Volunteers of InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community regularly focus on Russia’s information operations and sources that disseminate disinformation, fakes, and manipulation. For example, quite a lot of data about covert methods of Russia’s information warfare and its ways of influencing Ukrainian and foreign audiences were obtained from the materials of SurkovLeaks (data from the e-mail account of the reception desk of Vladislav Surkov, ex-aide to the president of Russia, and his entourage), EgorovaLeaks (internal information about efforts of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic aimed at recruiting foreign journalists and coordinating their activities), FrolovLeaks (details of subversive activities of Russia’s agents pursued via religious organizations), and UsovskyLeaks (details of subversive activities of Kremlin’s agents in Eastern Europe).
However, not only the details of the coordination of activities among the Russian functionaries but also observations and open-source intelligence (OSINT) can be an important source of data for the analysis because OSINT makes it possible to make educated assumptions about the cooperation of some agents of influence with the Russian intelligence agencies based on numerous facts.
Using Russian (in name only) opposition émigré journalists is one of the sneakiest methods of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine and the info-war against the West. Initially, these people present themselves as active fighters against Putin’s regime, but later they start promoting the agenda and narratives advantageous to the Kremlin. They publish token criticisms of the Russian government on social media. Still, their professional activities and publications in foreign mass media resemble the Russian propaganda more and more—disseminated this time via influential mainstream media platforms. Moreover, they conceal the propaganda behind manipulative “it-is-not-cut-and-dried” statements, trying to paint Ukraine and the Baltic states as state sponsors of Neo-Nazism and Fascism. These Russians abroad are adroitly speculating on this topic while deflecting attention from the Russian threat and Russia’s aggression.
By way of example, we will use this publication to shed light on the activities of one such journalist and review factual pointers to his potential cooperation with Russia’s intelligence services.
Leonid Ragozin, Freelance Journalist
A citizen of the Russian Federation and freelance journalist Leonid Ragozin has come under InformNapalm’s volunteers’ scrutiny long ago. He has over 28,000 followers on Twitter. One of Ragozin’s newer retweets with a fake trailer of a film about Wagner-gate is traditionally manipulative, claiming as if there is an entire industry of disinformation operating in Ukraine.
Notably, Elliot Higgins, Bellingcat’s founder, refrained from making any statements about beneficiaries of this bogus story; he only stated that Bellingcat had nothing to do with this fake trailer video. In his turn, the Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin hastens to castigate Ukraine. He emphasizes that the “Ukrainian disinformation and manipulations need to be studied” (rather than the phenomenon of Russia’s hybrid warfare and numerous fake news produced by the Russian agitprop that may be behind this fake tweet).
Who is Mr Ragozin? Let us consider the background of this journalist in more detail together with his activities during the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Leonid Ragozin was born in Moscow on October 28, 1972. From 1989 to 1994, he studied in the prestigious Moscow State University at two departments at the same time, majoring in geology and foreign languages. He got two diplomas as both Geologist/Hydrogeologist and Translator/Interpreter. He worked as an English-to-Russian translator and a travel agent till 1998. From 1998 to 2006, he worked for BBC as a journalist in Moscow and London. Later, he was a reporter and later an editor with Russian Newsweek magazine till 2010. From 2010 to 2013, he worked as a producer for BBC’s English-language office in Moscow. After 2013, he cooperated with Lonely Planet. As a freelance journalist, he is working with Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg, Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, Time, Washington Post, and other English-language media.
According to a brief bio piece on BBC Russian, Leonid Ragozin “used to help Australian gold diggers in Siberia”.
Biography Pointers to the Potential Recruitment by the Russian Intelligence Services
During the Soviet era, English was taught on a professional level at Moscow State University not to everyone but to a special category of people deemed to be of interest as potential agents for work abroad. The tourism industry offers ideal cover for the intelligence work abroad, especially in 1998 Russia, when travel to Western Europe, let alone the Americas or Southeast Asia, was an exception for ordinary Russian citizens, rather than a rule. Even more out of the ordinary are his contacts with foreigners from Australia in Siberia.
It is still unclear why Leonid Ragozin—a geologist, an interpreter, and an agent (of a tour company, of course)—decided to radically change the focus of his career from “helping Australian gold diggers” to working for the British press in 1998. He was immediately hired by the trophy employer—British Broadcasting Corporation’s office in Moscow. Ragozin worked as a producer with a three-year break, doing an important and influential job until December 2013. During this period, he managed to work as the foreign news editor for Russian Newsweek from January 2007 to July 2010.
