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Kremlin bots pose as Latvians en masse, demanding return of licenses to hockey players who took part in Russian tournament

Bots that spread pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian propaganda on social media have begun “speaking” Latvian, the researcher of Russian “troll factories” on Twitter and founder of the Bot Blocker (antibot4navalny) project told The Insider. One of the first to draw attention to the campaign was Twitter user @OleksGurianov.

The sudden increase in bot activity appears to be related to reports of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation (LHF) suspending the licenses of Latvian players who participated in a “phygital” (physical and digital) sporting event called “Games of the Future” as part of the Baltic Select team, which took place in Kazan, Russia. Some of the players have competed for the Latvian national team.

The message on the LHF's website reads:

“According to the information about the participation of certain Latvian players in the Future Games festival held in Russia, the Latvian Hockey Federation has suspended the licenses of these hockey players.”

The bots spread short messages on Twitter that said the following:

“This decision can destroy the careers of our athletes. This is unacceptable.”
“I believe that we should support our athletes and respect their decisions.”
“It is unacceptable that our hockey players are punished for being free to choose!”
“This is unacceptable! The Latvian Hockey Federation does not allow our athletes to play in the national team!”
“It is not fair that athletes are banned from playing for our national team just because they participated in the Future Games.”
“The decision of the Latvian Hockey Federation is completely unprofessional!”

The tweets are accompanied by hashtags such as #NoPoliticsInSport, #FairSport, #westandwithBalticSelect, and others. According to antibot4navalny analysts, by the morning of February 24, these messages had been retweeted more than 160,000 times. The number of impressions stood at 617,000. The analyst managed to find about 160 “second-level” accounts, which publish content distributed by “first-level” accounts.

The analysts noted that this is the first case since October 2023 in which the bot network publishes content that is not in the Russian, Ukrainian, English, German, French or Hebrew languages.

This is a large-scale information campaign, according to the founder of antibot4navalny. He says it is highly likely that the accounts posting and retweeting these messages belong to the pro-Kremlin Doppelgänger / RRN bot network, which The Insider reported on in 2023 (1, 2, 3).

The network is controlled by the Russian IT companies National Technologies and Social Design Agency (Агентство Социального Проектирования), which are under EU sanctions. The ultimate owner of National Technologies is Rostec — Russia’s state-owned defense conglomerate headed by former KGB agent Sergey Chemezov, a close friend of Vladimir Putin.

A register compiled by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, previously identified fake websites mimicking Western media outlets. These sites were created by Doppelgänger publish links to their articles for the purpose of spreading disinformation. The only website for Latvia on the register was Delfi. One domain was registered in June 2022 (delfi.life), while the other two (delfi.today and delfi.top) were registered in July of the same year. They were blocked in a matter of days.

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