30 talking points about Ukraine. Why the FSB failed the "ideological prelude" of the invasion of Ukraine. Part 1

30 talking points about Ukraine. Why the FSB failed the "ideological prelude" of the invasion of Ukraine. Part 1

And how they are trying to rehabilitate theselves now. Mind's investigation

Цей матеріал також доступний українською
30 talking points about Ukraine. Why the FSB failed the "ideological prelude" of the invasion of Ukraine. Part 1

For 24 consecutive years, 75 officers of the Federal Security Service of the russian federation have been working to ensure that on February 24, 2022, Ukrainians meet the russian army with flowers. According to the kremlin's plan, at the time of "denazification and demilitarization", a powerful pro-russian opposition in Ukraine which would have headed the new pro-putin puppet government should have already been in place. But this task was failed miserably. Mind.ua analysed why this occured.

To the attention of the editorial office were brought secret documents of the FSB of the russian federation with the so-called talking points – instructions for conducting information operations in favour of russia during the invasive war against Ukraine. Having analyzed these documents, we tracked how and by whom the tasks were performed; what has already been done, what has not, and what is planned to be implemented.

150 officers and their tasks

The Operational Information Department (a.k.a the 5th Service of the FSB) acts as FSB's foreign intelligence. Through collecting information about other countries and conducting special information operations on their territory, the OID helps russia in achieving its goals. Since it was established in 1998, the department has always singled out Ukraine among all post-Soviet countries, trying to keep it in its sphere of influence.

How does the FSB influence the information space in the interests of the russian federation?

  • It coordinates the work of pro-kremlin propagandist media in russia and abroad with the help of talking points to ensure that information is presented in the needed way
  • It promotes the necessary information in social networking sites "openly" (for example, when they create a media page on Facebook and sponsor advertising of the material from this page) and "covertly" (hired bot farms in Tik-Tok, Facebook, Instagram)
  • It monitors the information space to find publications distributed in the interests of other countries
  • It identifies foreign agents among russian citizens (journalists, media, public activists, politicians, artists, etc.)
  • It coordinates Roscomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media), who block "extremist" websites

A separate – Ninth – directorate was created within the structure of the FSB 5th Service to work on Ukraine’ territory. About 75 officers worked in it. But on the threshold of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the staff of the department doubled. With the beginning of the war, other operational units of the FSB (regional bodies and related departments from the central office) joined their tasks.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
Photo by the author

The FSB actively tries to promote its positive image in the society. In order to achieve this, artists of various fields get prizes and awards annually. For example, in 2018, the artist Polina Kukuleva won in the nomination of Fine Arts for a series of paintings depicting employees and veterans of the security services.

The Directorate is divided into smaller divisions on a regional basis. The 1st division, for example, handles the city of Kyiv, the 2nd division is responsible for Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, Poltava and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, while the 3rd division covers the whole South of Ukraine.

Prinipal tasks of the 9th Directorate of the FSB's 5th Service:

1) gathering information about the socio-economic, energy, political situation in Ukraine;;

2) carrying out measures to destabilise Ukrainian society, inspiring protests, mass unrest;

3) executing information operations in the interests of the russian federation, forming pro-russian sentiment, anti-government sentiment;

4) inciting interethnic and interreligious animosity.

To form the current socio-political picture in the country, the FSB primarily uses open sources: it monitors and analyses what social networks and mass media write, and what information is available in open registers. This is 80% of the information used by the special services. The rest of the data they receive from their network of agents – people recruited through bribery, blackmail or ideological motives who live in Ukraine and have close ties in various realms of government (parliament, courts, educational and medical institutions, etc.).

How the FSB is able to monitor thousands of social media pages at once?

There are specialised services for tracking your brand (or keyword search – Mind.) on the Internet and social networking sites. This is a manually written script that periodically visits certain resources and looks for keywords related to this brand. For example, in case it's the FSB, I buy access to this service and prescribe keywords that I want to monitor, such as "FSB Ukraine", "FSB corruption." And this service searches the database for these keywords: in social networks, blog platforms, groups in russian social networks.

