Putin's $19,200 rent-a-mobs: Emails show Russia uses paid thugs and email hackers to sow dissent and chaos abroad

  • A tranche of hacked emails sent by Kremlin-linked figures appear to show Russia's plan to sow chaos and dissent abroad
  • The emails discuss prices for rent-a-mob rallies, hackers, and propaganda merchants in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014.
  • Kremlin figures allegedly discussed a $130,500 plan to "troll" opponents of Russia, "demotivate enemies" on social media, and collect personal data of opponents in Ukraine.
  • Experts warned that Russia could use the same weapons in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

LONDON — Hacked emails appear to expose the full extent of Russia's plans to sow chaos and dissent abroad by paying for rent-a-mob rallies, hackers, and propaganda merchants.

A tranche of emails sent by Kremlin-linked figures were leaked to the Times newspaper on Monday. They outline a dirty-tricks campaign in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014 on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

The emails allegedly outline how much Russia was prepared to pay for various services in a huge disinformation campaign in Ukraine. One set of correspondence from October 2014 appears to have been sent by an unnamed Russian politician to Inal Ardzinba, a Kremlin figure close to Putin.

It contained proposals to fund a cyber-campaign which outlined various cost proposals, including:

• $100 to $300 to hack email accounts;

• $130,500: A plan to "troll" opponents of Russia, "demotivate enemies" on social media, and collect personal data of opponents in Kharviv.

Other prices discussed in the leaked emails include:

• A $120,460 proposal to discussed in June 2015 to arrange for 30 ex-communist figures elected to local government;

• A $19,200 proposal to buy a month of rallies in Ukraine's second-largest city Kharviv, including 100 participants, 3 organisers, and 2 lawyers. Organisers would orchestrate anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia rallies featuring crowds of martial-arts trained protestors, and lawyers would buy off the police. It is unclear whether the plan happened.

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Russian prime minister vladimir putin seen casting his vote during the elections to the state duma, at the polling station #2026 in moscow's kosygina street,moscow, russia, december 19, 1999. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
N362234 01: (FILE PHOTO) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov on August 16, 1999. President Boris Yeltsin announced on national television Friday, Dec. 31, 1999 that he had resigned and presidential elections will be held within 90 days to replace him. Yeltsin said he was stepping down immediately because he wanted Putin to succeed him. Putin, the country's most popular politician, immediately took control of the government and will serve as acting president until the elections. (photo by Laski Diffusion/Liaison Agency)
SEVEROMORSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 7: Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin watches the tactical exercises of Russia's Northern Fleet in the Barentsevo Sea, 06 April 2000. Vladimir Putin spent the night underwater in a nuclear submarine near the Arctic Circle. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
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Experts warned that Russia could use the same weapons in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, especially in the wake of the Sergei Skripal nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the tools and techniques of Russian covert conflict are being used in and against the UK, the US and the EU,” Tory MP Bob Seely, an expert on Russian warfare who analysed the emails, told the Times.

“In the wake of the Skripal poisoning it’s more important than ever that we understand these methods.”

He said they represent a "shopping list of subversion."

The emails come from the third tranche of the so-called "Surkov leaks," named after Vladislav Surkov, Putin's close personal adviser, who is alleged to have sent emails found in the two previous tranches.

The latest hack appears to contain emails from various Russian politicians, including accounts linked to Inal Ardzinba, Surkov's first deputy, that were sent to a Ukrainian Communist party leader.

Russia has claimed the Surkov leaks are themselves disinformation, although the authors of the correspondence in the first two leaks have confirmed their authenticity.

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