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Artem Kureyev, the Russian agent who helped shape Moscow's history in Europe

Photo: Andrey Rudakov Bloomberg The Grand Kremlin Palace

Alberto Nardelli – Bloomberg

Posted at 1:07 p.m.

  • Europe

A Russian intelligence agent who runs a Kremlin disinformation campaign in Africa has participated in influence operations in Europe for years, according to documents seen by Bloomberg and officials familiar with the matter. folder.

Artem Kureyev, identified as an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service in a trial in Estonia in 2022, had frequent contact with at least half a dozen European journalists, organized and covered the costs of travel of some of them to the occupied territories of Ukraine, and sometimes appears to have offered to pay for arranged press articles , according to documents.

On other occasions, he adopted more subtle methods to try to influence media coverage, arranging interviews, reporting and debating current issues or organizing press events.

The Group of Seven nations and the European Union have made combating Russian disinformation and influence operations a top priority ahead of the summit of heads of state and government in Italy this month. These efforts have included publicly denouncing Russian campaigns and methods, sanctioning media outlets and individuals, coordinating responses to Moscow's actions, and working to prevent disinformation from spreading across major technology platforms.

Nevertheless, it is not easy to counter such disinformation campaigns, as they aim to sow confusion and doubt among target audiences rather than to convince people people from a particular set of facts, in order to polarize societies on issues such as immigration, war or the West's relations with the rest of the world.

These documents provide a better understanding of the operations and methods of a Russian intelligence agent involved in influence campaigns in Europe. Many others, like him, will carry out similar operations on the continent and elsewhere.

In February, the US State Department accused Russian intelligence services of having provided material support and advice to a new news agency called the African Initiative. He said the project spread “deadly disinformation” about the United States and Europe, including an outbreak of a mosquito-borne viral disease, in an effort to undermine public health programs.

It names Mr. Kureyev as editor-in-chief of the initiative and says the project also recruited members of the “disintegrating enterprises” of the late head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash l 'last year.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) and African Initiative did not respond to requests for comment on Mr. Kureyev.

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Quoted by The insider

Mr. Kureyev was also cited by the investigative site The Insiderin January as a contact for a Latvian lawmaker in the outgoing European Parliament, Tatjana Zdanoka, whom the site accused of cooperating with Russian intelligence services. Zdanoka, who did not stand in last weekend's European elections, denied the allegations in a statement on Facebook. Her office said in an email that Ms. Zdanoka had seen Mr. Kureyev once in Brussels, at an event at the European Parliament, but knew nothing else about him.

The Kremlin denies that Russia is engaged in disinformation campaigns in Europe. In January, Mr. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed the espionage charges against Ms. Zdanoka as a “witch hunt” comparable to the era of McCarthyism in the United States in the 1950s . “How many people were arrested and thrown in prison because they were accused of having connections with communists or the KGB ? It’s the same thing. »

One of the authors of the The Insider article, former Bellingcat investigative journalist Christo Grozev, claimed last year that A North Macedonian journalist, Darko Todorovski, received payments to publish articles in Bulgaria.

A Russian document seen by Bloomberg indicates that Kureyev agreed to paying Todorovski 300 euros for articles in two publications. It is unknown if and when these payments were made.

Mr. Todorovski said he participated in three tours of military zones in Ukraine organized for journalists by the Russian Defense Ministry. He knew Mr. Kureyev through those press tours, as he worked for a media company and “collaborated with many journalists from different countries, including the West,” he said in emailed responses to questions on Monday.

Todorovski said the articles he wrote about those visits were published in Bulgaria, though he denied Mr. Grozev’s allegations about the payments. “The unsubstantiated claims that I received money and instructions are not serious,” he said.

According to the documents, correspondence between the two men between 2021 and 2023 includes instructions to distribute and find articles in Russian and English on fringe websites such as londonnewstime.com and veteranstoday.com, as well as hotel reservations made by Kureyev for two of Todorovski's trips to Russia in April last year.

Todorovski said he had been invited at the time to participate in television programs on Asia “and that there was a conference and a working meeting at the university.” He added that since he attends many forums and conferences, he cannot know who pays for all his hotels. Todorovski said he met Kureyev in 2022, in Russia.

Propaganda techniques

Some of these exchanges repeat the techniques of a typical pro-Russian propaganda campaign, which often includes fabricated news stories spread on fringe websites and then amplified by social media posts or picked up by news outlets of State.

A European government official said Kureyev and Todorovsky helped create a website last year called “Antibellingcat,” which was designed to discredit the investigative body.

Todorovsky said he left the project a year ago and believed it was no longer active.

The European official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information, said Kureyev had contacts with Russia’s GRU military intelligence service about aspects of its influence operations in Europe. The GRU did not respond to a request for comment.

Separate documents show that Mr. Kureyev booked and paid for flights for a group of journalists to Crimea in 2023, well after the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. Russia seized Crimea in 2014, leading to international sanctions.

Mr. Kureyev has been in contact with other journalists since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and for years.

Documents indicate that he and a another intelligence agent met separately with at least one journalist from an EU member state in Russia, Turkey and elsewhere. On at least two occasions, in August 2019 and March 2022, the journalist's Russian contacts covered travel expenses.

Although many of these discussions related to news coverage, such as facilitating interviews or arranging trips to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, the documents provide no evidence that the work of these journalists are run or financed by Moscow.

In 2021, Mr. Kureyev was in contact with journalists and intermediaries as part of a plan to involve the press in European countries around the Russian presidency of the Arctic Council, according to certain documents. One of the intermediaries contacted several local journalists in a Nordic country, but it is unclear whether any of them responded.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116