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Russian spy plot to sow ‘panic and terror’ in US leaked in bombshell report

A Russian spy plot that sought to sow “panic and terror” in the West has been revealed in a joint-investigation.

Leaked emails from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) obtained by independent Russian site The Insider and the German newspaper Der Spiegel reveal an elaborate plan masterminded in 2022, dubbed “Project Kylo.”

Just months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in May 2022, a group of SVR employees unveiled the operation at a private roundtable discussion in the Russian Senate. Leaked communications showed that Moscow sought to sow disinformation campaigns in the West about Ukraine, “stoke existential fears and create animosity to [Ukrainian] refugees fleeing the war.”

Newsweek couldn’t independently verify the claims made in the investigation and has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment by email.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured in Astana, Kazakhstan, on July 4, 2024. A Russian spy plot which sought to sow “panic and terror” in the West has been revealed in a joint investigation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured in Astana, Kazakhstan, on July 4, 2024. A Russian spy plot which sought to sow “panic and terror” in the West has been revealed in a joint investigation.
SERGEI GUNEYEV/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

The proposal, first put forward by Mikhail Kolesov, a 45-year-old SVR officer, was designed to “inject a new scheme into the Kremlin’s propaganda approach” that was “systematic, targeted and active, offensive in nature,” according to the investigation.

The SVR officer suggested that instead of pushing typical pro-Russian arguments about the conflict, the operation should “deepen internal contradictions between the ruling elites” in the West, including in the U.S., which is known among the special services as Russia’s “main adversary.”

This involved SVR recruits creating fake advertisements disguised as news headlines, fake NGOs and websites, publishing manipulative content on social media platforms including YouTube, and hiring individuals to take part in protests in the West with the aim of filming them and disseminating the content online.

At a time when some Western politicians were suggesting that Ukrainian refugees who fled the war were becoming burdens on state resources, SVR recruits attempted to exploit the situation by creating fake news websites and running articles with headlines such as: “How Ukrainians are robbing Germany of economic prosperity.”

Hundreds of thousands of social media accounts attempted to direct internet users to these sites by publishing images with “sensationalistic slogans” such as “Germany is sinking into homelessness” and “Even bread is a luxury” and linking back to them.

The “leitmotif of our cognitive campaign in the [Western] countries is proposed to be the instilling of the strongest emotion in the human psyche—fear,” one leaked document said. “It is precisely the fear for the future, uncertainty about tomorrow, the inability to make long-term plans, the unclear fate of children and future generations. The cultivation of these triggers floods an individual’s subconscious with panic and terror.”

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Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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