Russians allegedly plotted to sway elections by tarnishing DA and EFF

09 May 2019 - 11:10 By TimesLIVE
Documents suggest there was a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the SA elections.
Documents suggest there was a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the SA elections.
Image: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lucky Maibi

Russian specialists purportedly planned a disinformation campaign to tarnish the images of the DA and EFF in a bid to influence the elections in SA.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that documents - seen by the publication and the Daily Maverick - were prepared by an organisation linked to a St Petersburg businessman with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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On the face of it, the plan appeared to favour the ANC but there was no indication that the party endorsed such a scheme.

"The plan to interfere in SA's election was co-ordinated by a Russian political technologist, Peter Bychkov, who works for [Yevgeny] Prigozhin, according to the documents. The disinformation campaign was plotted by a Russian-owned NGO, the Association for Free Research and International Co-operation (Afric), under the guise of research," reported the Guardian.

Prigozhin is a prominent businessman known as "Putin’s chef". The Guardian said his political operatives had ostensibly attempted to keep President Bashir in power during 2018 in Sudan and were in Madagascar ahead of elections in that country.

The documents were obtained by the Dossier Center, an investigative unit based in London, funded by Russian businessman and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The Guardian said it was unclear whether the plan outlined in the documents was ever executed.

The Daily Maverick reported earlier in the week that "political analysts" were dispatched to SA in February 2019 under the auspices of Afric and the International Anti-Crisis Center (IAC), a geopolitical research centre.

"Under the guise of analysis or research they prepared a document which contains details of the alleged disinformation campaign," said the Daily Maverick.

Voters and politicians have said the indelible ink placed on the left thumbs of voters could easily be removed using cleaning products. IEC officials have said it is possible to vote more than once but doubts it would influence the election outcome.

The document mentioned proposals to discredit the leaders of the DA and EFF, doing a "perception study of Patricia de Lille's Good party and "research" into Mzwanele Manyi's ATM party.

Bychkov denied any knowledge of such a campaign when approached for comment saying, "It's a fantasy, I have never dealt with all this African politics," the Daily Maverick reported.

The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that Prigozhin faced US sanctions after being accused of running an online "troll factory" to bolster Donald Trump in the 2016 US election.

"There is no evidence to suggest that Cyril Ramaphosa, SA's president and the leader of the ANC, was aware of the plans or whether they were ever implemented," said the Telegraph.

The publication suggested that the plan may have been related to a bid to secure lucrative assets in SA's mining sector.