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POLITICS

Fakesperts: Who spreads pro-Kremlin disinfo in the West (Interactive map)

The Insider presents a new special project — an interactive map of fake experts. These are individuals in the West who pose as experts but spread misleading information that aligns with pro-Kremlin narratives. They often become central figures in stories covered by both foreign and Russian television channels. For Russian propaganda, it's crucial to have certain points of view voiced by foreigners, even if these individuals are unknown in their own countries. Many of these so-called experts misrepresent themselves. A soap seller might be presented as a world politics specialist, and a football goalkeeper as an expert in international security. The fake experts showcased on this map include numerous straight-up racists and neo-Nazis. Although local media may not provide them with a platform, they are eagerly showcased as prominent experts by outlets like RT or RIA Novosti. What unites the individuals featured on this map is their attempt to portray Putin's policies positively while disseminating outright misinformation. They don't merely express subjective opinions; they make factual claims, the unreliability of which can be easily proven. The Insider delves into the most prominent examples and popular narratives propagated by Western fake experts. 

Content
  • Who are these people?

  • Main topics tackled by fake experts

Who are these people?

Among the propagators of Kremlin disinformation, there are diverse individuals, some of whom are widely recognized. One notable figure is the renowned American host, Tucker Carlson, who until recently hosted one of the highest-rated programs on the Republican channel Fox News. Carlson is well-known for his conspiracy theories and the dissemination of fake news. For instance, he claimed that “over 3,000 people have died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States” (in reality, no one died from the vaccines). He also supported the widely debunked conspiracy theory of the “grand replacement,” popular among racists, which suggests a deliberate replacement of white populations in the US and Europe with non-white populations.

In recent years, Tucker Carlson has also become a fervent Putin supporter, solidifying his admiration for the Russian president after the full-scale invasion. In the lead-up to the war, when Russia moved its strike forces to the Ukrainian border, Carlson dismissed it as a “border dispute,” adding that the key thing to know about the “country called Ukraine” is that its leaders once sent millions of dollars to the Biden family, hence Biden's affinity towards Ukraine. He referred to Ukraine as a Western puppet, not a true democracy, actively propagating the conspiracy theory of “secret American biolabs in Ukraine.” A year and a half into the war, he suddenly realized why the US had a negative stance towards Russia: because Russia is a Christian country (disregarding the fact that Americans are much more religious and attend church far more frequently than Russians). Carlson became a highly popular figure on Russian state propaganda TV, and his statements were frequently quoted on state-owned channels.

His downfall, however, was not due to his affection for Putin but for Trump: he vigorously supported the storming of the Congress building by Trump supporters when the latter, after losing the elections, sought to cling to power. Carlson justified his support using the conspiracy theory of election fraud involving voting machines. Later investigations revealed that there was no tampering with the votes in the presidential elections, and Dominion Voting Systems, the company responsible for electronic voting, filed a lawsuit against Fox News for hundreds of millions of dollars. Realizing the threat of bankruptcy, Fox News swiftly fired Carlson. In September 2023, the Russian channel Russia 24 announced a new show featuring Tucker Carlson, but the host himself stated that he had no plans for any show on Russian television. It's unclear what the truth is in this matter, as trusting either the channel or Carlson is equally hard.

Tucker Carlson with his favorite president
Tucker Carlson with his favorite president

Carlson is a rare case; most often, fake experts are entirely unknown in their home countries. A classic example is a U.S. citizen named Daniel Patrick Welch, whom pro-Kremlin media portray as a respected political commentator and analyst—so respected that state channels would have live broadcasts with him during prime time on their political talk shows. This “political analyst” predicted the dissolution of the EU and NATO due to the “Ukrainian crisis,” accused Ukraine of selling weapons to ISIS, and in 2023 claimed that not only Germans but also half of the British aristocracy were Nazis, suggesting these forces remained dissatisfied with the outcomes of World War II and now aim to destroy Russia. In America, Welch is unheard of; he is simply the manager of a private daycare in the suburbs of Boston and the owner of a small online store which sells CDs with songs he performed himself, greeting cards crafted by his school's students, and handmade soap.

The Kremlin-controlled media occasionally feature utter buffoons on their platforms. One such figure is the “British political analyst” David Icke, who has become a star on Russian state channels. In these broadcasts, Icke exposes George Soros (who replaced the Rockefellers and Rothschilds in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories), Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a mysterious “crisis group” responsible for organizing revolutions worldwide. David Icke is indeed a legendary figure, but the world knows him not as a political analyst. He started as a goalkeeper, then became a football commentator, but after failing to achieve any success in sports, he declared himself the son of God and predicted a series of earthquakes and other catastrophes (including the end of the world in 1997). He is famous as the inventor of the theory about reptilians. Icke claims that reptilians inhabit secret underground bases on Earth and effectively control the world, directly or indirectly, compelling political leaders of many earthly nations to carry out their will. According to Icke, they arrived on Earth from Thuban, a star which is also designated as Alpha Draconis.

