recent crisis in Venezuela, Gleicher said.

In the Balkans, Facebook says it removed 212 pages, groups, and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior originating from North Macedonia and Kosovo.

They included 40 groups or pages and 172 fake individual accounts that spent about $5,800 on advertising from October 2013 through March 2019.

The individuals behind this activity operated fake accounts to administer pages sharing general, non-country specific content like astrology, celebrities, and beauty tips, Gleicher said.

But one example of political content shared on health issues was an English-language post that weighed in against so-called remainer ministers in the British government ahead of Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

They also ran a small number of pages purporting to represent political communities in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — and posted about religious and political topics like nationalism, Islam, and political figures, he said.

Even though they tried to misrepresent themselves, we found that these pages, groups, and accounts were linked to a network of individuals operating in [North] Macedonia and Kosovo, Gleicher said.

Followers from about 685,000 accounts around the world followed one or more of the deleted pages that were being run from North Macedonia and Kosovo, he said.

Although the deleted troll networks linked to Russia, Iran, North Macedonia, and Kosovo all used similar tactics to try to manipulate public opinion in other countries, Gleicher said Facebook did not find any links between their sets of activities.

After the measles outbreak had started in the northwest of the USA, and the subsequent YouTube decision from March to remove ads supporting anti-vaccination position, Facebook, which was heavily criticized for failing to undertake measures against conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination narratives, decided to stop spreading of fake news concerning vaccines.

They intend to do so through rejecting the ads containing fake news, they will not show or recommend pages in News Feed that contribute to this issue and will fight back from the relevant addresses, such as the World Health Organization.

Facebook published on March 8th the plans that are to be implemented in order to stop spreading of the fake news on vaccines, as well as anti-vaccination narratives on its platform.

As stated by the official representative, Monica Bickert, Facebook will start the implementation through specific steps:

  • We will reduce the ranking of groups and Pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations in the News Feed and Search. These groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or in predictions when you type into Search.
  • When we find ads that include misinformation about vaccinations, we will reject them. We also removed related targeting options, like “vaccine controversies.” For ad accounts that continue to violate our policies, we may take further action, such as disabling the ad account.
  • We won’t show or recommend content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.
  • We are exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic.

The leading health organization, such as the World Health organization ant the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified fake news on vaccines that can be subject to the verification. If they identify such narratives on Facebook, they will undertake measures against them.

As stated, if a group or page admin posts such disinformation, Facebook will remove the entire group or page from the recommendations, decrease the position and ranking of those groups and pages in News Feed and Search, thus rejecting those fake posts.

World Health Organization published a list of the greatest threats for human health in 2019 and, apart from Ebola and other dangerous diseases, the list contained anti-vaccines activists, who were declared as one of the greatest threats for human health, because due to their activities we face the return of the diseases that have almost been eradicated.

The global internet continues to fragment. Governments, in particular, are using their influence to shape the ways that digital companies, markets, and rights connect us online. This new form of realpolitik, which we call “digitalpolitik,” is an emerging tactical playbook for how governments use their political, regulatory, military, and commercial powers to project influence in global, digital markets.

DIGITAL SUPERPOWER

A country looking to reshape the internet in its own image, leveraging every form of power it can from laws to markets.

CHINA

China’s digital influence is a product of the centralized power and reach of the government, both as a sovereign and as a market actor. China’s digital infrastructure, which includes content filtering, censorship, surveillance, paid government commentators, and other methods, has long been a counterpoint to the dominant global internet. Early in the history of the internet, China’s government understood its twin potential in fostering both economic growth and social dissent, and it developed regulations to control fiber-optic cables and content. China uses some of the most precise, scaled censorship and control, including keyword search algorithms, human censors, and, now, image recognition tools. Even beyond technical capacity, the government has methodically used laws designed to curb rumors and to jail people based on their online activities, while real-name registration and online credit systems have ensured the ability to connect online action with offline identity.

In recent years, China has been steadily exporting this model thanks to the Digital Silk Road initiative, a government effort to export key infrastructure such as fiber-optic cables, surveillance tools, AI technologies, and hardware to states that would receive them. As much of the world, reliant on a Western internet, deals with a crisis around misinformation in digital spaces, the Chinese government additionally hosts trainings and conferences designs to teach other governments these techniques of control—and thus its vision of how the internet should operate. Iran’s National Information Network, detailed below, is one such outcome of this effort.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: computational attacks, digital identity, surveillance, platform nationalism, infrastructure control, content manipulation, digital services, data localization, regulatory requirements and financial incentives.

