Fake organization plans to influence Russia


Status: 04/27/2023 00:00

Russia wants to use the Baltic Sea pollution title for itself. Study by WDR, NDR and SZ. So Western experts must influence and spread Moscow’s messages.

Manuel Bivarter, Florian Flade and Paulina Milling, WDR/NDR

In order to gain more support for its policy, Russia plans to build a new platform with international participants. This is shown by a current paper purporting to come from the Russian presidential administration WDR, NDR, “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and international media partners. Accordingly, the first meetings must have already taken place.

According to the documents, a new scientific forum is planned to officially deal with pollution in the Baltic Sea. In this way, Western experts can be attracted so that they can also put political messages in Moscow’s interests.

Centaram affect the function

The document, which is said to be dated January 2023, describes the plan in concrete terms: a topic as non-political as possible, enabling representatives of European research, culture and NGOs to exchange ideas with Russia again. The authors of the document name the actually polluted ecology of the Baltic Sea as a possible topic. Their plan: a forum – the “Baltic Platform” – to bring together international experts. The Baltic States in the broadest sense are targeted as potential destination countries for participants, but Scandinavia and Germany are also explicitly mentioned.

It is what Western security agencies call a classic intelligence operation, an infiltration strategy. His analysis: Russia is trying to renegotiate with individual European countries to assert its interests after Western sanctions.

According to the strategic statement, the platform should already collect guests in the fall of 2023. However, the larger goal does not seem to be a discussion about the environment. Instead, it says: As a result, the “Baltic Platform” should create a “gradual shift in discussion from non-political topics to current political content”.

A proven strategy

Western security experts consider it authentic. Two prominent political analysts from Russian state institutions reportedly wrote the letter and submitted it to the presidential administration. They left one question unanswered. Apparently, strategies are being considered at the highest level in the Kremlin on how Russia can get its foot in the door again internationally.

The Kremlin has pursued similar plans in recent years. For example, Russia contributed money or personnel to the construction and operation of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, thus advancing the projects.

The then Trade Consul of the Russian Embassy in Berlin was one of the founders of the Eastern Institute, which brought together many Russia lobbyists in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A Russian agent who had to leave Germany was allegedly involved in the pipeline. Russia has been involved in other political discussion groups and business associations in the past.

The former mayor of Rostock represents Russia as an ambassador.

“Unofficial Dimension”

However, since the start of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, such plans are viewed more critically by the West than ever before. Guy-Olaf Lang, an expert from the Foundation for Science and Politics of Eastern Europe, says: “Russia should be aware that various forms of regional cooperation in the Baltic Sea region are in the freezer.”

Russian strategists obviously know they are on the defensive. The new “Baltic site” should take the cause of “Ecology of the Baltic Sea” as a title, as the area is “irreversibly politicized,” the document says.

According to the research, the implementation of the projects has already started. First, the document lists the names of 13 people for a possible organizing committee of the “Baltic base”. These are a few high-ranking officials, but above all the rectors of well-known Russian universities loyal to the regime.

In the fall of 2022, eight people from the list reportedly met on the Russian border in Kaliningrad. At that time, the term “Baltic Platform” was also mentioned in public. The forum was later publicized in interviews with Russian media. The Russian presidential administration did not respond to the request for the document and the “Baltic platform” idea.

A Kremlin strategy paper details Moscow’s plans for a creeping takeover of neighboring Belarus.

“catch fish”

Alexander Duts, head of Estonia’s internal security service KAPO, is familiar with this approach and compares it to other Russian influence efforts: “We have seen similar activities in the past. Russia is trying to solve issues that ordinary people are interested in. Climate and environmental issues are a good example of this.”

Western secret services call this an intelligence operation of classic influence, an infiltration strategy. His analysis: Russia is trying to renegotiate with individual European countries to assert its interests after Western sanctions.

Marius Laurinavicius, a political analyst from Lithuania, uses the analogy of an angler “catching a fish”. Russia likes to use such forums to communicate with opinion leaders. “They shouldn’t be politicians or have anything to do with big things like politics or economics,” says Laurinavicius. The goal of such contact is to understand “the mood” and then “make decisions about which of these people can be used for Russian influence or, in some cases, recruited as Russian agents.”

not yet Communication efforts

In the paper, the authors identify specific organizations that could serve as partners. These include the Baltic Sea Center at Stockholm University and the Helsinki Commission established in 1974 to protect the Baltic Sea. Neither organization is known for its pro-Russian stance.

Tina Elfwing from the Baltic Sea Center explained that there had been no attempt to contact them so far. Having the center’s name mentioned in the paper was “irritating and embarrassing,” says Elfwing. It is understandable that Russia might have chosen a Baltic Sea state to enter into an exchange with the West. The Baltic Sea is polluted by garbage, oil slicks, old munitions and sewage. Tina Elfwing said the situation is “very serious,” though less serious than Russia claims. For its part, the Helsinki Commission suspended Russia shortly after its invasion of Ukraine. When asked, the Commission confirmed that all plans would continue – but now without Russia.

In addition to WDR, NDR and SZ, the following media were involved in the research: Delfi Estonia, Dossier Center, Expressen, Frontstory.pl, Kyiv Independent, LRT, Re:Baltica, VSquare, Yahoo News

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