Artificial intelligence can also be used for monitoring. For example, these systems have access even to those websites that are hidden from a wide range of users and are in the so-called invisible web – when the site's owner wrote a script, prohibiting search robots from finding information on it.

Yaroslav Derkachenko, information system security auditor

Another channel of information is tapping phone calls, and emails, and text messages by people who may have access to sensitive information: civil servants, military personnel, leaders of influence groups.

The lower units of the FSB collect and analyse information and propose directions for work to their superiors. The superiors decide whether or not to approve these proposals. And if yes, they instruct all units – "execute."

But sometimes the superiors give the task to the "grassroots" on its own. Like, "stir the pot in this situation". Such instructions may also come from the Presidential Administration of the russian federation, which directly coordinates important FSB operations. Numerous advisers speak on behalf of putin in the dialog with the OID. For example, since 2016, Alexei Filatov has been helping to develop information operations to create a favourable information background for the secession of the "LDPR" terrorist organisations from Ukraine.

Intelligence community conducts custom-made sociological research on specific topics to determine the vulnerabilities of Ukrainian society. Based on the analysis of all collected information, they determine the directions of information operations (narratives).

Based on these narratives, the superiors determine which units will carry them out, which agents and tools will be employed. Operatives write instructions – talking points – and send them to the executors: journalists, experts, opinion leaders. This is how the information picture is shaped: based on the talking points, journalists write articles, bloggers prepare content, politicians and artists give interviews, designers draw memes, TV channels shoot videos.

After the operation is completed, operatives analyse the result and evaluate its effectiveness. They write reports on it for their superiors. Based on these reports, the superiors decide what to do next.

How does the FSB inform President putin about the progress of the tasks?

Usually, reports for the FSB superiors and the President of the russian federation come in the form of encrypted telegrams. The document is printed on a printer and signed by hand by the head of the unit. Afterwards, this document is encrypted with the help of special encryption equipment and transmitted through closed communication channels, for example, to the head office of the FSB or to the Presidential Administration.

Only at the destination is the document decrypted again. E-mail correspondence and messengers such as Signal are used for communication only at the grassroots level – among operatives.

For 13 years in a row, the OID was headed by Sergey Beseda. All this time he informed russian President vladimir putin about the sentiments of Ukrainian society. Data for him was collected by vladimir petrovsky, his first deputy and part-time head of the "Ukrainian" 9th Directorate.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
Photo collage by the author

The main responsible persons for the failure of the information war in Ukraine: Head of the Operational Information and International Relations Service (5th Service) of the FSB Sergey Beseda and Head of the 9th Directorate in the 5th Service of the FSB Vladimir Petrovsky. 

Since its creation, the Department had to form a powerful pro-russian opposition in Ukraine. It was supposed to lead the "denazified and demilitarised" Ukraine after the russian army’s fabulous blitzkrieg in February 2022. But this task failed miserably.


Failed start

First, it turned out that neither russians, nor Ukrainians, nor the entire civilised world understood why and for what purpose russia unleashed the war in Ukraine.

Putin's stated goal – "denazification" – looked very vague, because propaganda did not support this term with an emotional background. The kremlin TV channels did not show dozens, hundreds of bloody TV stories about the murdered children in the "LDPR." Bloggers and war correspondents did not fill their Telegram channels with terrible photos and videos of russians massacred by nationalists. There was especially a lack of such information "at first hand" – from people living in Ukraine.

