Who is managing online trolls in EU, Africa and Latin America?
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Information and psychological operations analysis in Latin America and Africa indicates the presence of an extensive network operating in the RF military intelligence’s interests under the operational control of the structures close to Eugene Prigogine.El Mundo Spanish newspaper claimedthat Russian online trolls helped spin the Catalonia referendum in social networks, the head of the Kremlin-funded Russian anti-globalists was behind it.
El Mundo points out that Spanish law enforcement officials are investigating whetherRussian anti-globalistshelped the Catalans “to clone referendum sites and create bots to spread the messages of such figures and organizations as Assange, Snowden, RT or WikiLeaks through social networks”
IGTDS studies show that the same social networks accounts are involved in the developments in Chile and Barcelona. Account activity studies during the protests in Santiago have identified a group of active users, involved in public outrage in Catalonia, particularly during the riots at El Prat Airport.
The system of accounts ends with the RT Spanish-language channel, most of them being its subscribers. The accounts have a clear political focus and contain mostly left-wing views. If such accounts are not directly linked to Russia, it is possible that they are administered from Cuba or Venezuela. However, some indications of consistency suggest that campaigns are likely to be coordinated on purpose. Some of these accounts are positioned as originating from Spain, while others are from Latin America.
Alexander Ionov, born December 12, 1989, is the head of the AGMR, above-mentioned by El Mundo. In 2012, he got the diploma of technical service manager-economist at Moscow State Agro-Engineering University named after V.P. Goryachkin. Heobtainedhis master’s degree in 2014, in vocational education at the Russian State Agrarian University named after K. Timiryazev.
According to the CV, he did not serve in the Armed Forces. However, during his studies, he graduated from the university military department, which specializes in the training of reserve officers for the use of automobile connections, operation and repair of motor vehicles. Ionov’s photos posted on his Facebook page confirm that. The sleeve chevrons correspond to the chevrons of this university’s military department. In 2014, he headed a working group on public control over the legal rights and interests of Russian citizens abroad at the State Duma Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations and Religious Associations.
In 2009, he began his political career at the Communist Party youth organization, where he worked for 1.5 years.
Ionov is supported by Fedir Biryukov, the official ideologist ofthe far-right RodinaParty and a member of its political council presidium. Biryukov and Ionov are members of Stalingrad socio-patriotic club. In the 1990s, Biryukov was a rock musician, well-known in the far right circles, he organized the Terror group, close to the national Bolsheviks (neo-Nazi ideology). Biryukov, under Fedir Volkov’s pseudonym, collaborated with Sergei Troitsky’s “Hard Rock” corporation.
Since 2012, Ionov has been the executive secretary at the Committee of Solidarity with the Latin American Peoples. The committee had no official registration, only a website. Since 2011 – he is the President of Russia’s Anti-Globalist Movement (AGMR), also known as the regional public organization to counter world globalization. “The reverse processes are beginning now – the return to international solidarity, the Comintern,” – Ionov is convinced, – “We are going to hold serious activities and support national liberation movements in different countries”,he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are the honorary members of the Anti-Globalist Movement.
In 2013, Alexander Ionov, who did not officially serve in the Army, became the member of Russian public organization, “Officers of Russia” presidium.Some Russia’s military intelligence directorate officers representing the “Officers of Russia” organization are among his contacts on the FB network.
In March 2014, he was in Crimea during its annexation. Photos from his personal Facebook account confirm the fact of his stay, in particular in Mykolaivka. “I came to support fraternal Crimea”, – he wrote in a comment to the photo.
Alexander Ionov also co-chairs the Committee of Solidarity with the Peoples of Syria and Libya. This organization was created in May 2011. It was initiated bySergei Baburin(in contact with Ionov in his FB account),Heydar Jamal, chairman of Russia’s Islamic Committee andOleg Peresipkin, head of the Middle East Research Center of the Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy of Russia (former ambassador to Northern Yemen (1965, 1975, 1984), Iraq (1969), Libya (1986), Lebanon (1999). Upon the breakup of the USSR, he directed the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, affiliated with the Russian intelservices.
Maxim Shevchenko, a member of the International Relations Commission, is among the Committee’sinitiators as well.Maxim Shevchenkois a Russian propagandist with ties to Russia’s military intelligence directorate.