David Icke, footballer, political analyst, author of the reptilian theory
David Icke, footballer, political analyst, author of the reptilian theory

Another equally famous conspiracy theorist is Frederick William Engdahl, who came up with the now extremely popular theory about the dangers of GMOs. According to Engdahl, the American government and pharmaceutical companies decided to seize the global food market by introducing GMOs, allegedly posing a threat to the human body (there is no scientific evidence of harm from GMOs). Like Icke, Engdahl is convinced that George Soros is a key player in a global Jewish conspiracy. In his column for the RT website, he claimed that the Malaysian plane, Flight MH17, was shot down by Ukrainian military on the orders of the CIA and that the United States was hiding photos that clearly showed that the plane was shot down by men in Ukrainian military uniforms. RT presents this conspiracy theorist as a “geopolitical analyst and consultant in the field of strategic risks.” It is unknown who uses Engdahl's consultations, but his clients must have exceptional patience—after all, the total collapse of the United States and the global “financial tsunami,” which he has been promising since 2008, have yet to occur.

William Engdahl
William Engdahl

Engaged in Kremlin Propaganda is another prominent conspiracy theorist—British “media researcher Piers Robinson,” asserting that the buildings of the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed by the American government, not Al-Qaeda terrorists. He likes to present himself as an expert on chemical weapons, although he has no expertise in chemistry, medicine, or military affairs. During the Syrian Civil War, when Bashar al-Assad's government launched several chemical attacks on opposition-held cities, Robinson established a “Working Group on Syria, Propaganda, and the Media,” primarily promoting the conspiracy theory that there were no chemical attacks and it was all staged. In 2018, Robinson claimed that no nerve agent was used to poison the Skripals.

As evident from the previous examples, conspiracy theorists promoting Kremlin narratives often combine them with anti-Semitism. However, among them are also straight-up racists who, apart from Kremlin media, have no audience. For instance, the Dutch writer Joost Niemöller, who once stated that the black race is intellectually inferior to the white race and that Hitler was “not that bad.” After this, Dutch publications ceased to engage with him, but Kremlin-controlled media became enthusiastic. Among other things, Niemöller published a book titled MH17: The Cover-up Deal, in which he claimed that the Boeing was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. However, when Dutch investigators proved that the Boeing was hit by a missile (a fact even acknowledged by the Kremlin), Niemöller had to change tactics. On RT, he began asserting that the Ukrainian authorities were to blame for not banning the passenger plane's flight over the conflict zone. Niemöller was not bothered by the well-known fact that the altitude at which MH17 was flying was considered safe, as the separatists did not possess anti-aircraft missile systems, and Russia had not delivered its SAMs to the occupied territories before the day of the catastrophe.

Joost Niemöller, a Dutch racist
Joost Niemöller, a Dutch racist

Sometimes fake experts are used on a one-time basis depending on the situation, but many characters regularly surface in Russian propaganda. Among them is the Swedish politician Erik Almqvist, who initially had a successful career in the populist anti-immigrant party Swedish Democrats, but then got embroiled in a xenophobic scandal that led to his expulsion from the party. He left Sweden and settled in Hungary, and a few years later, he became an observer in the Russian vote on constitutional amendments (it contradicted legislation to the point that it was not officially called a referendum) and made a series of loud statements that the voting was impeccably democratic, and people participated in it as if it were a festive occasion, especially in annexed Crimea.

Another regular guest in Kremlin-controlled media is the former French military man Xavier Moreau, who relocated to Russia in 2000. Russian media then began to accredit him as a military analyst and French political scientist. He established the European Center for Strategic Analysis, Stratpol, publishing pro-Russian materials, and at the same time founded a French restaurant in Sergiev Posad near Moscow. The main theme of his political statements revolves around Ukraine. A few days after the start of the war in 2022, he claimed that Zelensky had been sacrificed, and the West understood that this politician was finished.

Yet another similar example is Hendrik Weber, a Norwegian whom Russian media hailed as both a deputy and a diplomat. In reality, he is the owner of a small construction company and the head of a group called “People's Diplomacy,” which, after 2014, organized trips to annexed Crimea and the occupied part of Donbas. He made a series of statements about the legitimacy and democracy of the Crimean “referendum” on joining Russia and the “compelling evidence” pointing to Ukraine's guilt in the MH17 flight tragedy. In June 2022, he was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship.

