In a Facebook post on May 21, exiled politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Russia had a plan for the next presidential election in the U.S. and the plan was to aggravate racial discord in the country.
A day earlier, NBC News published documents, which the agency said it had obtained from a London, U.K.-based team of Russian investigative journalists, working for the “Dossier Center” – established and financed by Khodorkovsky.
“The documents — communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for previous influence operations against the U.S. — laid out a new plot to manipulate and radicalize African Americans. The plans show that Prigozhin’s circle has sought to exploit racial tensions well beyond Russia’s social media and misinformation efforts tied to the 2016 election,” NBC reported.
The plans, according to NBC, included a blueprint, entitled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory,” which floated the idea of enlisting poor, formerly incarcerated African Americans “who have experience in organized crime groups” as well as members of “radical black movements for participation in civil disobedience actions.”
“The infrastructure for this project is already prepared. The American society is not immune to this project. The objective is to stage a certain number of interracial clashes with a good TV footage, which later will be sold to the Russian public, as well as to the American, European, etc.,” Khodorkovsky said later in an interview to the Voice of America Russian Service.
Khodorkovsky said, “designing” such conflicts “artificially with the kind of technology and money available to the team working under the brand of Mr. Prigozhin is quite realistic.”
In his Facebook posting, the subject of this fact check, Khodorkovsky said Prigozhin's efforts in the U.S., Ukraine, Syria, Africa and elsewhere "are not just plans but reality."
Polygraph.info finds the claim is likely to be true based on the following facts:
In February 2018, the U.S. Justice Department indictment against Yevgeny Prigozhin, companies controlled by him and persons employed by his companies alleged that Prigozhin engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful function of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes.”
The indictment alleged that these organizations received funding for their operations from Yevgeny Prigozhin and the companies he controlled, and that he spent “significant funds” to further their operations.
The Internet Research Agency (IRA) employed “hundreds of individuals for its online operations” and its annual budget totaled the “equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars,” the document said.
A former IRA employee Lyudmila Savchuk, who said she “infiltrated” the place to “expose” its disinformation activities told Polygraph.info that “thousands” worked at the troll factory on shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Savchuk’s account confirmed the allegations from the U.S. indictment that the IRA operators had been assuming or stealing identities of U.S. persons or creating false identities.
Polygraph.info video by Nik Yarst
“A job at the troll factory offers people an opportunity to live the life of their dreams: in virtual reality, they can become anybody they want to be,” Savchuk told Polygraph.info. “Some start living the identities they have assumed in order to perform their trolling tasks, and some start believing the lies they have been tasked to create.”
The verifiable information published by multiple sources about Prigozhin’s firms and companies also confirms Khodorkovsky’s assessment of their technical capabilities.
The U.S. indictment, for instance, outlines a sophisticated and well-resourced organization, stating that the IRA is “organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization department; an information-technology department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the operations…”
Polygraph.info video by Nik Yarst
Since the release by the U.S of incriminating information about Yevgeny Prigozhin, there has been no sign that the Russian government is curtailing his companies’ operations or shrinking them. To the contrary – the troll factory has moved into a new much more expensive office building and expanded its networks, many of its creations posing as authentic media outlets, Prigozhin’s footprints had been reported in Russia’s hybrid wars and shadow operations from Ukraine to Syria, to Africa, to Venezuela, and he allegedly keeps his contracts with the Kremlin.
Finally, Khodorkovsky’s statement that Moscow’s goal may be to sew a racial discord is also likely to be true as based on data provided to the U.S. Congress by Facebook.
According to Facebook, more than 3,000 ads addressing social and political issues targeting U.S. audiences between 2015 and 2017 appear to have come from accounts associated with a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency.
“An estimated 10 million people in the U.S. saw the ads,” purchased by the Russians for their influence campaign, Facebook said. “Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
An Oxford University study of the IRA’s activities in the U.S. from 2012 to 2018 showed “a sustained effort to manipulate the U.S. public” throughout that period, pointing to even higher audience engagement than the Mueller investigation established – more than 70 million reactions on Facebook alone during that time.
“Surprisingly, these campaigns did not stop once Russia's IRA was caught interfering in the 2016 election,” the report “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States,” said. “Engagement rates increased and covered a widening range of public policy issues, national security issues, and issues pertinent to younger voters.” The University used data provided by social media companies to a U.S. congressional committee.
“Some of the most divisive ads capitalized on the political movement Black Lives Matter and hot-button political issues including immigration, gun control, the religion of Islam and LGBT-centric topics. The ads also promoted events organized by Americans who were unaware their political rallies and protests were being fueled by a Russian disinformation campaign,” NBC reported on the matter.