A network of Russian marketing companies known for selling suspicious food additives and malicious software is behind a disinformation campaign against Western coronavirus vaccines, a Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty investigation has found.
The trail goes to Yulia Serebryanskaya, a Moscow-based businessman who is active in pro-Kremlin political circles. The investigation provides new information about a campaign aimed at influencing people active on social media – including in France and Germany – and which has reportedly attracted the attention of the French security services.
Serebryanskaya has long been involved in the political campaigns of Russia’s ruling United Russia party. He heads the Russian Initiative, which describes its activities as “the world unity of Russian speakers”, which aims to “adequately present our traditions, our social achievements, instead of listening to distorted ideas about the homeland.”
The disinformation campaign, in which marketing companies are also involved, adds a new dimension to Russia’s covert efforts to advance its own vaccine. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is behind these efforts.
RDIF Aggressively trying “Sputnik” advertises, emphasizes and from time to time denigrates its capabilities and, at the same time, Openly criticizes Western vaccines – “Pfizer”, “Astrazeneka” and “Moderna”.
There is no evidence that RDIF is linked to a marketing campaign launched in recent weeks that targeted “influencers” in France and other countries.
According to Western media, French bloggers received emails from a person who claimed to be a marketing company from Fazze. The e-mail said the company would pay bloggers for videos posted on YouTube, Instagram and other platforms where the Pfizer vaccine would be criticized.
French blogger Leo Grassett, whose YouTube channel has 1.2 million subscribers, said he had received a similar letter and Screenshots He spread it through “Twitter”.
Popular German blogger Mirko Drochmann also posted screenshots of e-mails on social media asking him to join the Pfizer vaccine campaign.
The company Fazze, which has a London address on its site, is not registered in the UK, although another site describes the firm as part of the marketing agency AdNow, which has offices in the UK and Russia.
The British firm Adnow LLP was founded in 2014 by British man and Russian Stanislav Fesenko. Adnow and Fazze have one address in London – “Corporate Mailbox”, where dozens of companies are registered.
Until 2018, Serebryanskaya headed the Russian division of AdNow.
The official address of the company’s Moscow office is located on Warsaw Street. There is a registered marketing firm 2WTrade, which is also owned by Serebryanskaya. The online chart, which appears to be an internal corporate document, provides additional links between Adnow, 2WTrade and other companies related to Serebryanskaya.
Yulia Serebryanskaya graduated from Novosibirsk State Technical University in 2001 with a degree in mathematics. He worked for a short time on local state television, then moved to Moscow, where, according to him, he worked for NTV and Pervi Kanal.
His biography states that in 2007 he ran for Dmitry Medvedev, and in 2012 for Vladimir Putin, and then headed the advertising department of the ruling United Russia party’s policy department.
In 2013, Serebryanskaya moved to the United States “for family reasons,” where she spent two years. While there, he said, he “made connections with Russians living in California – namely, Silicon Valley technology companies.”
RFE / RL was unable to obtain public records of his stay in the United States.
After returning to Russia, Serebryanskaya first founded the company 2WTrade, and then the “Russian Initiative”.
Serebryanskaya and Fazze did not respond to emails or text messages.
The British man named after one of the founders of AdNow is referred to in British documents as Yuan Toladey. He previously worked for Mottogeek, a malware distribution company now known as AnnGames. Former AnnGames co-founder Stanislav Fesenko, co-founder of AdNow.
Another employee of AdNow’s Moscow office is Vyacheslav Usoltsev, who previously worked for a similar marketing company, Brand.ad. Usoltsev, meanwhile, is the director of Fazze.com according to his own LinkedIn profile, which was deleted on May 27th. Brand.ad’s website shows the surname of the owner of the firm – Serebryansky. The name or father’s name is not given anywhere.
Yet another public database names Mikhail Serebryansky, whose father’s name is the same as Serebryanskaya.
According to the registration documents, Serebryansk belongs to a number of different firms, several of which are registered at the same address as the companies associated with Serebryanskaya.
On one of the sites, a commentator writes that Serebryanskaya’s brother is an investor of the firm.
Until 2018, Serebryanskaya was registered as the owner of the British company 2WTrade LLP, but since then the ownership of the firm has passed into the hands of a Guatemalan man. A man of the same name named after the co-founder of the Serebrianskaya organization, the Russian Initiative.
Graham Barrow, a financial crime expert, told RFE / RL that Serebryanskaya owns a significant stake in three British organizations. Most likely, all three firms are fictitious organizations – they do not carry out real commercial activity and are only used to carry assets.
Good science, bad marketing?
There is no evidence of involvement of Russian public agencies or government officials in this social media campaign, although we can see similarities with the PRIF-produced PR activities.
RDIF took to Twitter to promote scientific research into the negative effects of Western vaccines, but when Slovakia said that the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine batch was different from what international scientists and regulators were considering, RDIF called Sputnik There was talk of a targeted disinformation campaign.
In September, several countries stopped using Astrazeneca because of a possible link between the vaccine and a blood clot. This decision was temporary – the regulators of these countries found that the risk was minimal.
The head of RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, said he welcomed the resumption of the vaccination process, but at the same time hinted that the vaccine had been developed on a flawed scientific platform.
“It has become clear that the approach is wrong when countries rely entirely on new and inexperienced platforms when choosing a vaccine for widespread use,” Dmitriev said.
In October, The Times Of London described a covert disinformation campaign seeking to discredit Astrazeneka. Fake websites circulated internet mimes and videos as if this vaccine turned humans into monkeys.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied allegations that he carried out a disinformation campaign.
“Russia does not provide false information to anyone. “Russia is proud of its success and Russia shares its success with the world’s first vaccine,” he said.