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Cranks, Trolls, and Useful Idiots

March 12, 2015 in Economics

By Dalibor Rohac

Dalibor Rohac

Following the Feb. 27 murder of liberal Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a number of Central European websites were quick to provide an explanation. “Whoever gains control of the Russian opposition will be on the receiving end of all the finances and subsidies given to the Russian opposition by the West,” wrote an anonymous author on the Czech site Aeronet. Several other sites published translations of a text blaming the murder on a Western conspiracy aiming to discredit Vladimir Putin. The article was written by the Russian commentator and politician Nikolai Starikov, a vocal Putin supporter.

Most of the websites that published Starikov’s writings in Czech and Slovak have existed for less than a year. Throughout the conflict in eastern Ukraine, these sites have systematically regurgitated Russian propaganda, spreading lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories, often directly translated from Russian sources. In an effort to understand who runs these sites and why — and potentially to uncover financial connections to the Russian government — several Central European journalists and civil society activists recently decided to investigate them in greater detail.

The Czech weekly Respekt published a feature article about the mysterious “news” site Aeronet (also known as AENews). Started in 2001 by aviation fans, the domain has changed ownership several times. Since the summer of 2014 it has regularly published articles accusing the new Ukrainian government of fascism and claiming that American and British mercenaries were fighting in eastern Ukraine. It also accused unspecified proponents of a conspiratorial New World Order of exploiting the spread to Ebola to their own nefarious ends.

Russia’s information warriors set their sights on Central Europe.”

The company that owns Aeronet’s domain is incorporated in the Netherlands. According to Ondrej Kundra, author of the Respektinvestigation, nobody from the company was at its address when he visited, nor did anyone in the building know anything about it. “The same situation is repeated in Bratislava, where the website’s IP address was registered,” he wrote. “Nobody is here; there is no office nor employees. Neither is it possible to reach anyone on either of the two phone numbers — one U.K.- and one U.S.-based — that are listed on the website.”

The editor of Aeronet signs his articles “Chief of the Carousel” or simply “VK” (an abbreviation of the Czech version of his pseudonym). A handful of contributors to the site do write under their real names, such as a certain Petr …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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