Of course, there were also “admiring Bulgarians.” Plamen Miletkov leads several organizations with grand names: the Assembly of the People of Bulgaria, the International Movement of Memorial Cooperation and Memory Preservation of War Victims, the Eurasian Institute of Geopolitics and Economics “St. Cyprian.” However, they exist only on paper, and they don't even have their own websites. Russian media presented Miletkov as a parliamentarian, although he has never been elected to any representative body. He mainly engages in visits to Russia, including annexed Crimea, meetings with local authorities, and statements criticizing the pro-Western orientation of Bulgarian politicians. When Bulgaria investigated Russia's involvement in explosions at weapons depots and accused three Russians linked to the GRU of attempting to poison arms dealer Emilian Gebrev (as revealed by The Insider, there were not three individuals but eight), Miletkov stated that there was no evidence pointing to Russia, and nobody in Bulgaria believed this version.

Presently, there are approximately 200 individuals featured on the fake experts map, but it will be undergoing frequent updates. Suggestions for adding candidates to the map can be sent to the email address [email protected]. A submission should include a demonstration of how the “expert” disseminates misinformation. The map serves not only to aggregate purveyors of Kremlin disinformation but also to unveil specific subjects pushed by Russian authorities in the Western information space, becoming shared narratives among numerous fake experts. Some of these are outlined below.

Main topics tackled by fake experts

Fakes about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine

The conspiracy theory about biolabs in Ukraine appeared long before the full-scale invasion. Even during the Cold War, the USSR tried to accuse the U.S. of secret biological weapon development. However, from 2005 onward, these allegations took on a distinct narrative, suggesting that the U.S. was conducting such activities in covert biolabs on Ukrainian soil. In reality, there was a publicly accessible agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine, under which America funded 46 laboratories, medical, and diagnostic centers in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture oversaw this project. The laboratories focused on veterinary and public healthcare. The funds provided by the U.S. were used for purchasing furniture, equipment, introducing new technologies, and construction. None of those labs were authorized to work with highly hazardous pathogens. However, starting around 2020, Russian propagandist media began to claim that those biolabs were actually developing a special pathogen designed to target people with Slavic genes, and that's why it was being tested in Ukraine. Even if such a pathogen were possible (which it isn't, as there are no Slavic genes), it's not clear why Ukrainians would help Americans create it. Nevertheless, this didn't deter Russian propagandists. The talk about biolabs involved not only Russian propagandists and Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, but also the Russian representative at the UN.

Following Russia's full-fledged invasion, the biolab discourse was picked up by disinformation experts in the West. An important figure in this context is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — a relative of 25th U.S. President John F. Kennedy (JFK) and the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy Sr. (RFK). Kennedy Jr. is widely known for promoting conspiracy theories, notably popularizing the widespread but scientifically unfounded theory linking vaccines to autism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he propagated the theory that the virus was engineered as part of a conspiracy involving pharmaceutical companies, presenting vaccination as a covert microchipping effort.

In August 2023, Kennedy Jr. discussed how America was establishing secret biolabs in Ukraine in an interview with Tucker Carlson. He also claimed that the project was led by Anthony Fauci, a leading American infectious disease expert, the chief medical advisor on COVID-19 to the U.S. President, and a clear source of irritation for the vaccine skeptic Kennedy.

Kennedy Jr. and Tucker Carlson are not the only ones promoting the biolab conspiracy. On the very first day of the war, February 24, 2022, a blogger known as War Clandestine, later identified as Jacob Creech, a U.S. Army National Guard veteran (his account is now deleted), tweeted that Russian missile strikes were targeting American secret laboratories. Steve Bannon, a former White House chief strategist and advisor to President Donald Trump, discussed the theory about Ukrainian biolabs on his podcast, War Room. This theory was also the focus of an episode of the Conservative Review podcast hosted by Daniel Horowitz, claiming that American oligarchs and the media protect Ukraine precisely because the country hosts biological weapons laboratories.

Fake expertise on MH17

One of the most prominent advocates asserting Russia's innocence in the tragedy of the Malaysian airliner, shot down over the pro-Russian separatist-held territory of Donbass, is Max van der Werff, a Dutchman. Prior to these tragic events, he was a designer and electric bicycle trader. However, following the plane crash, he changed his profession and engaged in an “independent investigation” into the disaster. He traveled multiple times to the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), where entry for foreigners requires coordination with the authorities. In 2019, he co-produced a “documentary” film titled “MH17: Call for Justice” in collaboration with a former RT employee, Yana Erlashova. In the film, he attempted to prove that the Boeing was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet, even though this version had already been officially debunked by the Russian Ministry of Defense at that time. As revealed by The Insider, the Dutch blogger's trip to the occupied territories was organized by the GRU.