UNITED STATES

The United States is the internet’s original hegemon, albeit ad hoc, at times, and losing ground quickly. Of the world’s largest powers, the United States has the digital strategy that leans the most heavily on private markets to project its dominance, embed its jurisdiction in international infrastructure, and generate wealth. U.S. companies enjoyed global dominance for long enough to create the world’s five largest companies (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft). As a result, U.S. internet policy is exceptionally market-centric, even before the current administration’s push for deregulation amid historic vertical integration. America’s early market success is also what positioned it to become such an instrumental part of core standards and governance bodies, including ICANN, the World Wide Web Consortium, and the Unicode Consortium.

The domestic trend in the United States is toward protectionism, political power consolidation, and institutional confusion. At the federal level, the executive branch is deregulating core consumer protections, like net neutrality, while threatening reactive, politically motivated regulatory punishment. Congress has, to date, eschewed the kind of legislative infrastructure emerging globally, like data protection or privacy legislation, thus destabilizing attempts to harmonize markets with common standards. Individual states are stepping into that vacuum, enacting policies themselves. For example, California recently passed privacy legislation, Illinois decided it can charge sales tax for internet services, and Vermont is regulating data brokers. The absence of a clear, coherent approach to internet governance and regulation threatens to stall U.S. dominance and is creating space for a range of other countries to contend with their digital political philosophies and approaches. The previously market-based approach could be eroding in the face of foreign challenges. As its main rival, China, projects power outward via State-connected companies, the United States has been moving to block access to its allies’ markets and target Chinese firms. The future may see much tighter regulation as online security becomes ever more of a concern. A country that once saw itself as setting the rules may end up more concerned with defending its own digital borders than establishing global standards.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: computational attacks, digital identity, surveillance, platform nationalism, infrastructure control, content manipulation, digital services, data localization, regulatory requirements and financial incentives.

DIGITAL INFLUENCER

One among many powers aspiring to push the internet in the direction it wants, and perhaps one day to be a superpower.

BRAZIL

In 2014, the country established the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, known in Portuguese as the Marco Civil, and this August it passed a General Data Protection Law modeled on the EU’s GDPR. The law was passed during a period of tumult and transition in Brazilian politics, raising questions about whether incoming President Jair Bolsonaro will implement the law as designed by February 2020.

Brazil’s digitization has also had its share of challenges: Brazil’s elections revealed WhatsApp as a key battleground for campaigning and misinformation, with allegations that Bolsonaro’s campaign in particular benefited from paid operatives who flooded private networks with messages. This reflects a new tactic of influence that included, under the previous administration, frequent shutdowns of WhatsApp and planned ones of Facebook, justified under the language of the Marco Civil. The country has invested heavily in fiber-optic infrastructure both locally and abroad to improve its position in the global digital sphere.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: computational attacks, platform nationalism, surveillance, data localization, infrastructure control, regulatory requirements and financial incentives.

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union takes a more constructive approach to internet governance, building consensus among a range of sovereign interests and acting almost like a trade union. Unlike China or the United States, the EU doesn’t export internet policy through its companies; it does so by negotiating access to its consumers, both with platform companies and other sovereigns. The EU’s power is, primarily, a product of its market size and its focus on negotiated compromise. While the EU’s most-discussed regulation is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), its most influential rule has been the Council of Europe’s Convention 108. According to scholarly analysis, Convention 108 has been adopted, directly or indirectly, by more than 120 countries, thus making it the closest thing in the world to a customary international data privacy law.

While the EU aspires to be the most influential internet policymaker, its approach focuses on stability and harmonization as the core value propositions. The EU model is the most replicable, but it also relies the most heavily on the strength of its regulatory institutions and its ability to project jurisdiction over international technology companies, which are less replicable.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: digital identity, surveillance, platform nationalism, content manipulation, digital services, data localization, regulatory requirements and financial incentives.

INDIA

As the world’s largest democracy, India has an approach to internet governance that’s largely focused on consolidating domestic power and market access, an effective strategy given its market size. In 2016, India’s national government rolled out the Aadhaar biometric identification system as a cornerstone of engagement with public services. Aadhaar has already reached a staggering 1.22 billion people, becoming the global benchmark for digital identity systems while raising foundational rights and security issues, given multiple reported breaches. A recent Supreme Court verdict imposed some of the largest restrictions to date on Aadhaar data, preventing private companies from requiring identification details for service. For better or worse, Aadhaar is one of the world’s largest sociotechnical standards, a foundation for the digital vision promoted by the government of India, and a model for other governments considering biometric systems for citizen records.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: digital identity, surveillance, platform nationalism, infrastructure control, content manipulation, digital services, data localization, regulatory requirements and financial incentives.

