During the past several years, the Atlantic Council has been running reports on how Russian cyberwarfare and disinformation have been working overtime to undermine Western democracies in general, and Ukraine in particular. While Ukraine has been the target of Moscow’s attention, recently its tactics have evolved and shifted to exploit civil unrest in the United States.
The United States today is in the midst of an existential crisis that is tearing the country apart at its seams. Much of the harm is self-inflicted, but a good part is due to hostile outside players such as Russia and China sowing discord. The civic unrest and riots that rocked major cities across the United States in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing were aggravated by a radical movement known as Antifa and its collaborator Black Lives Matter. Although a relatively small segment of the demonstrators, these groups have created mayhem, causing incalculable property damage well beyond their small numbers.
The questions Ukrainians in America ought to be asking are: Who is Antifa and its partner in arms, Black Lives Matter? What has been Russia’s role in aiding and abetting these radical groups? The answer to the first, what Antifa represents, as you will see, is clear. The answer to the second is less clear because the link between Antifa and Russia is well camouflaged. What is unquestionable is that the goals of Antifa and Russia are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable: to sow mayhem and chaos to discredit democracy and subvert the government of the United States.
Antifa’s and Russia’s aims largely overlap, although the reasons behind those aims differ. Antifa believes that America is a fascist state and questions the legitimacy of its very existence. Russia’s leaders, on the other hand, see the United States as Russia’s existential enemy. The point is that both are working assiduously here in the U.S. and Europe to cause turmoil, undermine stability and the rule of law, and abolish the liberal capitalist order with the professed aim to bring down the United States using racial riots, violence and intimidation.
The term “Antifa” has a certain appeal to the uninitiated, and that is why it’s easy to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses. At its core, it’s an extremist neo-Marxist Communist-anarchist movement that explicitly advocates the overthrow of the capitalistic system and the destruction of America because it is a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic culture not worthy of existing.
Moreover, the movement falsely and slanderously equates fascism with virtually all of the people holding conservative values and the idea that Western traditions – tolerance of opposing viewpoints, individual rights and responsibilities as opposed to group rights and collective identity – are worthy of respect,
The anarcho-communist movement is decentralized, composed of small cells, some of whom openly vow to engage in an armed struggle to trigger a civil war to abolish the current system and replace it with communism. Although they claim to be antifascists, in reality they are fascism personified.
Despite abundant evidence that neo-Marxists have a hand in these protests and riots, very few journalists have been willing to expose the truth. Mainstream media portray them as a well-meaning alliance of idealists who seek nothing more than to thwart the evils of right-wing “fascism.”
Although the Black Lives Matter movement has become mainstream, it’s unfortunate that so many well-intentioned Black and other good people have been duped into helping achieve Antifa’s nefarious ends. In truth, recent riots have little to do with race and everything to do with regime change and revolution.
There is an ancient saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Given Russia’s long record of subversion in U.S. affairs, politics and elections, Russia’s connection to an organization like Antifa is not only plausible but likely. The only thing missing is direct evidence of collusion and the extent of involvement. A little research, however, reveals that dirty Russian fingerprints are ubiquitous.
In his interview on the Ukrainian television program “Pryamyi,” Ukraine’s former Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly said he sees a Russian hand in stirring up the civil unrest in the U.S. Mr. Chaly, who served as an ambassador for four years, is familiar not only with American politics but with Russian special operations aimed at creating chaos in the U.S. and Ukraine. Past patterns of behavior and some new sources corroborate Ambassador Chaly’s assertion.
A CNN investigative report by Clarissa Ward and other CNN reporters in April of this year uncovered how Russian trolls are trying to poison the political atmosphere in the United States. “This time,” the report concludes, “they were better disguised, harder to identify and track.”
“In 2016, much of the trolling aimed at the U.S. election operated from an office block in St. Petersburg, Russia.” The months-long CNN investigation has discovered that, in this election cycle, part of the campaign has been outsourced to trolls in the West African nations of Ghana and Nigeria. These trolls have focused almost exclusively on racial issues in the U.S., promoting Black empowerment and often displaying anger towards white Americans. According to experts who follow Russian disinformation campaigns, the goal was to inflame divisions among Americans and provoke social unrest. (The full report is available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/12/world/russia-ghana-troll-farms-2020-ward/index.html.)
In effect, the CNN investigative report is the smoking gun that confirms Ambassador Chaly’s assertion of Russian involvement in fanning riots and disturbances in the U.S. This, however, is only what has been discovered by one tenacious investigative team and probably represents merely the tip of the iceberg.
We do not know the extent of Russian involvement because the Russians have been employing ever more sophisticated ways of covering their tracks. Earlier this year, the social media analysis firm Graphika identified the phenomenon dubbed “Secondary Infektion.” Its analysis reveals an entity that prioritizes covering its tracks; virtually all Secondary Infektion campaigns incorporate robust operational security, including a hallmark use of burner accounts that stay alive only long enough to publish one post or comment.
At the end of May, Anna Nemtsova, a correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast based in Moscow, reported that several Russian officials were gloating that “the weakening of the United States is very beneficial for us.” Ms. Nemtsova also referred to a story in The New York Times that the Russian government has been trying to incite violence by white supremacist groups and to stoke anger among Blacks.
Also, Zach Dorfman of the Aspen Institute wrote recently that the 2020 election provides the perfect opportunity for Russian-backed online disinformation campaigns to exploit American protests over police brutality and systemic racism in order to foment division and distrust. Taken as a whole, the evidence that Russia is exploiting the breakdown of law and order in American cities is beyond question.
Jaroslaw Martyniuk is a former diplomat with the International Energy Agency/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris and a retired researcher affiliated with Radio Liberty in Munich and Washington. He is the author of “Monte Rosa: Memoir of an Accidental Spy.”