Is Russia Insider sponsored by a Russian oligarch with the ties to the European far right?

The emails leaked by the Anonymous International last year give us a few insights into the workings of the English language pro-Putin propaganda website Russia Insider.

Its editor Charles Bausman launched the website in September 2014, and described the rationale behind the website as follows:

“It was started in September 2014 by a group of expats living in Russia who felt that coverage of Russia is biased and inaccurate. […] The problem is media control by a few corporations and interest groups, and their close ties with governments and business interests. Instead of challenging, questioning, and fostering open discussion, they tend to promote those interests.”

Ironically, this is what Russia Insider itself has been doing since its launch, namely publishing and republishing pieces of Russia’s disinformation warfare against the West and Ukraine.

Charles Bausman, editor of Russia Insider and a regular commentator for Russia Today (RT)
Charles Bausman, editor of Russia Insider and a regular commentator for Russia Today (RT)

The leaks reveal that Bausman, rather than relying on crowdfunding for Russia Insider, asks for money from a Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev via his associate Alexey Komov.

There were several interesting articles devoted to Malofeev in the international and Russian media. In the context of this blog, Malofeev is known for providing financial assistance to the pro-Russian extremists in Eastern Ukraine (for this very reason Malofeev was sanctioned by the EU, Norway and Switzerland), organising homophobic conferences in Russia, assisting French far right politicians in getting Russian money, and building European far right alliances.

Komov is a no less interesting figure. He is an employee of several organisations founded and funded by Malofeev, as well as a representative of the homophobic World Congress of Families in Russia. He is also an honorary president of the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, Russia’s front organisation in Italy established by the far right Lega Nord party. Komov even gave speech at the party’s congress at the end of 2013 that elected Matteo Salvini as its leader.

And here’s a series of communications between Russia Insider’s Bausman, Komov and Malofeev:

Charles Bausman to Alexey Komov (2 October 2014):
Alexey, take a look at our stats, - click the button in the footer. They are very, very strong. I still need money!!  Any chance of resuming the conversation?

Alexey Komov to Konstantin Malofeev (2 October 2014):
Charlie, however, has created a good website - http://russia-insider.com/en - a high-quality, pro-Russian and popular one. He wants to cooperate...

Charles Bausman to Alexey Komov (18 October 2014):
This has links in to my TV appearances. I've been on 4 times now. Any reaction from K?

In his last email, Bausman also sent to Komov his CV that gives us a few interesting details.

It is interesting to note that Bausman was born in West Germany (Frankfurt) in 1964, but then lived in Soviet Russia, “due to father’s long-term assignment” there in 1968-1972 (one wonders what that assignment was about). According to his CV, Bausman was educated in the US, but has been living in Moscow since the late 1980s. He also states that “in virtue of professional and family connections”, he has “multiple high-ranking connections to the European and American media”, as well as “investment and political spheres”.

What is not clear is whether Bausman has eventually received any financial help from Malofeev (the leaked mailbox belongs to a fourth party), but his willingness to “cooperate” with a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and has been providing funding for the war in Eastern Ukraine is quite revealing.

Why Valentina Lisitsa was fired

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has become subject to divided opinions over its recent decision to fire American pianist Valentina Lisitsa, a prominent musical figure born in Soviet Ukraine of Russian descent who has since become known for her vitriolic online campaigns supporting the Russian war effort.

TSO president and CEO Jeff Melanson has responded on the controversy, saying that the decision was based on Lisitsa’s provocative comments overshadowing past performances. Lisitsa, for her part, has defined her rhetoric as “satire and hyperbole” that she uses to “combat lies.”

This issue has since devolved into a matter of freedom of speech, and whether the TSO was right to act.

While the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is free to hire and fire who they choose as a private entity, critics are slamming the move to disassociate from Lisitsa as a violation of “freedom of speech.” More problematic has been the media response, which has entirely missed the provocative nature of her political commentary.

