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“DNR’s” propaganda apparatus exposed. Part 1: “Russophobe, get him out of Donetsk”

“DNR’s” propaganda apparatus exposed. Part 1: “Russophobe, get him out of Donetsk”
Edited by: A. N.

This is part 1 of an analysis of a recent email dump of a “DNR” employee. Read part 2 here.

An email dump of a “DNR Ministry of information” employee reveals how the self-proclaimed Russian-backed statelet in eastern Ukraine denied accreditation to “disloyal” journalists and influenced materials of loyal ones under the supervision of Moscow.

On 3 August 2016, a message to Ukraine’s Security Service was sent from the twitter account of Tatyana Egorova, an analytic of the information ministry of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”). “I can’t lie any longer and will not permit others to do so,” it said, and included a link to a dump of her mailbox (the link no longer works, the data was provided to me by the InformNapalm international investigative community).

Most probably, this is the result of the work of hackers, not Egorova’s sudden turn of sympathies. Nevertheless, the dump appears to be real: in a comment to Detector Media, Pavel Kanygin, journalist of the Russian Novaya Gazeta, confirmed that he indeed sent the emails that were filed under his name in the hacked database.

Kanygin was eventually also denied accreditation in the “DNR,” like all journalists of Novaya Gazeta, after it published a resonant interview with a Russian contract soldier from the Republic of Buryatia in Siberia.

Read the interview here: The story of a Russian soldier’s war in Ukraine: “We all knew what we had to do and what could happen”

The dump contained over 1,400 messages where Egorova communicated with her advisors, superiors, colleagues, and, of course, journalists from Ukraine, Russia, and beyond.

This isn’t the first time that “DNR Information Ministry” employees are hacked – a few months ago, the Ukrainian site Myrotvorets, which gathers open-source evidence on people fighting against the Ukrainian government in the ranks of the Russian-backed separatist “republics” published lists of journalists who were accredited in the “DNR.” This publication was widely condemned by the enlisted and caused a scandal – many decided that accreditation at the authorities of an unrecognized government is a usual and acceptable practice.

Myrotvorets‘ defenders then argued that the Russian-backed separatists would grant accreditation only to journalists reporting only things they would approve of.

This leak confirms that starting from 15 July 2015 indeed that was quite often the case. What follows is an analysis of the leak.

“Russophobe, get him out of Donetsk!”

On 15 July 2015, the Russian businessman Andrey Stepanenko launched the DONi international news agency for the breakaway republic. As its head Janus Putkonen described it in an annual report,

DONi is a news agency, funded from private sources, a non-commercial, non-governmental organization functioning with the support of Moscow, Russia.”

Janus Kostia Putkonen is a Finn who Russian media describe as a “western journalist-enthusiast, who tries to break the information blockade around the “DNR” and “LNR.” According to the report, he started his work as a propaganda coach in September 2014.

Scan of Putkonen's passport from the dump
Scan of Putkonen’s passport from the dump

Under his guidance, DONi grew to have several internet platforms, recruited student volunteers to translate “DNR”-approved news to a variety of languages, and monitored publications of foreign journalists to deny accreditation to ones whose work he did not like.

The journalists were listed and then monitored on a weekly basis. Depending on the publications, journalists were assigned a color, which meant, according to Putkonen: “Red – Low, no accreditation suggested; Yellow – medium; Green – High, special positive interesting; White – Neutral, ok.”

Expelling enemies and building friendships

As of 18 August 2015, “green” journalists were pretty rare. “Russophobe, writes about pro-Russian separatists,” “NATO journalist-propagandist, get him out of Donetsk” are recommendations offered to executive “DNR” bodies regarding accreditation. The links to the right are presented as proof of the journalist’s position.

Image: Euromaidan Press

What did a journalist have to do to be part of the “red” list? To report things that went astray from the narrative of events that Russia’s authorities and propaganda outlets have been promoting. In the case of journalist Filip Warwick, the reasons were “inadequate vocabulary regarding the servicemen,” writing about Russian tanks located on “DNR” territory (something that Russia still denies), and referring to the Crimean illegal annexation as to an annexation. According to Tatyana Egorova, it should be called a “legal referendum where the population expressed their will to join Russia.”

Most of the world disagrees with the Russian version of events regarding the Crimean referendum held at gunpoint in 2014, and condemns the forceful annexation of Crimea from Ukraine with the help of unmarked Russian troops.