RUSSIA

Russia is disproportionately influential in digitalpolitik due to its aggressive use of intelligence tactics, delivered at digital scale, to achieve its political objectives. Early this year, Russia’s Internet Research Agency became a globally recognized name after the U.S. special counsel investigation’s indictment of 12 operatives from Russia on charges of spreading disinformation during the 2016 election. The Internet Research Agency, whose activities have gone on for years in Russia and post-Soviet states, employs some 1,000 people to establish blogs and spread memes and messages, with a general goal of amplifying social discord online by tapping into existing issues of social discontent. Russian activities on Twitter alone came from 3,841 accounts, and the agency is believed to have a hand in online media manipulation efforts in Ukraine as well.

At home, the government has encouraged a homegrown app ecosystem, including VKontakte (social) and Yandex (search), while establishing censorship and surveillance mechanisms to control online speech. To help shape online discourse, it has required popular bloggers to register with the state and therefore be liable for government-defined notions of accuracy.

TACTICS EMPLOYED: computational attacks, platform nationalism, surveillance, infrastructure control, content manipulation, digital services, data localization and regulatory requirements.

NATIONALIST (CONSOLIDATOR)

A country using the internet to strengthen domestic control, whether through censorship or surveillance.

CAMEROON, CUBA, EGYPT, MACEDONIA, MALASYIA, MEXICO, NORTH KOREA, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, THE PHILIPPINES, TANZANIA AND UGANDA

NATIONALIST (PROJECTOR)

A country using the internet to increase its own status internationally, whether by attracting investment or reshaping its diplomatic image.

AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, ESTONIA, IRAN, ANTARCTICA

The article was taken from Foreign Policy. Full version can be found at: foreignpolicy.com

This article was taken from Foreign Policy

Putin wants soldiers to stop revealing the secrets of his shadow wars on their social media pages.

In early 2015, Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists defeated government forces in the city of Debaltseve in a major battle that seemed to prove something about the balance of forces in the conflict: The ragtag insurgents could face the country’s conventional military on their own and win.

But it later became clear that Russian troops deployed in the area helped the separatists defeat the Ukrainian forces — a fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to hide. How was the secret revealed? Russian soldiers involved in the fighting posted details of the battle on social media.

Now, four years later, Russia has passed a law that forbids military personnel from posting photographs, video, and geolocation data on the internet. As Russian forces are increasingly involved in secretive campaigns far from home, the idea is to prevent the details of these shadow wars from seeping out.

But researchers who have tracked Russian troop moveme nts using open-source material and social media argue that the new measure is unlikely to obscure the Kremlin’s maneuvers.

Russian soldiers are millennials for the most part. They love social media. They aren’t going to give it up entirely, said Kirill Mikhailov, a researcher with Conflict Intelligence Team, which has published reports on Russian troop activities in Ukraine and Syria.

Mikhailov added that he has heard reports lately about Russian troops carrying two phones — one to turn in to their commanders and a second to keep for themselves.

Charting the movement of Russian battalions from social media has been a hobby of journalists and researchers for years. In the 2015 VICE News documentary Selfie Soldiers, the reporter Simon Ostrovsky was able to trace a Russian soldier from the battlefield in eastern Ukraine to his hometown in Siberia. At the time, the Russian government denied that there were any Russian soldiers fighting in the area.

Ostrovsky said he was surprised it had taken this long for the Russian parliament to wake up to the problem. Like Mikhailov, he doubted the measure would have much effect.

I think it’s very difficult to control the behavior of a group of people who are essentially teenagers, he said.

Even if Russian commanders are able to enforce the law on soldiers, the theaters to which they deploy are often teeming with smartphones — wielded by civilians or Kremlin-sympathetic media.

Researchers have used a variety of footage, for example, to track how the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 arrived in Ukraine from Russia. And in Syria, researchers have used video from the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT to document the Russian military’s use of cluster munitions.

Even if soldiers themselves don’t post online about their activities, their families often do, especially when their sons die in an unacknowledged conflict. In 2015, Putin amended a decree that rendered military deaths — in times of war or peace — a state secret.

Usually, the best information you get isn’t from the soldiers — it’s from the people around them, said Aric Toler, the lead Eurasia researcher for the open-source group Bellingcat.

Just last week, Bellingcat identified a third Russian intelligence officer believed to have been implicated in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy.

Another challenge in shoring up the secrecy of Russian military operations is the increasing reliance on private military contractors, said Ostrovsky, which are taking on more and more missions despite being illegal under Russian law.

Russian private contractors have been deployed to several battle zones around the world, including eastern Ukraine. Often involved in high-risk, murky operations, the groups work under the orders of Kremlin-aligned oligarchs, giving Moscow a veneer of plausible deniability.