Russian media is framing Lisitsa’s stance as being “anti-Kyiv,” while the National Post has headlined her commentary as simply “denouncing neo-Nazis,” with CTV and The Globe & Mail further muddying the issue to be over mere “political views” “against the current Ukrainian government.” Rabble.ca says the issue was with her “anti-war views” and the Globe also says she ‘opposes the civil war.’

The truth of the matter is radically different and justifies why so many people have been offended by her over the past year.

To understand the postings below, it’s important to note that her references to “Nazis” are meant to be pejorative, and not in political terms. Over 3 million Ukrainians were murdered during the Holocaust, and Nazi occupation spanned the entire country. Referring to them as “Nazis” is meant to be strictly offensive, and not related to actual Nazi leanings, current or historical.

Her public position has also been contradictory or hypocritical, saying she was proud of the “magnificent revolution” in Ukraine on her post-firing Facebook statement, but called it an ‘illegitimate’ “west-sponsored coup” days prior.

We won’t go over every objectionable tweet in this article (they are publicly viewable). Some iconize Russian terrorist leaders accused of summary executions mass graves, one trivializes the Germanwings crash, others threaten NATO & U.S. troops, and one even mocks Down Syndrome awareness.

She is a supporter of war denial, toeing the  Kremlin line that Russia never invaded Ukraine – an indisputable fact at this point. She has spread conspiracies of ‘Ukrainian concentration camps’, saying in one: “In a new European Ukraine, the camps will give the subhumans [ethnic Russians] condemned to the gas chambers an opportunity to offset their carbon footprint.” She insisted on a CBC radio interview that her statement was true, but naturally, it was an internet hoax.

In the past, Ms. Lisitsa has also come out in support of a controversial New York art exhibit sponsored by Russia’s far-right and connected to Alexander Prokhanov, a notorious anti-Semitic conspiracist.

Suffice it to say, her views are varied.

Be the judge

This is one of the more widely cited tweets because of its racist nature. Here she is mocking Ukrainians wearing traditional attire as “tribal” with a sarcastic jab implying that the practice of doing so is primitive.

 

In two other tweets Lisitsa (remember, she says she is ‘anti war’) says Ukrainians are infected and need to be “cured” with a Russian invasion (“folk medicine”). In a separate instance she wishes Ukrainians a “speedy recovery” and suggests ‘strong medication’ while posting a picture of Holocaust victims. It’s up for interpretation if she implied Ukrainians need a dose of Zyklon-B, or if picturing Buchenwald victims was a specific reference as many were subject to human experimentation; or if she was illustrating Russians as victims to Ukrainian aggression, trivializing the Holocaust. All interpretations are offensive.

 

This isn’t her sole invocation of the Holocaust. In June she criticized Jewish-Russian opposition leader Gary Kasparov by blaming “Western democracies” for the Holocaust itself.

 

Aside from the xenophobic jab below where she implies that Ukrainian isn’t a real language (‘pardon’), she attaches a picture calling Jewish Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky a kike. The actual Ukrainian translation of the shirt (which may also be a photoshop) is meant to be an ironic form of “Jewish enemy,” and in Russian is a re-appropriation of two anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian terms to play on Russian prejudices, and is explained in depth here and here. Her contempt extends to pro-Ukraine Israelis.

 

In opposition to her professed anti-war stance, Lisitsa took issue with U.S. troops showing solidarity in Estonia recently, and suggested that Russia would defeat them in war. She pairs this with pictures of Soviet soldiers marching Nazi (‘NATO’) POWs and tearing down NATO and Ukrainian flags.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 6.16.35 PM

Lisitsa also calls for Ukrainians to take up arms against ‘Rothschild debt collectors.’

 

In a now-deleted tweet, Lisitsa publishes in Ukrainian: “This is more correct: Dear [ethnic] Ukrainians! I will never get tired of reminding you that you are dog shit. Thank you for your attention.” To clarify my translation, the quote directly says “conscious Ukrainians” (‘svidomi’), commonly used as a slur by Russians who refer to Ukrainians as “svidomites.” The term disparages “self aware” Ukrainians, that is to say, those who identify as ethnic Ukrainian and not as a sub-group of Russians. Thus, she is both referring to Ukrainians as ‘defective‘ and, of course, ‘dog shit.’ To belabor this point, the person she is tweeting to, n_marmaleykina, posted a graphic featuring Gabonese tribesmen with the caption “conscious savages.”

