Cranks, Trolls, and Useful Idiots
, by Dalibor Rohac, Foreign Policy, 2015 March 12
Following the Feb. 27 murder of liberal Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a number of Central European websites were quick to provide an explanation. “Whoever gains control of the Russian opposition will be on the receiving end of all the finances and subsidies given to the Russian opposition by the West,” wrote an anonymous author on the Czech site Aeronet. Several other sites published translations of a text blaming the murder on a Western conspiracy aiming to discredit Vladimir Putin. The article was written by the Russian commentator and politician Nikolai Starikov, a vocal Putin supporter.
Most of the websites that published Starikov’s writings in Czech and Slovak have existed for less than a year. Throughout the conflict in eastern Ukraine, these sites have systematically regurgitated Russian propaganda, spreading lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories, often directly translated from Russian sources. In an effort to understand who runs these sites and why — and potentially to uncover financial connections to the Russian government — several Central European journalists and civil society activists recently decided to investigate them in greater detail.
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