The kremlin's official position was that russia does not want to occupy Ukraine’s territory, but instead wants to "liberate" Ukrainians from the fascist rule. But neither Ukrainian media, nor social networks had information that Ukrainians themselves wanted this. As a result, the world saw russia not as a liberator, but as an aggressor and invader.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
Photo by the author

On February 27, 2022, the Twitter account @ssugarspoon published a social studies lesson plan, which, according to it, was given to teachers at a russian school. Now the tweet has been deleted and is available only in a cached version. Answers to possible questions from students were prepared for teachers. To the question "Could the hostilities have been avoided?" the teacher had to answer that "the special peacekeeping operation is a forced measure to save people in Ukraine." And to the question "Is it true that we will conquer Ukraine?" the answer was not to be heard: "Our plans do not include the occupation of Ukrainian territories." 

In the end, the propaganda did not convince either russian or Ukrainian audiences that these goals could be achieved solely by military effort.

At the beginning of the military offensive against Ukraine, russia's actions were not massively supported by top russian bloggers and newsmakers (artists, writers, athletes, etc.). Since some russians do not trust the russian media, the opinion of opinion leaders who are popular on Instagram, YouTube, Tik-Tok is important for them.

On the contrary, many bloggers and representatives of show business, as well as scientists opposed the special operation. This created the impression that the russian elite is split and the situation inside the country is destabilising.

Doubts that russia was doing the right thing grew among those russians who compared information from russian and foreign media. Because on the federal Channel One the russian military were portrayed as fighters against the Nazis, and on the British BBC as brutal murderers who burn down and loot cities and villages. In order to create a positive image of russians in the world, the FSB had to immediately strengthen its work with journalists abroad.

At the same time, there was a lot of work with the Ukrainian audience. Russian propaganda did not create a clear picture of the future in "denazified Ukraine." What will happen in the "liberated" territories? How will they develop? What will be their role in a country with a new pro-kremlin leadership? It was not clear.

In order to present a bright image of the future, the FSB has set itself the task of switching the information agenda to "confident discussion of projects of post-war socio-economic development on the liberated territories."

For this purpose Deputy Prime Minister marat khusnullin announced in May the creation of a "special headquarters", which will take care of the restoration of the "liberated areas of Ukraine." At that time it was about  restoration of infrastructure and economy on the territory of Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and
Zaporizhzhia oblasts. However, the "special headquarters" worked only in theory. After this statement,
no new information about this project has appeared in the media sphere.

Five priority tasks that the FSB’s 9th Directorate of the 5th Service had to perform after analysing its own mistakes:

No.  Task Outcome
1 Develop and present projects for the future development of the liberated territories of Ukraine, include large business and entrepreneurial circles, large NGOs, associations, unions, movements, university centres in the development and discussion NOT DONE
2 Focus on four contours of work with public opinion: public opinion inside russia, in Ukraine, post-Soviet countries, public opinion in Western countries DONE
3 Identify significant segments of society that doubt the correctness of russia's actions the most, and work with them purposefully (in particular, youth) DONE
4 Use not only mass media, new media, but also civil networks on the ground for information work, to form networks of propagandists DONE
5 Implement special projects that form a positive opinion about the actions of russian troops in Ukraine DONE

$5 billion down the drain

When in the first days of the war the kremlin saw that Ukraine was ready to resist and did not support the russian invasion, the question was thick in the air: Where did the huge funds allocated by the russian federal budget for the "fifth column" go?

The FSB began large-scale inspections during which it turned out that for many years in a row, President vladimir putin had been led down the garden path: For the fear of irritating the leader, the 5th Service told him what he wanted to hear. The leadership of the intelligence service simply did not believe that the president would be so inspired by the "powerful results of the FSB's work" that he would decide to launch a full-scale military operation to capture the entire territory of Ukraine.

After the russian troops shamefully retreated from the Kyiv Oblast, the media leaked information that the Head of the FSB’s 5th Service, General Sergey Beseda, and his deputy were detained. Among the named reasons were the misuse of funds allocated for covert operations, as well as poor quality of intelligence information. The FSB itself does not confirm this information.

Soon after this scandal, russian media began to write that Sergey Beseda and his family own property worth hundreds of millions of rubles, which is not affordable on their official salaries.

Where did these funds come from?