Reuters reported last month that as many as 400 employees of Wagner, a Russian military contracting firm, were deployed to Venezuela to protect embattled President Nicolás Maduro.

One-third of the Russian military is made up of conscripts. While one year of military service is mandatory for men aged 18 to 27, up to half of the country’s potential recruits find ways around conscription, with many resorting to bribes. The military is notorious for its brutal hazing of new recruits — including beatings, sexual assault, and enslavement — but the incidents appear to have gone down in recent years.

The biggest difference will probably be that people will use pseudonyms online, said Toler, the Bellingcat researcher, referring to the new law.

Strict control of broadcasting on television was a key element during Vladimir Putin’s nearly 20-year reign. The vast majority of Russians continue to get most of their information from TV, giving the Kremlin a powerful tool for shaping public perceptions.

Leonid Krivenkov worked as a camera operator for the Rossia-24 round-the-clock news channel from 2006 until his retirement in 2016. He worked in Studio Seven, where live broadcasts are organized, and recorded programs featuring leading political and cultural figures. He learned the ins and outs of Rossia-24’s parent company, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK).

Krivenkov told the services of the Russian Radio Free Europe (RSE) that he was always cautious regarding the ruling regime, because:  “they are pursuing their interests and deceiving the public as they turn to the adoption of laws for the common good.”

During the first few years of working on the Russia-24 channel, he was shocked with the cynicism that people had toward their work, because they perfectly well understood that they disinformed the viewers.  One of the favorite jokes of the TV Hosts and Directors was: “Now it’s your turn to lie“. That’s exactly what they were saying  prior to going live on the TV.

According to Krivenkov, a large number of people are in a dependent position and have to speak what they are told to say. The official salaries on paper in VGTRK are laughable. If an individual for some reason behaves inappropriately, they begin to pay him only that official salary, written in the contract. Either he/she quits or apologizes.

The management has mechanisms to control the employees. Many employees have loans. Many came from different regions and bought apartments in Moscow. They have mortgages they have to repay. So they keep their positions and work as they are told.

However, the control of the media through the control of journalists and the TV Hosts does not end only on this.

In the interview he talked about the famous “146 percent” from 2011, as well as what’s behind it.

The best known anecdote is about 146 percent of the votes won in the elections for the deputies of the State Duma in 2011. (During the broadcast of election results for each party by regions, state television showed several regions where the percentage of votes won exceeded 100 percent, including the Rostov region, in which seven political parties won 146 percent of the vote, prim.aut. ) I have been working for years in a studio with program leaders Ivan Kudrjavtsev and Anna Schneider, who published the results of the poll in a total 146 percent of the country. I asked Anna, Ivan and the chief editor of the TV channel Russia-24 for that. Of course, it was not exactly what Churov (Vladimir Churov, the then president of the Central Election Commission) said – that some employees got nice houses abroad for that move. The whole story is, in fact, much simpler: instructions to the Russia-24 TV channel that will be broadcasted specifically for the party Unique Russia came from the Kremlin. The editor asked, “What about the other parties?” The answer came, “Just show what they won.” The editor did not intend to argue with them. After all, the Kremlin knows best. The editor did exactly what she was told. So you had 146 percent.“

There were a couple of people who acted “appropriately“ during the preliminary interviews, but then during the live broadcast they began to tell the truth. That being said, he mentioned there was another big scandal with a guest who was invited to the show about the use of chemical weapons by the forces of Bashar al Asad. The guest began to tell the truth about how the Syrian government forces produce and use chemical weapons. The editor, Aleksey Kazakov, shouted at the leader of a live program: “Don’t you hear what does he’s saying“? Shut him up now!” The manager immediately interrupted the experts and said that there was no more time. A call from the Kremlin followed and then a scandal broke out. That expert never appeared on television again.

He also mentioned the editors are constantly getting calls from Putin’s office, but also from various agencies, which had the form of directives, concerning “correcting” of news content.

The interview was taken from Radio Free Europe. It is available at rferl.org

Countries that are going through a transitioning period have been facing the population outflow for years. In times of crisis and conflicts, people with higher qualifications always leave for better working conditions. Waves of emigration, especially at the beginning and at the end of the 20th century, were almost always directed towards Western Europe and the United States. Number of people that have left Russia after the 1917. Revolution up to 1921. is somewhere between 1-3 million. Uncertainty in numbers is still present due to the chaotic nature of the revolution, because of the never determined number of the people that have lost their lives, and due to the poor statistical administration at the time. After the consolidation of the Soviet power, and due to the totalitarian nature of the regime, the border became heavily controlled, which have stalled the outflow of the people in a violent manner. In the dawn of the World War II, the same destiny happened to the Baltic states, and rest of the Eastern Europe and Berlin followed after the war. Berlin Wall being the most notorious example and showcase of the people craving for freedom on one side and the frenetic will of the regime to stop them leaving the bloc on the other side. After the Wall fell, and bloc dissolved, the second wave of the emigration began in the 1991. UN estimates that Eastern Europe lost almost 6% of the population, or 18 million citizens.