It bears mentioning that anyone working for foreign media in Russia, including the BBC office in Moscow, and especially a Russian citizen, becomes a target of attention for the Russian intelligence agencies, FSB counterintelligence and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Therefore, successfully doing the jobs mentioned above for many years always comes with cooperation with the Russian intelligence operatives.
Preparations for Russia’s Aggression against Ukraine
In late 2013, events culminating in the Revolution of Dignity started in Ukraine. In the meantime, Russian intelligence agencies have been preparing for the active phase of the assault on Crimea. Ordinary Russians suspected nothing. However, the Russian intelligence agencies were tasked with new priorities—shape the Western public opinion along the lines that it is not cut and dried, dilute facts of the Russian aggression, conceal it, and push the West toward withholding support from Ukraine.
It is a strange coincidence that journalist Ragozin’s prestigious and well-paid employment in Moscow came to an abrupt end exactly in December 2013. It coincided with the mobilization of officers of Russia’s SVR who were given new assignments. At that time, Ragozin, a journalist with numerous contacts with media abroad and experience of working in an English-speaking environment, suddenly decided to move house to Riga, when hardly anyone could imagine the open phase of the annexation of Crimea and sanctions associated with Russia’s aggression.
Ragozin’s first stories were published by Al-Jazeera in December 2013—the time when his emigration to Latvia accidentally coincided with the commencement of active protests in Ukraine. His first article about Ukraine ambitiously titled “Ukraine protests:The view from Moscow” was published by Al-Jazeera on December 23, 2013.
There, Ragozin peremptorily and without adducing any proof made strong claims about “problems faced by the Russians in Ukraine,” “the danger posed by the Ukrainian nationalists,” made provocative claims about “Russian regions of Ukraine” and the “artificial nature of Ukraine’s borders” that were a perfect match to the Kremlin’s propaganda. At the same time, he made false claims about “Russia’s indifference to the events in Ukraine” to distract the Western audience.
Background information: According to the notorious “Gerasimov doctrine,” the pursuit of a hybrid war relies on the intensive propaganda support focused on suppressing the drive to resistance in the country that became the target of the aggression and on neutralizing potential international response to Russia’s aggression. In addition to their own propaganda outlets, Russia’s intelligence agencies treat Russian representative offices (including those unofficial) in the EU and NATO countries as efficient influence platforms. Such unofficial platforms of destructive influence include the activities of freelance journalists, experts, and other opinion leaders abroad under the guise of opposition.
One must admit that Leonid Ragozin’s emigration to Latvia has been prepared quite well, although the cover story is not ideal. The willingness to emigrate to the closest NATO country to Russia (the Kremlin still considers it a post-Soviet country that is easily penetrable) was explained by Leonid Ragozin’s purported “opposition activism” and “difficulties faced in doing the job of a journalist” in Russia.
Background information: Usually, videos and photos made during genuine opposition protests, especially the footage of the detention of the “subject” by the police or other uniformed services broadly publicized abroad, are considered to provide ideal documentary underpinning for a cover story of an intelligence agent.
It is hardly surprising that a high-quality photo of Ragozin’s detention after the protest rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow in May 2012 was the most identifiable one among many demonstrators. At the same time, the faces of police officers are blurry and indistinct. Later, Leonid Ragozin attempted to use this photo to demonstrate his opposition credentials on Re:Baltica, a Latvian investigative journalism website, in December 2019, after his failed attempt to obtain a Latvian permanent residence permit.
Also, the Russian press controlled by Russia’s intelligence agencies keeps promoting Ragozin as a representative of some political forces funded by Soros.
To demonstrate his opposition credentials, Ragozin claimed in his interview to DELFI, a Latvian news portal in Russian, that he faced “difficulties in doing his journalist work” in Russia, albeit “without any persecution”; for this reason, he and his wife “bought an apartment in Riga” and moved house there.
The exquisite explanation of Ragozin’s purchase of an apartment in Riga deserves a special mention—he claimed the proceeds from the sale of his purportedly only apartment in Moscow to be the source of funds for buying an expensive flat in Riga. However, this is not true because, according to the documents, there were at least two apartments owned by Leonid Alekseyevitch Ragozin, a citizen of the Russian Federation, in Moscow, the first one at 33 Lomonosovskiy Prospekt, Building 1, unit 6, and the second one at 29 Mozhayskoye Chaussee, unit 169.
In 2014, Ragozin easily obtained a temporary 5-year permit to reside in Latvia and embarked on promoting Russia’s aggressive propagandist narratives. In addition, he became a source of destructive anti-Latvian and anti-Ukrainian publications pushed to the leading English-speaking media in the West.