Another resident of the Netherlands, Kees van der Pijl, wrote an entire book about MH17 titled “Flight MH17, Ukraine, and the New Cold War: Prism of Disaster.” It's not surprising that this tragedy piqued the interest of the Dutch, as the plane took off from Amsterdam and had many citizens of the Netherlands on board. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that van der Pijl is unaware of nearly anything regarding the circumstances of the crash. In his book, he writes that he does not know who downed the Boeing and how, but it is known that it was only beneficial to the West. Why? To demonize Vladimir Putin. Furthermore, Ukraine did possess Buk anti-aircraft systems – the same kind that allegedly brought down the Malaysian airliner.

Other “experts” made astonishing claims about MH17. Spanish journalist Gustavo Morales stated that the Netherlands had no right to investigate and prosecute the case of the plane crash because it was not neutral. American lawyer Tom Sima, during discussions in the UN Security Council about the idea of establishing an international tribunal regarding this case, declared that the sole purpose of this initiative was to provoke Russia's veto and depict it as the villain (as if there was anything hindering Russia from agreeing to the tribunal if it was not guilty of the tragedy). Swiss politician and journalist Guy Mettan claimed that the tribunal would not lead to an impartial investigation because previously such tribunals for civilian aircraft disasters were not created. Retired General of the French Air Force Jean-Vincent Brisse stated that the lack of reliable information about the circumstances of the plane crash vindicated the separatists and Russia because if such information existed, the United States would have already published it. German private investigator Josef Resch initially offered the investigative group certain evidence of Ukraine's guilt, then withdrew his offer. However, this didn't stop German journalist Tilo Geyer from accusing the investigators of not wanting to consider Resch's documents. German writer Ulrich Heyden even claimed that there was no evidence of Russia's guilt, and the sole aim of the attack on MH17 was... to prevent Russia from hosting the FIFA World Cup.

Fake claims about the Skripal poisoning

After the poisoning of former double agent of Russian and British intelligence, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Salisbury with the Russian-developed nerve agent Novichok, numerous publications emerged attempting to justify Russia's actions.

German Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the widow of an unsuccessful American populist politician convicted of fraud, claimed that there was no poisoning at all — it was a staged event orchestrated by the British authorities to create a “new Litvinenko case.” Apparently, the strange movements of two Russians captured by surveillance cameras and the death of a local resident who was poisoned by the substance from a discarded bottle, which she mistook for perfume, did not bother her.

Chilean psychiatrist and ultra-leftist politician Marcello Ferrada de Noli, who moved to Sweden, presented by Russian media as an expert on chemical weapons, asserted that the entire assassination plot was absurd. According to him, if the Russian authorities wanted to get rid of Skripal, they could have done so while he was in a Russian prison for treason. The notion that Skripal was held there as a “bargaining chip” and released in exchange for arrested Russian spies in the West never crossed his mind.

A whole group of British academics — the aforementioned political journalism researcher Piers Robinson, propaganda and communications expert Jake Mason, geneticist Paul McKeigue, and sociologist David Miller — claimed that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which confirmed the use of Novichok in Salisbury, was politically motivated. These four individuals have a special attitude towards the OPCW; after a chemical attack using similar substances occurred in Syria, they accused the organization of the same thing. Apparently, they believe that, with their scientific backgrounds, they have a better understanding than the OPCW's chemists and medical professionals.

French RT columnist Pierre Levy (namesake of a well-known philosopher and cultural theorist) announced that despite numerous claims by British authorities, there is a catastrophic lack of evidence linking to Russia. All that's available is the “nationality” of the poison and a video recording with two Russians that proves nothing.

However, writer and researcher from the University of Westminster, Adeyinka Makinde, disagreed with him. In his view, there are so many traces in the poisoning case pointing to Russia that it could only be an anti-Russian provocation.

Renowned journalist Mary Dejevsky devised and presented in an interview with Sputnik an utterly dizzying version of events: it turns out Skripal was homesick in Britain and wanted to return, but British intelligence couldn't find another way to stop him. However, all of this is presented as her personal speculation.

Fakes about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny

The assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny, again using “Novichok”, of course, required the involvement of Western propagandists. Italian reporter and writer Paolo Borgognone stated in an interview with Sputnik that Vladimir Putin cannot be behind the assassination attempt because it would be counterproductive for him. Even if Navalny became the mayor of Moscow (it seems Borgognone got a bit confused in the timeline: in 2020, when the poisoning occurred, there were no mayoral elections in Moscow), he would not have been as dangerous for Putin as a dead Navalny.