With the short pause in the nineties, when borders became open and Russian media airing Western TV shows made American way of life a dream for many Russians, during Soviet times and after Putin came to power, the entire state propaganda system made huge efforts to portray a life in the West as insecure, unjust an inferior to the one in Russia.

After the revolution, a state organized propaganda was exported and used to enhance racial tensions in the United States for example. They even succeeded in attracting some people from the African-American community to emigrate to the USSR. This ideological migration has not been successful at the end. Just as the destiny of the many Western communist leaders in the Moscow hotel Lux, this story ended badly. The story of the migration of the African-American families to the USSR started to emerge again after the 2016 American Presidential elections, when the investigation of the work of the Internet Research Agency (Agenstvo Internet-issledovaniy), owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close associate of Putin,  proved that one of the most important part of the propaganda strategy was to target the African-American community with the publishing of video materials that had the specific goal of radicalizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement. During these activities, the stories were used to exaggerate the racial, ethnic and other tensions in the West for the Russian public. Reporting about the European and American life was always biased with the stories of violence, and even some ordinary TV reports from the streets of Brussels, New York, Washington and London almost always featuring the homeless people, poverty, dirty and neglected streets in their reports.

Recently, the Russian media have been conducting a campaign in which they mock the civic liberties and political correctness in Western societies. Frequent topics are “mass sexual assaults committed by the migrants”, many homophobic comments about “homosexual epidemic” and similar constructs. The conflict between the left and the right is being exaggerated, and they insist in differences by portraying the political marginals as the mainstream western politics.

Most recently, Russian media started elaborating the topic of the alleged economic migration from the USA and Europe, to no less than Russia, as well as the occupied Crimea.

A few years ago, one of the stars of the famous “1000 on 1” interviews with Putin, was a British farmer from the Moscow region, John Kopiski, who once asked Putin to help him overcome business barriers. His conversion to orthodoxy, his wealth and optimism were frequent stories in the Russian media in the past couple of years.

In the beginning of this year, several Russian TV stations well known for propagandistic programs, synchronously aired several reports on “unbearable economic situation in the West”, with a special emphasis on America, and people that are leaving everywhere, even in Russia, burdened by sanctions.

Along with Russians, that are coming back after they faced a reality of hard life in America, Americans are coming too. Blogs and posts of the disappointed Russians, which speak about the unjust rules of the American labor market and expensive health insurance, are intensively being published in the past several months.

Alyona Glazkova, a NewsNN.Ru reporter, published a blog about “hundreds of thousands” of Americans that are leaving USA. After a small research, we found that this temporary migrant in USA has been writing articles about American hardships for several years already.

In the NTV report, that has been an object of the extensive social media mocking among the Russian expat communities in the West, they portrayed an American chemistry teacher, Michael Lutz, who said that he earned more and spent less in Moscow than in the US. He is a kindergarten English language teacher in Moscow and he lives in the city center. We found the data on the biggest Russian online job search agency trud.com and found out that the average net monthly salary in Russia is 26.000 rubles (345 euros) and in Moscow a bit higher 35.000 rubles (465 euros). If we take West Virginia as one of the lowest economically performing states in the USA, an average preschool teacher salary after taxes is about 3.300 dollars per month (2889 euros). If we take user generated content website numbeo.com as a reference, and compare Moscow to Charleston, West Virginia – in order to attain the same level of standard of living you have for 2889 euros in Charleston, you should be earning 2450 euros in Moscow.

The report further speaks about many Americans who are selling their homes to move to Saratov, Kyrov, Kremenchug, not showing the concrete stories. In the narrative they speak about the happy faces of Americans going out of elektrichkas (Russian suburban light rail system) on their way from work to home.

Even though most of the Russians abroad laugh at this report, and post stories about the children of Lavrov and Putin press secretary Peskov, who live their luxurious lives in the West, the statistics, which show many talented and educated Russians are leaving the country, look grim. Let us just take the official Federal agency for statistics data and we will see that in 2010 only 33.578 people left Russia, while in 2016. this number grew to 313.260. The statistics tells us another interesting fact too, that, ironically., the majority of the Russians pursue a better life in the USA.

