by Tony Wyman
“Trump will smash America as we know it,
we’ve got nothing to lose.”
How did the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin grow so talented at trolling Americans on social media? They learned it from a Russian internet pioneer named Konstantin Rykov.
Who is Mr. Rykov?
He is the founder of a number of lurid websites like Idiot.ru, where he made a fortune posting pictures of scantily-clad women, telling dirty jokes and posting clickbait stories designed to titillate easily impressionable readers. In other words, a trashy online tabloid.
Mr. Rykov is also the founder of an online prostitute delivery service called “Dosug” (or “Leisure” in English).
He is a member of United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party, a former member of the Duma, Russia’s parliament, and a close confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And, Mr. Rykov is also the man who bragged extensively about his relationship with Donald Trump, claiming the American encouraged the Russian to help him become president by sending him a tweet flashing a thumbs up gesture as the okay to start working for his 2016 election.
I’ll tell you about (now it’s possible) how Donald Trump and I decided to free America and make it great again. This took us as much as 4 years and 2 more days. It all started at night from 6 to 7 November 2012.
[Trump] lifted his plane to the sky and flew between New York and DC, calling the whole world through his twitter — to start a march on Washington!
Mr. Rykov wrote those words on Facebook just days after Mr. Trump was elected president with a minority of the vote against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
His claims of involvement with the Trump team might have been dismissed as fantasy except for two things: first, he was very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had a long history of involvement with top levels of the Russian government; and, second, his description of how Mr. Trump’s campaign put together an effective internet strategy for information warfare was very close to the actual effort.
Here’s how Mr. Rykov described his alleged involvement in a Facebook post he made on November 12, 2016, just after the American election:
For four years and two days .. it was necessary to get to everyone in the brain and grab all possible means of mass perception of reality. Ensure the victory of Donald in the election of the US President. Then create a political alliance between the United States, France, Russia (and a number of other states) and establish a new world order.
Our idea was insane, but realizable. In order to understand everything for the beginning, it was necessary to “digitize” all possible types of modern man.
Donald decided to invite for this task — the special scientific department of the “Cambridge University.” British scientists from Cambridge Analytica suggested making 5,000 existing human psychotypes — the “ideal image” of a possible Trump supporter. Then .. put this image back on all psychotypes and thus pick up a universal key to anyone and everyone.
Then it was only necessary to upload this data to information flows and social networks. And we began to look for those who would have coped with this task better than others. At the very beginning of the brave and romantic [story] was not very much. A pair of hacker groups, civil journalists from WikiLeaks and political strategist Mikhail Kovalev.
The next step was to develop a system for transferring tasks and information, so that no intelligence and NSA could burn it.
The Russian’s comments were made only four days after the election, months before anyone was talking about Russian collusion in the 2016 election, months before the world knew about the company Cambridge Analytica, and months before Mr. Rykov would have known it wasn’t wise to discuss his alleged involvement in the campaign.
They were also made well before details of Russian meddling in the presidential election were reported in the mainstream media. If Mr. Rykov wasn’t involved, how would he know as much as he confessed?
That was a question asked by a blogger, going by the name Tommy Carcetti, on the website Democratic Underground, who first discovered Mr. Rykov’s Facebook post in July 2017. He wrote:
Last July, in the midst of searching for some other interesting Trump connections, I stumbled across what could only be described as an astonishing piece on Facebook: https://www.democraticunderground.com/10029322103
In short, it was a boastful confession just days after the November 2016 elections from a Russian named Konstantin Rykov, claiming that over the course of four years, he helped develop an online campaign from Russia with one goal in mind: to get Donald Trump elected as the US President.
Mr. Carcetti took screenshots of Mr. Rykov’s comments and posted them in their entirety on his website. You can read them in the link above. The comments included great detail about how Mr. Rykov and his team created a Pro-Trump website that used audience targeting techniques to maximize the effectiveness of their effort. Mr. Rykov called the key to his team’s effectiveness a “super secret weapon.”
Remember how much money Clinton funds and “their supporters” spent on campaigning around the world? 5 times more than Trump. But who invested in network promotion is 5 times more than Hillary and became president? Also Donald Trump.
Despite the volume of information Mr. Rykov’s posts offered, Mr. Carcetti was still skeptical of their credibility. “I wanted to take a little time to analyze Rykov’s claims and see how they jive against the facts and what we know and have recently learned,” wrote Mr. Carcetti. “Because Rykov’s confession offers so much, I figured I would break up my analysis into at least three parts, with the first part focusing on who Rykov is, the second about his seemingly wild, fantastical tale about Election Day 2012, and the third part his description of the scheme itself in the face of what we now know.”