Sample Ragozin’s Narratives and Publications
On July 19, 2014 (just two days after the tragedy), Al Jazeera published an English-language feature about the crash of the Malaysian Boeing-777 on the flight MH17 authored by Ragozin. The article had a telling title “Who is responsible for the MH-17 tragedy?” In this article intended for the international English-speaking audience, Ragozin, while formally condemning the conflict in Ukraine, obstinately and purposefully promoted various erroneous “versions of the tragedy,” quoting the example of the Russian civilian airplane “downed by Ukraine during the military exercises in 2001”. Plausibly, this piece of information was the clandestine psychological message of the article expected to influence the reader’s subconsciousness.
Another interesting example is an article dated March 16, 2019: “Annexation of Crimea: masterclass in political manipulation”. Ragozin cynically admires the “masterful annexation of Crimea” by Putin with an overt goal of pushing the international community toward recognizing the so-called Russian status of the Crimean Peninsula de facto.
There are more examples of pushing this narrative. In all, from December 2013 to August 2021, freelance journalist Leonid Ragozin published 35 articles in English on Al-Jazeera dedicated to prominent events—mainly in Ukraine. Under the guise of faked neutrality, he promotes a change in emphasis aimed at diluting and minimizing the Kremlin’s responsibility for the Russian aggression against Ukraine and even justifying the unlawful acts of the Russian regime for various reasons.
Moreover, he seemed to become addicted to promoting this narrative and, possibly with some encouragement from Moscow, started slinging mud on the country of his residence—Latvia, its government, and constitutional political forces.
Together with a local “journalist,” he “co-authored” two investigative reports fraught with propaganda, Muscles of Harmony—an article about the support provided by athletes in Riga to a Latvian national movement.
The Bottom of Intermarium is libel piece (which has many indications of being a propaganda piece coming from the Russian intelligence agencies) deserves special attention because of its extremely anti-Latvian and anti-Ukrainian nature.
In this sample of “investigative reporting,” Ragozin makes far-fetched claims about the “relationship” between the Latvian National Alliance and “neo-nazis” from Ukraine. Likely, this publication’s goal was to sow mistrust and block the interstate relations between Ukraine and Latvia and other Baltic countries and obstruct shared regional development projects, including Intermarium, a project Moscow doesn’t like at all.
This publication prepared the ground for Russia’s special operation. On December 17, 2019, Sputnik, the most prominent Russian propagandistic mouthpiece, published its own destructive report prepared by the Russian intelligence agencies aimed to influence the U. S. Government and the public, with reference to Ragozin’s so-called investigative report.
This material was promoted by Russian troll factories, Russian-speaking propaganda websites, and social media.
The linguistic analysis of Ragozin’s publications in English, their content analysis, style errors, and idiosyncratic presentation indicate a high probability of having been written by different Russian-speaking ghostwriters. On this basis, it can be assumed that Ragozin is often used not only as a journalist expected to develop the themes and narratives supplied from Moscow on his own but also as a channel for publishing articles in English written by someone else.
Interestingly, the Citizenship and Migration Authority (PMLP) of Latvia, where the Russian journalist has been residing since 2014, refused to issue a permanent residence permit to Ragozin in 2020. A story about this was spread by Sputnik Latvia, Russia’s propaganda mouthpiece.
Latvian counterintelligence agencies have likely been monitoring the destructive information activities of the Russian freelance journalist Leonid Ragozin for a long time. There is a bulk of indirect evidence of his being a Russian agent of influence. But, so far, he keeps “authoring” publications in the Western media focused on discrediting Ukraine and Latvia internationally.
The Russian intelligence agencies may have also been using Leonid Ragozin and other freelance journalists for developing anti-Ukrainian narratives in the Western media at the backdrop of the exacerbation of the so-called Wagner-Gate political scandal in Ukraine.
It is quite strange that Russian journalists purportedly forced out of their homeland by Russia’s repressive regime are focusing on discrediting Ukraine instead of writing about internal challenges of the Russian Federation, numerous crimes perpetrated on racist grounds, and Russian hybrid private military contractors like Rusich and Wagner PMC. Actually, Ukraine is a victim of Russia’s aggression. Russian “opposition” journalists living in NATO member states offer an ideal tool for promoting Russia’s aggression in the West, including the Baltic countries.
Read more from InformNapalm
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Translated by Oleksandr Ivanov, edited by Artem Velichko. Distribution and reprint with active link to the source is welcome! (Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0) InformNapalm social media pages: Facebook / Twitter / Telegram
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