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The Strategic Culture Foundation: How Russia Uses Former Western Diplomats, Journalists And Spies To Further Its Disinformation Efforts

April 26th, 2021 15:29

Accord­ing to a Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report inves­ti­ga­tion, Rus­sia is using influ­en­tial West­ern­ers to spread pro-Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da and anti-West­ern con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries in the West. For­mer diplo­mats from the US, Cana­da, the UK, and Aus­tralia, jour­nal­ists from the UK and the US, and a for­mer CIA offi­cer are con­tribut­ing to the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion, a for­eign pol­i­cy online jour­nal run by Russia’s intel­li­gence ser­vice that dis­sem­i­nates anti-West­ern dis­in­for­ma­tion. Through these West­ern authors, Rus­sia seeks to obscure its involve­ment with the jour­nal and cul­ti­vate local voic­es to serve as sur­ro­gate messengers.

Accord­ing to a 2020 US State Depart­ment report on Russia’s dis­in­for­ma­tion ecosys­tem, the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion presents itself as an inde­pen­dent for­eign pol­i­cy think tank while, in fact, it is direct­ed by Russia’s For­eign Intel­li­gence Ser­vice and close­ly affil­i­at­ed with the Russ­ian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs:

There is no men­tion of this affil­i­a­tion on SCF’s Eng­lish-lan­guage web­site, nor of any link to Russia—including the fact that SCF pub­lish­es in Russ­ian. How­ev­er, Inter­na­tion­al Affairs, the flag­ship jour­nal of the Russ­ian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs since 1922,  states on its web­site that SCF is its part­ner. SCF’s pres­i­dent is Yuri Prokofiev, who was Moscow Par­ty Chief from 1989 to 1991 and a Sovi­et Polit­buro Mem­ber. Prokofiev is also one of the founders of the “Russ­ian Orga­ni­za­tion for Assis­tance to Spe­cial Ser­vices and Law Enforce­ment Author­i­ties” (ROSSPO). Accord­ing to its web­site, ROSSPO works close­ly with Russ­ian secu­ri­ty ser­vices to sup­port the poli­cies of the Russ­ian state, facil­i­tate coop­er­a­tion between state insti­tu­tions and civ­il soci­ety, and ensure the social pro­tec­tion of the employ­ees of intel­li­gence ser­vices and law enforce­ment authorities.

Read the rest here.

A 2019 report by EUvs­Dis­in­fo, a dis­in­for­ma­tion watch­dog run by the Euro­pean Union’s for­eign ser­vice, described the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion as an obscure online jour­nal reg­is­tered in Rus­sia that is par­rot­ing Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da and spread­ing far-right con­spir­a­cy theories:

The authors of the site are loy­al­ly relay­ing Russ­ian nar­ra­tives on issues of Russ­ian inter­est: The Skri­pal Case is a Nato False Flag Oper­a­tion. The MH17 is an Amer­i­can False Flag Oper­a­tion. Every­thing is an Amer­i­can False Flag Oper­a­tion. Ukraine is Run by Nazis. Esto­nia is Run by Nazis. The Euro­pean Union was cre­at­ed by Nazis. Luck­i­ly, Rus­sians have Excel­lent Weapons. US Pres­i­dent Trump is good when he sup­ports Rus­sia and bad when he acts against Russ­ian inter­ests. The site gen­er­ous­ly gives room for elab­o­rate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries on the Deep State, Soros or the Jews. The mis­sion statement’s “pro­gres­sive ideas” seem to include homo­pho­bia, xeno­pho­bia and antisemitism.

Read the rest here.

In Sep­tem­ber 2020, Face­book, Twit­ter, and YouTube banned the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion from their plat­forms for vio­lat­ing their pol­i­cy against coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior on behalf of a for­eign or gov­ern­ment enti­ty. Accord­ing to a Face­book press release:

Sep­tem­ber 24, 2020 The net­works we’re announc­ing today tar­get­ed many coun­tries around the world and had very lim­it­ed fol­low­ing glob­al­ly at the time of dis­rup­tion. Much of this activ­i­ty focused on two things: 1) cre­at­ing fic­ti­tious or seem­ing­ly inde­pen­dent media enti­ties and per­sonas to engage unwit­ting indi­vid­u­als to ampli­fy their con­tent and 2) dri­ving peo­ple to oth­er web­sites that these oper­a­tions con­trol. Sim­i­lar­ly to the Rus­sia-based net­work we removed in August, these oper­a­tions worked across many inter­net ser­vices and attempt­ed to hire con­trib­u­tors and seed their sto­ries with news organizations.

In April 2021, the US Trea­sury des­ig­nat­ed the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion over its attempts to influ­ence the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, block­ing its prop­er­ty and pro­hibit­ing US cit­i­zens from engag­ing in trans­ac­tions with it.

Despite its deep involve­ment in Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of far-right con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, its ban from social media plat­forms, and the US Trea­sury des­ig­na­tion, the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion has man­aged to attract West­ern authors with a back­ground in diplo­ma­cy, jour­nal­ism, and intel­li­gence, including:

  • Mar­tin Sieff: For­mer Wash­ing­ton Times/United Press Inter­na­tion­al correspondent

These authors have pub­lished hun­dreds of pieces on the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion web­site high­ly crit­i­cal of US for­eign pol­i­cy and the West in gen­er­al, declar­ing the US an “evil Empire” for pro­mot­ing reli­gious free­dom world­wide, alleg­ing US crit­i­cism of China’s human rights vio­la­tions in Xin­jiang is actu­al­ly meant to “stir up jihadists against Bei­jing,” claim­ing US and UK gov­ern­ments have tak­en up a pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign to over­throw Putin that is sup­port­ed by “main­stream media,” sug­gest­ing Russ­ian oppo­si­tion fig­ure Alex­ei Naval­ny (whose poi­son­ing sto­ry is “idi­ot­ic” and “evi­dence-free”) should be charged for trea­son, denounc­ing CNN as “the most cor­rupt, taint­ed and uneth­i­cal news organ­i­sa­tion on the plan­et” or applaud­ing Putin’s crit­i­cism of West­ern lib­er­al elites and the lib­er­al inter­na­tion­al order in gen­er­al. These arti­cles sup­port the nar­ra­tive that Rus­sia seeks to spread in the West: That the lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem is out­dat­ed and dys­func­tion­al, that there’s a great con­spir­a­cy of glob­al­ist forces against the com­mon peo­ple and that Russia’s inter­nal prob­lems are all orches­trat­ed by the West. West­ern authors push­ing the same talk­ing points make the pro­pa­gan­da out­let appear legit­i­mate and increase the cir­cu­la­tion to West­ern audiences.

Most of the oth­er authors at the Strate­gic Cul­ture Foun­da­tion are Russ­ian aca­d­e­mics tied to Russia’s for­eign and defense min­istries, jour­nal­ists affil­i­at­ed with Russ­ian state out­lets such as RT or Sput­nik, well-known con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists, and dozens of uniden­ti­fied Russ­ian “inde­pen­dent ana­lysts.”