And that’s what he did, gaining not only insights into Mr. Rykov’s actions, but also the attention of other writers such as Seth Abramson, an attorney, professor at the University of New Hampshire, and a legal and political analyst at CNN, BBC and Vanity Fair Magazine, who described the information discovered by Mr. Carcetti as “…enough here to make worth looking into,” going as far as confirming much of the information first released at Democratic Underground.
Election Day 2012
Part of what Mr. Carcetti discussed in his piece on Mr. Rykov is the reaction the Russian had to the defeat of the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, and the re-election of Democrat President Barack Obama.
“Romney uncovered. Congratulated Obama. I wonder what Trump will say?” tweeted Mr. Rykov.
Answering his question by retweeting Mr. Trump’s response (“Our nation is now in serious trouble…like never before. This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!”), was Yulya Alferova, a Russian business woman who modeled herself after Mr. Trump.
She is the ex-wife of Russian oligarch Artem Klyushin, a man who claims it was actually he who put Mr. Trump in the White House.
Mr. Klyushin’s claims aside, it was Ms. Alferova who inadvertently caught Mr Abramson’s attention when she met with Mr. Trump in Moscow in 2013 and when she tweeted, months later, a picture of the two, with her saying, “I’m sure @RealDonaldTrump will be a great president! We’ll support you from Russia! America needs ambitious leader!”
Mr. Abramson claims, in a February 2018 tweet, that Ms. Alferova inadvertently proved Mr. Trump lied about his whereabouts in Moscow on the night that he was, allegedly, involved in sexual activities the Steele Dossier claimed were so outlandish the Russian secret service was able to blackmail him and when he said he never talked about politics with anyone in Russia prior to running for president. Mr. Abramson tweeted:
So Alferova was part of Trump’s entourage in Moscow in 2013; confirms that he struck a deal with the Agalarovs (Russian real estate magnates known as “the Trumps of Russia/”) while there; confirms that he discussed politics “again and again” with the Russians while there; and after he left, expressed certainty he was running for president.
So now we have Trump telling America—via tweet—that because no one knew that he was running for president until June 2015, there’s no way a Russian information warfare campaign initiated in 2014 could have had anything to do with him. Alferova gives the lie to that statement.
But Alferova was also with Trump for almost the entirety of what he once called his “weekend in Moscow”—a statement he dishonestly amended as soon as the trip became controversial, calling it a quick, businesslike “there-and-back.” Alferova knows the truth about what happened.
So the fact Alferova lied through her teeth the moment U.S. media got to her in January 2017 to ask about the Steele dossier is incredibly significant. Let’s look first at this article in The Daily Beast that asked her a number of questions about Trump’s “weekend in Moscow.”
The article ignores that Alferova was then married to Artem Klyushin, a Russian oligarch close to the Agalarovs and a good friend of Konstantin Rykov, known as Moscow’s biggest pimp and “the Kremlin’s chief propagandist.” Klyushin was part of Trump’s Moscow entourage, too.
Per the article, the Agalarovs “asked the then-26-year-old Alferova, a quick-thinking Moscow entrepreneur, to help organize Trump’s Miss Universe contest.” Well, no—she was a blogger who they asked to take pictures, a gig she got because of Klyushin.
Alferova, talking to The Daily Beast after Buzzfeed dropped the Dossier in January ’17, said “I’m confident nobody has any video of Trump with prostitutes.” Schiller would later tell Congress a Russian businessman—believed to be Alferova’s husband—offered Trump prostitutes.
If that sort of disinformation sounds like what we hear from Kremlin mouthpieces, it *should*: Alferova worked for the Agalarovs, who are among the Kremlin’s no-bid real estate developers. They would later be the ones to set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016.
Moreover, The Daily Beast skates over the fact that, just as Rykov—pal to her then-husband—did social media for the Kremlin, so did Alferova at a lower level: “[She] develops social-media pages for Russian governors and regional officials, organizing federal/regional events.”
It’s a pattern one notices with the very small number of people Trump was allowed to hang out with during the weekend the Kremlin got kompromat on him: they’re all either Russian oligarchs beholden—as such oligarchs are—to Putin, or, far more often, *directly* Kremlin-linked.
