Information operations · Information Warfare · Iran · Russia · Syria

Salisbury CW Attack / Syria / Iran / Russia Ad Hoc Update (178)

Anonymous expert compilation, analysis, and reporting.

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The Novaya Gazeta report about Prigozhin, of Troll Factory and PMC Wagner fame, has been very visible in Russian media. Meduza interviews Dr. Zakharova, exposing the depth of her Soviet elite upbringing, explaining so much. More on the Troll Farm. Karaganov states what many others have argued previously, that contemporary Russian culture has its deepest roots in the Mongol-Tartar horde. More on Vostok-2018. More on the BW program fakery. NATO EX update.

Updates on Iran, Syria, and the Saudis. Notably Russia has been caught hacking a Saudi petrochemical plant with clever malware – this might produce interesting impacts on oil price agreements and Russian weapons exports to the Kingdom. Another own goal by Russia.

From ‘Putin’s chef’ to ‘Putin’s hitman’? After confessing to attacking and poisoning people on behalf of Evgeny Prigozhin, a newspaper source suddenly disappears — Meduza

On October 22, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a new investigative report claiming that people associated with the Putin-connected catering industry oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin are responsible for attacking opposition activists and bloggers, as well as carrying out several murders and poisonings in different countries, including in Syria. The newspaper says it got this information from a 61-year-old man named Valery Amelchenko, who allegedly participated in some of these operations, beginning in 2012. All that’s known about him is that he was arrested in St. Petersburg in 1999 for robbery and sentenced to prison for seven years. He was released early on parole in 2004, but it remains unclear what exactly he did for Prigozhin’s people afterwards. Amelchenko described several of his secret missions to Novaya Gazeta, and then disappeared on October 2. Russian police have added him to a national wanted list, and federal investigators have opened a preliminary case against him. Novaya Gazeta’s Denis Korotkov speculates that Amelchenko was either abducted, killed, or he might have even staged his own disappearance.

Novaya Gazeta Reports Claims Of ‘Putin’s Chef’ Involved In Attacks, Killing

Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper has quoted a purported security aide of Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin as saying that Prigozhin was involved in several attacks against his oppon…

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Putin Friend has Set Up ‘Underground Special Service’ to Kill His Enemies, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble Staunton, October 22 – There are at least two kinds of criminal cases, those in which the action is relatively simple and those responsible are easily tracked and those in which the action is extraordinarily and intentionally complicated so that those responsible can evade responsibility for what they are doing. The Putin regime and its leading cadres are specialists in the the second kind of criminal action, something that has allowed them to cast enough doubt on their complicity that some in both Russia and the West are still inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt because it serves their own interest to avoid doing the tough work needed to keep track of what Putin’s men do. Today, Novaya gazeta has published a 4,000-word article by Denis Korotkov on the activities of Yevgeny Prigorzhin, a Putin intimate known as “the chef” whose enemies and opponents have repeatedly suffered misfortunes or even death in ostensibly obscure circumstances ( The article deserves attention and translation so that all those who still fail or refuse to recognize that the Putin regime is not only criminal in and of itself but is now spawning criminal groups of various kinds among those who are what might be called its “co-conspirators,” groups that may allow it to survive for some time but that will ultimately destroy it. Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov cuts to the chase of this article and says that it demonstrates that in Russia today, “an underground special service is operating, in the interests of which a narrow group has seized power by killing people” and whose actions make what happened in Salisbury look like child’s play ( A close reading of Korotkov’s article fully confirms Gudkov’s damning conclusions.

The Real Russia. Today. Meduza profiles Maria Zakharova; and Frolov looks at the U.S. exit from the INF Treaty — Meduza

The woman who redefined Russian diplomacy  Maria Zakharova, the official spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, is one of Moscow’s best known public figures outside the country. The first woman ever to head the agency’s press service, Zakharova has radically changed the way the Foreign Ministry talks to journalists and the rest of the world, and she’s also reinvented how Russian diplomats look and act. Her style is a paradoxical mix of press relations maintained at Western standards mixed with the theatrical absurd. She sticks to official diplomatic protocol when speaking to colleagues, but uses Internet memes and poems of her own invention in Facebook posts to comment on breaking news stories. Meduza international correspondent Konstantin Benyumov spent several hours with Zakharova and talked to her colleagues, friends, teachers, and opponents, to learn how a young woman from a family of Soviet diplomats managed to redefine the language of Russian diplomacy. Read Meduza’s original Russian-language report here, and you can find an adapted English-language version of this story (with contributions from Emily Tamkin) here at BuzzFeed News.

