A new Russian propaganda agency has started up in Kyiv as part of the Kremlin’s fifth column of “soft power”
Leonid Kozhara is a board member at the Institute of Peace. He is former Former Minister in the second Azarov Cabinet, a one-time member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of Party of the Regions, and today in the “Socialists” Party
Under the guise of a “peaceful resolution” to the war in the east, Russia continues to try to place its agents of influence inside Ukrainian society. Its primary focus is on the information arena and NGOs to promote messages along the lines of “World peace,” “Enough bloodshed” and “Stop the civil war and the bloody ATO.” And so, the capital of Ukraine recently saw the launch of remarkably lively activity on the part of an organization dubbed the “Peace Institute,” around which a crowd of overt and covert agents of Russkiy Mir or Russian World quickly coalesced. An investigation showed that the Kremlin is directly behind this Institute and that funding is coming from channels belonging to the Yanukovych “family.”
On February 29, 2016, the Peace Institute first announced itself through a press conference entitled “Minsk Accords. Way out or problem?” at one of the leading news agencies. The main message was that the Donbas must be granted special status and that "an information war was interfering in the work of the Minsk accords [sic].” Interestingly, word of this press briefing was spread mainly by the Ukrainian branch of RIA Novosti, an infamous Russian propaganda agency that continues to operate completely legally in Ukraine today. Other than the staff of the Institute, the briefing was attended by representatives of the OSCE and the Donbas SOS volunteer organization, quite reputable individuals who were to provide a cover for the real purpose of the event.
On April 18, a closed event organized by this Peace Institute took place at the President-Kyivskiy Hotel. The list of invited guests that The Ukrainian Week was able to obtain was revealing, although the organizers were very reluctant to make it public. Among them were Jan Novoselskiy, the editor-in-chief of the infamous Channel 17, one of whose employees, Dmytro Vasylets, was under arrest for suspected cooperation with “Donetsk People’s Republic” terrorists; Kost Bondarenko, a pundit who has worked for Serhiy Liovochkin, that is, Party of the Regions, for years; Dmytro Rozenfeld, the former editor of another Russian news source, RBK-Ukraina; Valeriy Lytkovskiy, advisor to the former Human Rights Ombudsman under Viktor Yanukovych; anarchist Mykhailo Chaplyga; and businessman Garik Korogodskiy. Others who were expected at this event included Enrique Menendes, the leader of the Responsible Citizens NGO that cooperates with Rinat Akhmetov. The group’s activists were recently chased out of the occupied Donetsk by the militants because of the conflict with the oligarch. Interestingly, the only two media that reported on this event were that same Channel 17 and NewsOne, a channel belonging to Yevhen Murayev, a member of the rump Party of Regions faction in the Verkhovna Rada, now called the Opposition Bloc. Murayev himself is linked to former PM Mykola Azarov. The members of the board and the founders of this NGO, which was legally registered in February in the Dnipro District of Kyiv, were also present.
“Vladdy and the Peacemakers”
The head of the Institute is Maksym Lenko, who is from Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, and made himself a career as a prosecutor in Donetsk Oblast when Yanukovych was in power. His peak came on September 2, 2013, when President Yanukovych appointed Lenko head of the Main Investigative Administration of the SBU. Lenko served the Yanukovych Administration in faith and truth in this position, and did not flee. Still, he was lustrated quite early on, which did not hinder this worthy citizen from quietly taking the top position in the Peace Institute and, since he had his own law firm, according to The UkrainianWeek’s sources in the SBU, to help clients beat the legal system through the agency of his firm.
The Institute has another prosecutor from Donetsk Oblast on its board: Dmytro Moroz. He started out as a detective in Donetsk and rose to be first deputy prosecutor of Donetsk Oblast by 2013. His career included being prosecutor in one of the districts of Sevastopol as well, over 2011-2012. Things were going along beautifully for Moroz until the Maidan struck and in 2014 he was lustrated. Still, he did not remain jobless for long.
Further, the deputy director is Olha Malkina-Bohuslavska, the daughter of ex-Shepetivka Mayor Valeriy Malkin. Malkina-Bohuslavska was known for having worked in a series of Ukrainian media outlets and espousing far-left views. It is unnecessary to go into detail about the Communist Party of Ukraine and its role in stirring up conflict in Donbas. The new left is of greater interest now and is no slouch compared to the old, especially the organization “Borotba” or “The Struggle,” whose members have persistently supported the pro-Russian militants. Of course, when they came in person to visit Donetsk, they found themselves taken captive, but that changed little.
And so, Malkina-Bohuslavska has been actively working with the terrorist mouthpiece NewsFront, for which she has, among others, produced an interview with the wife of Pavel Gubarev, one of the leaders of separatism movements in the Donbas. The interview focused on investigations into “crimes” by Ukrainian military in DPR, setting up courts and quasi-legislation in the pseudo-republic, and so on. She often visits occupied Donetsk where she appears to have no problems getting around.
In terms of leftists, the founding members of the Institute include Anton Rozenvayn, who at various times belonged to different anarchist and marxist groups, is a known ukrainophhobe, and has unconditionally supported the “separatist” side since the start of the Russian war. He was also in charge of information policy at Novorossiya and Svobodniy Donbass, two papers that are published in the occupied territories in substantial quantities. He also writes articles for them with titles like “Genocide in Horlivka.” His minders in DPR are such “activists” as Serhiy Tsyplakov, a “deputy of the People’s Council of the DPR” and Yevhen Orlov, the leader of the “Svoboda Donbassa civic movement.” Orlov himself is linked to an ex-Party of Regions MP called Ghennadiy Bobkov, who has considerable influence over the situation in ORDiLO. For a long time, Rozenvayn lived in occupied Donetsk but traveled in and out of there into the rest of Ukraine without hindrance because, so far, not a single criminal case has been opened against him. Rumor has it that he is currently in the US, taking advantage of his old contacts in the trotskyite grant community.
