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.
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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.