Meet The Woman Who Is Proudly Russia’s Troll-In-Chief | Buzzfeed

Maria Zakharova has revolutionized what it means to be a Russian diplomat — in real life and online. “She’s like Marmite: Some people love her and some people hate her.”

Here is how the Russian Troll Farm Works – To Inform is to Influence

This superb but way too short NPR article almost makes the case that other parts of the disparate Russian Information Warfare program do not exist, other than the Russian troll farm. That is not to say that RT, Sputnik, RIA Novosti, and all the state-owned and operated propaganda outlets do not exist and have no bearing in foreign influence, outside of Russia. That does not say that the GRU and FSB did not and do not operate in coordination with the Russian government not only in Ukraine but in the UK and elsewhere. That does not say that the new Information Spetsnaz do not operate on behalf of the Russian government. That does not mean that a small army of state-coordinated hacker groups commit commercial and government espionage and cyber attacks on Western governments, corporations, and private citizens. …and then we have the Russian troll farm ostensibly operated by ‘Putin’s chef’. Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin also owns and operates Concord and the Wagner PMC, both clearly operating in ‘the grey zone’. The Russian information warfare program necessarily operates in the grey areas outside the law, not quite illegal but certainly not ethical or even acceptable. That is an area within which the Russian government feels comfortable because it is no longer a superpower. It is waging war with the West, trying to promote Russian national interests, to weaken alliances and governments, and to foment division where possible in our societies using existing cultural divides. This is all in coordination with an active program where Russian diplomats threaten, cajole, and overact the part of the victim, reminding us, still, that ‘we have nukes’. The Russian military puts on huge demonstrations of military exercises, develops and deploys banned intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and conducts wide-scale military provocations on air, land, and sea, yet it is NATO that is somehow threatening Russia. This is a country where huge programs are operating to improve the appearance of Russia, such as in Sochi and with the Russian world cup, but the contracts are hugely overblown and given to Putin-friendly Oligarchs. These same oligarchs invest in overly-expensive properties in the West and shuttle monies around various offshore banks and investment firms. This is the Russia in which massive corruption is a way of life and we are somehow supposed to believe anything they say? </end editorial>

Russian woman mocks US charges of meddling in 2018 election

A Russian woman accused by the U.S. of helping oversee a social media effort to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections has mocked the accusations.

State Duma lawmakers draft legislation to ban foreign NGOs that meddle in Russian elections — Meduza

State Duma lawmakers have drafted new legislation that would allow the federal government to outlaw any foreign NGOs that allegedly meddle in Russian elections. Co-authored by deputies from all parties in the legislature, the new law would define election interference as any actions that “create obstacles” to nominating or electing candidates or voting in referenda. The legislation would allow federal officials to designate these organizations as “undesirable,” making their work illegal in Russia.

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Authoritarianism in Russia Comes from Bottom Up Not Top Down, Karaganov Says

Paul Goble Staunton, October 23 – Russia is now living through a period of reaction, Sergey Karaganov says; but its anti-Western roots lie not in the elites but in the population. “Russia’s authoritarianism was not imposed from above but is the result of our history which has formed our genetic code.” “Without the centralization of power, it would have been impossible to master and provide security to such a gigantic country which geographically does not have easily defended borders,” according to the prominent Moscow foreign policy specialist and commentator ( Whenever that centralized power weakens, Karaganov argues, the Russian people can see that their state and their country are at risk, as happened in the early 17th century, in 1917, and in 1991. “Up to the present,” he says, he considers it a miracle that the country did not die after the 1991 revolution and the ensuing collapse.” He continues: “Already at the start of the current millennium, we had almost completely exhausted all that we could and needed to take from Europe considering the general level of our development and the special features of our national character, chief among which is the striving to the preservation of independence and sovereignty.” “Russia is genetically an authoritarian power,” Karaganov insists. “If one calmly recognizes this reality, we can use it as out competitive advantage. Everything is now pushing us toward a further movement toward the East,” given that Europe is in stagnation and a serious crisis. Behind this are two important developments, the foreign policy specialist says. On the one hand, there is a growing recognition in Russia and elsewhere that law promotes development but democracy doesn’t, at least directly, and therefore is less important than many assumed a generation ago. And on the other hand, younger Russians even though they choose to go to Europe to study or work are “more nationalistic” than their elders. At the same time, it is true that “they are cosmopolitans in culture and business relations,” but hardly less nationalistic about the defense of their country. Vladimir Putin understands this, Karaganov says. He, not the leaders of the West, “lvies in the real world, the world of nationalism, open and harsh, which involves military-political competition” and one in which there is now taking place “a powerful redistribution of influence” from where it was in 1991 to something very different. Russians truly are the heirs of Chingiz Khan and must recognize that fact in order to exploit it. “In the world, there is now a harsh competition among authoritarian states which are better able to concentrate their resources and conduct a consistent long-term policy” than are those clinging to democratic values, Karaganov says. But authoritarianism is no final “panacea,” he concedes. “It often leads to stagnation and then to collapse. Russia needs another 15 years or so of peaceful development. As a result, we will become more humane and more democratic”even as “our European neighbors inevitably become more authoritarian.”


