Simultaneously with Russian troops destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, killing civilians and committing war crimes, Russian authorities are waging disinformation warfare across information frontlines through using trolls and bots in mainstream media and social networks. At the same time, some of the “Western” pseudo-journalists and experts are being actively involved since the outbreak of the war against Ukraine in order to obtain more credibility for the state propaganda.
Russian propaganda media often uses “Western journalists” as the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation agents to cover ongoing events in Ukraine (link 1, link 2, link 3 and link 4) and it regularly promotes disinformation based on the interviews, broadcasts and fabricated stories of these individuals who are called Western journalists. FactCheck verified a number of broadcasts of Russian TV channels featuring “Western journalists and experts.” As a result of verification, it was identified that the aforementioned “unbiased Western journalists” are in fact the co-authors of Russian propaganda (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5, link 6, link 7, link 8, link 9, link 10 and link 11).
FactCheck studied the identifies of the individuals referred to as “Western journalists and experts.”
Since the beginning of the war against Ukraine, US-born journalist George Eliason has appeared several times in Russian propaganda media broadcasts (link 1 and link 2) where he fully parroted the Russian disinformation about the war against Ukraine and promoted fake news. Currently available information about Mr Eliason proves that the Kremlin uses him as a “Western journalist to legitimise anti-Ukraine disinformation and propaganda.”
Of note is that the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), which is a member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) and contributes to election transparency and equal voting rights in the EU, Eastern Partnership countries and the Russian Federation, has listed George Eliason as a politically biased election monitor. Furthermore, the EPDE’s document, issued in the aftermath of the 2018 general elections held in Donetsk and Luhansk under the title of Politically Biased Election Observation in Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, reads that George Eliason was among the absolute majority of those “international observers” who were actively involved in pro-Kremlin activities whilst their observation methodology was neither transparent nor complied with the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers.
In accordance with the EPDE’s report, the “international observers” have already been involved in (1) cooperation with the Russian state-controlled instruments of disinformation and propaganda (RT, Sputnik), (2) membership in pro-Kremlin movements, groups and organisations, (3) legitimisation and justification of Russia’s actions directed at undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, (4) ) criticism of the sanctions imposed on Russia in relation to its aggression towards Ukraine and (5) previous participation in politically biased and/or illegitimate electoral monitoring missions in Russia and elsewhere.
The same document also says that a legitimate international observation mission was not sent for the elections hold in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2018 because holding “general elections” in the internationally non-recognised Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic ran counter to the Minsk agreements.
Of additional note is that a 2019 publication of the New York Times, entitled “How a Fringe Theory About Ukraine Took Root in the White House,” wrote about George Eliason, saying that he gave rise to conspiracies about Ukraine in the US. According to the New York Times’ investigation, Mr Eliason claimed that the California-based cyber security company CrowdStrike, which studied Russia’s cyber-attacks in the US 2016 presidential elections, was run by a Ukrainian oligarch whilst Ukraine wanted to organise a “coup attempt” against Trump in order to push the US to take a hard-line stance against Russia. According to the New York Times, the aim to promote this conspiracy theory was to overshadow opinion about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
Of additional importance is that an independent Ukrainian NGO, which is a research centre for crimes against national security, peace humanity and international law, wrote that Mr Eliason has cooperation with pro-Russian organisations, is involved in Russian propaganda against Ukraine and promotes false information.
Yet another illustration that George Eliason is a purveyor of Kremlin propaganda and promotes disinformation is found in his publications. Mr Eliason’s articles (link 1 and link 2) often contain false claims and are used as disinformation mouthpieces of the Kremlin, including but not limited to the state-sponsored Russia Today and the Kremlin-affiliated Global Research. Mr Eliason also claimed that Ukrainian Nazis and Fascists persecute civilians on ethnic and linguistic grounds. In addition, he stated that the Bucha massacre was organised by the Ukrainians themselves (see FactCheck’s articles: link 1 and link 2 on those false claims).
Sonja van den Ende
Another propagandist of the Kremlin is Dutch national, Sonja van den Ende, who is called a “Western journalist” by the Russian media.
