Marina Litvinenko: we are trying to stop the Russian propaganda machine

Sep 13 2018

Free Russia Foundation and the Atlantic Council organized this week an event with Marina Litvinenko – the widow of slain former intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko – and family friend Alexander Goldfarb, to discuss their defamation lawsuit against Russian TV channels in the U.S. The panel discussion, held on Tuesday, September 11, also considered Russia’s use of the disinformation to discredit accusations over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.

Free Russia Foundation and the Atlantic Council organized this week an event with Marina Litvinenko – the widow of slain former intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko – and family friend Alexander Goldfarb, to discuss their defamation lawsuit against Russian TV channels in the U.S. The panel discussion, held on Tuesday, September 11, also considered Russia’s use of the disinformation to discredit accusations over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.

The panel included:

Dr. Alex Goldfarb, President, Litvinenko Justice Foundation
Ms. Marina Litvinenko, Co-founder, Litvinenko Justice Foundation
Mr. Bertrand C. Sellier, Member, Rottenberg Lipman Rich, P.C.
Moderated by: Dr. Lauren Van Metre, Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

 

Reinvigorated propaganda after Skripal case

Alex Goldfarb filed the lawsuit against two Russian state television channels, RT and Channel 1, with a federal court in New York last Friday. Goldfarb said the broadcasters’ programs have falsely claimed that he himself was behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer murdered in London in 2006 after drinking from a poisoned cup of tea. The TV programs (short clips were showed at the event) show Walter Litvinenko, father of Alexander Litvinenko and previously a critic of Vladimir Putin, accusing Goldfarb on the basis of an account told by Goldfarb’s wife. The story goes on to accuse Goldfarb also of killing his wife for “knowing too much,” and of working with American and British security services to discredit Russia. Goldfarb, a US citizen, denies all of the claims.

“This is clearly a case of Russian effort to change public opinion both in Russia and in the West into a basic anti-American mode,” said Goldfarb. He added that the broadcasts should also be seen in the context of Russian government propaganda aiming to distance Russian authorities in the aftermath of the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Marina Litvinenko, Alexander Litvinenko’s widow, said she decided to support the legal action because she could not stand by idly. “Almost 10 years we tried to get justice for my husband,” said Litvinenko, adding that the propaganda against her husband started after his death. In 2016, a UK government inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded that the Russian state is likely to have been behind the poisoning, with intelligence officers Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun identified as the main suspects. In 2018, however, after the poisoning of Skripals, the Russian propaganda machine accelerated again, said Litvinenko.

“They try to use the case of Alexander Litvinenko to destroy the future case of Julia and Sergei Skripal,” said Litvinenko. In this regard, she said, the case brought to the U.S. court is “not only a personal case of Alexander Goldfarb,” but one against the “Russian propaganda-style machine,” and “we try to stop it.”

Bertrand C. Sellier, Goldfarb’s lawyer, said there are hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking people living in the U.S. and that the Russian-language programs on TV have made Goldfarb “a victim of the most heinous lies imaginable.” He added, “this is a case about an individual American citizen who’s been defamed, but I think we can see in this case some real echoes of what is going on generally with Russian propaganda – the attempts to disrupt democracy not only in our country but all over the world.”

 

New political environment and a new case

Marina Litvinenko said she had hoped after the findings of the British public inquiry that such a crime would never happen again. “I couldn’t believe it happened again,” said Litvinenko.

Though the Skripal case is very similar, the UK government’s reaction has been different the second time around, as exhibited by outrage and the EU and US expulsion of Russian diplomats. In contrast, in the aftermath of Litvinenko’s poisoning, British government was reluctant to investigate the matter. Marina Litvinenko had to sue the British government to open a public inquiry and a court compelled the government to do so, said Goldfarb.

The British government has already brought charges against two Russian men it believes committed the Skripal attack. “There is, of course, an additional national security argument,” said Goldfarb, as novichok, the poison used in the attack, is a more dangerous substance than the polonium used in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Marina Litvinenko said she doesn’t believe the suspects in either poisoning would ever be extradited by the Russian government and that the public inquiry into Skripal’s case could be a step in the right direction as it could help prevent such crimes in the future, as well as provide additional information.

After the Litvinenko inquiry in the UK was published, said Litvinenko, “I realized I have power.” She added that it was very difficult to change public opinion about the Kremlin because a lot of people still believed that Russia is a democratic country. After 2014, however, the situation has changed and people have seen the Kremlin’s actions and how propaganda actually works. “We see how they twist any information,” said Litvinenko. “People became confused on what is truth and what is not, because they believe it is just an alternative opinion and we see how dangerous it is. [But] it is not simply another opinion, it is propaganda,” said Litvinenko.

Bertrand C. Sellier said the accusations against Goldfarb have been rejected by the official findings of the UK public inquiry. The Russian-backed TV channels can claim they were just transmitting Walter Litvinenko’s personal opinion, and Sellier notes that “the Supreme Court said that if someone is a public figure you have not only say that something is false, but in effect to know that it is false. In this case the broadcasters were putting forth and endorsing the statement by Walter. […]The case was just filed a few days ago on Friday, so we haven’t heard yet from the defendants, but my guess is that they are going to defend the case vigorously […] We are prepared to fight it.”