And in one bizarre instance photoshopped a pro-Ukrainian user’s tweet to mislead her followers.

Final thoughts

Did objection to the above violate Lisitsa’s rights? Naturally, it’s difficult to say her right to express herself was violated since she is a pianist, and not a public speaker.

Barring the fact that Lisitsa is not a Canadian citizen, and nobody is prohibiting her from speaking in any capacity on her own time (her social media following has, if anything, grown), Canadian hate speech laws give a good example why sometimes limits are necessary. As Canadian lawyer David Butt points out, “our constitution protects not only free expression, but multiculturalism and equality as well. So to read the constitution holistically, we cannot permit one protected freedom to undermine other rights and freedoms enjoying equal status.” Secondly, “the Supreme Court recognized the insidious impact of propaganda campaigns that gain social traction and incrementally dull our rational faculties and empathy. Perhaps paternalistic, but the court is saying sometimes we need to be protected from our baser and stupider selves.”

And it is these types of hate-laced propaganda campaigns that Ms. Lisitsa participates in that the TSO simply doesn’t want to promote or be associated with – and that is their right.

RT goes beyond the pale

Russia’s English-language propaganda network, RT (formerly Russia Today), known for its outlandish and over-the-top coverage of world events from a typically anti-Western perspective has reached new depths in the ongoing crusade to demonize Ukraine as it fuels and backs a proxy war in a pocket of the country’s east. While recent coverage of debunked and entirely fabricated claims has been gaining circulation in Russian-language media designed for internal consumption (including the now widely talked about ‘crucification’ hoax), RT’s latest foray is the first with such bloodied verve and disregard for competent journalism to reach an equivalent level for western audiences.

How does it reach this level? In the following 14 minute segment by RT, Ukraine is accused of the following: Murder, torture, crucifixions, beheadings, rape, ethnic cleansing, systematic genocide, instituting man-made famine, using Weapons of Mass Destruction and banned weapons, international conspiracies, and being both literally Hitler, and worse than Hitler. It’s the kitchen sink.

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The episode of the program called “The Truthseeker” aired with the title: “Genocide in Eastern Ukraine.” The purpose being to do everything it could to depict Ukraine’s war against well armed Russian militias as nothing more than unprovoked ethnic genocide against an entirely civilian, Russian population. It even led in with a short description of Rwanda – for context.

Quoting “investigative historian” Eric Zuesse, the channel calls Petro Poroshenko’s reformist government “the most far-right wing government on the face of the Earth” on a “one way killing spree.” As elections recently showed, less than 2% of Ukraine’s far-right garnered votes nationwide, significantly less than recent results in even the European Parliament.

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The host speaks liberally of “Kyiv’s mass daily bombing of unarmed civilians”, claiming a “Kyiv junta” uses “banned cluster bombs” designed to kill everyone in the surrounding area. He describes a child dying almost immediately in front of his mother’s eyes, a direct contradiction to the statement of the massive blast radius he led in with. He was only getting started.

The Ukie army, being a direct successor to Hitlerite Wehrmacht, terribly hates Saur-Mogila, as it is a symbol of Russian valor in the Great Patriotic War. All the time their artillery and mortars lob shells directly at the memorial. But they cannot get any closer.

One day, the pravoseki [Right Sector militants] came there. NazGuard [National Guard], Azov-2 and Dnepr-2. And then they instilled European values in the village. They cut out [murdered] all the men. They would cut them alive. They would cut the arms, then the legs. Then the head.

They did not cut the women – they raped them. And now they continue [to rape them], during the pauses between battles. Doubtlessly, the various fanboys of Europe and the Maidanites will say that these are made-up fairy tales.

Take note, chocolate baron, truth is on our side, and, one day, we will come for you. Yes, you, personally!

If the above sounds like it was pulled directly from a troll’s rant from the comment margins, or some obscure hate-speech blog, that’s because it was. What was presented on air was a slightly doctored version of the above, published on June 25, with adjusted grammar and evocative narration. The source for the RT centerpiece was “Slavyangrad,” a blog dedicated to such fringe musings. (The name being a Russified portmanteau of Sloviansk & Stalingrad). The rest of the entry deals with the fight against “Ukie-stan,” and the threat of female Polish snipers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdV-iBWm78k

3RT’s “Truthseeker” continues his disconnected rant with uncited reports of civilians being “systematically massacred” under “mainstream media silence.” The channel typically positions itself as ‘alternative’ news to the “mainstream,” and regular quotes on the ticker featured lines from Russian tabloid LifeNews, known for generating comical hoaxes.

This talk of systematic genocide was sure to mention the serial ‘murder’ of journalists to endure this silence, bringing up the recent controversial case of a Russian journalist who was, as it turns out, sent to be shot by Russia, sacrificed for media exposure and propaganda material. Footage of his death has now predictably been exploited.

8RT, as it is known, regularly parades Holocaust deniers, extreme fringe theorists, conspiracy nuts, and other unknown ‘specialists’ to provide bombastic statements on the air under the misleading guise of being accredited experts. In a shining example of just how unhinged the network could possibly be, an American “living in Eastern Ukraine” was brought on screen to give his testimony: “walking up to someone and disemboweling them, a child, that’s an act of heroism for Bandera [Ukraine Nazi followers].” The unknown man went on to talk of man-made famine, a particularly seditious remark to make given the Soviet Union’s man-made genocide of Ukrainians under Stalin. He claimed the Ukrainian government was “burning wheat fields,” bombing farms, and shooting ambulances. He estimated “several hundred thousand people will starve to death.” Who is this sickly man making these statements? RT doesn’t care.

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RT captions a video of children and quotes them as Nazis
RT captions a video of children and quotes them as Nazis

A good part of the segment was devoted to intentionally mistranslating the word “inhuman” when used by government officials (namely, PM Yatseniuk and President Poroshenko) to rather read as “subhumans,” and deliberately echo Mein Kampf. The Hitler-inspired connections did not end there, as literally every single Hitler-related trope was covered, from death squads, to concentration camps, to even the concept of “Lebensraum,”  living space. The wordsmith “Truthseeker” even connected every dot in succession: Ukrainian death squads will ethnically cleanse Russian ‘subhumans’ into concentration camps, and be given Lebensraum from the pro-Nazi government. There simply isn’t a way to fathom how something as inflammatory, egregious, and outright fabricated could be disseminated to audiences under the auspice of being legitimate news.

When the opponent of mainstream media is the extremist fringe – but given the funding, presentation, and exposure of any regular mainstream media outlet – it can only lead to journalistic gongshows such as this. RT has literally reached the point where the inmates are figuratively running the asylum. RT has gone beyond the pale.

Hepburn: Putin’s meddling in Ukraine sinister

The former colonel’s approach follows standard practices, which Putin acquired at the KGB. First, create chaos where you want to rule then oppress the population, introduce fear, force a crisis and, finally, take over by offering “salvation” from the opposition now called right-wing extremists, mobsters and terrorists.

Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has been escalating. He gained expanded control for foreign policy, defence and security ministries. Hateful anti-Ukrainian propaganda bombard the media in both countries and in the West to discourage support for the opposition. Currently, the most dangerous tactic is the insinuation Russia must be part of the resolution of the crisis, despite having had a heavy hand in destabilizing Ukraine by pressuring Yanukovych to drop progress to Euro integration at the 11th hour. Throwing the fox among the chickens is not the way out of Ukraine’s crisis.

As was the case under the former USSR, however, Western-grown neo-Russia apologists like Stephen Cohen, Dmytir Simes or under-informed pundits like Patrick Buchanan are Russia enablers. They snarl at the U.S. to stay out of Ukraine’s internal affairs, allowing Russia to advance as a peacemaker, despite ongoing documentation of its hand in the violence since protests began in November and war rhetoric.

Read the full article

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former Canadian government executive, is a founding member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.