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Meddling gone WILD: Internet giants all over the map in Russian ‘election meddling’ testimony

Russia conspiracy theorists can’t decide if the Kremlin wanted to help Trump or tear him down

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(ZeroHedge) – Following today’s Senate Judiciary panel hearings with social media executives, the establishment’s ‘Russians colluded with Trump’ narrative is hanging but all but the thinnest of threads.

Having shown that so-called ‘Russian actors’ “were trying to create discord between Americans,” during the election – which politicians attempted to position as “directed against Clinton,” top lawyers from Facebook and Twitter said Tuesday that Russian-linked posts and advertisements placed on the social networks after Election Day sought to sow doubt about President Donald Trump’s victory.

As we showed earlier, sixteen thousand Facebook users said that they planned to attend a Trump protest on Nov. 12, 2016 organized by the Facebook page for BlackMattersUS – a Russian-linked group.

The event was shared with 61,000 users.

“Join us in the streets! Stop Trump and his bigoted agenda!” reads the Facebook event page for the rally.

“Divided is the reason we just fell. We must unite despite our differences to stop HATE from ruling the land.”

And that appears to have the ‘Russians’ m.o. after the election, as Politico reports, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate Judiciary panel that content generated by a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency after Nov. 8 centered on “fomenting discord about the validity of his [Trump’s] election.”

“During the election, they were trying to create discord between Americans, most of it directed against Clinton.

After the election you saw Russian-tied groups and organizations trying to undermine President Trump’s legitimacy. Is that what you saw on Facebook?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked at the hearing.

Stretch and his Twitter counterpart, Sean Edgett, called that an “accurate” statement.

Not really the one-sided, reason-for-my-loss, Russians-colluded narrative that the left (and right establishment) would like to be spun.

The social media giants’ counsels parried most grandstanding blows from the various politicians; however, there were five key moments that Politico identified during the hearings…

1) First look at the fake Russian ads

Tuesday’s hearing offered the public its first look at political ads that Facebook and Twitter have identified as being purchased by the Russia-sponsored Internet Research Agency. The companies provided copies of the ads to congressional investigators earlier this month and revealed yesterday that they were seen by millions of users in the U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) showed an advertisement depicting an altered image of comedian Aziz Ansari holding a sign deceptively claiming voters could cast ballots via text from home. Meanwhile, Coons decried a sponsored image of a kneeling solider with the text “Hillary Clinton has a 69 percent disapproval rate among all veterans” overlaid on top. Facebook has said publicly that lawmakers should decide whether to make all 3,000 Russia-backed ads it has found available for public review.

2) Facebook not sure whether Russian ads swayed election

Facebook wasn’t able to offer much in the form of a definitive answer when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked the company if it felt like content on its platform had an effect on the election. “In an election where a total of about 115,000 votes would have changed the outcome, can you say that the false and misleading propaganda people saw on your Facebook didn’t have an impact on the election?” Hirono asked. Stretch dodged in response. “We’re not well-positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did,” he said.

3) Facebook won’t say no to accepting election-related foreign money

Franken, in an especially fiery exchange, asked Twitter, Google and Facebook if they would commit to not accepting foreign money payments on election-related advertisements, saying he wanted a simple “yes” or “no” answer from the platforms — and wanted to know why Facebook didn’t catch Russian agents purchasing ads sooner. Stretch said he hesitated on the foreign currency question because “it’s relatively easy for bad actors to switch currencies. So it’s a signal but not enough.” Edgett gave a quick “yes” to Franken, and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado said Google would need to have a good enough “signal” that the transaction was illegal to keep it from going through. “Foreigners can’t use money in our campaign, you know that?” Franken said.

4) Democrats — allies of tech — attack their friends

For Democrats, who have for years had a largely warm and productive relationship with liberal-leaning Silicon Valley, the hearing represented a sharp break. Several members seized upon the chance to unleash on the company reps their simmering frustrations that the tech industry’s tools — so often pitched as the means for making the world a better place — had harmed their nominee, perhaps even fatally. Blumenthal highlighted widely shared posts on Twitter that incorrectly claimed that voters could cast ballots for Clinton simply by tweeting. “Do you know how many thought they voted but in fact were fooled?,” Blumenthal asked Edgett, who said he did not know.

5) No support for Honest Ads Act

Not a single one of the three tech giants would commit to supporting Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)’s Honest Ads Act, which would require disclosures about political advertising on their platforms. All three have rolled out and touted work to independently address the issue of ads, following the introduction of the bill. “We certainly support the goals of the legislation and would like to work through the nuances to make it work for all of us,” Salgado said. Their answers prompted Klobuchar to draw attention to the lack of external oversight on these actions. “Just to clarify, while you are taking responsibility for a lot of what happened here, and trying to make some changes, there wouldn’t be an outside enforcer for any of these policies, right?”

Finally, James Lewis, an international cyber policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the revelation about Russian anti-Trump activity on social media post-election fits with typical Kremlin information warfare efforts.

“Their goal is to create confusion and dissent. The target is the U.S. and NATO, not any particular candidate. They just want chaos…”

Credit: Tyler Durden

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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