Three Ukrainian Navy vessels left the Port of Odessa on November 23rd, and arrived to the entrance of the Kerch Strait two days later. They were on their way to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov. Russian FSB operated Coast Guard vessels violently prevented them to enter the Sea of Azov by shooting and ramming into one of them on 25th of November. Ukrainian vessels were seized by the Russian Coast guard and wounded Ukrainian sailors were arrested.

The incident could have escalated when the Ukrainian Army sent two of their heavy artillery ships from the port of Mariupol to meet the seized vessels. Russian Army reacted by sending attack helicopters and two Su-25 aircrafts to meet the Ukrainian ships. The situation escalated, but the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that he will propose to the Ukrainian Parliament – Verkhovna Rada, to adopt the decision on proclamation of Martial Law in Ukraine.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, called the Ukrainian government “highway bandits” that use “bandit methods” in their intention to escalate the conflict in Ukraine.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was the first one to link the incident to the Trump-Putin planned meeting in Buenos Aires.

International community reacted by condemning the Russian actions. European Union and the UK parliament reminded that Russia is illegally occupying the Ukrainian territory and that all the incidents related to the situation in Ukraine is solely Russia’s fault and responsibility. Members of the U.S. Congress called for the additional sanctions and pressure on Russia, and caused the cancelation of the planned meeting between the Russian and American presidents that was about to take place in the Argentinian capitol during the G20 summit.

Russian Media Accusing Ukraine of Provocation

Most of the Russian newspapers and TV channels immediately started the campaign accusing Ukrainian President of the planned provocation which, according to them, had two goals – to create additional pressure on Russian Federation, and to enhance Poroshenko’s chances of winning Ukrainian Presidential Elections that should take place in March 2019.

Ruska stampa

The “Izvestiya” claimed that FSB has “undeniable proofs” that this was a planned act of provocation and that Russia has all the rights to seize the vessels and to arrest the sailors.

The official government “Rossiskaya gazeta” says that Poroshenko does everything to “create a conflict in the Sea of Azov”.

The “Kommersant” is writing that Ukraine is pushing Russia to respond to the violation of the Russian Federation law. The newspaper is afraid that this may create an international scandal and may lead to additional sanctions against Russia. They have published several articles on the subject how this crisis affects the Russian economy, blaming the incident for the fall in the value of Russian ruble.

“Komsomolskaya pravda” makes fun of the Ukrainian military equipment and emphasizes the “Russian military superiority”.

“Echo Moksvi” is believed to be allowed to publish the critical opinion as a token opposition media. Their independence is questioned since they are owned and financed by the Russian state-owned energy giant “Gazprom”. Nevertheless, they published an interesting blog by Andrey Illarionov, Russian economist, who is asking a very interesting question, “even though we know Russia occupied Crimea, when did we occupy the Kerch Strait?” pointing to the fact that strait is regarded as a territory of both Russia and Ukraine according to the 2003. Bilateral agreement on the Sea of Azov.

Another Russian opposition media Meduza, based in Latvia, founded by the former journalists of the port lenta.ru when the latter was closed and taken over by the Kremlin, published a report with the map showing that the Ukrainian boats never even violated the Russian occupied Crimean territorial waters, that are Ukrainian according to the international law.

Illarionov, also a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, in his Echo Moskvi blog, writes that the Ukrainian vessels never entered waters beyond the 12 miles line off the Crimean coast, and that they even waited in line for 8 hours to go through the Kerch Strait. Then, out of sudden, Russian forces stormed the vessels.

A joint investigation between Bellingcat and The Insider has identified a second GRU officer, who was involved in the 2016 Montenegro coup, as Vladimir Nikolaevich Moiseev.

Two officers from Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) are sought, via Interpol, as suspected organizers of an unsuccessful 2016 coup in Montenegro. The true identity of one officer is public, while the other officer is known only under his cover identity. Bellingcat has been able to unmask the real identity of the second suspect indicted by the Montenegro prosecutor, and to confirm that he is indeed a senior GRU officer.

The name of the first Russian officer, Eduard Shishmakov, and his employment with GRU at the time of the events in Montenegro, was confirmed in a series of investigations by Bellingcat and its Russian investigative partner The Insider.

The second person is only known to Montenegro prosecutors under his cover identity, Vladimir Popov. It is under this cover name that he is being sought by Interpol and by Montenegro’s partner law enforcement agencies in Europe, as can be seen in the court case file.

Bellingcat and the Insider have now succeeded in unmasking “Popov”’s actual identity, which is Vladimir Nikolaevich Moiseev. Moiseev, who is a lieutenant colonel or colonel with Russian military intelligence, was born on 29.06.1980, the same date as the fictional “Popov.”