In regard to Sonja van den Ende’s work in Russia, some Dutch open sources (link 1, link 2 and link 3) publicise the comments of Louk Faesen, a Russian disinformation researcher at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, saying that he is not surprised to see Sonja van den Ende being involved in Russian propaganda broadcasts. According to Mr Faesen, he was aware that selected “Western” reporters were employed as the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation agents for “internal use.” Louk Faesen also stated that “Western” journalists who found employment in Russia confirm the Kremlin’s false claims (for instance, about Ukraine being governed by a Nazi regime and the existence of biological weapons in Ukraine), echo Putin’s criticism against the Western media and governments and seek to portray them as woefully inadequate. Mr Faesen says: “There are Western media organisations which are directly funded by the Russian special services whilst the Russian disinformation is also promoted in the form of comments of readers of European newspapers which are later used by the Russian media, claiming that the readers of the ‘Western’ media also think like them.”
Sonja van den Ende’s contribution to the promotion of the Russian propaganda false information is obvious and further proven by her articles on her blog and for such pro-Kremlin outlets such as Oneworld Press. Ms van den Ende has published dozens of articles on that portal. It should be added for more clarity that according to EUvsDisinfo, which is a main project of the East Stratcom of the European External Actions Service and investigates disinformation campaigns coming from Russia, Oneworld Press is registered in Russia and is run by the Kremlin. In order to expose the affiliation of Oneworld Press with the Russian state agencies, EUvsDisinfo discovered in How Two Information Portals Hide Their Ties to the Russian News Agency Inforos research project that Oneworld Press has links with the Russian Government Information Centre - Inforos. In addition, it turned out that a major contributor to Oneworld Press and the author of hundreds of pieces published on its website is Andrew Korybko who himself has cooperation with the Kremlin’s disinformation websites, including Inforos and Sputnik.
Russian propaganda media claims that Thomas Roper, one of the participants of Russia’s Channel One broadcasts, is one of the few exceptions among Western journalists who “is not afraid to do his job with integrity” and provides accurate information to the public about the situation in Ukraine.
The pro-Kremlin media is in fact right to say that Thomas Roper is one of the few exceptions among Western journalists. However, as opposed to highly trusted Western journalists, his exceptionality is manifested in being under the Kremlin’s patronage and promoting false information.
Thomas Roper, originally from Germany, has been living in Russia since 1992, is fluent in Russian and owns the Anti-Spiegel blog which is anonymously sponsored by the Kremlin and is perhaps registered in Russia. Anti-Spiegel portrays itself as an alternative source to Germany weekly Der Spiegel newspaper. Editor-in-chief of Anti-Spiegel, Thomas Roper, claims that the Hamburg-based weekly newspaper is an “assault weapon of democracy and NATO” and opposes the newspaper’s reporting to put Russia in a negative context whilst he himself is interested in protecting the Kremlin’s reputation. Of note is that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Anti-Spiegel website has uploaded numerous articles containing false information. In addition, the Anti Spiegel website does not include any address or contact information of the company which, together with other many factors, raises questions about to its impartiality and reliability.
Of additional note is that Thomas Roper is a frequent guest on Russia’s state-run TV channels or at Kremlin-organised “international conferences” (link 1 and link 2). He even dedicated a book to Vladimir Putin which was written in German and published in 2018. However, Mr Roper claims he has no ties with the Russian authorities.
Thomas Roper, called a rare exception by the Russian media for “carrying out his professional duties with integrity,” actively promoted false information about the war against Ukraine through Anti-Spiegel and other outlets. Mr Roper wrote that (1) footage of Russia’s attack against Mariupol’s hospital was staged, (2) Russian troops did not kill civilians in Bucha, (3) the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, had planned to annex Western Ukraine, (4) information about rapes committed by the Russian troops was fictional and (5) there are hazardous US-sponsored bio laboratories in Ukraine.
Prior to the outbreak of the war against Ukraine, Thomas Roper promoted anti-vaxxer disinformation and claimed that RNA vaccines contained substances which were dangerous for human life (FactCheck has already published numerous articles about this piece of disinformation: link 1, link 2 and link 3).
Another journalist who is often featured in the Kremlin-controlled media and who promotes false information is Haukur Hauksson, referred to as an Islandic journalist.
This individual, who poses as a witness and unbiased journalist in one of the programs of the Russian state media, in fact writes articles for the Russian Federal News Agency as reported by the European Bureau of Radio Liberty. This agency is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian businessman having close ties with Vladimir Putin and who is the owner and sponsor of one of the robust Russian “troll factories” according to the US Senate Intelligence Committee.
