“Fake News” Forever

It’s not every day the American president mentions you by name in connection with a corruption scandal that threatens U.S. geopolitical interests …

Meet Yegor Firsov, the young aspiring Ukrainian politician behind last year’s “fake news” campaign involving the U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump. Perhaps inadvertently, the crusading herostratist on September 24, 2018 exposed himself as the author of the “fake news” campaign against Ukraine.

A textbook Ukrainian PR campaign unfolded late last year in English-language media. It targeted Ukraine’s State Service for Geology and Mineral Resources (Gosgeonadra). The media blitz was designed to discredit a Ukrainian official in charge of distributing the country’s natural resources, obviously, with the aim of influencing him. The “story” then was scandalous. Today, it looks downright criminal.

“Witnesses at U.S. Congressional hearings named kickback amounts for obtaining licenses for oil and gas production. Losses to Ukraine’s state budget amounted to UAH 7 billion annually. This was not based on some rumors. In the past year, world famous publications, such as the Paris Guardian, have written about this scandal.” — Yegor Firsov, September 24, 2018, Ukrainska Pravda.

Few expected that the time would come when the standard of Firsov’s competency turned out to be his inability to construe accurately what has been published in the Paris Guardian and Irish Sun.

The ex-deputy’s 2017 Christmas PR campaign featured factual errors reported in French, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian media about unprecedented corruption in the distribution of Ukraine’s natural resources. The articles said U.S. President Donald Trump was personally concerned about the shenanigans and that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had been ordered to look into the matter.

The authors of these “news articles” claimed Gosgeonadra’s acting chief Oleh Kyryliuk was doling out licenses illegally, in exchange for kickbacks. In fact, mineral extraction licenses in Ukraine are issued by a special subsoil use commission composed of representatives from more than 10 state agencies. Decisions are reached by consensus. Gosgeonadra performs only technical functions under the commission.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of “fake” articles citing Firsov’s English-language feuilletons began circulating on Russian- and Ukrainian-language news websites, generating millions of views.

The identity of the person who ordered the “fake news,” however, remained a mystery. The editors of news sites republishing Firsov’s fakes were silent and efforts to identify the source of the fakes were unsuccessful. All that remained was to wait until the author revealed himself. And he did.

The key points of the “fake news” campaign once spelled out to authors of questionable English-language texts eventually became real, at least to Firsov. On September 24, 2018, he revealed himself. The ex-Ukrainian parliament deputy openly and unabashedly regurgitated the main thesis of last year’s memorable campaign.

Firsov, obviously, either remains oblivious to the scandal he provoked or too lazy to revive it from “scratch,” something he could have done if the subject concerned general political or economic issues. But this “fake news” campaign involves highly specialized and complicated issues involving the distribution of Ukraine’s mineral wealth.

His column in Ukrainska Pravda was intended to discredit anyone but himself. Firsov is an “expert” using complicated data to accuse Ukrainian officials of inpropriety. He clearly has studied the topic and is aware of last year’s campaign against Gosgeonadra. Yet Firsov used the same refuted theses to justify his rightness, and in so doing confirmed his authorship of — or participation in — the anti-Gosgeonadra blitz.

Think about it. Politicians make good liars because they manage to convince themselves they are telling the truth. Firsov was not even stopped by the fact that both French and Polish media published identical fake texts. To put it bluntly, he began to believe his own bullshit.

One question remains: In whose interests is Firsov working today? Will we find out the names of his “fake news” project partners and receive their apologies?

Ukraine is a country that only recently — during the 2014 Revolution of Dignity — bid farewell to authoritarianism. Therefore it’s understandable why the young generation of politicians, to which Firsov belongs, are ill-equipped to use civilized tools for communicating their political positions. They mistakenly resort to tools used by former Ukrainian politicians, who often humiliated their constituents by arranging positive articles about themselves to be published in the Western press.

Today we see a transformation of the same trend: Having failed to defend their own positions domestically, young politicians try to boost the credibility of their claims by involving foreign government officials. The result is self- defenistration.

[to be continued …]

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а рассеянный journalist who spends his free time collecting ideas, running and learning new technologies.