US accuses Moscow spies of working with Russian-speaking media to spread disinformation about Ukraine

By Sean Lyngaas and Zachary Cohen, CNN

The United States believes Russian intelligence agencies worked closely with the editorial staff of five Russian-language media outlets to build public support for another Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials familiar with the assessment told CNN. information during a press briefing.

Officers from Russia’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, FSB and SVR, have secretly published articles in publications that blame the West for tensions with Russia over Ukraine, question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government and challenge US commitment to its European allies, US officials alleged.

A mainstay of the so-called propaganda program is the Strategic Culture Foundation, a Russian newspaper that the US Treasury Department sanctioned last April for spreading disinformation during the 2020 US election, officials said.

US officials did not present the underlying intelligence on which the allegations were based, and they declined to describe how the information was obtained. Some of the information is corroborated by open source reports.

The disclosure is part of a furious effort by the Biden administration to declassify the intelligence in hopes of preventing Russian military action in Ukraine, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials say could occur at any time. Russia has massed about 130,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, according to two sources familiar with recent assessments.

The disinformation campaign “is a primary vehicle for how the Russian government will build domestic support for an invasion of Ukraine, as well as the dissemination of any misinformation about a false flag operation,” a US official told CNN. authorized to speak in the background with the media.

Neither the Strategic Culture Foundation nor the Russian Embassy in Washington responded to a request for comment. Russia has previously denied US allegations that the Kremlin was spreading misinformation.

The declassified US assessment reflects the views of government agencies and US allies, officials said, and sheds light on how US spy agencies view the mix of Russian publishers and intelligence operatives.

US officials allege that Vladimir Maximenko, the head of the Foundation for Strategic Culture, met in person with his SVR handlers and that publications controlled by Maximenko – known as Fondsk and Odna Rodyna – spread disinformation about the ‘Ukraine. Neither Fondsk nor Odna Rodyna responded to a request for comment.

Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, meanwhile, pulls the strings from media outlets known as News Front, Antifaschst and Politnavigator, according to US intelligence. The coordination is so tight that known FSB agents tell journals when to publish articles and when to remove certain content, according to US officials.

Last year, the US Treasury sanctioned Crimea-based News Front for spreading disinformation. In addition to Russian, the outlet publishes in English, Polish and other languages ​​with the aim of reaching a wide audience.

News Front is headed by Konstantin Knyrik, who has been active for years in Crimea, which Russia annexed to Ukraine in 2014. US officials say senior FSB officers praised Knyrik for spreading misinformation in Ukraine .

News Front did not respond to a request for comment on the US allegations against Knyrik.

Biden administration officials have actively sought to foil alleged Russian machinations in Ukraine in recent weeks, including speaking publicly about alleged Russian plans to make a video, filled with actors and dead bodies, depicting a fake attack on Russia. as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

“The costs of inaction right now likely outweigh any risk” to the US intelligence community in releasing intelligence on Russian activities in Ukraine, said Gavin Wilde, a former Russia-focused National Security Council official.

“The Biden administration is creating every possible friction, and I think that’s a positive development that I hope to continue,” Wilde, who is now a management consultant at Krebs Stamos Group, told CNN.

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb