This is one of
four five posts dealing with Maria Butina and her social network:
It was good of NPR to try and understand more about Maria Butina by identifying her friends and asking them about her. Unfortunately they don't seem to have made much effort to understand who those friends are, or to identify their likely biases and conflicts of interest. As a result, statements like this from Stanislav Byshok are taken at face value
"She appeared to me [to be a] really smart and determined person believing in her cause and able to rally people around it," said Stanislav Byshok, a Moscow elections analyst. "She often took [the] NRA as an example for the Right to Bear Arms movement. That's why I wasn't that surprised when got the news that Maria decided to relocate to the U.S."
NPR's conclusion "The evidence suggests that Butina truly believed in gun rights, not that she was running a counterfeit campaign" requires a highly selective reading of the evidence, especially the evidence provided by her own social network, which NPR was specifically looking at. So let's take a look at Mr. Byshok, and see what we can learn about him, his social ties, and how his own network overlaps with that of Maria Butina.
Political analyst at CIS-EMO, a Russian NGO that specializes in declaring as "free and fair" elections in countries where that is unlikely to be the case. When not doing that, they cast doubt on election results that are not to the liking of the Kremlin, in countries Kremlin is seeking to destabilize. Very active in the Assoziation Journalisten im Kampf um den Frieden e.V. (AJKF). Banned from the EU per notice from Lithuania. Stopped and deported from Orly airport in Paris when attempting to attend a February 2016 AJKF meeting. AJKF was an entity that provided cash grants to the producers of pro-Kremlin/anti-Western agitprop. Nominally a German NGO, AJKF was in fact operated out of an office in Belgrade until being shuttered due to alleged harassment of key personnel by Western intelligence services.
Byshok speaking at a 2015 AJKF meeting in Vienna
In addition to Butina, the other members of this network are:
Rodionov, Dmitry AKA Ogneev
Director of the Center for Geopolitical Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development (Институт Инновационного Развития (ИИР)). What it is exactly that Rodionov does, and for whom, is a fair question. What I know is that he turns up in the context of active measures campaigns constantly. What I suspect is that the organization Rodionov works for is a front for an intelligence agency, most likely GRU.
Rodionov/Ogneev as he presented himself some years ago on a since-deleted account
Political scientist, propagandist, subversive. Arrested for participation in the Constitutional Crisis in 1993 and released in the subsequent amnesty (see also Shurygin, Vladislav). In 2004 he was involved in subversive activities in Ukraine, in 2005 he was arrested by the security services in Moldova, and in 2008 he was involved in the invasion of Georgia. Does business as "International Monitoring Organization CIS-EMO" and "Public Diplomacy" (cis-emo.net and publicdiplomacy.su respectively). He's Stanislav Byshok's boss.
Kochetkov is the guy in the center.
Lead Expert at the Center for Policy Relevance a/k/a the Actual Policy Center (actualpolitics.ru) whose Director is Andrey Tatarinov. Olevich claims to have attended high school in Harrisburg PA, and college at Temple University. Olevich currently lives is Moscow.
Olevich making an appearance on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' PressTV network
A leader of the Rodina Party (currently head of the Information and Political Department, and a member of the politburo), Biryukov also operates an NGO Институт Свободы (Institute of Freedom). Ties to Rodina are a common biographical feature of people involved in Kremlin active measures campaigns, both inside and outside Russia. Biryukov in particular has been involved in cementing ties between Rodina - and by extension, the Kremlin - and pro-Moscow political parties in the West.
Biryukov (circled) with some of his favorite Europeans, photo uploaded in 2017
You will note that every person in this network is connected to every other person in this network. This network is dense. These ties are strong, meaning that all these people likely know each other in real life and have probably worked together. We know for fact that Byshok and Kochetkov work together - that the rest do, or have in the past, and/or will in the future can be inferred with confidence given that they are 100% interlinked.
Everything I have observed in connection to Butina is suspicious. Nothing I have observed supports NPR's contention that she was a genuine "gun rights" advocate. She is associated with very many people who are routinely engaged in subversion, deception, and disinformation both in and outside of Russia. I'm not entirely sure who she is working for within the Kremlin adhocracy (a case can be made for both FSB and GRU), but I do not believe for a moment that she accidentally wound up quite literally in bed with the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.