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

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

This morning’s key headlines from

  • 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 obscurefacts when it violates international law. There is no more dramaticexample of this than Russia’s reaction to the shooting down ofMalaysia Airlines flight 17 last month. It was, and is, almostuniversally believed that it was shot down with a Russian-supplied Buksurface-to-air missile system by pro-Russian militias in easternUkraine, who believed that it was a Ukrainian air force warplane. 

However, that narrative was unacceptable to Russia because it made thepro-Russian separatists look bad, and because it implied indirectculpability of the Russian armed forces, who are not supposed to besupplying ANY weapons to Ukrainian separatists, particularly highlyadvance surface-to-air missiles. 

There followed a blast of Russian propaganda, attempting to confusethe issue and pin the blame elsewhere. The claims by Russiacontrolled 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 theyhad been sent and they had played in role in fixing the referendumthat Russia used to justify annexation of Crimea. Russia hasdenied sending weapons and troops to separatists in east Ukraine,when there has been plenty of evidence that they had, includingbroadcast interviews with separatist leaders bragging thatthey had come from Russia. Russia has obscured its own militaryactions in east Ukraine by accusing the Kiev government ofbeing “neo-Nazis” and “Fascists.” 

What’s really remarkable is that the Russian people seem to completelybelieve anything that Vladimir Putin and the Russian-controlled mediatell them. Putin himself has astronomical public approval ratings. 

Putin has increasingly cracked down on Russia’s press. Therehave been several well publicized resignations from Russia Today inthe last few months by people who said that they could no longercontinue lying for the Kremlin. 

In writing articles about Russia, I’ve noticed a big problem thesedays with Russian media. I used to be able to reference Russia Todayand sometimes even Ria Novosti, but in the last few months they’vebecome completely uncritical mouthpieces for Putin, in the samecategory as Xinhua for China and PressTV for Iran. So there’s nolonger 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 thestate-run media, the internet remains a big problem for Putin, as he’shad little ability to control Twitter and other social media. 

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

Each troll is expected to post comments on blogs and news sites 50times per day. The comments range from lies and disinformation toabuse and profanity. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebookaccounts, posting three times a day in each. On Twitter, they’reexpected 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 trucksand other logistics vehicles with official Russian military plates,crossed the border into Ukraine late Thursday evening. The borderbetween Russia and east Ukraine is long and porous, and so usuallythese military convoys pass back and forth undetected, allowing theKremlin to lie about them. But in this case, this military convoy(different from the well-publicized 280-truck humanitarian convoy alsoapproaching the border) was photographed by the Moscowcorrespondent 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 ina barbed wire fence demarcating the border. According to theGuardian, this is incontrovertible evidence of Russian troops insideUkraine’s borders, despite Russia’s repeated denials anddisinformation. 

At the same time, Russia has been increasing its military presencenear the border with Ukraine, with an estimated 20,000 Russian troopscurrently deployed. Russian residents near the Ukraine border reportseeing tanks and armored personnel carriers cross into Ukraineregularly. 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 previouslydescribed ( “13-Aug-14 World View — Mammoth Russian truck convoy heads for confrontation at Ukraine border”) continued to approach Ukraine’s border onThursday. 

During a one-day pause on Wednesday, the humanitarian convoy wasjoined by helicopters, surface-to-air missile systems, and possibleanti-aircraft weapons systems, according to reporters who had viewedthe convoy. 

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

At the moment it is not an International Red Crossconvoy, inasmuch as we haven’t had sight of the material, wehaven’t had certain information regarding the content, and thevolume of aid that it contains.

The travel route of the convoy is unclear. The convoy suddenlychanged routes on Thursday to avoid a Ukraine-controlled checkpointand enter Ukraine at a checkpoint controlled by the pro-Russianseparatists in east Ukraine. 

It now seems likely that the convoy will cross the border and spreadout to be used as a shield to protect the pro-Russian militias, whoare 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 withMoldova’s Transnistria, have reported instances of reconnaissanceunmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Transnistria violating Ukrainianair space. 

Moldova’s Transnistria region is de facto under the control of Russianmilitary forces. According to official figures, which are believed tobe underestimates, the Russian military in Transnistria consists ofsome 1,500 troops of the Operational Group of Russian Forces(Operativnaya Gruppa Rossiyskih Voysk–OGRV), which are augmented byover 400 Russian “peacekeepers.” These troops conducted atraining exercise on the west Ukraine border earlier this year.When combined with local volunteers, it’s likely that Russiacould amass, in a matter of hours, at least 10,000-12,000combat-ready military personnel. 

Ukraine is concerned that this force is poised to invade Ukraine fromthe west in order to overrun the Odessa, Ukraine’s only remaining seaport after Crimea was annexed. Like Crimea and east Ukraine, theOdessa sea port in southwest Ukraine is another region in Ukrainewhere Russia has expressed an interest in “protecting” Russianspeakers. In executing this invasion, Russia could also use the2,000-strong Cossack force that is subordinated to the TransnistrianKGB 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% fromJune, while total social financial fell 86%. The People’s Bank ofChina (PBOC) sought to reassure markets that the data was distorted bya lending binge in June. However, demand for loans has beenweakening, and Russia’s enormous housing bubble, far bigger thanAmerica’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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