A trove of hacked emails sent by Kremlin-linked figures appears to show that Moscow planned to fund a dirty-tricks campaign aimed at sowing division and spreading disinformation in Ukraine, just months after Russia invaded the country.
As reported by The Times, the emails were allegedly found in accounts linked to Inal Ardzinba, a Kremlin figure close to President Vladimir Putin, and to a Ukrainian Communist Party leader.
One set of correspondence from October 2014 contained proposals to fund a cybercampaign to “troll” opponents of Moscow, “demotivate enemies” on social media, and collect personal data of opponents in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, for a fee of $130,500.
The emails, allegedly sent by an unnamed Russian politician to Ardzinba, also outlined an offer to hack email accounts for between $100 and $300.
Another proposal included the organisation of one month of pro-Russia rallies in Kharkiv for the sum of $19,200. The fee included the transport of protesters, bribes to local media to cover the demonstrations, and bribes to police. It is unclear whether the rallies actually took place.
The emails are part of the so-called “Surkov leaks,” named after Vladislav Surkov, an influential personal adviser to Putin who is believed to have sent emails exposed in two previous leaks.
Moscow insists that the leaks are fake, although the authors of emails in the first two leaks have confirmed their authenticity.
British MP Bob Seely, an expert on Russian warfare, described the latest set of emails as a “shopping list of subversion” and warned there was “overwhelming evidence” that the same tactics are being used against the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States.