Later, the anger turned to mercy: Filip Warwick was allowed entry in February 2016, while two journalists Gulliver Gragg and Sebastien Gobert on the same list were denied entry as punishment for signing an open letter of French journalists regarding Moreira’s film “Masks of the Revolution,” which they considered as “slandering their profession” by presenting a manipulation of actual events suiting the Russian propaganda narrative. “DNR’s” propaganda ministry kept an eye on world events.

“All names in this list are clear enemies of the Russian world,” concluded Putkonen in his recommendation to Egorova.


Basically, representatives of all western media outlets were denied accreditation in the “DNR:” Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera, VICE. Anna Nemtsova was denied entry for an article in The Daily Beast on peace protests in occupied Donbas with the explanation “because she’s f*cking writing things like this.” But exceptions were made for Fergal Keane, a journalist writing for the BBC, which is “not friendly to Russia and DNR yet “very influential.” Other BBC journalists were banned. Each accreditation case was carefully studied to make sure the self-proclaimed “republic” would reap the most propaganda benefit from the visit.

Image: Euromaidan Press

The journalists of whom the information ministry workers weren’t sure were asked to send in their materials for assessment of compatibility with the “Russian world.” Journalists in the yellow list were sometimes monitored – for example, the Australian channel ABC was classified as a “Russophobic channel” but permitted entry for the sake of an experiment.

The journalists in the green list were assigned meetings and worked with to build propaganda support abroad for the “LNR” and “DNR,” designated as terrorist organizations by Ukraine.

Image: Euromaidan Press

The “DNR’s” information ministry’s obsession with terminology runs through the entire massive amount of data.

Accreditation in the “republics” was denied to those referring to the Russian mercenaries as “terrorists,” which stands in contrast to Anti-Terrorist Operation – Ukraine’s term for the military activities in Donbas, and for a good reason. It’s hard to legitimize internationally representatives of terrorist organizations – that’s what Ukraine claims the “DNR” and “LNR” are.

The ultimate goal of all of this? Getting the “DNR” narrative into the mainstream media.

Screenshot from the dump
Screenshot from the dump

Here is an example of “success” – a piece on PBS Newshour payed for by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting where special correspondent Nick Schifrin provides unrestricted airtime to quoting of representatives of the Russian-backed militia, stitching together a propaganda-laced report from phrases such as “the entire Ukraine is fighting with us following NATO orders. They are nothing on their own.”

No money for propaganda in the “DNR”

The track records of some foreign journalists were also studied in the framework of direct military needs of the DNR,” he wrote in the letter where he asked to increase financing for his needs.
From what it appears, DONi had trouble convincing the “authorities” of the “DNR” to invest in international propaganda. On 1 July 2016, Janus Putkonen sent a letter to the Security Service of the “DNR” with a copy to Egorova, informing that he will be shutting down if more money doesn’t come. “Almost daily we made objective proposals for collaboration with foreign media sources and journalists in close collaboration with the [DNR] MGB (Security Service), Ministry of Defense, Donetsk Press Club, and also administration or other DNR ministries. (…) The track records of some foreign journalists were also studied in the framework of direct military needs of the DNR,” he wrote in the letter where he asked to increase financing for his needs.”

DONi‘s system of information security was based in Moscow, from where the database was supported and information was processed,” he continues, naming the costs of its maintenance – 50,000 RUR monthly, and proposes moving it to Donetsk to cut costs to 30,000 RUR. ”

Apparently, he succeeded: the next letter was an annual report, where he informed of his plans to transform DONi into a full-fledged media agency promoting “DNR” interests, by launching a Donbas International TV Production, given that the “DNR” pays up – at least 300,000 RUR monthly ($4,500) to 12 employees.

That is a fraction of the costs of the “DNR’s” “Ministry of Information,” which on May 2015 employed 100 people with a budget of $30,600, according to an excel file in the dump.

DONi employees, screenshot from the email dump
[hr]The email dump contains a wealth of other information regarding the “DNR’s” propaganda apparatus. Stay tuned for further analysis on Euromaidan Press.

Read Part 2: How “DNR” censored Ukraine’s leading TV channels

Correction. This article was amended to clear up any misreadings that might occur. “Filip Warwick was allowed entry in February 2016, as a reward for not signing an open letter” was changed to “Filip Warwick was allowed entry in February 2016, while two journalists Gulliver Gragg and Sebastien Gobert on the same list were denied entry as punishment for signing an open letter.” The relevant screenshot from the archive has been added for the readers’ judgment. We make no assumptions what the signing or not-signing of the open letter means and bring our apologies to Filip Warwick for any inconveniences caused. 

Edited by: A. N.
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