Bellingcat’s findings in the case of Popov/Moiseev add important and intriguing details to GRU’s modus operandi in undercover operations, including use of sham business operations, and add to the understanding of GRU’s covert operatives’ world, previously provided by our reporting on the two Skripal suspects, Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. As in the case of Chepiga and Mishkin, findings directly contradict Kremlin’s statements that “Popov” was an innocent Russian tourist unjustly accused by a hostile foreign government.

Who is Vladimir Moiseev?

Vladimir Nikolaevich Moiseev was born in the small West-Siberian village of Pivkino (population just over 500 people) in the Kurganskaya region in the Urals, not far from Chelyabinsk. He attended the local village school before he moved Tyumen, about 200 km north of Pivkino, for his military service. Immediately following or during his military service, Moiseev enrolled at the Tyumen Military Engineering Institute, an advanced program churning out military engineers specializing in anything from radio-signal encryption to remote bomb detonation. He finished his studies with the rank of lieutenant.

It is not certain at what time — during his studies or thereafter — Moiseev was recruited by the GRU. Bellingcat last traced his registered address to the Tyumen Military Institute in 2005. At some point between 2005 and 2009, he was relocated to Moscow to serve at a GRU airborne Spetsnaz unit known as military unit № 48427 . In 2008, the Spetznaz unit took part in operations in Georgia during the Ossetia-Georgian conflict and the Russia-Georgia war. Thus, assuming Moiseev was assigned to this unit prior to 2008, he would have taken part in Russia’s military operations in Georgia.

In 2009, Moiseev was issued his new identity under the name Vladimir Popov. Like his GRU colleagues, Skripal suspects Chepiga and Mishkin, Moiseev “exists” in Russian databases with two parallel identities, as Vladimir Moiseev and as Vladimir Popov.

Until 2014, Moiseev and his family resided at the 48427 Spetznaz unit’s dormitory at Matrosskaya Tishina 10 in Moscow. In March 2015, Moiseev was given an apartment in the same residential building where Skripal suspect Mishkin was also given an apartment several months earlier. As in Mishkin’s case, the apartment is registered in the name of Moiseev’s wife and children, and the GRU officer is not mentioned in the real estate deed.

Under his new cover identity, “Popov” was employed by as a “photo correspondent” and “journalist” working for an insurance periodical called Morskoye Strakhovanie (literally: “Marine Insurance”) and used this cover to travel across Europe in the period 2012-2016. He even published “articles”; a now defunct website for the periodical featured “Popov”’s work listing the world’s greatest seafarers. It was namely under the cover of a journalist for Morskoye Strakhovanie magazine that “Popov” travelled to Serbia in October 2016.

How was Moiseev unmasked?

The starting point for this investigation was the name “Vladimir Nikolaevich Popov,” birthdate June 29, 1980, passport photo and international passport that was published by Montenegro prosecutors and by Interpol. The passport data also had a place of birth: “Kurganskaya oblast” (misspelled on the Interpol website as “Kurgastaya”).

Additionally, there were three color photographs posted by “Popov” on social media; as well as a still from a video surveillance tape made by Serbian police capturing a meeting between Shishmakov and Popov in a Belgrade park a few days before the Montenegro events.

Bellingcat’s working assumption was that the name “Popov” was an alias. This hypothesis was confirmed when they obtained passport and address data for a person with this name and birthdate from a publicly available Moscow database (Larix).  Only one matching entry in the database was found; the individual had only one passport listed,  issued in 2009, and was listed as being born in “Kurganskaya oblast.” No earlier references to this individual were found in this or any other databases Bellingcat consulted.  The entry also listed a Moscow address.

Then they obtained an ownership certificate for the Moscow address from Russia’s official real estate registry, Rosreestr. It listed a Russian couple in their 70s as owners of a small one-bedroom apartment. Investigators located the family’s home telephone number via a search at the popular Russian reverse phone lookup website phonenumber.to. They contacted the family and were told that they had never heard of a Vladimir Popov. This lent more weight to the initial hypothesis, as Bellingcat had observed a similar “random assignment” of a residential address to other undercover GRU operatives, such as Chepiga.

At this point, it was decided to search for Vladimir Popov in Moscow’s vehicle ownership databases. Several iterations of these vehicle databases maintained by GIBDD, a.k.a. Russian Traffic Patrol, have been leaked over the years and are freely available on Russian torrent websites. In a 2011 version of the database, it was found that a Vladimir Popov, having the same age as the person wanted by Interpol and the same (fake) Moscow address, owned a Kia CEED.

This new information gave three significant additional leads. One was the fact that the passport issuing authority was the Central Migration Directorate in Moscow; the same passport-issuing agency that issued the undercover passports for Chepiga and Mishkin. The second was the contact telephone number. The third were two numbers identifying the vehicle owned by “Popov” (VIM number and car passport number).

