World View: Russia Employing Army of 'Trolls' on Social Media

This morning's key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Russia's sophisticated disinformation campaign over Ukraine
  • Russia uses an army of trolls on social media
  • Russian military convoy crosses border into Ukraine
  • Russia's humanitarian convoy appears poised to enter Ukraine without consent
  • Ukraine fears Russian invasion of Odessa from the west
  • China's bank lending falls 64% in July

Russia's sophisticated disinformation campaign over Ukraine

Russia employs a sophisticated disinformation campaign to obscure facts when it violates international law. There is no more dramatic example of this than Russia's reaction to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 last month. It was, and is, almost universally believed that it was shot down with a Russian-supplied Buk surface-to-air missile system by pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, who believed that it was a Ukrainian air force warplane. 

However, that narrative was unacceptable to Russia because it made the pro-Russian separatists look bad, and because it implied indirect culpability of the Russian armed forces, who are not supposed to be supplying ANY weapons to Ukrainian separatists, particularly highly advance surface-to-air missiles. 

There followed a blast of Russian propaganda, attempting to confuse the issue and pin the blame elsewhere. The claims by Russia controlled media included: 

  • The airplane was not shot down at all, but fell out of the sky by itself;
  • A bomb exploded aboard the airplane;
  • The airplane was hit by a Ukrainian missile fired from the ground;
  • A Ukrainian air force fighter pursued and then attacked the plane;
  • The U.S. shot down the plane in order to damage Russia's reputation;
  • No living people were aboard the plane as it flew on autopilot from Amsterdam, where it had been pre-loaded with "rotting corpses."

Russia denied that troops had been sent to Crimea, although they had been sent and they had played in role in fixing the referendum that Russia used to justify annexation of Crimea. Russia has denied sending weapons and troops to separatists in east Ukraine, when there has been plenty of evidence that they had, including broadcast interviews with separatist leaders bragging that they had come from Russia. Russia has obscured its own military actions in east Ukraine by accusing the Kiev government of being "neo-Nazis" and "Fascists." 

What's really remarkable is that the Russian people seem to completely believe anything that Vladimir Putin and the Russian-controlled media tell them. Putin himself has astronomical public approval ratings. 

Putin has increasingly cracked down on Russia's press. There have been several well publicized resignations from Russia Today in the last few months by people who said that they could no longer continue lying for the Kremlin. 

In writing articles about Russia, I've noticed a big problem these days with Russian media. I used to be able to reference Russia Today and sometimes even Ria Novosti, but in the last few months they've become completely uncritical mouthpieces for Putin, in the same category as Xinhua for China and PressTV for Iran. So there's no longer any mainstream Russian media I can really count on. Moscow Times and Jamestown and Sydney Morning Herald

Russia uses an army of trolls on social media

While Russia's president Vladimir Putin maintains an iron grip on the state-run media, the internet remains a big problem for Putin, as he's had little ability to control Twitter and other social media. 

Putin has responded to this problem in a bizarre way. According to documents examined by an analyst firm, since April a Russian firm called the Internet Research Agency, with a 2014 budget of $10 million, has been hiring hundreds of "internet trolls" to challenge any online article critical of Russia. 

Each troll is expected to post comments on blogs and news sites 50 times per day. The comments range from lies and disinformation to abuse and profanity. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts, posting three times a day in each. On Twitter, they're expected to manage 10 accounts and tweet 50 times a day. The Atlantic and BuzzFeed

Russian military convoy crosses border into Ukraine

A column of 23 armored personnel carriers, supported by fuel trucks and other logistics vehicles with official Russian military plates, crossed the border into Ukraine late Thursday evening. The border between Russia and east Ukraine is long and porous, and so usually these military convoys pass back and forth undetected, allowing the Kremlin to lie about them. But in this case, this military convoy (different from the well-publicized 280-truck humanitarian convoy also approaching the border) was photographed by the Moscow correspondent of the Guardian

The military convoy paused by the side of the road until nightfall, and then crossed into Ukraine on a dirt road passing through a gap in a barbed wire fence demarcating the border. According to the Guardian, this is incontrovertible evidence of Russian troops inside Ukraine's borders, despite Russia's repeated denials and disinformation. 

At the same time, Russia has been increasing its military presence near the border with Ukraine, with an estimated 20,000 Russian troops currently deployed. Russian residents near the Ukraine border report seeing tanks and armored personnel carriers cross into Ukraine regularly. Guardian (London) and Business Insider and Reuters

Russia's humanitarian convoy appears poised to enter Ukraine without consent

The 280 vehicle "humanitarian convoy" that we've previously described ( "13-Aug-14 World View -- Mammoth Russian truck convoy heads for confrontation at Ukraine border") continued to approach Ukraine's border on Thursday. 

During a one-day pause on Wednesday, the humanitarian convoy was joined by helicopters, surface-to-air missile systems, and possible anti-aircraft weapons systems, according to reporters who had viewed the convoy. 

Supposedly, the convoy is supposed to arrive at the Ukraine border and allow every truck to be inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC would then take control of the convoy and oversee the distribution of aid. However, the ICRC reports that it's not being permitted to inspect the trucks, even though it's traveling under an ICRC flag. According to an ICRC spokesman: 

At the moment it is not an International Red Cross convoy, inasmuch as we haven't had sight of the material, we haven't had certain information regarding the content, and the volume of aid that it contains.

The travel route of the convoy is unclear. The convoy suddenly changed routes on Thursday to avoid a Ukraine-controlled checkpoint and enter Ukraine at a checkpoint controlled by the pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine. 

It now seems likely that the convoy will cross the border and spread out to be used as a shield to protect the pro-Russian militias, who are currently losing to Ukraine's army. Business Insider and BBC

Ukraine fears Russian invasion of Odessa from the west

Ukraine border guards in Ukraine's west, along the border with Moldova's Transnistria, have reported instances of reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Transnistria violating Ukrainian air space. 

Moldova’s Transnistria region is de facto under the control of Russian military forces. According to official figures, which are believed to be underestimates, the Russian military in Transnistria consists of some 1,500 troops of the Operational Group of Russian Forces (Operativnaya Gruppa Rossiyskih Voysk—OGRV), which are augmented by over 400 Russian "peacekeepers." These troops conducted a training exercise on the west Ukraine border earlier this year. When combined with local volunteers, it's likely that Russia could amass, in a matter of hours, at least 10,000-12,000 combat-ready military personnel. 

Ukraine is concerned that this force is poised to invade Ukraine from the west in order to overrun the Odessa, Ukraine's only remaining sea port after Crimea was annexed. Like Crimea and east Ukraine, the Odessa sea port in southwest Ukraine is another region in Ukraine where Russia has expressed an interest in "protecting" Russian speakers. In executing this invasion, Russia could also use the 2,000-strong Cossack force that is subordinated to the Transnistrian KGB for initial infiltration of Odessa region, posing as "opolchenye" (people’s militia). Jamestown and Ria Novosti

China's bank lending falls 64% in July

China's banks made $62.53 billion in new loans in July, down 64% from June, while total social financial fell 86%. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) sought to reassure markets that the data was distorted by a lending binge in June. However, demand for loans has been weakening, and Russia's enormous housing bubble, far bigger than America's housing bubble of eight years ago, appears to be bursting. Reuters

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Ukraine, Buk missile system, Crimea, Vladimir Putin, Russia Today, Internet Research Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, Moldova, Transnistria, Odessa, Operational Group of Russian Forces, Operativnaya Gruppa Rossiyskih Voysk, OGRV, China, People's Bank of China 

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