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.
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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.
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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:
- Alastair Crooke: Former British Diplomat
- James George Jatras: Former US diplomat
- Brian Cloughley: Former Australian diplomat
- Patrick Armstrong: Former Canadian diplomat
- Paul Craig Roberts: Former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury
- Martin Jay: Daily Mail correspondent
- Martin Sieff: Former Washington Times/United Press International correspondent
- Philip Giraldi: Former CIA officer
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.”
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