Mr Hauksson openly expressed his sympathy vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin. In 2020, he attended Putin’s annual press conference in the capacity of a foreign journalist. However, as reported by Radio Liberty, the media outlet which he represented at the event was not known. His comments about Putin further corroborated doubts about his being biased. As a “foreign journalist,” Mr Hauksson stated that Putin is strongly loved in the West – “We sincerely love Russia. Only hawkish media, such as BBC, CNN and others blame you for doing bad things as well as the Islandic media, our TV channels. There is a big war waged against you. They are afraid of you.” Mr Hauksson also stated that Putin’s press conference was a unique opportunity for journalists to get answers to their questions, commending Putin by saying: “This is a democracy.”
Haukur Hauksson visited Donbass as part of the so-called “press tour” together with other “Western journalists”. During this tour, in his interview with TV Zvezda, he stated that the foreign media does not disseminate reliable information about the Russian “special operation” in Ukraine, adding that “it is very important that we show what is in fact a reality. Information provided by the foreign media is far from the truth. We come to the people, we see the destruction. Western media portrays a completely different picture whilst Russian information is much closer to the truth.”
John Mark Dougan
Another contributor to the body of pro-Kremlin disinformation, also referred to as a “Western expert,” is John Mark Dugan, a US-born former policeman and naval officer. Mr Dougan was convicted of illegal wiretapping and money racketeering in Florida and escaped to Russia in 2016 where the Russian government granted him the status of an asylum seeker. On 18-21 May 2022, John Mark Dougan, together with other “Western journalists,” visited Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories as part of a Russia-organised “press tour” and has promoted numerous false claims about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Of note is that Mr Dougan had close ties with Pavel Borodin who is a high-ranking official in the Russian government and is sometimes referred to as Putin’s “mentor.” According to The Times, in 2016 – three years after meeting with Borodin, John Mark Dougan created a website where he referred to himself as a Russian hacker named BadVolf. He publicised the confidential information of US public servants, including DNC emails, with the possible participation of Russian agents.
According to the same source, Mr Dougan was involved in the controversy featuring Prince Andrew, a member of the UK’s Royal Family. The Duke of York was accused of sexually abusing an underage girl, although the court did not find him guilty. Mr Dougan’s links with this scandal led British intelligence to suspect that he had cooperation with the Russian government and provided compromising evidence.
In addition, John Mark Dugan also sought to smear Russian opposition figures and promoted fake news on his websites, DCWeekly.com and DCPost.org. As reported by the Guardian, Mr Dugan also disseminated false information about US-sponsored laboratories in Ukraine and the coronavirus.
Mr Dougan visited Mariupol as part of the so-called “press tour” together with other pseudo-journalists and said in a TV Zvezda broadcast that supplying arms to Kyiv is like supplying arms to terrorist organisations such as ISIS, claiming that as an American himself, he felt guilty because of this.
Another pro-Russian propagandist, Scott Ritter, is an American military commentator who has been openly promoting a propaganda narrative and false information with the cooperation of the Kremlin’s disinformation agents since the outbreak of full-scale war in Ukraine (link 1, link 2 and link 3).
Scott Ritter, who was a UN armaments inspector in Iraq in 1991-1998, blamed the UN and the USA for the harsh treatment of Saddam Hussein. After leaving his position, Mr Ritter has become an outspoken critic of the US government.
It was reported that in 2001 Scott Ritter was sentenced six months to prison for unlawful sexual contact with minors. In 2009, Mr Ritter was detained again under the same allegation, jailed for six years and then released on bail in 2014.
In addition, Scott Ritter writes articles for Russia Today which are critical of the West whilst promoting false information through actively publishing articles on different Russian propaganda platforms (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5). Of note is that in July 2022, Ukraine’s Centre for Countering Disinformation included Scott Ritter in the list of pro-Russian propagandists.
Currently, Scott Ritter’s twitter account, masquerading under the name of an “American expert,” is blocked. Twitter suspended Ritter’s account for his 6 April publication when he blamed Ukraine for “crimes against humanity,” cast doubts over the Bucha events and denounced Joe Biden as a “war criminal.”
It is also noteworthy that Scott Ritter often makes claims on air on Russian state-controlled TV channels that Russia fights Nazis in Ukraine and does not wage war but carries out a special military operation.
FactCheck identified the following false claims made by the Kremlin’s “Unbiased Western Journalists.”
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