The abovementionedHeydar Jamal was on Russia’s military intelligence directoratepayroll and is the Orhan Jemal’s father, a journalist who also collaborated with Russia’s military intelligence directorate and died in the CAR as a result of a fighting. In Libya, he worked in tandem withMarat Saichenko, detained in Donbass in 2014, while trying to smuggle MANPADS.
Ionov was in contact with Brigadier General Ahmed Al-Mismari, Libyan Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s representative before Russian active involvement in Libyan developments. The corresponding photos are on Ionov’s account.
He also had a meeting with the military attache of the DPRK Embassy in Moscow through the military line.
Ionov is in contact with Ala Booth, president of the Road to Home Foundation, the wife of Victor Booth, who is serving a sentence in the United States for trafficking in weapons. Victor Booth is linked to Russian military intelligence. In particular,Spiegel did not rule outsuch a link, and theIGTDS analysis showsVictor Booth as the person who established the Kremlin’s connection with the Taliban and was responsible for the first deliveries of Russian weapons to the Taliban.
Involvement in Russia’s military intelligence service
Ionov was involved in Maria Butina’s case, arrested in the United States for illegal lobbying activities. The US FBI has failed to prove spying charges, but Butina’s activity corresponds to active recruitment and creation of a pro-Russian influence network in the US. According to investigators, Butina tried informally to forge ties with American conservative circles on behalf of Russia, acting under Alexander Torshin, the former senator and the CBR deputy chairman.
Ionov was engaged in a fundraising campaign for Butina. That was Ionov who met Butina at the airport among others after returning from the United States, that proves the high level of his involvement in the Butina’s case. Roman Khudyakov, former MP, honorary member of the Right to Arms movement, and Butina’s associate, is the vice president ofIonov transcontinental, owned by Alexander Ionov. Butina’s ties with Russia’s military intelligence service are traced both through the Novorossiya project when she visited Crimea during the annexation (in June 2014, withcalls to supportthe separatists in the Donbas by volunteers and through the BORN (Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists) project. The quick admission of her guilt on charges of illegal lobbying is an indirect sign of high risks in continuing to investigate Butina’s involvement in Russianspecial services.
One of the photos posted on Ionov’s account depicts him in the background of the Kremlin Tower. A so-called tailcoat badge is on his jacket’s lapel. Under unclear circumstances, Ionov had just retouched this badge before posting the photo on Facebook.
However, the lower part remained unchanged. Three red pixels allowed it to be restored. Obviously, this is a sign of74455military unit.
The RF Defense Ministry’s order of March 20, 2012, signed by former Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, stipulates the payment of allowances to military personnel “for special achievements in the service”. Paragraph “4” of the order states: “Military servicemen of 99450, 74455 military units and 29155 military unit structural subdivision shall be paid a monthly allowance on the list and in the amounts approved by the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation.” 99450 military unit is the RF SOF command stationed in Senezh, and74455 – is Russia’s military intelligence unit, named infraud case.The military unitwas namedin the United States during the proceedings for election meddling and publishing sensitive information about the US Democratic Party.
Ionovis a friendofDmitry Sablin– the deputy of Russia’s State Duma (parliament). He is a member of “fighting brotherhood organization and interparliamentary group of friendship with Syria. He is also ahead of Rota Development holding” that owns business-center located at Kirova 22 str., Moscow and named as Rota-Tower”. This facility is mentioned in in U.S. Department of Justice papers on Russian involvement in 2016 elections. Russian military intel unit 74455 is also located in “Rota-Tower”. In 2016 Sablin sold “Rota-tower” to Russian Ministry of defense affiliate company.
In February 2019, Ionov gave an exclusiveinterview to RIA FAN(the Internet Research Agency), which came under US sanctions for liaison with Russian intelligence and troll farms of Russia’s military intelligence directorate.
Russia’s anti-globalization movement is funded, in part, by the Presidential Fund. On September 14, 2016, the AGMR received a grant of 3.5 million rubles to hold an international congress in Moscow, inviting the representatives of separatist movements from around the world. Delegations from Catalonia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, California, Texas, as well as Western Sahara attended the conference. The event was held in the President Hotel conference hall, controlled by the RF Presidential Office.
