Just another bit of disinfo
Kremlin disinfo site Eurasia Daily published an article on 26 December 2015 that placed blame for a host of problems in Bulgaria on Turkey, alleged Turkish interference in Bulgarian affairs, and on a Bulgarian political party alleged to act as a branch of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP). The piece closes on a bright note, suggesting Bulgaria can respond by returning to the "pro-Russian camp." Others can dissect the message. I will focus instead on the messengers and mechanisms of contemporary Russian active measures as they present themselves.
The article was written (in Russian) exclusively for Eurasia Daily by Bulgarian academic Georgi Kolarov (his name being written in EA Daily as Георгий Коларов, with an extra "i" at the end of Georgi to make his name sound more Russian). Akademician Kolarov is a product of the latter stages of the Soviet Union, having received his PhD in Political Science at Patrice Lumumba International Friendship University in Moscow. In addition to teaching gigs in Moscow, at Sofia University, and at Varna Free University, Kolarov served as an expert in psychological warfare in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense from 1995 - 1998. This was at a time when the Bulgarian Socialist Party (БСП/BSP) was in power. БСП is the successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. More recently Kolarov makes appearances on nationalistic TV talk shows.
Eurasia Daily and Regnum News Agency
I noted in my first look at Eurasia Daily the involvement of Boris Sorkin, who meant nothing to me. In their own examination of Eurasia Daily, Dnevnik reports that EADaily is a product or has been spun off of Russian agency Regnum. Regnum was founded by Boris Sorkin, who may have recently sold Regnum to Gazprom-Media. I cannot confirm that Sorkin has divested himself from Regnum - what evidence is available suggests he is still involved in Regnum as well as being the probable owner of EADaily. Additionally EADaily is now staffed by people brought over to it from Regnum, starting with EADaily's Director General Irina Fedina. Sorkin also has a long-standing working relationship with Modest Kolerov, who was Regnum's editor before taking a job in the Kremlin. Regnum is best known for efforts to propagate disinfo in the Baltic states, specifically targeting the region's ethnic Russian minorities. Circa 2009 Kolerov was PNGd from Estonia and Lithuania (Latvia did likewise in 2012). Open source reporting on Regnum is corroborated by classified US State Department cables stolen and published by Wikileaks.
Modest Kolerov: not someone you want to allow to enter your country (unless you plan on locking him up) pic.twitter.com/Pe5z1PlUwO— aweisburd (@webradius) January 10, 2016
Boris Sorkin and Modest Kolerov
Checkist active measures abroad are an extension of their efforts to maintain Kremlin authority at home. It is easy to characterize Modest Kolerov as a Kremlin front man, but Boris Sorkin? Clearly he is more than just the guy who registers domain names for various disinfo products, and he is also clearly more than just the guy who pays the bills. The latter role is likely the most interesting. In a mafia state one would expect active measures projects to be funded off the books as often as possible, with funding drawn from the proceeds of more ordinary criminal activities. If I had to speculate it would be that Sorkin serves in a liaison role or is otherwise dual-hatted - a bridge between Russian intelligence services (most likely FSB) on the one side, and sources of funding on the other. That Sorkin may, in fact, be an intelligence officer is difficult to prove based on open sources, but his role in the suppression of the Mari people suggests that may be the case.
The Suppression of the Mari
The Mari are an indigenous Finnic people living in the Middle Volga region of Russia. A pagan people, never fully converted to Christianity, who managed to survive decades of Communist rule, the Mari have been the target of Kremlin active measures since at least 2002. This campaign has included disinformation, fabricated criminal charges, beatings and killings of Mari community leaders, rigged elections, the flooding of Mari lands due to the Cheboksary dam, and the takeover by Kremlin-aligned ethnic-Russian forces of the Congress of the Mari People. Boris Sorkin literally took center stage at the Congress:
At the April 16-19 congress, the bureaucracy packed the house and ensured that only people it approved of were elected and that all resolutions were enthusiastic about what local and all-Russian officials have done – including a reference to the construction of a 1.5 km road between two villages -- a major departure from all previous meetings of this group.
But this outcome was possible, Nikolayev says, only because of “the great importance” the officials devoted to the preparation of the meeting and to ensuring that Markelov, Russian presidential advisor Modest Kolerov and Regnum agency head Boris Sorkin had the chance to speak and to set the tone for the sessions of the congress.
In short, Nikolayev said, what the powers that be had demanded was that “’the Mari theme’ be closed down in an intelligent way, by the hands of the delegates” themselves. That is what the authorities achieved at this meeting, although it is far from clear whether they will be able to stifle the voice of this people.
However that may be, the congress took place “as scripted,” with speakers saying what they were supposed to say, delegates agreeing to what they were supposed to agree, and both electing the officials they were supposed to elect, Nikolayev says, even when that mean that the congress had to ignore its own rules.
And that is just what the authorities forced the congress to do. In order to elect Larisa Yakovleva, a United Russian Duma deputy, to a leadership post, the organizers had to scrap provisions in the charter saying that no one could be elected who was simultaneously serving in a party or government post. And that is just what the congress did. [source]
Active Measures in a nutshell
In this story we see all aspects of Kremlin active measures, simultaneously supporting ethnic-Russian subversion abroad and the suppression of non-ethnic-Russians at home. It is worth noting that at the time of the Kremlin takeover of the Mari People's Congress Boris Sorkin stood up websites in support of the project: Mari News, and Volga Inform. The significance of those sites lies mostly in the fact that they can be seen (and that they leave a paper trail years after they fallen into disuse). With that in mind, it is interesting to speculate what the goals and objectives of Eurasia Daily are. Perhaps no more than Sorkin and Company realizing they needed to dump Regnum and start fresh, or perhaps they feel a need for a 'Regnum' that they can point towards the Caucasus and Central Asia rather than the Baltics. Time will tell.
© 2015-2016 Andrew Aaron Weisburd