 

By Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation and the Atlantic Council organized this week an event with Marina Litvinenko – the widow of slain former intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko – and family friend Alexander Goldfarb, to discuss their defamation lawsuit against Russian TV channels in the U.S. The panel discussion, held on Tuesday, September 11, also considered Russia’s use of the disinformation to discredit accusations over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.

The panel included:

Dr. Alex Goldfarb, President, Litvinenko Justice Foundation
Ms. Marina Litvinenko, Co-founder, Litvinenko Justice Foundation
Mr. Bertrand C. Sellier, Member, Rottenberg Lipman Rich, P.C.
Moderated by: Dr. Lauren Van Metre, Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

 

Reinvigorated propaganda after Skripal case

Alex Goldfarb filed the lawsuit against two Russian state television channels, RT and Channel 1, with a federal court in New York last Friday. Goldfarb said the broadcasters’ programs have falsely claimed that he himself was behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer murdered in London in 2006 after drinking from a poisoned cup of tea. The TV programs (short clips were showed at the event) show Walter Litvinenko, father of Alexander Litvinenko and previously a critic of Vladimir Putin, accusing Goldfarb on the basis of an account told by Goldfarb’s wife. The story goes on to accuse Goldfarb also of killing his wife for “knowing too much,” and of working with American and British security services to discredit Russia. Goldfarb, a US citizen, denies all of the claims.

“This is clearly a case of Russian effort to change public opinion both in Russia and in the West into a basic anti-American mode,” said Goldfarb. He added that the broadcasts should also be seen in the context of Russian government propaganda aiming to distance Russian authorities in the aftermath of the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Marina Litvinenko, Alexander Litvinenko’s widow, said she decided to support the legal action because she could not stand by idly. “Almost 10 years we tried to get justice for my husband,” said Litvinenko, adding that the propaganda against her husband started after his death. In 2016, a UK government inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded that the Russian state is likely to have been behind the poisoning, with intelligence officers Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun identified as the main suspects. In 2018, however, after the poisoning of Skripals, the Russian propaganda machine accelerated again, said Litvinenko.

“They try to use the case of Alexander Litvinenko to destroy the future case of Julia and Sergei Skripal,” said Litvinenko. In this regard, she said, the case brought to the U.S. court is “not only a personal case of Alexander Goldfarb,” but one against the “Russian propaganda-style machine,” and “we try to stop it.”

Bertrand C. Sellier, Goldfarb’s lawyer, said there are hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking people living in the U.S. and that the Russian-language programs on TV have made Goldfarb “a victim of the most heinous lies imaginable.” He added, “this is a case about an individual American citizen who’s been defamed, but I think we can see in this case some real echoes of what is going on generally with Russian propaganda – the attempts to disrupt democracy not only in our country but all over the world.”

 

New political environment and a new case

Marina Litvinenko said she had hoped after the findings of the British public inquiry that such a crime would never happen again. “I couldn’t believe it happened again,” said Litvinenko.

Though the Skripal case is very similar, the UK government’s reaction has been different the second time around, as exhibited by outrage and the EU and US expulsion of Russian diplomats. In contrast, in the aftermath of Litvinenko’s poisoning, British government was reluctant to investigate the matter. Marina Litvinenko had to sue the British government to open a public inquiry and a court compelled the government to do so, said Goldfarb.

The British government has already brought charges against two Russian men it believes committed the Skripal attack. “There is, of course, an additional national security argument,” said Goldfarb, as novichok, the poison used in the attack, is a more dangerous substance than the polonium used in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Marina Litvinenko said she doesn’t believe the suspects in either poisoning would ever be extradited by the Russian government and that the public inquiry into Skripal’s case could be a step in the right direction as it could help prevent such crimes in the future, as well as provide additional information.

After the Litvinenko inquiry in the UK was published, said Litvinenko, “I realized I have power.” She added that it was very difficult to change public opinion about the Kremlin because a lot of people still believed that Russia is a democratic country. After 2014, however, the situation has changed and people have seen the Kremlin’s actions and how propaganda actually works. “We see how they twist any information,” said Litvinenko. “People became confused on what is truth and what is not, because they believe it is just an alternative opinion and we see how dangerous it is. [But] it is not simply another opinion, it is propaganda,” said Litvinenko.

Bertrand C. Sellier said the accusations against Goldfarb have been rejected by the official findings of the UK public inquiry. The Russian-backed TV channels can claim they were just transmitting Walter Litvinenko’s personal opinion, and Sellier notes that “the Supreme Court said that if someone is a public figure you have not only say that something is false, but in effect to know that it is false. In this case the broadcasters were putting forth and endorsing the statement by Walter. […]The case was just filed a few days ago on Friday, so we haven’t heard yet from the defendants, but my guess is that they are going to defend the case vigorously […] We are prepared to fight it.”

 

By Valeria Jegisman

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.