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Opposition Block on the western media offensive?

September 25, 2016

A recent article in The Guardian written by Vadim Novinsky has ruffled some feathers, not necessarily among the Ukrainian ruling elite, but among the Ukraine watchers, academics, diplomatic corps,  think-tanks et al.

Anders Umland making the comment “This is the second dubious publication by a former Yanukovych man in a major Western outlet after a recent article of Liovochkin in POLITICO.  Critique of corruption and bigotry in Ukraine is necessary.  But super rich former members of an oligarchic kleptocratic authoritarian regime like Novinsky or Liovochkin are the last to have a right to do so.  Why do you not publish an article about the lack of democracy in Africa written by Mugabe, The Guardian POLITICO Magazine?  Or are you against democracy in Africa?”

A statement that in sum highlights that objectivity is giving all a fair hearing. It does not equate to false moral equivalence.

Firstly, while no comment will be made about the authorship of the Sergei Liovochkin piece in POLITICO, most assuredly Vadim Novinsky did not write the piece for The Guardian, albeit he is the named author.

The Guardian piece was ghost written and published under Vadim Novinsky’s name.  It was written by Oleg Voloshin, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee who is clearly willing to employ the literary skills and disciplines of diplomatic training and experience for the Novinsky coin and/or Opposition Block coin.

So be it.  There is a market for well thought out, deftly framed, ghost written public communication,  particularly by those exceptionally sullied by past and current deeds – such as Messrs Novinsky and Liovochkin.

A reader may ponder perhaps why the articles were not placed under Yuri Boiko’s name being the official head of the Opposition Block faction.

Equally worthy of consideration is that aside from the diplomats, academics, pro-Kremlin politicians, and assorted variously flavoured think tanks, it really doesn’t make much difference if Mr Voloshin or Mr Novinsky, or Mr Liovochkin, (or Mr Boiko) are named as author for the article published in The Guardian – none of the British public have any clue whatsoever who any of these men are, or indeed what the Opposition Block is made of, stands for, or would do if returned power.  The British public had little interest in Ukraine pre-Brexit and have even less post-Brexit.

The UK public could not tell you what interests the UK has in Ukraine, what public money is spent on here, how much, (and whether it is bilateral or via the soon to be exited EU), or for why.

Between the football season starting, Brexit, and whichever celebrity has been caught in a photograph doing something “risky” or “silly”, there is little interest in Ukraine among the UK hoi polloi.  Therefore the audience for these articles is not the average UK citizen (or indeed the average English speaking citizen).

Nevertheless these articles, appearing within a week of each other, are simply not “noise” but “signal”.  More of the same seems certain to appear.  The question is what do they signal?

influence

Having discounted them as being simply the usual disinformation, misinformation, half truth, half story propaganda noise – are they part of an influence operation??  If so, are they part of an Opposition Block influence operation, or that of The Kremlin – for neither article mentions Russia whatsoever (perhaps wisely considering it has just had its equivalent to its MH17 moment when bombing the UN convoy in Syria a few days ago).  Neither do the ties to Moscow that both (named) authors possess become apparent.  Nevertheless with the deliberate omission of mentioning Russia, neither article do the Kremlin narrative any harm (unsurprisingly).

To be blunt, although it does the Kremlin narrative no harm, and it may well be something The Kremlin co-opts along the way, it seems much more probable that it is an Oppo Block inspired attempt at an influence operation..

If that is true however, to what end?

If it is an Oppo Block influence op, then why isn’t it Yuri Boiko’s name on The Guardian piece rather than Mr Novinsky?  Surely the officially recognised leader would be the name to promote?

Mr Liovochkin rightly complaining in POLITICO about the criminality surrounding the Inter incident is understandable as a co-owner (even if more than a little hypocritical for a man that was Head of the Presidential Administration of Viktor Yanukovych when journalists were regularly beaten (and worse) around Ukraine).

(An outline of the criminal incident and also dubious internal workings of Inter has previously been written.)

Neither article however, places much emphasis upon the Oppo Block, and neither “author” really claim to be writing on behalf of the party.

As recently stated, Mykola Skoryk of the Oppo Block is likely to see his parliamentary immunity removed next week – perhaps somewhat ironically in connection with the beating of journalists and demonstrators in Odessa on 19th February 2014.

After Mr Skoryk, Mr Novinsky, the “author” of the Guardian piece is quite likely to soon top the parliamentary immunity stripping list having been accused of assaulting and threatening the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarch.  Mr Novinsky is a firm adherent of the Moscow Patriarchy and finds the Ukrainian Patriarchy bid for autocephaly nothing short of scandalous (not to mention it would seriously reduce Moscow’s influence through “the church” and cost the Moscow Patriarchy a lot of  Ukrainian souls, earthly riches and property).  Indeed he partly funded a Moscow Patriarchy “Peace March” that was widely perceived by the Ukrainian constituency as a Kremlin influence operation – which it was.

(Few will doubt both Germany and France being subject to Kremlin influence operations in 2017.)

Rumour also circulates that Mr Novinsky may be stripped of the Ukrainian citizenship granted to him by former President Yanukovych (for (dubious) services to Ukraine), leaving him to rely upon his natural Russian citizenship and a hope that he will not be swiftly persona non grata (PNG) from Ukraine thereafter.

Mr Liovochkin is unlikely to face the same chances of prison (or being found guilty in absentia) or ejected from the country, but perhaps will see if not Inter taken off air soon, then broadcasting licence problems when it is due for renewal – an unquestionable disaster for the Oppo Block that projects its propaganda from the Inter platform.

Therefore if the UK (and English speaking) hoi polloi are not the target audience in this influence operation, it has not yet been co-opted by The Kremlin, and the article content doesn’t really promote Oppo Block positions,  then the journalists, diplomats, academics, think tanks, and political class that will take notice must be the target.

The articles therefore can possibly be considered as preparatory media plants that pre-frame “persecution” in relation to the foreseen events specifically surrounding these two men/”authors”.  He/she that frames first and robustly often wins the argument.

It is clear that these articles are not (coincidental) random noise generated by the Oppo Block to simply undermine the current authorities (despite some valid points albeit deliberately lacking more holistic optics) or to promote the “party position”.

Will this influence operation be sufficient to dissuade the above predicted domestic action against them in Ukraine (probably not), or alternatively generate “international concern” when their “persecution” begins and the “persecuted” claim “told you so”?

(They will be able to join the likes of Messrs Martynenko (formerly People’s Front) and  Onyshchenko (Ms Tymoshenko’s financial sponsor) on the self-proclaimed “unfairly persecuted list” – hopefully to be joined by others such as the ever-more nefarious Messrs Nasirov, Pashinsky and Kononenko one day soon.)

Perhaps the question for the immediate future is where the next article of similar theme will be published, or whether the Ukrainian authorities strike first.

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