Information operations by the FSB were financed from the budget of the russian federation. According to various estimates, the kremlin spent about five billion dollars to prepare Ukrainians for the russian invasion.

But it is unlikely that putin saw true reports on the allocation of these funds. After all, an operative is not obliged to attach bank receipts and receipts for funds received from corrupt officials and agents of influence to his report.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1

Officer of the 9th Directorate of the FSB’s 5th Service, Alexei Kornev, supervised the activities of the "Lugansk People's Republic" terrorist organisation. He appeared at public events using the cover position – "Head of the Security Service of the Kharkiv Armed Resistance against Euromaidan." On the photo is Kornev in 2016 delivering the speech called 'Political, National and Cultural Repressions of the Junta in the Kharkiv Oblast'."

For obtaining exclusive insider information, organising a roundtable with the "right experts" or a protest rally, payments are most often made in cash or using cryptocurrencies.

Less often they use Yandex Money, Webmoney, charitable foundations or create the illusion of commercial activity – for this purpose a contract is concluded, for example, on the provision of "consulting services."

Reports in writing are made on information operations. In these reports, the purpose of the event and the method of its implementation are prescribed. That is, they describe in detail what media, journalists, bloggers performed a particular task, how many people viewed the article, whether the information was disseminated in other sources, who was recruited as part of the special operation, etc.

The report also indicates the budget of this special operation. For example, what fee the agent received for writing the publication, how much it cost to translate the text into other languages, what is the advertising budget and the cost of placement in a particular media outlet.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
Photo by the author

Examples of foreign media that position themselves as "independent", but publish information that is in line with the FSB's talking points. 

There are countless types of expenses for performing the duties of the FSB’s 5th Service. For example, the report can state that an agent (politician, official, journalist, activist, etc.) received funds for participation in international events, searched for partners there and involved them in projects necessary for russia. The payment to this agent is done in cash. And only the operative knows exactly what the amount of remuneration was.

That is, the credibility of the data on financial expenses depends solely on the integrity of the employee. But where will the officer's integrity come from, if now the FSB is a clan system in which the selection is not for talent and intelligence, but for family ties, proximity and loyalty to the leadership?

Since 2014, putin has been disappointed in the FSB's ability to provide quality intelligence: a group of FSB officers stationed in Kyiv failed to predict the events on Maidan, and even Viktor Yanukovych's escape was a surprise to them. Therefore, putin consistently reminded the special service that now their job was only to follow orders. And that is what they did. At least in their reports.

According to Dmytro Zolotukhin, an expert on information wars and competitive intelligence, falsification of results is the biggest vulnerability of management in any intelligence service in the world.

"It is not about the number of officers and their competence, but about the stupidly set task and crooked management based on embezzlement of funds," the expert explains. "An operative can falsify the results for an indefinitely long time. Well, for example, OPFL (pro-russian Opposition Platform – For Life party banned in Ukraine – Mind) held a round table, a rally and it was shown on the NewsOne TV channel. You write: ‘Anti-American sentiment has grown strongly in Ukraine! There is sociological data proving distrust in the president! Ukrainians support the russian version of resolving the conflict, because the president makes them sick and tired'."

And the agents themselves did not always spend the funds they were provided with for their intended purpose. A striking example of this is the father of vladimir putin's godchild, co-leader of the now banned Opposition Platform – For Life party  Viktor Medvedchuk, who had served as a lobbyist for the kremlin in Ukraine for twenty years. According to Ukrainian investigators, Medvedchuk received a billion dollars from russian intelligence services to prepare a military invasion. This amount should have been enough to bribe Ukrainian politicians and security forces and fuel separatist sentiment.

Year after year, Medvedchuk's TV channels 112, ZIK and NewsOne broadcast openly pro-russian narratives. Taking into account the complex structure of TV content production, up to 70% of the budget can be stolen unnoticed only on the topic of the implementation of russian talking points on the TV. There is no surprise that after Medvedchuk's detention, the court seized 154 items of movable and immovable property, that the politician and his family had managed to acquire over the years of fruitful cooperation with the kremlin.

