Hacked emails show Moscow’s attempt to sow discord in other countries by paying thugs for rent-a-mob rallies, conspiracy theorists and hackers.
A treasure trove of emails sent by notable top officials of Russia were leaked to The (London) Times on Monday. The emails allegedly give an outline of dirty tricks pulled by the Kremlin in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014 and resulted in the annexation of Crimea.
One portion of the emails seemed to be sent by an anonymous politician to Inal Ardzinba, a top Kremlin official close to Putin. It contained proposals to fund a cyberhacking campaign, which included breaching email accounts for between $100 to $300.
A much bigger, more expensive campaign to “troll” opponents and “demotivate enemies” of Putin on social media and collect their personal data in Ukraine’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, cost $130,500. Moscow also paid $120,460 to get ex-communist figures elected to local government in June 2015.
One of the proposals included the staging of pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine rallies in Kharviv. These involved the transport of trained martial artists to incite chaos during rallies, paying off the police to ignore the protests and bribing media to feature the orchestrated demonstrations. The proposal suggested using 100 participants, three organizers and two attorneys. It is not confirmed whether this particular rally actually took place, but other Kremlin-staged incidents did occur.
Experts have issued warnings Russia could use the same tactics against the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, especially in wake of the poisoning of former Russia spy Sergei Skripal in England.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the tools and techniques of Russian covert conflict are being used in and against the U.K., the U.S. and the EU,” Tory MP Bob Seely, a Russian warfare expert who reviewed the emails, told The Times. “In the wake of the Skripal poisoning it's more important than ever that we understand these methods.”
The emails came from the third group of “Surkov leaks,” named after Putin’s trusted adviser Vladislav Surkov. He also allegedly sent two previous batches of emails, published online by Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, a hacktivist group.
Surkov has also reportedly been closely involved with the management of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, two Russian-controlled, self-professed states in Ukraine, established by pro-Moscow rebels.
Russia has claimed the leaks linked to Surkov are fake; however, the author of the emails in the first two leaks has confirmed they are credible.
Banner/Thumbnail: Yuri Kadobnov/POOL via Reuters