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Russian Influence Operatives Organize Baltic Sea Region Conference In Berlin

March 22nd, 2021 13:30

US media is report­ing that in Jan­u­ary, orga­ni­za­tions, and indi­vid­u­als asso­ci­at­ed with Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tive Yevge­ny Prigozhin orga­nized a two-day “Baltic Sea Region Strate­gic Dia­logue” con­fer­ence in Berlin to dis­cuss eco­nom­ic and envi­ron­men­tal issues affect­ing Esto­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Poland, and Ger­many. Accord­ing to a Dai­ly Beast report:

March 2, 2021 He’s sent Wag­n­er mer­ce­nar­ies to Ukraine, Syr­ia, and Libya; faced U.S. indict­ments for assign­ing his “troll farm” to inter­fere in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; and even dis­patched white suprema­cists and neo-Nazis to sow anti-West­ern sen­ti­ment in African nations. Now Yevge­ny Prigozhin, the cater­ing mag­nate com­mon­ly referred to as “Putin’s chef,” has trained his atten­tion a lit­tle clos­er to Russia’s doorstep: Europe and the Baltic States. A joint inves­ti­ga­tion by The Dai­ly Beast, the Dossier Cen­ter, Ger­man broad­cast­er ARD, Delfi.ee in Esto­nia, and Siena.lt in Lithua­nia reveals that oper­a­tives close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the Russ­ian oligarch’s pre­vi­ous­ly exposed influ­ence oper­a­tions orga­nized a two-day con­fer­ence in Berlin from Jan. 14–15 pegged to eco­nom­ic and envi­ron­men­tal issues affect­ing Esto­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Poland, and Ger­many. The Baltic Sea Region Strate­gic Dia­logue was the first of what is meant to be a series of so-called “fore­sight ses­sions” to “cre­ate a new vision of the post-pan­dem­ic future” for the afore­men­tioned coun­tries, with an osten­si­ble focus on COVID-19, Brex­it, envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty, e‑governance, and dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy. Par­tic­i­pants includ­ed Rihards Kols, the head of the For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee of Latvia’s par­lia­ment, as well as sev­er­al mem­bers of the Ger­man Bun­destag includ­ing Ste­fan Keuter, a mem­ber of the far-right Alter­na­tive für Deutsch­land (AfD) party.

Read the rest here.

The Dai­ly Beast report says the con­fer­ence was co-orga­nized by the Admis Con­sul­tan­cy, described as a Lon­don-based busi­ness con­sul­tan­cy head­ed by Lithuan­ian psy­chol­o­gist Vai­va Ado­maityte, and the Bun­desver­band für Wirtschafts­förderung und Aussen­wirtschafts (BWA), a Berlin-based busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion head­ed by Ger­man busi­ness con­sul­tant Michael Schu­mann. Accord­ing to the arti­cle, both orga­ni­za­tions are close­ly con­nect­ed to the Asso­ci­a­tion for Free Research and Inter­na­tion­al Coop­er­a­tion (AFRIC), an obscure think tank run by Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tive Yevge­ny Prigozhin. Prigozhin, often linked to the Russ­ian troll farm known as the Inter­net Research Agency (IRA), is cur­rent­ly want­ed by the FBI in con­nec­tion with US elec­tion fraud and who says Prigozhin is the fun­der of the IRA. Accord­ing to US spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, AFRIC in fact is an off­shoot of the IRA.

In addi­tion, a Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) inves­ti­ga­tion indi­cates that BWA has close con­tacts with Rus­sia and has reg­u­lar­ly adopt­ed pro-Rus­sia views: For exam­ple, BWA has called for an end to all sanc­tions against Rus­sia and praised the coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia on Covid-19 vac­cines. The BWA also signed a coop­er­a­tion agree­ment with the Russ­ian “Asso­ci­a­tion of Rail­way Machin­ery Man­u­fac­tur­ers” (ОПЖТ) head­ed by Russ­ian rail­ways deputy Valentin Gapanovich and is a strate­gic part­ner of the “Asso­ci­a­tion of Russ­ian Busi­ness in Ger­many” (VRWD), rep­re­sent­ing Russ­ian busi­ness­es such as Gazprom or Ros­neft in Germany.

The Dai­ly Beast arti­cle notes that the Berlin con­fer­ence did not touch on polit­i­cal­ly con­tro­ver­sial top­ics which, accord­ing to for­mer Eston­ian for­eign intel­li­gence direc­tor Indrek Kan­nik is “text­book trade­craft for the ear­ly stages of any suc­cess­ful influ­ence operation”:

It is note­wor­thy that they start­ed with polit­i­cal­ly uncon­tro­ver­sial top­ics such as the green deal,” Kan­nik told The Dai­ly Beast. “They start ‘soft’ and only when they gain some pub­lic trust­wor­thi­ness and a mod­er­ate­ly pos­i­tive image, they take on more rel­e­vant top­ics for the Krem­lin such as secu­ri­ty, crit­i­cism of the Baltic states, Russia’s talk­ing points about dia­logue between Europe and Rus­sia, not to men­tion every­thing else to do with Crimea and Ukraine.

In March, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ed about a study high­light­ing Russ­ian “black PR” tac­tics against busi­ness rivals in the UK, a NATO study iden­ti­fy­ing sev­er­al politi­cians, jour­nal­ists, and media out­lets in Ger­many used by Rus­sia for its infor­ma­tion laun­der­ing process­es and a report con­clud­ing that Rus­sia is using Russ­ian and West­ern left-wing com­men­ta­tors to laun­der its infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions and remove traces of its influence.

The GIOR has also report­ed on IRA inter­fer­ence in the Novem­ber 2020 US elec­tions, includ­ing an action by Face­book to remove fake accounts used by the IRA to dis­cred­it Joe Biden and the use of social media by the IRA to boost the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry known as QAnon.