At a glance.
- Greenwashing influence operations.
- Daria Dugina hailed as a martyr at her funeral.
- Russia says it's slowed the pace of combat operations out of concern for civilian casualties.
Greenwashing influence operations.
Bloomberg reports that a bot-driven Chinese influence campaign has been running against Lynas Rare Earths Ltd., an Australian mining company engaged in the extraction and processing of rare earth metals in Australia and Malaysia. Bogus social media accounts circulate accusations of environmental irresponsibility on the part of Lynas with a view to influencing Australian and US public opinion. Rare earths are essential to the electronic and green energy sectors; dominance of both sectors is a key, longstanding objective of Chinese policy. Green is good, from Beijing’s point of view, but to be realistic, it’s good chiefly insofar as it’s good for business, insofar as it provides a competitive advantage. As a policy commitment? Not so much.
The bot-campaign would appear to represent adoption of a quantity-over-quality approach to influence. There's not a great deal of misdirection, nor is it difficult to see the automation behind the posts. “We see bot posts on various social media every day, and we report them every day, and it’s quite frustrating,” Lynas Chief Executive Officer Amanda Lacaze told Bloomberg. “It’s very easy to see the bot posts and the messages are exactly the same." Mandiant identified the campaign, which it called "Dragonbridge," back in June, so the campaign is not only automated for high volume, but it's been persistent as well. The rare earth market is important enough to warrant the effort.
Daria Dugina hailed as a martyr at her funeral.
Daria Dugina, an ultra-nationalist Russian philosopher and media figure, daughter of the better known ultra-nationalist ("Eurasianist") philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, was assassinated by a car bomb on August 20th. “I consider it a barbarous crime for which there can be no forgiveness,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said of Daria Dugina's assassination. “I hope the investigation will be quickly completed and according to the results of this investigation, of course, there can be no mercy for the organisers, those who commissioned this, and the perpetrators.” Neither Mr. Lavrov nor any other currently sitting members of the government attended the funeral itself, although Sergei Prigozhin, the oligarch who runs the Wagner Group and the Internet Research Association, was among the mourners.
Russia's FSB was quick to identify a perpetrator and an accomplice, both Ukrainian nationals, operating under, the FSB said, Ukrainian control, abetted by Estonian authorities. Few outside observers found the attribution credible. It was, for one thing, very fast, and, for another the identity documents the FSB presented as evidence for its conclusions showed signs of having been photoshopped.
Ukraine denied any involvement in the car bombing. Estonia's Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu dismissed FSB allegations that the Baltic country was harboring ultranationalist media personality Daria Dugina's assassin Saturday as a "provocation." Other Estonia sources thought it likely that the car bombing was carried out by the FSB itself. The head of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) Indrek Kannik said, "It is possible that this was the FSB's own operation, since these people had become a threat. At the same time, it is convenient to blame it on the Ukrainians. Now we are seeing that Estonia can also be dragged into this."
A dissident Russian group, the National Republican Army, hitherto so little remarked that many observers disbelieve in its existence, claimed responsibility for the bombing. But it's unclear who actually ordered and carried out the bombing. Julia Ioffe, in a long essay on the assassination published by Puck, lays out the case that Ms Dugina was killed by the FSB as a provocation. It seems far-fetched, but then there's a long and well-attested tradition of lethal provocations in Russian political history. Consider Father Georgy Gapon in the last decades of Tsarist rule; consider the Soviet heroes killed by Stalin to afford pretexts for further repression. And, of course, President Putin's government hasn't been shy in this respect either, notably in the apartment bombings conducted to provide justification for full-scale war against Chechen separatists.
Russia says it's slowed the pace of combat operations out of concern for civilian casualties.
"On 24 August 2022, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that Russia was deliberately slowing the pace of its military campaign in Ukraine, driven by the need to reduce civilian casualties," the UK's Ministry of Defence said in this morning's situation report. "This is almost certainly deliberate misinformation. Russia’s offensive has stalled because of poor Russian military performance and fierce Ukrainian resistance. Under Shoigu’s orders, the forces operating in Ukraine have repeatedly missed planned operational timelines. It is highly likely that Shoigu and President Putin have fired at least six generals for not advancing quickly enough." The Independence Day strike against a civilian rail station gives the lie, however, to protestations of humanitarian concern. "On the day Shoigu was speaking, a Russian SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missile struck a train in the town of Chaplyne, reportedly killing at least two children. This highlights Russia’s willingness to cause collateral damage when it perceives there is military advantage in launching missile or artillery strikes."
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, founded in 2001, is a Eurasian security organization led by Russia and China whose members currently include China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. Mr. Shoigu's explanation of the slow pace of the special military operation has been widely regarded as a face-saving deflection of attention away from widespread Russian combat failure. The Telegraph notes that Ukraine has retaken some 17,377 square miles of territory from Russian forces since March 21st, a date that represents the high-water mark of the Russian advance into Ukraine. That's a bit more than the combined area of the US states of Maryland and Delaware, or an area about the size of Denmark. Mr. Shoigu reassured the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that, nonetheless, the special military operation is proceeding entirely according to plan.