Russia Claims Threat of US ‘Biological Weapons Program’ in Several Former Soviet Republics – To Inform is to Influence

I suggest you read the last paragraph in this Jamestown article first. The reason why is more important than meaningless fabrications and accusations by Russia. Need a hint? …head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Vladimir Shamanov, who admitted, “We say: you blame us groundlessly for all sorts of Skripals [alluding to former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal, poisoned last summer by Russian security operatives on British soil using a deadly chemical nerve agent] and other illicit activities, without presenting facts. In other words, Russia wants to draw attention away from their violations of the INF treaty. Russia wants to distract the world from Russia’s guilt in the Skripal assassination attempt. Russia is, once again, playing the Red Herring maneuver. </end editorial>

Three Questions from Last Month’s Giant Vostok Exercise – Defense One

What should American strategists take away from China’s participation in Moscow’s biggest annual wargames?

UAWire – US Air Force carries out reconnaissance flight near Russian borders in the Barents Sea

On Sunday, October 20, a US Air Force Boeing RC-135U Combat Sent strategic reconnaissance aircraft flew over the international borders of the Barents Sea near Russia’s maritime borders in the Murmansk region, Interfax reports, citing the monitoring data of western aviation resources. The aircraft bearing number 64-14849 and call sign LUIGI16 took off from the Mildenhall airbase of the Royal Air Forces of Great Britain. The flight lasted over three hours. On Thursday, October 18, a USAF Boeing RC-135S Rivet (Cobra) designed for monitoring launches of ballistic missiles also carried out a similar flight. It also spent few hours in the sky over the waters of the Barents Sea where the exercises of cruisers of the Russian Northern Fleet took place. According to the Russian military, they were conducting submarine surveillance and torpedo attack drills at the time. The Boeing RC-135 large reconnaissance aircraft is used by the United States Air Force and British Royal Air Force to support for reconnaissance operations. It was used over the Crimea in July, flying over the waters of the Black Sea near Kuban and around the Russian-annexed Crimea.

NATO Set To Start ‘Biggest Military Exercise Since The End Of The Cold War’

NATO is launching its largest military exercise since the collapse of the Soviet Union, mustering tens of thousands of troops in what the head of the Western alliance called a “strong display” of i…

World War 3 fears: 50,000 NATO troops in Norway for HUGE show of force against Russia | World | News |

WORLD War 3 fears have been sparked after 50,000 NATO troops arrived in Norway to start one of the biggest military exercises since the Cold War in a huge show of force against Russia.

NATO Dusts Off a Cold War Skill: Moving Troops – WSJ

U.S. Admiral James Foggo has spent months planning for NATO’s largest exercise since the Cold War. His first target: getting all 50,000 troops in place by the time drills start on Thursday.

Rasmussen: Ukraine approaching NATO membership – 24.10.2018 14:48 — Ukrinform News

Ukraine is rapidly approaching the membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. “Speaking about Ukraine, it advances rapidly in meeting the criteria for NATO membership and increasing the country’s defensive capacity. Ukraine’s military power is strengthening. Several more reforms need to be carried out, namely strengthening civilian control over the army,” Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the Warsaw Security Forum 2018 on Wednesday, an Ukrinform correspondent reports. According to him, Ukraine had to receive the status of a NATO aspirant country. “It’s not a membership yet, but it’s a clear signal for Russia,” Rasmussen noted.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Skripal Files’ by Mark Urban – Washington Times

Speaking to reporters in December 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that his spy agencies had assassination squads that targeted defectors. But he voiced an ominous warning. “Whatever thirty pieces of silver those people may have gotten, they will stick in their throat.”

