Non-governmental organizations as Russian manipulation mechanism of public opinion in other countries

A term “hybrid warfare”€ encompasses wide variety of methods enabling to influence a policy of a foreign state. The US is aware of the subversion of the public opinion through social media that can happen on the eve of the next presidential elections -€“ a technology that was widely used by Russia during the previous elections in the United States, particular type of “€œsocial management” that later led to the questioning the results of the democratic process of 2016.

The two main features of hybrid threats -€“ secrecy and deniability -€“ allow to convey an impression that whatever kind of process happens, it deploys naturally. “€œThe first little green man [a term describing Russian soldiers that occupied Crimea in 2014], after all, might instead be a 15-year-old Russian-Estonian girl waving a “€œRussian-speakers have rights, too”€ placard in the border city of Narva. Shoot her? Of course not. The second might be her older brother, throwing rocks at the police coming to arrest her. Shoot him? Hopefully not, especially as you can guarantee that footage of the incident would promptly be blasted across Russian TV channels,”€ says Mark Galeotti, a Professor of Center of Global Affairs in New York. Undoubtedly, the city, which borders with Russia, is inhabited not only by Estonians, but Russian-speaking Estonians and Russians. Heterogeneous social environment generates a gap enabling to throw the situation off balance. Russia takes advantage of vulnerabilities by investing in ethnic collisions, deepening wrong assumption that Russian minorities abroad are widely discriminated. This message is generated with a help of Russian media outlets and non-governmental entities, established abroad.

The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, commonly known as Rossotrudnichestvo, provides activity under the jurisdiction of Presidential Administration of Russia and is typical example of a “€œclose friend”€ of the intelligence services. In the wake of revolutions that occurred in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan and in order to strengthen Russian influence in the post-Soviet countries, Rossotrudnichestvo adjusted to new conditions and expanded: it has 97 representative offices in 80 countries all over the globe. In addition, it covertly manages a list of non-governmental organizations which lobby Russian policy on foreign soil. A public organization named “€œRussian national and cultural association”€ (henceforth referred to as “€œassociation”€), which provides activity in Ukraine, is one of them.

The organization does not uncover its juridical address, although, it conducts activity in Kyiv. It tells that the “€œassociation”€ gives a possibility for Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, as well as for the representatives of ethnic minorities, to get university education in Russia. The organization initiates gatherings devoted to commemoration of famous Russian writers, tours to cities within Ukraine to the places of interest linked to the Russian history.

The data represented on the website of the “€œassociation” is quite limited and signals a lack of transparency. For instance, in “€œabout us”€ section “€œRussian national and cultural association”€ has placed a passage from the so-called “€œStatute,”€ which reads that one of the priorities of the activity is protection of the rights of Russian-speaking minorities, regarding the right of being elected to the legislative, executive or judicial bodies. Methods the “€œassociation”€ uses, as well as organizations with which it cooperates, are not revealed. The visitors of the website are proposed to peruse the piece of the “€œStatute”€ only: it is obscured whether the full text exists, and, if yes, where it can be found published. Finally, the list of individuals one can contact with consists of the phone number and the e-mail address, not naming the person who responds.

“€œRussian national and cultural association”€ intends to draw attention of the world community to Ukrainian language policy, in particular, regarding the use of Russian language in the public sphere. In connection with the matter, the claims blaming Ukraine for the violation of rights of Russian minorities are often made on meetings with high representatives. Therefore, in May 2019 Rossotrudnichestvo invited OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier. As reliable sources of the central office of Rossotrudnichestvo in Moscow inform, the results of that meeting were esteemed and used by delegation of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during UN Security Council’s May-session regarding Ukrainian language policy. Later, in October, 2019, Rossotrudnichestvo hosted one more meeting in Kyiv, Lamberto Zannier was invited once again. The chairman of the “€œRussian national and cultural association”€ Yevgeniy Baklanov consistently spoke against two Ukrainian laws that govern the use of Ukrainian language as the only state one: “€œOn the functioning of Ukrainian language as official language”€ and the law “€œOn education.”€

[Except “€œRussian national and cultural association,”€ Yevgeniy Baklanov established several non-governmental organizations which all together imitate broad civil movement of Russian-speaking minorities. In fact, they lack support of the society since a very few people participate them. Baklanov itself is hardly conversant with vital Ukrainian agenda since he is a Russian national, who obtains dual citizenship; was born in Omsk in Siberia, and currently lives in Russia. At times, Baklanov illegally visits Crimea, violating Ukrainian border control.]

Not accidentally, the October meeting was held in advance of the 12th session of the Forum on Minority Issues, that took place on 28-29 of November, 2019, in Geneva. “€œRussian national and cultural association” used the Forum to promote statements made on the meeting hosted by Rossotrudnichestvo before. To duplicate allegations against Ukrainian legislative policy, the “€œassociation”€ put up guest-expert Anton Kolesnykov.

Along with Yevgeniy Baklanov, Kolesnykov is closely tied with Russia. In 1999 he graduated Lomonosov Moscow State University; for two years, worked as an assistant of the deputy of Russian State Duma and thereafter – repeatedly was an observer to monitor presidential and governmental elections in Russia. Anton Kolesnykov is not accredited as an expert in human rights.

In May, 2019, the chairman of the “€œRussian national and cultural association,”€ Yevgeniy Baklanov, and Kolesnykov participated the discussion that took place in Paris. It was hosted by non-governmental union covertly managed by the Kremlin -€“ the Coordinating Council of Organizations of Russian Compatriots in Ukraine (a branch of World Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots). This union incorporates a network of Russian cultural non-governmental communities, that conduct wide variety of activities targeted to discredit Ukraine abroad. The main focus of their messages lies on languages of ethnic minorities: the aim is to exploit vulnerabilities and convey negative impression regarding the fulfillment by Ukraine its obligations. In addition, these organizations repeat narratives advantageous to the Kremlin, in particular, the narrative of the Great Patriotic War. In mass media Russia insistently promotes this term instead of commonly known World War II -€“ in this way, glorifying the victory of Russia, but depreciating deeds of the soldiers of the allies. Thus, Russia creates alternative Ukrainian history which leads to a split over the issue within Ukrainian community.

And last but not least, international connections is a branch of high priority for Russia, a state-controlled and abundantly funded. It determines the fact that the stuff and individuals who are in charge of organizations affiliated with Rossotrudnichestvo, Russian Compatriots, Russkiy Mir Foundation, commonly are graduates of Russian military establishments, have Russian (or dual) citizenship, family members living there, possess property in Russia. The chairman of Russkiy Mir Foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov, for instance, till 1991 was an officer of the Soviet Committee for State Security, commonly known as KGB.

Considering all mentioned above, bright example of Estonian girl waving “€œRussian-speakers have rights, too,”€ makes deeper sense. A city, inhabited by Russian ethnic minority by the only fact of showing multinational characteristics gives a reason for non-governmental “€œclose friends”€ of the Kremlin to seek means to strengthen its stances and, as a result, Russian influence abroad. Individuals providing covert activity in Ukraine, like Baklanov and Kolesnykov, make attempts to pretend the representatives of Ukrainian nation and speak on its behalf; however, these people are closely affiliated with the Kremlin and perform tasks of special services. The main their aim is to wage propaganda campaigns and influence upcoming local elections in Ukraine. The list of people and entities covertly affiliated with Russia is to be continued. Although, not only Ukraine, but the United States, with its multinational and multiracial society, is at the high risk of subversion. It would be a mistake to suppose that mentioned threats are effective only being implemented via social media -€“ they are no less dangerous being posed off-line.

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