The Times: Leaked emails expose Russian dirty tricks
Russian attempts to fuel dissent and spread disinformation have been exposed by a cache of leaked documents that show what the Kremlin is prepared to pay for hacking, propaganda and rent-a-mob rallies.
Hacked emails sent by Moscow-linked figures outline a dirty-tricks campaign in Ukraine, which was invaded on the orders of President Putin in 2014, The Times said.
Experts said that they exposed the dangers faced by Britain and its allies because Russia used the same weapons of disinformation, bribery and distortion to attack the West.
Bob Seely, a Tory MP and expert on Russian warfare, said his analysis of the leaks, which comprise thousands of emails and a password-protected document related to the conflict in Ukraine, revealed a "shopping list of subversion."
"There is overwhelming evidence that the tools and techniques of Russian covert conflict are being used in and against the UK, the US and the EU," he added. "In the wake of the Skripal poisoning it's more important than ever that we understand these methods."
The cost and extent of tactics were disclosed in a third tranche of the so-called Surkov leaks, named after Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin spin-master said by some to be Mr Putin's Rasputin.
Two previous tranches, published online by Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, a hacker activist collective, were said to include emails from an account linked to Mr Surkov. He has been closely involved with the management of Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, two Russian-controlled "statelets" in Ukraine established by pro-Moscow separatists.
The latest publication appears to contain emails found in accounts linked to Inal Ardzinba, Mr Surkov's first deputy, and to a Ukrainian Communist party leader. They suggest that the Kremlin paid local groups and individuals in Ukraine that were willing to advance its aim to fracture the country.
One set of correspondence from October 2014, which appears to have been sent by a Russian politician to Mr Ardzinba, contained proposals to fund cyberoperations, including hacking email accounts for between $100 and $300. A wider plan to "troll opponents," "demotivate enemies" on social media, and amass the personal data of targeted individuals in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, was priced at $130,500.
The Russian foreign ministry has denied in the past that Mr Ardzinba has had anything to do with propaganda in Ukraine. According to Mr Seely, the leaks appear to reveal plans to plant new historical and philosophical ideas. The emails also include an event and two books that would claim that an area of Ukraine had Russian heritage.
Other proposals included the orchestration of anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia rallies. These involved the transport of "sportsmen" trained in martial arts to agitate at the rallies, bribes to local media to feature the protests and bribes to police to turn a blind eye. A month of rallies in Kharkiv was priced at $19,200. It included 100 participants, three organisers and two lawyers. It is unclear if the rallies took place, though others orchestrated by the Kremlin did happen, the research said. Moves to get 30 ex-communist figures elected to local government were floated in June 2015, at $120,460, the leaks said.
The Kremlin has claimed in the past that the Surkov leaks are fabricated and in the information war between Ukraine and Russia falsehoods may have been planted. However, the authors of correspondence in the first two tranches confirmed their authenticity. They were supported by the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, after an analysis of metadata.
In their analysis of the third tranche, Mr Seely and his co-researcher Alya Shandra, managing editor of an English-language Ukrainian news website, say the leaks are "very likely to be authentic." Ms Shandra and Mr Seely plan to publish their report with the Royal United Services Institute.
Peter Quentin, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "There is no reason to believe these leaks are any less credible than the previous tranches. This third tranche certainly seems to fit with the trend of well-documented subversion by Russian activists in the region."