Bolton: US, Russia Will Benefit From Sanctions on Iran – Sputnik International

National Security Advisor John Bolton has been holding a series of talks in Moscow with senior Russian officials including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

Iran Accuses Saudi Arabia Of Joining U.S. Sanctions To Distract From Journalist’s Killing

A top Iranian commander is accusing Saudi Arabia of trying to distract from its killing of a prominent Saudi journalist in Istanbul by joining with the United States in a new round of sanctions on Iran.

Iranian Traders Sentenced To Death For ‘Disrupting Economy’

Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld death sentences given to two financial traders convicted of illegal currency trading and “disrupting the economy.”

Iran’s Silence On Khashoggi Killing Loosens, But Tehran Keeping Its Cards Close To Its Vest

Officials in Tehran have stayed mostly silent as regional foe Saudi Arabia took heat over the brazen killing of a journalist at a consul in Turkey.

US military disabled Russian signaling devices in Syria for the first time

“The United Sates military has disabled the Russian signaling devices for the first time in Syria”  Alexander Sitnikov, wrote in Svobodnaya Pressa, on a report explaining the ways to counter Putin’s threats to the US military.

Why Russia’s S-400 Is No Joke (And Why No Air Force Wants to Fight Against It) | The National Interest

What does it have in common with the S-300?

US-led coalition strikes another Syrian mosque used by ISIS fighters | TheHill

The U.S.-led coalition in Syria on Monday struck a Syrian mosque being used by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as a command center.

US-led coalition says it struck two ISIS ‘command centers’ inside mosques – CNNPolitics

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS conducted two strikes against two ISIS “command centers” that were operating inside mosques in Syria in less than a week, the coalition said in a statement.

Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine and Syria decorated with state awards, cyber sleuths reveal |Euromaidan Press |

The Ukrainian OSINT collective InformNapalm has released an investigation showing that six Russian nationals who fought in both Syria and Ukraine’s Donbas were decorated for their war services. All of the six were the contractors of the Wagner private military company by Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. Three received state awards.

Researchers Link Cyberattack on Saudi Petrochemical Plant to Russia – WSJ

Malicious computer code used in the attack against a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia has been linked to a research institute owned by the Russian government.

Hack of Saudi Petrochemical Plant Was Coordinated From Russian Institute – The New York Times

A major cybersecurity firm identified a government-run technical research institute in Moscow as the culprit, but left unanswered why Russians would target the plant.

How The Russian Government Created The Most Advanced Industrial Malware Ever Seen

Cybersecurity firm FireEye reveals that Russian government-backed hackers were responsible for an attack on a Saudi Arabian petrochemical plant last year

Trump says Khashoggi murder ‘worst cover-up in history’ – BBC News

The US said it would revoke the visas of Saudi operatives suspected of killing the journalist.

Trump accuses Saudis of ‘worst cover-up ever’ after Khashoggi killing | News | The Times

President Trump accused Saudi Arabia last night of a cover-up over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and intimated for the first time that the crown prince could have been involved.“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was . . . the worst ever,” Mr Trump tol

Why Erdogan Is Pulling His Punches at Saudi Arabia – Bloomberg

Turkey would love to embarrass the kingdom to lift its stature in the Middle East, but there are constraints. The U.S. is one of them.

Erdogan Says Khashoggi Murder Planned in Saudi Arabia – Bloomberg

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul was the result of a thoroughly planned plot, rejecting Riyadh’s explanations of the murder and calling on Saudi’s king to hold all culprits to account.

Opinion | What Is Turkey’s Game? – The New York Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the Jamal Khashoggi case as a chance to hobble Saudi Arabia, a regional and religious rival.

Khashoggi Rejected Saudi Amb. Efforts to Lure Him Back to Kingdom |

NBC News reported Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz attempted to talk Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi into returning to the kingdom in early 2018 or 2017.

Inside the Saudis’ Washington influence machine: How the kingdom gained power through fierce lobbying and charm offensives – The Washington Post

The strength of the Saudi operation is now being tested amid a global condemnation of the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.