The release of the Surkov leaks in 2016 was dismissed by Russia as “fake”, but it led to the arrest of six people associated with Anonymous International.
Hromadske spoke to the person who perused it inside and out and saw beyond the loudest findings.
Alya Shandra who is the editor-in-chief of Euromaidan Press, a news agency that was started in 2014 with the aim to cover the military and political aspect of developments in Ukraine, believes that “the background processes and day-to-day operations that Russia uses in its war against Ukraine” since 2014 were overlooked when the Surkov Leaks were initially published in 2016 by the Ukrainian hacker group CyberHunta. Her joint report with British politician Robert Seely published in July 2019 breaks down heaps of information into separate sections explaining the roles, methods, and rationale of the perpetrators.
Whilst thousands of emails and documents further proved Russia’s involvement in the conflict in the Donbas and attempts to meddle in Ukrainian elections, for Shandra it was important to focus on the strategy, tactics, and reasoning behind Russia’s desire to “undermine Ukraine’s state sovereignty.”
The author cites the Plan Troy revelation – which uncovered Russia’s plans to take over Zaporizhzhya region using several hundred thousand dollars – that received a lot of press. On the other hand, authors of the new report noticed Russia studying its subjects to reveal weak spots and employing “reflexive control”, a concept that uses an age-old Soviet notion of maskirovka which "conveys to a partner or an opponent specifically prepared information to incline them to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action".
Shandra looks beyond the popular in Ukraine “hybrid war” concept and sees a thorough plan which includes “incessant activities to undermine other states”. This plan involves election meddling, spreading fake news and exploiting troll farms, but it does not end there.
Their end goal is to alter our perception of the world. This is really the key issue and finding of this report.
In Ukraine’s case, fake rallies and federalization “projects” such as Novorossiya are “used to create a distorted perception of the world for Ukrainians.” Once this perception is built, it is much easier for the people in question to make a choice that would lead them to their own downfall, the reporter reveals.
All Russia's actions lie within this framework to manipulate their opponents into making decisions that benefit Russia and lead to the [opponent’s] defeat.
Even despite Russia’s denial, the story they tell is “true, relevant” and consistent with what is visible on the surface, the author argues.
The fact that they tried to blame this on Shaltai Boltai (blog used by Anonymous International hacker group to publish leaks -ed.) and then arrested the guys testifies to the fact that these leaks are not actually fake.
Speaking of the project’s importance, Shandra expresses hope that “as many people in security and defense in Ukraine and other countries get to know what and how Russia is doing.” The authors believe Russia is continuing this work against the West and other countries it considers its enemy, and the Surkov Leaks was “just one little peek into how this machinery works.”
But it is Ukraine as a state “using this information to defend itself against Russia in this war” that is the writer’s ultimate wish.
The full 92-page report “The Surkov Leaks: The Inner Workings of Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine” by Alya Shandra and Robert Seeley can be found here.