The founders of the Peace Institute also include a number of opportunists who can always be found orbiting around “Russkiy Mir” projects where an extra kopiyka can easily be pinched. One example is Denys Zharkikh, who was fired from the Kyiv community paper Khreshchatyk in 2007 for “lack of professionalism” according to his labor book, after which he played at being an aide to Party of the Regions deputies. Or the Vilenskiys, founders of the Arsis Academy of Intellectual Development and the Ihor Vilenskiy Center for Ecral Analysis. Or the “philanthropist” Ilya Bohomolov, founder of the supposed charitable organization called “International Medical Aid,” which delivers humanitarian aid exclusively to ORDiLO.
There are also such individuals among these “peacemakers” as Denys Zhukov, whose father is a steward for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. One more board member who deserves mention is the former FM in the second Azarov Cabinet, a one-time member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of Party of the Regions, and today in the “Socialists” Party, Leonid Kozhara, a loyal footsoldier of Yanukovych’s.
Whose banquet and who’s paying?
The Peace Institute has clearly gathered a very diverse company under its roof, from Yanukovych-era prosecutors and diplomats to turncoat leftists, old PR admen and unabashed bounders. What’s brought them all together? Clearly, the goal to set up the latest propaganda outlet, whose purpose is to indirectly influence the information flow in Ukraine. And directly, for that matter, while taking advantage of funds coming from Moscow.
The Ukrainian Week spoke with one of the representatives of this Institute who left due to an internal disagreement and shared some details about its current efforts. Funding for the Peace Institute is currently going through Sberbank Rossiyi, the RF state savings bank, which continues to operate freely in Ukraine. The funds come exclusively in the form of cash to personal accounts so that the law cannot link anything to the Institute itself. These funds supposedly belong to the disgraced Minister of Taxes and Revenues under Yanukovych, Oleksandr Klymenko. But the process is being managed form Russia, which still hopes to unload ORDiLO on Ukraine on its own terms: a separatist Bandustan where Party of the Regions and terrorist ganglords will rule.
The recent plans of this organization clearly designated two very “hot” propaganda dates for Russia: May 2 and May 9. May 2 is the day that Moscow’s agitprop raises again the fiction of the “Odesa massacre organized by Ukronazis.” Memorial campaigns were supposed to be held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, while the main propaganda show was to become a provocation in Odesa. According to this source, the Institute had prepared a special project called “The Wailing Wall” in Odesa, where, as the idea went, “angry Odesites” were supposed to show up, with the purpose of stoking aggression on the part of the patriotic population to demonstrate the “terrifying nazis” who wouldn’t even allow people to “honor the memory of the dead.” And this was to provide plenty of cud for Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian television viewers to chew on.
May 9 is the key date in the modern-day religion of Russia. “The Immortal Regiment” was supposed to march through Kyiv following the traditional route from Metro Arsenalna to the Eternal Flame at Ploshcha Slavy, where, under the guise of honoring Ukrainian veterans, the main soviet-kremlinist agitprop would be rubbed in once again and every effort made to demonstrate how the “bearers of the true faith” have been downtrodden by the “junta.” Interestingly, the source says that the lead role in these projects was played by a former scandal-ridden MP from the Opposition Bloc, Irina Berezhnaya, who became highly visible on Russian television for repeating all the clichés of Kremlin propaganda and smeared Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
Eventually, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Representatives of the Institute spent all day of May 2 in Odesa. But the police surrounded the Trade Unions’ building and Kulikovo Pole to check them for explosives after they received anonymous notifications of the mining in both venues. In Kyiv, the Immortal Regiment had a big march on May 9, with thousands of people, some clashes with the police and a bunch of TV channels filming all that.
One more project in the Peace Institute’s plans is a charitable campaign called “Lifeline,” to provide assistance to those living close to the frontline on both sides of the line of contact. This is a timeworn tactic favored particularly by Rinat Akhmetov: feeding the hungry people of ORDiLO in the expectation that, when Russia leaves Donbas, locals will vote as the hand that fed them dictates.
Early fruit in the Garden of Evil
But perhaps the most important plans of the Institute are led by former Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara. His specialty is embassies, international organizations, consulates and so on. The main goal here is to disseminate the Russian take on the war in the Donbas—and to use the image of the respectable diplomat in this striped company to legitimize the Institute. And to provide support for a legal challenge in international courts against the supposed illegality of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, protesting the April 14, 2014 Decree by the then-acting President Oleksandr Turchynov launching the ATO. The challenge has supposedly already been either filed or is about to be filed. Kozhara’s efforts appear to already be paying off in spades: quite a few European embassy and consular staff showed up at the closed event at the President-Kyivskiy Hotel.
The presence of Channel 17 along with individuals representing nearly the entire range of pro-Russian forces shows that the Kremlin has recovered from the current blows in the information arena because of the war and has decided to go on the attack, consolidating its agents within the framework of a number of NGO, charitable and media “gathering points” that are all funded by the Yanukovych “family.” The Peace Institute is clearly intended to be not just one of these but possibly the central point in this network.
The Ukrainian Week talked with French cybersecurity expert Christine Dugoin-Clément about mechanisms for fighting fake news, the prospects for certifying true information, and the likelihood of separating propaganda from journalism once and for all.