Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin known as “chef” by the Russian press, financed the Kremlin “troll factory” that used social media to spread fake news during the 2016 US presidential campaign to tilt the election in Donald Trump’s favor, multiple officials briefed on the investigation told CNN.
One part of the factory had a particularly intriguing name and mission: a “Department of Provocations” dedicated to sowing fake news and social divisions in the West, according to internal documents obtained by CNN.
U.S. investigators revealed that Prigozhin is one of the Kremlin’s inner circle. His company is believed to be a main backer of the St. Petersburg-based “Internet Research Agency” (IRA), a secretive technology firm.
The Internet Research Agency was based at 55 Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg before it officially ceased operations shortly after the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign ended.
A former employee, interviewed anonymously by the independent Russian TV network RAIN this week, said: “There was a goal — to influence opinions, to lead to a discussion. … There was a strategy document. It was necessary to know all the main problems of the United States of America. Tax problems, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons.”
The former employee said the mission was to “get into the dispute yourself to fire it up, try to rock the boat.” He gave an example: “It was necessary to write that sodomy is a sin. This would always get you a couple of dozen likes.”
He said IRA made its employees watch the US TV series “House of Cards” to improve their English.
Not unlike the fictional White House of Frank Underwood, Savchuk says, “The atmosphere there reminded me of some anti-utopian Gulag.”
CNN also revealed that Prigozhin was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in December of 2016 for providing financial support for Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine.