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Report from March Moscow Policy conference- Ukraine Denazification and Z

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About 5 months ago, I was invited to speak at a few Russian Duma led conferences on various subjects including Ukrainian information war and Ukrainian nationalism as the Duma was exploring policy positions going forward.

Part of the reason for this is my work is cited in close to 400 academic papers on Ukraine, Ukrainian history, information war, information operations, propaganda, and so on. I’ve been cited in over 20 academic books in various languages on the same subjects. Coupling this with having lived in Donbass for 10 years and west-central Ukraine for 2 years before this gives me a unique perspective on the developing situation.

Some of my work was republished in Ukraine Diaspora magazine because I cleared up points of Ukrainian nationalist history they had forgotten even though it was clear I view this politic as extremely toxic and dangerous.

Lastly, I inadvertently became embroiled in an online debate through articles with Frank Costigliola, Professor of history at the University of Connecticut and editor of the George Kennan Diaries over the intent of Kennan’s work and adverse results of implemented policy during his tenure. Kennan developed the US policy of containment during the cold war.

The interesting part is that Russia’s RT and Sputnik platforms that sparked this, challenging an article I wrote and Professor Costigliola enlisted to attempt a rebuttal. The point of contention was the interpretation and ramifications of Public Law 86-90, commonly known as the Captive Nations Resolution which is commemorated yearly by US Presidents. RT and Sputnik ended up writing articles of acquiescence acknowledging their error. 

Beyond that, some of my Ukraine work has been picked up by policymakers in the EU and US trying to make sense out of a much clouded situation in Ukraine.

This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to offer a qualification for any article. There are so many more professionals with resumes that make the above look pale and I’m not trying to impress anyone.

These are the factors explaining why an American conservative investigative journalist would be invited at all. Suffice to say, they were a little nervous meeting me because of my political wild card status. I follow evidence where it leads to the best of my ability, that’s all.

Factoring all this in, the timing of the conference couldn’t have been worse. Less than a week into the war, a Reagan-Bush conservative journalist going to Moscow is asking for trouble from the home team. Let’s face it, the Zelensky PR war is the dominant factor in perceptions of how events are taking shape.

The following doesn’t argue for or against the Russian position. Instead, it shows how the Russian position is developing and event analysis including Bucha through evidence made available by official Ukrainian sources. That last part is important. Events happen linearly. Chains of evidence build a timeline that investigators put together to analyze events.

The need for a real criminal investigation beginning with Bucha and eventually encompassing many other events over the last 8 years is evident and should be foremost in the minds of anyone trying to support the Ukrainian people. This statement in no way denigrates the Ukrainian people as you’ll soon see.

The conference itself was a roundtable forum designed to allow Duma policymakers to hear as many participant perspectives as possible. This included an online Zoom format for at least 20 participants from across the Russian Federation as well as globally.

I went to the conference in early March to add what I know about the history of Ukrainian nationalism. To my surprise, instead of a focus on Ukrainian nationalism, the tone of the conference changed dramatically to humanitarian concerns.

What I found refreshing was the number of official and unofficial voices in Moscow and elsewhere asking genuine questions and making personal statements about the welfare of the average Ukrainian. For those trying to get their feet under them regarding the conflict, the action Russia is taking was the absolute last thing Vladimir Putin or any other Russian leader wanted to do.

After they steered the conference toward how to best approach the humanitarian crisis developing with the military action, I tossed my notes to the side.

Instead, I spoke with the perspective of a voice outlining the current Ukrainian situation with and without the current military action going on. In real terms, the average Ukrainian family has very few voices or help coming from Kyiv and even less internationally speaking in their interest.

From afar, long-distance nationalists are driving the war to escalate beyond Ukraine using average Ukrainians like a videogame avatar for which there is only one single life.

A full month before the conference and the start of military action, I outlined Ukraine’s dire situation in Ukraine Lies About 2022 Russian Attack to Hide Dying Economy.

For my part, after introducing myself as an American conservative, I outlined the story in the above-linked article. Under the best circumstances with no war involved in the equation, Russia could have expected 5-10 million economic refugees from Ukraine and probably more trying to disburse into the EU and US because of unlivable conditions in Ukraine due to the easily preventable impending economic and food crisis.

Before and after I spoke, Duma members, journalists, and Russian civil society chamber leaders from across the Russian Federation spoke eloquently about their continued support for the Ukrainian people.

What’s catching and should be foremost in policymakers’ minds is most of the information describing Ukraine’s imminent crash which led to the decision to go to war comes from Ukrainian experts inside and outside the Zelensky administration. The tie-in to western economies’ gas prices and inflation pressure becomes patently obvious as a prop for Ukraine to lean on keeping its citizens from blaming Kyiv’s bad economic and energy policies.

Without the war, industry, business, and even civil government structures were grinding to a halt. Ukraine’s top experts predicted the situation would crescendo in June-July 2022. US President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Zelensky needed to push the war and scapegoat Russia as the cause of Ukraine’s economic crash which is the single major factor why Zelensky ordered a Croatia scenario attack slated to begin in March.

According to Oleg Popenko, the head of the Union of Consumers of Utilities (UCU) in a 2021 interview, high gas costs will prevent most small and medium-sized firms from operating in Ukraine and will force them to close. This includes firms with favorable business markets.

Ukraine’s agricultural mainstay is shutting down incrementally. Zelensky’s administration never bothered to answer Ukraine’s need for natural gas or fuel knowing his country’s economic crash was inevitable.

The gas industry has a saying. America sneezes and the world blows its nose. Joe Biden took problems one country was experiencing and made them worldwide through his policies and sanctions.

The now widely publicized food shortage the world is facing stems directly from both Zelensky and Biden’s Russia policy. This was well known in US and Ukrainian policy circles early in 2021 when discussions about shuttering Nordstream II were on the table.

Few to none of Zelensky’s western resources helped Ukraine make the right decisions for the economic security of its people. The money is still getting chewed up by graft as soon as it comes in with no oversight. Both Biden and Ukraine’s leadership are directly responsible for the way this developed. When Biden hamstrung Nordstream II raising gas prices worldwide, it was the only cheap, for the moment victory on the books for “Z” in Kyiv. Now, people worldwide suffer along with Ukraine in real-time due to market fluctuations.

What it added was a means to deflect blame from the responsible parties who pushed bad policy.

For Russia, it means their cheap gas will bolster Chinese economies and markets instead of Europe. There is no market losses for Gazprom due to sanctions. The ruble rebounded after Biden sanctions proving this point.

Speakers at the conference in government and from civil society groups while expressing solid support for Vladimir Putin’s decision to begin military operations weren’t expressing any of the tribal tendencies I’m used to hearing back in the US which constantly escalate under the current administration.

There was a profound sadness among the speakers Russia was at this moment in history. Looking back over the last few weeks as I finish this article, a deputy SBU officer’s office was searched on the Ukrainian side of the contact line detailing the March blitzkrieg campaign into Donbass. This was the Croatian scenario Ukrainian leaders have been pushing in the west for 7 years. These documents are publicly available for scrutiny. Ukraine was about to create mass casualty events across the Donbass region. Where were the Minsk guarantors?

The tens of thousands of lives saved as a result of Russia’s intervention in Donbass justifies the determination Putin made. For Donbass, this conflict has been 8 long violent years watching Ukraine’s guarantors to the Minsk Accord sit idly by while Ukraine’s only use for the document was rebuilding its army and preparing for a massive assault in Lugansk and Donetsk.

And now we have a massacre in Bucha, Ukraine. Both Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and US president Joe Biden are blaming Russia.

But we also have Bucha town council member Elena Ukrainsteva warning residents to stay inside because Azov battalion was going to cleanse the town of Russian influences at least a day ahead of the reported mass killings. Also spreading across social media is Ukrainian commander “Boatswain” being asked by a soldier if he can shoot someone that isn’t wearing a blue armband. Boatswain’s answer, “shoot the bitch.”

In a warzone, white flags are a signal of surrender. White armbands signify a non-combatant that they are no danger to you. The victims in the images provided by Ukraine are not wearing blue armbands. Even more compelling are the mass murder images from Ukrainian sources showing people with Russian army meal packages which were given as humanitarian aid to Bucha residents.

Looking at these images critically, do militaries committing war crimes give out humanitarian aid packages first?

Anton Gerashchenko, pictured below in Bucha, is an adviser to the President of Ukraine. On his social networks called for reprisals against civilians who collaborated across Ukraine with the Russian military.

It is necessary to find and punish all those who interacted with the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, he writes. Gerashchenko called on residents to inform on the “guilty.”

Gerashchenko included taking food packages and white armbands as interaction.

Let’s argue it’s normal to shoot civilians proclaiming neutral nonviolent statuses with white armbands. Would shooters committing war crimes leave evidence of their presence showing they enticed residents with food just to murder them directly after? Or does it make more sense to start from the perspective that accepting food from Russian soldiers was criminal enough to warrant mass shootings?

Azov battalion was there. With no mass casualties reported by the mayor for the first 3 days following liberation, the initial evidence points to a Ukrainian cause. If an investigation is mounted, it’s one that needs careful monitoring from the international community.

This is a first blush look at Bucha. The evidence is from Ukrainian sources. If this holds up and I have no reason to think it won’t, where does this leave the international community supporting Ukraine? More importantly, where does this leave Ukrainian citizens?

This leads me to what some Ukrainians are saying about it. Some are voicing fear of what will happen when the Russian army leaves and the nationalists return. We may be seeing that end result in Bucha. Let’s be clear, they’re not talking about support for Russia or Ukraine, just the return of the nationalists.

One Ukrainian mayor surrendered his town to Russia without a fight so the city would be spared and civilians remain unharmed. There was no military or military equipment to work with.

The SBU kidnapped his daughter in Lviv and called him a traitor to Ukraine. Is this normal?

Considering the possibility of the above happening in early March , Duma members carefully weighed this potential against RF president Putin’s initial stated reasons for military intervention in Ukraine. Denazification of Ukraine is necessary if the horror of what happened in Bucha was done as ethnic-political cleansing operations both the troops involved and the local government attest to in social media and videos they posted.

Because Ukraine’s Information War unit is reported in major media as giving a master class in Information Operations, the world desperately needs critical thinkers looking into events and not just accepting media soundbites.

The alternative is being led blindly down a path leading to a widening war.

What does denazification mean? Ukraine’s nationalist C14 leader Yevhen Karas went on Zelensky’s single TV media group platform and stated bluntly those few nationalists that gave Maidan teeth are running Kyiv from behind the scenes.

Are they dangerous to Europe and the US? According to Time Magazine “Azov has been recruiting, radicalizing, and training American citizens for years,” the letter said. Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, later confirmed in testimony to the U.S. Senate that American white supremacists are “actually traveling overseas to train.” In their letter to the State Department in 2019, U.S. lawmakers noted that “the link between Azov and acts of terror in America is clear.” The Ukrainian authorities have also taken notice.”

Is Azov an infectious violent threat to Europe and the US? This isn’t a point that requires argument anymore. Every government is working to identify threats associated with Azov and the other Ukrainian nationalist groups.

With that being the case, why was Azov the only acceptable news source for events in Mariupol? Anything in the news cycle about Mariupol originated with Azov. Do Europe and America think groups like this aren’t terrorizing Ukrainians in Ukraine just for the simple reason they can and no one cares?

If this is only related to recent events, Vladimir Putin’s denazification should have no teeth. Zelensky is acting criminally for supporting these groups against his own people but the keyword is criminality, not denazification.

Why did Putin choose that particular term knowing how poorly it would translate in western countries?

The following is from Ukrainian nationalist historical sources. According to Taras Kuzio, in 1945, OUNb (Bandera) leader Slava Stetsko went to Berlin begging Adolf Hitler for money to build more armies. After 1991, Stetsko moved to Lviv and ran for a Rada seat for her party CUN. She served in the Rada and has the distinction of being the only WWII 3rd Reich leader to hold office in the country where her OUNb armies were responsible for millions of deaths including staffing Hitler’s death camps across Europe.

CUN had a militant wing called the Stepan Bandera All Ukrainian Organization or Trizub (Banderi). Dimitro Yarosh was the leader of this group and her bodyguard. We have a WWII nazi leader Slava Stetsko (1st generation politically) and her successor in Ukraine, Dimitro Yarosh (2nd generation politically) behind the scenes in charge of all the nationalist groups and their funding inside the newly formed post-Soviet Ukrainian government. Today, these groups threaten Zelensky with murder if he exits the war.

OUNm (Melnyk) has the same continuity in Ukraine through the last Ukrainian president in exile, Mikola Plavyuk. After the Orange revolution, Plavyuk, disappointed at the national development in Ukraine, threatened post-revolution leaders saying if they didn’t move the country toward 1917 Petliura nationalism that was part of their agreement accepting the symbols and powers of state, there would be another revolution they wouldn’t survive. Plavyuk took control of Ukrainian scouting after the Orange revolution and raised up the Maidan generation. Plavyuk’s account of this time period can be translated easily.

”Ukraine, being an integral part of the empire under the name of the USSR, nevertheless had its own President. But he was abroad. When August 24 was proclaimed, and on December 1, 1991, a nationwide referendum confirmed the restoration of the Ukrainian state, the last President of the exile was obliged to act in accordance with a historical document signed by Simon Petliura. Why did he transfer his powers to Leonid Kravchuk, how he perceives the present realities, which sees the prospect of our state … These and other questions on the eve of Independence Day are answered by Mykola Plavyuk, the last President of Ukraine in the exile.”

Simon Petliura’s short-lived attempt to start a nationalist Ukraine ended with over 100,000 murdered Ukrainians who wouldn’t accept nationalism that supported Germany and the Austro-Hungarians in WWI. This is the form of government post-1991 Ukraine accepted from the Diaspora. The OUNb political platform of Bandera and Stetsko was implemented post 2014 Maidan.

This is history recorded by the Ukrainians. Founders of Ukraine, in their own words, frame their country’s political life around WWI and WWII nationalist political thought.

It is also why Vladimir Putin chose the word “denazification.” The nationalist groups operating in Ukraine cleansing it of Democratic (big D) thought are the political spawn of a different timeframe working to infect political life worldwide.

The only way nationalisms thrive is through periods of strife and unrest like the world is entering now.

If the human and civil rights situation has deteriorated to this extent in Ukraine, there is no choice but to see it as a long progression. Evidence from Azov commander’s social posts shows violence against minority Roma women in Kyiv and non-nationalists going back to Maidan. It is an unreported feature of life in Kyiv stretching back 8 years. What about the other cities?

A nation’s president doesn’t stand behind troops known for this kind of activity except in Ukraine where during a Fox TV interview, Zelensky did. Does a modern political leader get to walk away from hallowing the perpetrators of this kind of horror one day and be proclaimed the world’s greatest leader the next?

Zelensky is admittedly surrounded by PR professionals. Worse, he’s in the hands of some of the best Information Warfare managers on the planet.

This should be referenced against some of Ukraine’s staunchest western supporters who are forced to admit most of what is coming out of Kyiv are lies.

Ukrainian propaganda has included exaggerations and untruths, Alperovitch said, noting that many of its claims were “doubtful or proven to be false.”- Forbes

These photos show president Zelensky at Bucha on camera and between takes with the town’s mayor. Decide for yourself which image is which.

A US president went through an impeachment hearing for a phone call with Zelensky because Ukraine’s president was nervous. With over 300 citizens murdered, off camera, both he and the mayor look pretty composed and enjoying the day.

The participants at the early March Duma led conference in Moscow while discussing the fallout of Russia’s military intervention in Donbass were much more somber and sober outlining Russia’s role in Ukraine and bluntly stating, there were no thoughts of occupying Ukraine coming from the Kremlin.

Russia has been leaving Ukrainian flags up in the towns and cities its military has been in. This is clearly done to signify their presence is temporary.

After all the aid money Ukraine took from the EU and US, will they look into these allegations for the Ukrainian people?

Europeans and Americans are bearing the brunt of US sanctions on Russia through gas, oil, commodities, and food security. And leaders of these countries are pushing the economic pain their citizens are feeling even further to support Volodymyr Zelensky’s PR machine.

But, will this extend to the physical security of their own nations? By supporting groups like Azov and pushing their account of events into the news cycle blindly, we are cutting our collective noses to spite our faces.

 Groups like Azov aren’t coming to Europe or America, They’re already there. Support now, especially in unqualified media reports because of what you hear from Zelensky’s PR team without evidence means the group’s numbers and the internal strife and violence will grow exponentially in countries across the world.

After the first conference, I was invited to a second conference at Moscow State University without many details other than it concerned Donbass and Ukraine. I was in Moscow and had a few days to fill so I agreed.

The conference was set up by Professor Alexander Dugin. I was familiar with A. Dugin mostly through Professor Mark Sedgwick’s interviews and an overview of his book “Against the Modern World.” Other than that, over the years I’ve read a few other articles about him, and a few articles by Professor Dugin.

As an American conservative, politically, it’s an oil and water mix. I went into the conference which turned out to be an oration covering the events and a Q&A afterward by A. Dugin, himself.

I was expecting a Traditionalist fire and brimstone speech when he took the floor and was disappointed. Dugin, a philosopher, did begin with Russian Slavic esoterica. But, what he described is important to understanding Eurasian politics and people in a distilled form.

In his view of Ukrainians and Russians, it isn’t Russian cultural dominance, it’s understanding Slavic people all came from the same wellspring.

This is a common view across Ukraine and Russia. Even in war, it is a guiding principle behind what’s going on at the Kremlin. Russians would no more accept their government willfully causing mass casualties to Ukrainians than they would accept it for themselves because, according to their worldview, it is themselves.

Coming from America where we have a national political unity (USA) but come from all parts of the world, it’s a difficult concept. Americans come together when there is a problem and rally or a celebration and rally. But, as recent events prove, we can divide into political and cultural lines to the point of not recognizing each other as Americans.

But, for someone born in France, from a French family, there is another depth of unity added. At the end of the day they are French as well as citizens of France. For the Slavs, it’s an underlying bond across nations and nationalities. This unity extends across Europe and Asia to the bounds of the old Russian Empire.

Dugin went on to say he was surprised that after decades of working toward a multi-polar world where the US, Russia, and China would be recognized spheres of influence, it was American president Joe Biden that delivered this into reality. Russia and China have no other choice going forward.

Russia is now excluded from the globalist networks. She has no choice anymore: either build her own world or disappear. Russia has set a path to building its world, its civilization. And now the first step has been done. But sovereign in the face of globalism can only be a large space, a continent-state, a civilization-state. No country can withstand long a complete disconnect.

And again: “What does it mean for Russia to break up with the West? It is the salvation. The modern West, where Rothschild, Soros, Schwab, Bill Gates and Zuckerberg triumph, is the most disgusting thing in the history of the world. It is no longer the West of Greek-Romanian Mediterranean culture, nor the Christian Middle Ages, nor the violent and contradictory 20th century. It’s a cemetery of toxic waste of civilization, it’s anti-civilization. And the sooner and more completely Russia is getting rid of it, the sooner it returns to its roots.– Alexander Dugin

After this, he got into the practical analysis of how he saw Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

He opened with praising Putin’s tactical acumen, understanding all the practical aspects of the Ukraine operation, and working to spare as many lives as possible. At the same time, crippling Ukraine’s threat to Donbass and Russia, while the Russian army is chasing down the nationalist groups in the Ukrainian military responsible for terrorist acts in Donbass and Russia.

Dugin then berated Putin’s strategic vision of going to war to a degree because the costs to Russia and Ukraine in lives would be higher this way.

What I wasn’t expecting was his assessment that Ukrainian people would need massive amounts of aid and the cost didn’t matter. It was something that Russia needed to do.

At the end of the day politically my American conservatism and A. Dugin’s politics are still like oil and water. But politics don’t build bridges, or skyscrapers, or cure cancer. At the rubber meets the road level Dugin’s assessments were genuine on Ukraine.

He was very pragmatic about how the sanctions were shaping Russia’s view of the future and a lot’s happened between that conference and now as I sit writing.

Europe and America are paying too high a price to not look at events with a critical eye forgetting the politics and seeking out facts justifying spending national treasure in Ukraine.

Zelensky is taking this to the point where through Information Operations, his team is taking the western world who “Allied” against the 3rd Reich to deny and refute sacrifices of our grandparent’s generation and the symbols of victory from World War II.

Volodymyr Zelensky has gone so far as to offer to change his name to the Polish form, losing the V and the Z in his name.

His IO team is pushing for the illegalization of the “V” and “Z” symbols Russia is using as identification of their equipment. So, what does the “Z” represent? News media is calling it a Nazi symbol.

“Z” represents the zero-hour or zero-minute during WWII all 3rd Reich forces including the OUN armies were defeated in the European battle space. There were no more Nazis in Europe fighting Allied forces. It was the exact moment where you could hear a drop of water splash instead of a shell exploding or a rifle firing.

“V” represents Victory Day which our grandparents and parents celebrated for decades in the west. How did we forget this?

In 2014, just before the first battles were fought in Donbass, Right Sector leader and heir to the Bandera OUNb legacy in Ukraine Dimitro Yarosh proclaimed-

“Once again the glorious Bandera armies will cross the Dnieper and destroy the Soviet scum.” This was in March 2014, and his reference was to fellow Ukrainian citizens in Donbass.

For Ukrainian nationalists, the past 8 years and forcing Russian intervention has been about reliving the war their grandparents fought and winning this time to right the wrong of 3rd Reich defeat. In the beginning, the nationalists timed every attack on every Ukrainian city including Mariupol on the day “Z” was declared for that particular city or literally the day the city was freed from Nazi occupation in WWII.

Ukraine’s nationalists are open about all this. Why aren’t you hearing them?

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in Donbass. His articles have been cited in books about the Ukrainian civil war. He has been published at Mint Press News, the Security Assistance Monitor, Washingtons Blog, OpedNews, Consortium News, the Saker, RT, Global Research, and RINF, ZeroHedge, and the Greenville Post along with many other great publications. He has been cited and republished by various academic blogs including Defending History, Michael Hudson, SWEDHR, Counterpunch, the Justice Integrity Project, along with many others. Project Censored listed two article series from 2017,2018 as #2 for national impact for those years.

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Voicing Against Disinformation

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In the digital era, information dissemination is not an arduous task. Information can reach many places even multiple times. However, not all information that is disseminated is true and accurate. Often information is inaccurately transmitted and this can be with or without intention. However, in the case of disinformation, there is always the guilty intention, it is the deliberate act of disseminating false information to deceive its recipients. Disinformation mostly happens in the online space which means it is a cross-border crime. Since it is extraterritorial, widely available and publicly accessible, the parties to disinformation are more than one. The impact of disinformation does not only affect one but society at large.

The rationale behind intentionally falsifying content is hard to ascertain, however, visible reasons are to gain monetary advancement, political reasons, acts of terrorism and extremism. With the rise of digitalization of the world disinformation is escalating on a great scale and yet to date it has become extremely hard to counter and mitigate disinformation. (Office Of Inspector General Department of Homeland Security, 2022) has stated that “the objectives of disinformation campaigns can be broad or targeted, [for example], campaigns may aim to erode public trust in our government and the Nation’s critical infrastructure sectors, negatively affect public discourse, or even sway elections. These campaigns can have foreign or domestic origins and may incorporate several different types of information”.

Disinformation can be state-sponsored or by the private sector. At present, information literacy is finely utilized by countries to wage war against one another. (Barnes and Sanger 2020) have stated that countries such as  Russia and China have taken [social media platforms] such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to create and amplify conspiratorial content designed to undermine trust in health officials and government administrators, which could ultimately worsen the impact of the virus in Western societies”. (King et al, 2017) have stated that according to research “the Chinese government has shown to deploy disinformation campaigns, sometimes to distract and disrupt (for example, concerning events in Hong Kong, Xinjiang or the South China Sea), as to push a particular agenda (for example, to win support for its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative)”.

Disinformation affects both military and soft security aspects. A piece of disinformation can be a critical determinant to decide a victory of a state against another. There are many instances where global competition happens between countries using information advantages. Disinformation also impacts the economy since disinformation can create a bogus demand for certain products and create a market. Disinformation also undermines the rights of people. Disinformation affects democracy. An example of disinformation is election manipulations where real victory is not pronounced. Furthermore, disinformation can take the face of impersonation of world leaders and prominent figures which affects the dignity of people.

The number of countries that have criminalized disinformation, especially in online space is very low and this not only poses a threat to one country but also affects the rights of other countries at stake. There is also the ability to do fact checks and fact verification however not all matters can reach the state level. The number of people who inquire about the credibility and validity of the content is less and holding people or an authority accountable for the content is hard as well.

World leaders advocate many strategies to counter disinformation such as cyber commands. According to (CNN,2022), “US military and intelligence officials are stepping up their efforts to defend the electoral process from foreign hacking and disinformation”. (Shackelford,2020) has stated that “In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo spearheaded the creation of the new National Cyber and Encryption Agency to combat disinformation in their elections”. Sri Lanka too has a cyber command center to fight disinformation. Certain countries utilize narratives, and counter-narratives to create or rebut propaganda. (Time,2023) has stated that “As part of an effort to target Telegram, Russia co-opted popular fact-checking formats. It created a host of multilingual channels, like one named “War on Fakes,” which “verified” or “fact-checked” allegations to support pro-Kremlin narratives and defend the Russian military’s actions.”

However, one of the main mechanisms that can be utilized against disinformation is reporting disinformation. This is similar to whistleblowing. Whistleblower is “an employee who alleges wrongdoing by their employer of the sort that violates public law or tends to injure a considerable number of people. The employer can be public or private. Applying the same measure, if any person in the society comes up with a piece of disinformation which is against the morality, tranquility of the society, law and order, creating disharmony, such person or the authority must have the mechanism to report a such issue. Traditionally reporting such content can be done via phone call. Yet, since the world is digitalized and mostly disinformation happen online, reporting the by social media itself is prudent. Social media platforms gives the option to “report” content which is against community standards. However, reporting disinformation goes a step beyond. Some disinformation will not be understood by lay people and only the experts in the field will recognize it. Therefore, it is the duty of such a person to notify it. Governments all over the world therefore has an undeniable role to provide a platform to report disinformation which will encourage whistleblowing. This actually serves the purpose of fostering information literacy in people to inquire and verify the content.

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The Failures of Russian Intelligence in the Ukraine War and the Perils of Confirmation Bias

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Emergency services are working around the clock to deal with the consequences of Russia`s strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. October 18, 2022.Photo from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine defied many expectations, not least the Kremlin’s.  Prior to the ‘special military operation’ launched by President Vladimir Putin last February, the Russian government expected minimal organised military resistance from the Ukrainians.  A quick victory was assured, much like the 2014 annexation of Crimea but on a grander scale, with the decapitation of the Ukrainian government as a likely result.  Yet, more than one year later, Ukraine remains very much in the fight, in defiance of Russian expectations.  Evidently, the Russian military and political elite launched the invasion based on flawed assumptions.  The question now, is what role did Russia’s intelligence services play in forming these false assumptions and why did they go unchallenged?

Much of the blame may rest on Putin himself according to a paper published in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations in December last year.  Before the invasion, it was widely assumed that the Russian President’s ability to use strategic intelligence was virtually unrivalled on the world stage.  Unlike other world leaders, Putin possesses a professional background in intelligence, having been both an officer in the KGB and director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), between 1998 and 1999.  Russia’s swift and surprising annexation of Crimea and ability to disrupt targets with hybrid warfare was further evidence of Putin’s strategic acumen.  However, the events leading up to and during the war in Ukraine cast the Russian President in a different light, as a deeply flawed intelligence manager and consumer.

One issue highlighted by the paper’s authors is that intelligence agencies within authoritarian regimes are blindsided by ‘a frequent inability to accept dissenting judgements as being offered in good faith.’  This appears to have been true of the Russian intelligence agencies prior to the invasion of Ukraine.  Instead of offering their primary intelligence customer an intellectually honest assessment of the situation in Ukraine, the intelligence services appear to have disseminated intelligence that merely confirmed his biases.  As explained by a group of experts in May last year, ‘Putin believes Ukraine is or ought to be Russian and whatever passed for intelligence preparation for the invasion may have confirmed this in his mind… We can infer that Russian intelligence services supported Putin’s view of Ukraine as a state ready to be absorbed.’

Ultimately, the officers of Russia’s intelligence agencies, be it the FSB, Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), or Main Intelligence Directorate (GU), are dependent on Putin for their advancement, prosperity, and survival.  This encourages a culture whereby the intelligence services compete for his approval, which is far from useful in terms of generating dispassionate and unbiased intelligence products.  Years before the invasion, in 2017, Professor Brian D. Taylor argued that independent thinkers had largely left the Russian intelligence services, the implication being that they were now staffed by individuals who were content to conform with the dominant viewpoint.  This has led to the formation of an institutional culture compromised by groupthink.

A very public example of the Russian intelligence community’s hesitancy to speak truth to power came in February 2022, when Director of the SVR Sergey Naryshkin was humiliated by Putin during a televised meeting of the Security Council.  When questioned whether Russia should recognise the two self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, Naryshkin suggested giving the West one final chance to return to the Minsk agreements.  This was evidently not what Putin wanted to hear and he pressed a now visibly nervous and stuttering Naryshkin until the latter agreed that it would be the right course of action for Russia to recognise the two breakaway republics.  Of course, this was a clear example of political theatre, but it does not bode well that Putin was willing to publicly humiliate one of his intelligence chiefs.  Whilst it is not known what goes on behind close doors, there has been increasing scrutiny of Putin’s behaviour which suggests that the Russian leader has put an unhealthy amount of distance between himself and his top officials.

This is not to say that Putin micromanages the intelligence services or that he predetermines every decision without any recourse to their advice.  Indeed, the intelligence services wield a tremendous amount of influence over high-level decision making.  The problem is more so that the intelligence services are institutionally incentivised to say what they think Putin wants to hear.  His views on Ukraine were well-publicised before the invasion, and no doubt senior intelligence officials would have been familiar with his frame of mind.  His dismissal of there being a legitimate sense of Ukrainian nationalism and a belief that Ukrainians would be willing to join Russia and reject Western moral decadence and degradation were hardly secrets.  For the intelligence services competing to win approval, there would have been few incentives to contradict this official narrative.  Russian intelligence preparation for the invasion therefore likely served to confirm the Russian President’s biases.

There is some evidence to the contrary.  According to US intelligence documents leaked in April, the FSB accused Russia’s Ministry of Defence of underreporting Russian casualties in Ukraine.  Allegedly, the FSB was critical of the Ministry of Defence for failing to record the losses suffered by the Russian National Guard, the Wagner Group, or fighters under the command of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.  The FSB’s casualty estimates were reportedly roughly double those given by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in December.  This does indicate a willingness to break bad news and contradict the official narrative.  However, in this particular case, the FSB stands to enhance its own standing with Putin by undermining the Russian Ministry of Defence, thus fitting the broader pattern of institutional rivalry.

Naturally, much remains unknown about the activities and procedures of the Russian intelligence services prior to and after the invasion of Ukraine.  What the available evidence does suggest however, is that Russia’s intelligence services are burdened by political considerations and biases which interfere with their ability to plan, direct, collect, process, analyse, and disseminate valid and useful intelligence.  The Russian President bears much of the blame for the creation of a professional culture which does nor prioritise the truth as the highest good.  Consequently, Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine based on faulty assumptions and was unable to forecast the Ukrainian reaction with much accuracy.

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Iran Threat to National Security 2023

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The annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for 2023, identified Iran as the third greatest national security threat to the United States, after China and Russia. As those two countries have been covered in other reports, this paper will focus on the Iran threat, evaluating it within the framework of a PMESII analysis. PMESII is an acronym used in military and intelligence services which analyses threat countries across six dimensions: Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information.

1. Political: This dimension examines political systems, governance structures, institutions, and decision-making within a country, as well as the effectiveness of these systems and institutions. It also considers the stability or instability of the government.

The Islamic Republic of Iran (Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran), formerly known as Persia, has a population of around 88 million, and is located in Western Asia, bordering on Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan, Afghanistan,  and Pakistan, and by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The country is a theocratic republic, with a Shia Islamic legal framework. 

Iran regularly holds elections, but the quality of democracy is limited because of the influence of the Guardian Council, an unelected body with the power to disqualify candidates on religious grounds. Iran has a president who is elected by the people, but the president is only the head of government, not the head of state. As head of government, the president oversees the operations and implementation of government. True executive power rests in the head of state, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader controls numerous unelected institutions, including the security forces and the judiciary, which are used to suppress dissent and to restrict civil liberties.

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Supreme Leader has always been an Ayatollah. The founder of the Islamic Republic was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who maintained the title of Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. He was succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader.

The Supreme Leader presides over the Guardian Council, which interprets legislation and elections to determine if they are consistent with the principles of Islam and the Iranian Constitution. The Guardian Council has twelve members, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The remaining six are nominated by the Judiciary and approved by the Parliament (Majlis).

In terms of political rights, Freedom House assigns Iran a score of 4 out of 40 and civil liberties 10 out of 60. Citizens have the right to form political parties, but those parties must be loyal to the current government. Change is unlikely to come within the existing governmental framework because of the influence of the unelected bodies. In 2021, for example, the former vice president Jahangiri, was disqualified from running for president because he was determined to be a reformist.

The government is largely dominated by men from the Shiite Muslim majority. Women hold some appointed positions, but generally not powerful ones.  In the parliament, five seats are reserved for recognized non-Muslim minority groups: Jews, Armenian Christians, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, and Zoroastrians. However, members of these groups would generally not be appointed to high-level government posts.

Corruption is rife in Iran. Transparency International assigns Iran a score of 25/100 for corruption, whereby a lower score denotes higher levels of corruption. Iran ranks 147th out of 180 nations. Much of this corruption is attributable to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is above scrutiny in practice, and is protected from criticism by the media and civil society.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a military/paramilitary organization with vast political and economic power. The IRGC was formed immediately after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, tasked with safeguarding the principles of the Islamic Republic and protecting the country’s sovereignty. Under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, the IRGC controls large sectors of the economy helping fund Tehran’s activities. The IRGC also provides military assistance to entities beyond Iran’s borders, as it has done for various groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen.

The group’s mandate includes defending the nation against external threats and maintaining internal security. The IRGC is also assigned the duty of preserving the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary ideals and ensuring compliance with Islamic principles. Additionally, it has significant influence on Iran’s foreign policy, including supporting regional proxies and paramilitary groups, by providing training, weapons, and logistics. On the economic front, the IRGC is involved in a broad array of businesses, including construction, infrastructure development, energy, telecommunications, and others. It owns and operates numerous conglomerates and companies which augment the groups financing and influence.

2. Military: The military dimension of PMESII assess a country’s military strength. It is not comprehensive, however, as it mostly considers personnel and hardware. It does not consider alliances, overseas bases, or the quality of equipment or quality and experience of personnel. All of this will be covered in greater detail in a separate report.

The U.S. ranks first in global firepower. Iran ranks 17th. The U.S. population is 337 million, compared to Iran’s 88 million. The U.S. is the world’s number-two nuclear power. While it is widely suspected that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program, to date, it seems they do not possess any nuclear weapons.

The number of active-duty troops is1.39 million for the U.S. and 575,000 for Iran. Additionally, Iran has about 90,000 paramilitary personnel. Comparing the defense budgets, the U.S. spends $762 billion and Iran $25 billion.

Aircraft – US 13,300 to Iran’s 541

fighter aircraft -1,914 to 196

Transports – 962 to 86

Helicopters – 5,584 to 126

Attack helicopters – 983 to 12

Tanks – 5,500 to 4,071

Armored vehicles – 303,553 to 69,685

Self-propelled artillery – 1,000 to 580

Towed artillery – 1,339 to 2050

Ships – 484 to Iran’s 101

Aircraft carriers – 11 to 0

Helicopter carriers – 9 to 0

Submarines – 68 to 19

Destroyers – 82 to 0

Frigates 0 to 7

3. Economic: Wars are costly to wage. Existing assets have to be deployed, possibly overseas, which is expensive. Factories need to begin churning out exhaustible resources, such as ammunition and artillery shells, as well as replacement vehicles, planes and ships. Uniforms and weapons for new recruits must also be produced en masse. Wars are generally funded by debt, with governments issuing war bonds. The ability to sell those bonds and the interest rate the government has to pay is determined by the nation’s creditworthiness, its economic condition before the war, and whether or not the country is under sanctions. The Ukraine War has underscored the power of sanctions and their ability to prevent dollars from flowing into a country deemed the aggressor. Iran would be incapable of levying meaningful sanctions against the U.S. The U.S., by contrast would be able to bring sanctions against Iran. China would most likely help Iran bypass sanctions, but in the end, the U.S. would be able to reduce the amount of money flowing into Iran, while Iran would not be able to do the same to the U.S.

The size of the potential pool of soldiers is important, as is the number of workers available to produce war materials. The U.S. labor force consists of 163 million workers, while Iran’s comprises only 28 million

Iran holds foreign currency reserves valued at $21.4 billion, while the U.S. holds about $37.5 billion. Roughly 60% of foreign currency reserves around the world are held in U.S. dollars. The U.S. does not hold as much foreign reserves as countries such as China and Japan, but this is because the U.S. government has access to more-or-less unlimited quantities of U.S. dollars.

Basic Indicators for Iran

GDP = $352.2

GDP Per capita = $5344.96

Inflation rate = 43.3%

Unemployment = 9.7%

Corruption and mismanagement, including price controls and subsidies, weigh heavily on the Iran’s economy. The reliance on oil as well as government domination of numerous industrial sectors further inhibit Iran’s development. There is also a significant brain drain as many of the most qualified people flee the country, in search of a better life abroad.

The Heritage Foundation assigns Iran an overall economic freedom score of 42.2 out of 100, making it the 169th freest country in the world. For business freedom Iran scored 38.9 out of 100, labor freedom of 50.7, monetary freedom of 40.6 and financial freedom of 10.

Investment in new businesses, as well as economic development in general, are directly correlated with the protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts. For property rights, Iran scored 25/100, judicial effectiveness 26/100, and for government integrity 20/100.

4. Social: The social dimension looks at societal and demographic elements, including social unrest, ethnic or religious tensions, and social cohesion which might weaken a country’s ability to fight a war.

Ethnicities: Persians 61% of the population, Kurds (10%), Lurs (6%), and Balochs (2%), Azerbaijanis (16%), Arabs (2%), Turkmens and Turkic tribes (2%), followed by a small number each of Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians.

Religion: Islam is the official religion, accounting for roughly 99.4% of the population.  Shi’a Muslim (89%) and Sunni (10%). The remaining 1% is composed of Christian, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Jewish. Christians are the largest minority religion with 250,000 to 370,000 followers, mostly of Armenian origin.

The government punishes Shi’a Muslims who they believe have failed to uphold Islamic values, while Sunnis, Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims have all been victims of repression. Some religious minorities are effectively banned, such as Baha’i and unrecognized Christian groups. Baha’i members have been persecuted, jailed, and banned from attending university.  

The Iranian constitution allows freedom of assembly, as long as gatherings are not “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” Given the state’s interpretation of detrimental, there is effectively no freedom of assembly in Iran. Protests and unauthorized gatherings are generally met with brutal force. In 2022, the government used lethal force to suppress protests against water shortages and poor living conditions in several provinces. Human rights leaders and labor rights advocates have been arrested or punished on an arbitrary basis. Activists can even be arrested without a warrant. The lawyers who defend them can also face jail time.

5. Infrastructure: an analysis of critical systems, such as transportation networks, energy systems, telecommunications, and industrial facilities can help to determine a county’s vulnerabilities, resilience, and potential risks.

The United States has 13,513 airports while Iran has 319. The U.S. has 35 ports, but Iran only 4. In oil production, the U.S. also leads with 18,000,000bbl, compared to Iran’s 3,450,000bbl.

Proven oil reserves – U.S. 50,000,000,000bbl, Iran 210,000,000,000bbl

Natural Gas Production – US 967,144,362,000bbl, Iran 237,561,415,000bbl

Coal Production – 495,130,000bbl, Iran 2,783,000bbl

6. Information: The information dimension analyzes the flow of information, as well as the communication systems, and media within a country. This analysis helps to understand how public opinion is formed and how propaganda and disinformation are disseminated.

In Iran, there is little media freedom either on or off line. Newspapers and other media are heavily censored, and the government directs journalists as to which stories to cover and which to avoid. Critics and opponents of the government are never given a platform. Many foreign websites, including news sites and social media, are blocked. Satellite dishes are illegal, and the police have actually raided homes, confiscating dishes. Persian language journalists working abroad have had their families threatened if the state did not approve of their reporting.

Reporters without Borders Ranks Iran as 177th least free country out of 180. Television is controlled by the state, and Persian language TV broadcasts from outside of the country are jammed. State television often airs confessions extracted from political prisoners by way of torture. Over the past two years, there has been a particular crackdown on journalists with an increased number of arrests and imprisonments. In one case a journalist was sentences to 90 lashes for allegedly making false news reports. The Islamic Republic has been known to target for kidnapping Iranian journalists operating abroad, as nearly happened to journalist Masih Alinejad in July 2021.

Academia is also not free and contains a great deal of indoctrination. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei warned that universities should not become centers for political activities. Students and professors have been jailed for speaking out against the regime or studying or teaching material which the state disapproved of.

Digital communication is monitored by state intelligence agencies. At the same time, the Iranian government utilizes online platforms and social media to disseminate propaganda and to influence the public. To this end, troll farms have been utilized, creating fake accounts and manipulating online discourse to support Tehran’s narratives. State sponsored cyber hacking is another way that Tehran controls the information space. And while the government has access to the most modern technology, the country suffers from a massive urban/rural divide, with much of the rural population unable to access the internet.

Online activism is illegal. And, the government is looking for ways to make accessing forbidden content even more difficult. In July of last year, the parliament began considering criminalizing the use and distribution of virtual private networks (VPNs) and requiring internet users to verify their legal identities. In January, 2023, it was announced that the unauthorized sale of VPNS would be banned. 

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