Using these vehicle details, investigators were able to log into the Russian government e-services portal and obtained a list of traffic violations linked to the car in question. They found 10 unpaid speeding tickets, of which 4 were concentrated near two GRU addresses in Moscow: Khoroshevskoye Shosse 76b (the GRU headquarters building), and the “Tower” GRU building in Khimki.

Then, Bellingcat’s investigators cross-referenced the phone number listed on “Popov”’s car registration against online reverse search phone databases, and found it on one of them, listed with the name “Vladimir Nikolaevich Popov.”

At this point, it was decided to test the hypothesis that had previously helped them to track down the true identity of GRU operative Alexander Mishkin. They searched Moscow databases with the first name and patronymic used by “Popov”, using the birthdate of 29 June 1980, while leaving the last name blank as a wild card.

In the 2011 Moscow vehicle registration database, only one matching entry was found. A certain Vladimir Nikolaevich Moiseev is listed as the owner of a Subaru Legacy Outback. This person has a passport issued in the Tyumen region. Tyumen is a city not far from Kurganskaya oblast, and was listed in “Popov”’s now defunct VK profile as his place of studies, thus this entry appeared interesting. What is more interesting, however, is the listed address for this individual, as of 2011.

The address is Matrosskaya Tishina 10, with a further specification of Military Unit 48427. This military unit number was the alias for a Separate Spetsnaz Airborne Reconnaissance Unit, under GRU’s command, which played a critical role in the two Chechen wars and in the Russia-Georgia war.

At this point, working hypothesis was that Moiseev— matching the alias pattern seen with Mishkin and Shishmakov, and also registered to a military unit under a GRU command, and, furthermore, having a link to Tyumen just as “Popov” did — was, in fact, the real individual hiding behind the “Popov” persona.

Intending to work purely with open source data, Bellingcat chose not to procure a passport copy for Moiseev. Instead, they searched through various additional leaked or commercially available databases for further clues about this man. Tyumen residential database was searched, and it was found that a Moiseev — having the same passport number as the one listed above — registered in 2004 and 2005 to the address of the Tyumen Military Engineering Institute. Then they looked into the residential databases of Kurganskaya oblast, and found the same Moiseev with a registered address — and an indicated birthplace — in the tiny village of Pivkino. Thus the candidate also matched the place of birth as indicated in the fake passport: Pivkino is in Kurganskaya oblast.

After that, they digged the online system for traffic for violations made by Moiseev under his true name, with the Subaru. They found one traffic violation from 2017, and a corresponding speed-cam photograph, but it was not sufficiently clear to serve as identification.

Then it was decided to search for family members who might have a photograph of Moiseev. They searched the Moscow residential database for people having the family name Moiseev/a and having a residential address at а the 48427th unit’s military base in Moscow. A woman was found, with the last name Moiseeva (as per the rules of the Russian language, the female version of Moiseev is Moiseeva), and of similar age to our Moiseev. But also a child with the same family name and the patronymic of Vladimirovich (meaning the father’s name was Vladimir). Hypothesis was that they may have just found Moiseev’s wife and child.

They were able to identify a social media account for the woman. It was a closed-access account on the Russian social network Odnoklassniki, which prevented them from accessing photographs. However, they were able to browse through a list of friends of this account, and came across a woman that had the same birthdate as Moiseev, and had “Moiseeva” in her name in brackets, which is customarily how women list their maiden names on the Odnoklassniki social network, a site originally meant for locating old classmates. The investigators assumed that this woman is Vladimir Moiseev’s twin sister. This was confirmed when they found her name in the residential database of Pivkino.

Moiseev’s sister’s account contained an extensive photo gallery, including photographs of children whom she identified in comments as her brother Vladimir’s children, and who bore a strong visual resemblance to the person known as “Popov.” However, there was no photograph of her brother.Ultimately, they stumbled upon the smoking gun, a link between “Popov” and Moiseev, in a more recent version of the GIBDD’s vehicle database of Moscow residents. In it, Moiseev was listed as owning a newer version of the same car as in 2011 (a 2015 Subaru Outback). In this database, Moiseev was listed with a contact telephone number identical to the number listed for “Popov” under his car registration entry.

Furthermore, the recent database contained a new address for Moiseev, which was in the same apartment complex as the residence of Skripal poisoning suspect Alexander Mishkin. The exact address allowed us to receive ownership information from the Russian real-estate database, which showed a similar-sized apartment as Mishkin’s and a similar arrangement: a transfer of ownership, unencumbered with any mortgage, directly from the city of Moscow (as it was the original owner of the newly built apartment building) to Moiseev’s wife and children.