However, the next AGMR event was already held at the Ritz-Carlton, which indicates an increase in the spending fund.
Dmitry Rogozin, the Rodina (Motherland) Party’s founder and leader, and the Deputy Prime Minister for the military-industrial complex for some time, is also known to haveprovided the funds. Alexander Ionov has got his own business as well. It is the Ionov transcontinental company. The analysis reveals that the company is on the verge of profitability. Ionov himself uses AGMR connections to try to get contracts and earn money on GR services. In particular, AGMR’s active cooperation with the Lebanese is explained by the company’s vice-president, Muhammad Mukhtar, a member of the Lebanese Democratic Party’s political council since 2008. Consequently, much of AGMR’s work is Ionov’s attempt to profit economically from foreign contacts.Alexander Ionov has been coordinating work with Venezuelan organizations for a long time, since he began working for the Committee of Solidarity with the Latin American Peoples.Hackers from Venezuela, as well as street riot mobs are known for their active involvement in Latin America riots, whileEcuador expelled 59 citizensof this country for illegal acts.
In 2017, Ionov representedRussian hackers Pyotr Levashov and Stanislav Lisov against claims by Spanish security services that they’d used fake social media accounts to promote Catalonia’s independence from Spain, a cause both AGMR and the IRA have also actively helped to promote. The pair were later extradited to the U.S. where they pleaded guilty to various cyber crimes. However, there is no mention of Ionov’s law practice, as well as his legal education after graduating from the agro-engineering university. Thus, it is unknown how Ionov represented Levashov and Lisov in Spain. At the same time, starting in 2018, Ionov’s company announced a new type of services – legalsupport for interests. Thus, it is not excluded that the lawyer’s services were outsourced under Ionov company’s activity guise. The analysis shows that, at least at the tactical level, the Ionov’s organization is in coordination with Malkevich’s groups, the chairman of the National Fund for the Protection of National Values (FPNV).
In the summer of 2018,Alexander Malkevicharrived in Washington to launch a news propaganda website called USA Really, but was driven from a rented office near the White House within hours of arriving. Facebook and Twitter blocked him from accessing the sites. During another trip to Washingtonin November 2018, Malkevich was detained for questioning at a Washington airport, after that he was on a US sanctions list for attempting to interfere in the election.
Sanctions against Malkevich were also applied to several Russia’s military intelligence service employees.Malkevich, alongside with Ionovactively participated in raising funds forMaria Butina. The funds were transferred through theAGMR accounts.
In May 2019,two Malkevich’s employees were arrested in Libya on charges of trying to influence the country’s elections.The US-backed Libyan government accuses the detained Russians of trying to hold a meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, toppled in 2011.
Maxim Shugaley and his interpreter, Samer Hassan Seifan — currently work for FPNV. According to Bloomberg, information gleaned from laptops and memory sticks have further identified the two men as working for the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory. In April, 2019 CNN reported on an “insidious strategy” to quell protests against Sudan’s dictatorial former president Omar al-Bashir late 2018. Malkevich published a statement on FPNV’s site in which he freely admitted that Potepkin and his colleague, Russian political strategist Petr Bychkov, traveled to Sudan on behalf of the company last year to carry out sociological research, advise al-Bashir’s government on ways to “[avoid] mass casualties among the civilian population,” and ensure “the bloodless transfer of power” in the country. In an e-mail, Malkevich retracted his previous claim that Potepkin and Bychkov secretly worked for FPNV in 2018,but confirmed that the two men do currently work as consultants to its research in Africa. Under the guise of analysis or research they prepared adocumentwhich contains details of the alleged disinformation campaign.
One of the projects implemented at the operational level by Ionov is the Africa think tank run byMatemulane, a Mozambique representative who studied 20 years ago in St. Petersburg. In an interview, Matemulanesaidthat the group was formed in 2018 with the support of a St. Petersburg businessman, whom he refused to name. This project is evidently sponsored by Eugene Prigogine.
Ionov contacts the representatives of unrecognized Transnistria’s MFA, including Dmitry Palamarchuk, as well as the Foreign Ministry of the DPR, Roman Kozhurin, and the head of the DPR Public Chamber, Alexander Kofman. Another photo shows him sharing a table with the mayor of occupied Debaltseve, i.e., Russia’s military intelligence orbit people.