If Mr. Trump lied, as it appears he did, about whether he discussed running for president with Russians while in Moscow, is it also possible he lied about the amount of time he spent at the Ritz where the Steele Dossier had him participating in sexual activity that made him susceptible to blackmail?
And, if that is the case, did Ms. Alferova know Moscow had information compromising enough it could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump when she launched a Twitter campaign “heavily promoting” Mr. Trump for president, as Mr. Carcetti said in his report?
Whether Mr. Rykov’s involvement with the Trump campaign is what he claims it was is still uncertain, but what is understood is the Internet entrepreneur is well known in Russian political circles and that he was the man who developed Moscow’s weaponized social media presence.
Ties to Russian Political Leaders
Mr. Rykov’s connections to the Russian government started in the early 2000s when he joined government-owned state TV, Channel 1, as the head of the network’s Internet department. Unlike American news stations, Channel 1 reports directly to Moscow and is controlled by political leaders there. It was taken over by Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union when Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 27 December 1991 nationalizing the network.
Later, in 2005, Mr. Rykov started an online newspaper, Vyglyad (“Sight” in English), that quickly became a propaganda rag for the Kremlin. According to Public Radio International, the newspaper got its orders directly from the Kremlin.
“There were weekly meetings at the presidential administration,” said Alexander Shmelev, the editor-in-chief of Vzglyad in 2007-2008. “Sometimes, there were situations when we published something, and Surkov’s assistant who was in charge of the media, Alexey Chesnakov, called and said, ‘No, please, replace this article,’ or, ‘Please, publish something about this issue.’”
The ties between the Kremlin and the paper were so close that Mr. Shmelev resigned and joined an Anti-Putin resistance group. Days after Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Shmelev, in despair, wrote, “Finally Russia has a politician who is more popular than Vladimir Putin! It’s 45th U.S. President Donald Trump…”
Criticism like Mr. Shmelev’s was initially tolerated on the Russian Internet, largely because Mr. Putin didn’t understand the power social media possessed, especially as a tool opposition groups could use against a leader like him. Mr. Shmelev recounted for PRI being in a meeting where the Russians bemoaned losing popular support over their war in Georgia.
“It was discussed that we lost the information war — that on the internet, everyone around the world believes that Russia suddenly attacked Georgia, and the topic of Georgia attacking South Ossetia is never mentioned and that we came to protect it,” Shmelev said of the meeting. “We need to change this somehow, we need to learn to be proactive, we need to learn to work not only in the Russian segment of the internet but in the internet in general.”
In response, the Kremlin cracked down on freedom of speech on the Internet. They also recognized the value of having a powerful and effective propaganda element working social media across various social media platforms.
To create and operate such a force, they needed someone to lead the venture who understood how to manipulate public opinion on the Internet. That’s where Mr. Rykov came in.
Then just 28-years-old, Mr. Rykov was elected to the Duma and given funds to use to develop an Internet strategy Russia could use, not only inside their country, but also outside in places like the United States.
The Use of Rykov’s Troll Army in Crimea
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, Mr. Rykov and his trolls spread disinformation throughout the Internet, often targeting Twitter, Facebook and other social media portals, designed to make Russia’s involvement in the peninsula look good at the expense of the nation’s enemies.
One campaign Mr. Rykov and his trolls and bots waged was to claim the CIA put dead bodies in a plane and shot it down so they could blame the deaths on Russia.
To the surprise of Western observers of the Russian operation, the story took off on the Internet. “That seemed to me beyond any measure of credibility, but people were repeating that story again and again,” said former director of the Ukraine Communication Task Force and current candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Sri Preston Kulkarni. “I realized we had gone through the looking glass at that point and that if people could believe that, they could believe almost anything”, Kulkarni told reporters.
According to those watching Mr. Rykov, he was very successful at artificially inflating Russia’s support on social media platforms and making it appear the Kremlin had vastly greater numbers of allies on Facebook and Twitter than they actually had. The success Mr. Rykov had was so great, he was a major worry of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Michael McFaul, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, was particularly interested in Mr. Rykov, according to PRI.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about him and his colleagues in terms of what were their objectives. He was very active talking about foreign policy in particular.”
Mr. Rykov was also very active talking about how much he admired American Donald Trump. In fact, Mr. McFaul, calling him the Kremlin’s leading propagandist, said, “As you can see from his Twitter feed, he is very active. And he loves Trump.” But the record and pattern of activity of Mr. Rykov, indicates that there was a great deal more than enthusiasm, fandom, if you will, behind Rykov’s operations. Subverting American democracy looks like the core objective.