Ukraine-Russia: Russian internet trolls accused of meddling in Scottish independence referendum vote are targeting world leaders over Ukraine war

A UK Government investigation has revealed Russian internet trolls based in an old arms factory in St Petersburg – and accused of meddling in the Scottish independence referendum – are targeting world leaders online and spreading support for the invasion of Ukraine.

Research funded by the Government found online trolls were being ordered to target western media outlets and politicians, including the Twitter account of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The investigation is due to be shared with other governments and online platforms.

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Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said the evidence justified the Government’s decision to block anyone doing business with Russian media outlets RT, which previously employed former first minister Alex Salmond as a talk show host, until he suspended his work just before the Russian invasion, and Sputnik.

Russian internet trolls are believed to b based at a factory in St Petersburg.Russian internet trolls are believed to b based at a factory in St Petersburg.
Russian internet trolls are believed to b based at a factory in St Petersburg.

The troll factory is believed to be linked to oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Russian Internet Research Agency.

The agency has previously been accused of meddling in the 2016 election that saw Donald Trump win the presidency, as well as the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The headquarters is allegedly located in rented space in St Petersburg’s Arsenal Machine-building Factory, a company that manufactures military equipment and technology.

The research said TikTok influencers were being paid to amplify pro-Kremlin narratives, while although activities on Twitter and Facebook were detected, the trolling was particularly concentrated on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

Workers at the so-called troll factory were paid and hired openly, saying the work was “patriotic activity” in support of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said: “We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war.

“The UK Government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.”

Ms Dorries said: “These are insidious attempts by Putin and his propaganda machine to deceive the world about the brutality he’s inflicting on the people of Ukraine.

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“This evidence will help us to more effectively identify and remove Russian disinformation and follows our decisive action to block anyone from doing business with Kremlin-controlled outlets RT and Sputnik.”

Social media accounts of bands and musicians, including Daft Punk, David Guetta, Tiesto and Rammstein, appear to have been targeted by the disinformation operation.

The Foreign Office will not identify the researchers behind the investigation due to fears for their safety if seen to criticise the Russian government.

In 2017, Ben Nimmo, an expert in Russian cyber-operations, accused Russian activists of running a disinformation campaign to discredit the Scottish independence referendum result, by wrongly alleging it was rigged. He said “questions needed to be asked” over whether pro-Kremlin accounts, which potentially influenced the Scottish independence campaign, were linked to the St Petersburg troll factory.

Mr Nimmo, an analyst for the US think-tank the Atlantic Council, which is part of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation linked to Nato, said propagandists used Twitter, fake videos on YouTube and Facebook accounts to make and then spread false allegations that votes were interfered with to ensure victory for unionist campaigners.

Separately, researchers at Edinburgh University claimed 419 social media accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency posted on the Brexit vote.



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