Former head of the Czech police, Stanislav Novotny, claimed that if Navalny was not afraid to return to Russia after the poisoning, it meant that there was no threat to his life there. In other words, he knew that the Russian authorities had not targeted him. Novotny attributed the conflict between Navalny and the Kremlin to business interests, without elaborating on Navalny's business affairs.

The explanation from French blogger and contributor to the Donetsk-based website “Novorossiya Today,” Laurent Courtois, echoed the points made by Russian propagandists: according to him, the Russian authorities had no reason to target Navalny because he was never a significantly relevant political figure. Apparently, almost a third of the votes in the Moscow mayoral elections didn't convince him otherwise.

Draginja Vlk, a member of the Belgrade city parliament, claimed that Navalny had health issues and used them for political purposes, simulating the poisoning. She disregarded the tests conducted by doctors at the Berlin clinic.

Anton Friesen, a member of the Bundestag from the Alternative for Germany party, displayed incredible insight: he stated that there was no evidence of the involvement of Russian authorities, and the scandal's goal was obvious — given Germany's role in it, it only favored opponents of the Nord Stream 2 project. However, if things had gone as the poisoners planned, Navalny would have died in Siberia, and these events would have had no relation to Germany at all. Apparently, this line of thought didn't occur to the deputy.

Fakes about referendums and elections in annexed territories

One of the favorite topics of Russian propaganda aimed at a Western audience is the flawlessly democratic and universally supported electoral procedures in Russia, especially in annexed territories. There is a stable group of Western observers at various Russian elections and referendums who approve of everything happening. One such observer is a frequent visitor to annexed Crimea and former Minister of Transport in François Fillon's government, Thierry Mariani. He described the referendum on Crimea's accession to Russia, conducted on the peninsula captured by Russian special forces and considered impossible under Ukraine's laws, as “free and legitimate,” without clarifying from the legal standpoint of which country it could be considered legitimate. As for the referendum on amendments to the Constitution, which was conducted in places that were sometimes completely unsuitable for it, where independent observation was impossible, he spoke of it as a “model that other states, including France, should follow.” However, the French authorities did not heed this advice.

German economist and former East German spy in NATO agencies, Rainer Rupp, called the Crimean referendum “undoubtedly a democratic vote” and made a political discovery by calling the inhabitants of the peninsula “refugees who took their land with them.” He apparently did not consider the fact that by that time, many true refugees had already left Crimea.

British commentator Finian Cunningham accused the West of spreading fakes, one of which he mentioned was the reports about the annexation of Crimea. According to him, the decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia was made in a legitimate referendum — never mind that according to Ukraine's laws, regional referendums are not possible at all. He also labeled the story of Russian hackers breaching the Democratic Party's servers before the 2016 presidential elections as a fake, despite clear evidence of their trail leading to a specific building on Komsomolsky Prospekt in Moscow.

Fakes about the war in Ukraine

Following Russia's attack on Ukraine in February 2022, the propaganda machine inevitably engaged its Western allies, including some notable politicians. In July 2022, former Czech Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek stated that Russia's interests were confined to just the Donbas region, and it had no intentions of seizing other areas of Ukraine. Of course, the “referendums” regarding the annexation of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, not part of Donbas, were still being prepared at that time. However, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had already asserted that the “geography has changed,” and Russia could not allow threatening weapons to be located in the territories controlled by Ukraine.

Jeffrey Young, a perennial unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate from the state of Kentucky, told the world that, unlike the U.S., Russia had never violated international law and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine were being held in concentration camps. Notably, even the Russian state media refrained from endorsing this extreme assertion.

Retired American colonel and former advisor to the defense minister, Douglas Macgregor, had been making statements from the first days of the war that the war was practically won by Russia, and Ukraine had no chance of resisting. When these predictions did not materialize, he found an explanation – it turns out it was due to the excessive humanity of the Russian army, acting too softly. This was stated in March 2022, precisely during the days when the massacre in Bucha was happening.

Robert Kennedy Jr., vying for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in April 2023, while participating in Tucker Carlson's show, claimed that in the war with Russia, 300,000 soldiers had died, and Ukrainian military casualties were seven to eight times higher than Russian casualties, implying that Ukraine's defeat was inevitable. He seemingly repeated a fantastical figure of irretrievable losses from an officer of the so-called “people's militia of the DNR”, but even that figure included the total sum of killed, wounded, and captured. When talking about the ratio of casualties on both sides, he appeared to rely on Putin's statement at the Valdai Club, which also doesn't correspond to reality.

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