Be silent or run away

The FSB notes in its reports that from March 1 to April 4, 2022, 95 russian opinion leaders who supported the war against Ukraine began to receive threats in the form of calls and text messages.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
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A fragment of the report of the 5th Service of the Federal Security Service of the rf, created in the first months of russia's war against Ukraine. 

In particular, threats were made against well-known propagandists of Kkremlin TV channels olga skabeyeva and vladimir solovyov, TV presenter tina kandelaki, comedian semion slepakov and singer oleg gazmanov.

To protect these pro-kremlin assets, the FSB formed a database of more than a thousand "phone terrorists", collected all possible information about them (names, addresses, other data), and began to send them counter threats. Additionally, an audio recording with the voice of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, known for his cruelty, was used to intimidate the "terrorists."

Since a quarter of all calls came from russia, the FSB formed visiting groups of former law enforcement officers who came to the identified addresses of "telephone terrorists" and delivered "slaps on the wrist" to them.

The FSB also worked with "toxic" opinion leaders. Among them are Ukrainian Svitlana Loboda, who has been living in russia for many years, Ukrainian film director and TV presenter Alan Badoyev, editor-in-chief of the popular Orel i Reshka (“Heads and Tails”) travel show Tasia Yusupova. Special attention was also paid to the producer of Orel i Reshka Marina Grankina, who previously published personal phone numbers of russian stars who supported the war against Ukraine and suggested to "convince them."

To do this, the FSB sent photos of the victims of hostilities in Donbas to them captioned like "Haven't you felt sorry for people and children for 8 years??? Answer!!!"

The wave of hatred against the differently-minded has also become public. Even for mild and not very convincing calls for peace, the media and social networks began to call the popular singer Alla Pugacheva “wasted” and “rag-tag.” And her husband and associate – Maxim Galkin – was recognized by the Ministry of Justice of the russian federation as a foreign agent, and federal TV channels refused to cooperate with him.

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1
Photo by the author

To discredit the People's Artist of russia Alla Pugacheva, even archive videos from twenty years ago were published in social networks, where she called against the Chechen War. 

After several months of hate, Pugacheva shut down her business in russia, received an Israeli passport and moved to Israel together with Galkin.

And this example became very indicative for other russian celebrities – who together decided to talk about the war against Ukraine either approvingly... or nothing.

In the first days of the war, blogger and presenter Nastia Ivleyeva, who had 19 million followers on Instagram, called to stop the war. But later she no longer mentioned the war, and today she only publishes entertaining content, explaining to her audience that "indeed, all bloggers now have time for self-development.”

30 темників про Україну: як фсб провалила «ідеологічну підготовку» до російського вторгнення. Ч.1

Even a journalist who calls himself independent, publishes posts stating that he is a foreign agent in the Telegram messenger, which is not controlled by russia, as required by the Ministry of Justice of the russian federation

Yuriy Dud, one of the most popular journalists and bloggers in russia, has more than 10 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. On February 28, he spoke out against the war, and a month later the russia’s Ministry of Justice declared him a foreign agent. Afterwards, Dud moved with his family to Spain. But despite this, he remains very cautious. Even in his Telegram channel (which is allegedly not controlled by the russian authorities), each of his posts is accompanied by the words stating that "this message was created by a russian legal entity acting as a foreign agent."

According to the latest estimates of theylovewar.com, at least 174 russian and Ukrainian celebrities are engaged in putin's regime propaganda and spreading disinformation about the war against Ukraine. Another 181 influencers, athletes and artists simply prefer to remain silent.

...and such a silent backdrop is ideal for throwing refined pro-kremlin narratives into the information space with the help of well-instructed agents.

To be continued.

The sequel to Mind's investigation into the ideological prelude of russia's invasion by FSB officers and the reasons for its complete failure is to be published on our portal soon.

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