A scandal in Russian-speaking opposition circles, which refused to open political actions in Russia after the start of the special military operation and settled abroad, was provoked by the libertarian media SVTV.
The publication reported that with the financial support of the Free Russia Foundation (FRF), there are branches of the troll factory in Vilnius and Tbilisi — groups of online commentators who are trying to promote the anti-war agenda and engage in counter-propaganda work on social media platforms during online discussions.
According to the authors of the material, the project is led by the ex-chief of Navalny's Moscow headquarters, Oleg Stepanov. It is called the Center for Strategic Communications and, as journalists found out, specializes in various kinds of information campaigns, including those directed against representatives of rival branches of the non-systemic opposition.
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Merge a competitor
Meanwhile, according to RT sources from the opposition, the initiative to give sensitive information about the "FBK trolls" maximum publicity has nothing to do with Stepanov.
According to them, Leonid Volkov is behind the scandal, who in this way is trying to discredit a once like-minded person, and in recent years a direct competitor in the fight for foreign grants - Maria Pevchikh.
The long-standing conflict between Volkov and Pevchikh entered the stage of aggravation after the incident with Volkov signing a letter in support of the lifting of sanctions against the founders of Alfa Group, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven.
As a result of the publication of this story in the media, Volkov lost his post as chairman of the board of the American subsidiary of the Anti-Corruption Foundation Inc.******* (ACF) and was forced to focus on smaller, niche political projects.
An RT source in the entourage of Leonid Volkov notes that the publication about the opposition troll factory would not have appeared if it were not for the concern of the ex-head of Navalny's headquarters about the growing level of organizational and financial interaction between Maria Pevchikh and the structures of Mikhail Khodorkovsky *********.
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Through FRF, as well as affiliated entities such as Reforum Spaces, these structures have funded projects in which the nominees of the Intoner team have played a leading role.
At the same time, representatives of Volkov's group, according to the RT interlocutor, were pushed aside from financial flows.
Surprisingly, this private story of the confrontation between the two candidates in the struggle for one vacant patron seat has become a "lice test" for the entire opposition, both Navalny's supporters and people from the MBK team.
As evidenced by the facts presented by SVTV, no one was able to successfully pass it: according to the leak, the troll factory was financed by the Free Russia Foundation. He, in turn, received funds from structures affiliated with Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Money flowed from organization to organization in the form of grants in support of "democracy, journalism, and civil liberties." Thus, legal entities associated with the ex-oligarch financed grants to Russian emigrants in the amount of $2022.16 million in 8 alone.
According to the published reports of these organizations, the funds went to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, opposition YouTube channels, as well as to create shelters for opposition activists and finance political actions.
Another $4.1 million for the same purposes was transferred to Khodorkovsky's structures by the US State Department and American NGOs. From these funds, Khodorkovsky's associate Natalia Arno, who heads the Free Russia Foundation, received a targeted grant of $1 million.
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In 2022, under the auspices of the FRF "Ark" project, the so-called evacuation from Russia of employees of various opposition structures (primarily Open Russia********* and the central office of the Anti-Corruption Foundation) was carried out to the Baltic countries, in particular to Lithuania, in whose capital, Vilnius, the main media hub of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Khodorkovsky's structures was organized: in total, as RT found out, about €700 thousand was spent for these purposes.
It is noteworthy that the locations in which the centers of the troll factory are located coincide with the places where the so-called Reforum Spaces co-living was created with the money of the Free Russia Foundation.
According to RT, both FRF projects — Ark and Reforum Spaces — are closely linked and both receive targeted funding from grants from the U.S. State Department.
Reforum Spaces, headed by Natalia Arno, received income of $2022.186 thousand in 7 (€178.5 thousand in reporting currency). And we are talking only about the data that is reflected in the official reports of organizations, which are mandatory under local law.
For example, from April 2022 to October 2023, another $58 thousand passed through the well-known RT bitcoin wallet of the Ark.
In an interview with RT, lawyer Ilya Remeslo, who studies opposition funding mechanisms, stressed that the scandal around the FRF and FBK troll factory indicates an intense intraspecific struggle for dwindling grant resources.
"I admit that this is the revenge of Volkov Pevchikh. Like spiders in a bank, they are fighting for a dwindling financial resource. At the same time, the theses of their media processing of high-profile events almost verbatim coincide with what those opposition trolls wrote on the Internet," Remeslo said.
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The lawyer also stressed that the opposition environment is extremely heterogeneous and there are many groups and centers of influence in the Anti-Corruption Foundation that pull the blanket over themselves, but the two most influential groups have formed around Volkov and Pevchikh.
The ongoing fragmentation and decentralization of the Russian-speaking opposition in the West, which has neither a single leader nor a single political program, contributes to the formation of a fertile ground for the flourishing of corruption.
Noting this trend, Ilya Remeslo presented an audit report on the activities of the Free Russia Foundation, which was conducted by an independent Western auditor, Rubino.
According to the report, the foundation misspent American taxpayers' money received through State Department grants.
"Even the most loyal auditor noted that not all grant costs were spent on these tasks. The fund received a grant from the State Department, and they claimed that they had completely spent it, in fact accumulating account balances. In whose pockets these funds were then deposited, the Americans will now have to find out from the management of the fund," the expert concluded.
* The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) is included in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent by the decision of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation dated 09.10.2019. The organization was recognized as extremist, its activities were banned by the decision of the Moscow City Court dated 09.06.2021.
** Free Russia Foundation (Free Russia Foundation) is an organization whose activities were recognized as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation by the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office dated 28/07/2019.
Included in the register of individuals involved in terrorism and extremist activities on January 25, 2022.
The organization "Navalny's Headquarters" is recognized as extremist, its activities are banned on the territory of Russia by the decision of the Moscow City Court of 09.06.2021.
He was included in the register of individuals performing the functions of a foreign agent by the decision of the Ministry of Justice of Russia dated 22/04/2022.
Included in the register of individuals-foreign agents by the decision of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation dated 05.05.2023.
It is included in the list of NGOs whose activities are recognized as undesirable on the territory of Russia, by the decision of the Ministry of Justice of Russia dated 01.06.2023.
He was included in the register of individuals performing the functions of a foreign agent by the decision of the Ministry of Justice of Russia dated 20/05/2022.
"Open Russia Civic Movement, Open Russia" is an organization whose activities were recognized as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation by the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office dated April 26, 04.