Despite US and EU sanctions, NewsFront, a hub for Kremlin propaganda linked to Russian intelligence, is still targeting audiences in Europe. Now, it’s developing its reach on Telegram and using local networks.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NewsFront, long described as one of the largest Russian disinformation factories, has been actively expanding.
While the European sanctions were imposed on NewsFront’s owner, Konstantin Knyrik, soon after the war’s outbreak, our research finds an increasing amount of Russian propaganda content in foreign languages originating from NewsFront. Improved linguistic accuracy of the content indicates potential recruitment of employees from European countries.
Since 2015, NewsFront was mainly operated by people who originated from territories occupied after 2014 in Ukraine, namely Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. According to the data in the possession of an international team of journalists, in addition to Knyrik, NewsFront has been maintained by at least 70 people, including so-called journalists, freelancers, regional and local editors based in Russia and all over Europe.
Social media platforms seem not to be adhering to the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States. In some cases, they appear to be not even aware of them. National security services in CEE countries have tried geoblocking the NewsFront infrastructure, but the hydra of Russian propaganda simply reemerges under new guises.
This article is the result of the cross-border cooperation of seven editorial teams from Central and Eastern Europe. The project investigates the disinformation ecosystem orchestrated by the Russian state apparatus and echoed across Europe. Journalists have analysed data, including more than 100 email addresses associated with NewsFront, and managed to connect some of them with real people who spread Kremlin propaganda in Europe and beyond.
A member of the far-right party AFD in Germany from a small town in Bavaria; the Slovak Brother for Brother biker club; Serbian right-wing activists; a “Tatar” imam; a Hungarian ex-diplomat and amateur interpreter—these seemingly unrelated individuals have something in common. They have been contributing to or actively supporting NewsFront, a Russian propaganda factory active in 11 languages and linked to Russian intelligence.
The first articles on the NewsFront website appeared around December 2014 during the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. They focused on the Russian interpretation of incidents in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions occupied by Russia, as well as news from Russia and Ukraine.
Today, NewsFront is still one of the key hubs for Russian propaganda, which has an audience far beyond Europe. According to the traffic analytics website SimilarWeb, the website reaches audiences in 25 countries.
The intensity of the colour corresponds with the percentage of the country's population that reads NewsFront
The now-sanctioned NewsFront director, Konstantin Knyrik, shares a stake in the company with Yulia Lozanova. Born in Odessa, Lozanova moved to Moscow in 2015, where she has actively supported Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to media reports, Lozanova is the wife of a former member of the Russian government. In 2023, Lozanova testified as a witness for the prosecution in Moscow court against a Russian writer who stood accused because he had denounced Russian crimes in Bucha and Mariupol on social media. Lozanova considered the story about the shelling of a residential building by a Russian tank to be “unconfirmed and a provocation,” while the Russian military, in her opinion, “strikes only at military targets.” According to investigative organization Dossier Centre’s research, she also worked at TV Novosti, a media company controlled by Russian authorities. (We wrote more about Knyrik and Lozanova in a previous investigation).
Even though the United States imposed sanctions not only on Knyrik, but also on NewsFront, Google still shows NewsFront’s articles in its search results. In a reply to request for comment, Google assured us that their search engines prioritizes high-quality materials and does not expose people to harmful content. However, sanctions are not enough to take down the website.
“When it comes to removing pages from our results, we’re strongly guided by local law, and we encourage people and authorities to alert us to content they believe violates the law,” a spokesperson for Google said.
NewsFront is also still developing its presence on social media, even though Facebook previously blocked its accounts, which hit the website significantly. In April 2020, Facebook intervened against NewsFront and its fellow Russian propaganda portal, SouthFront. In response to our questions, Meta said that a total of 46 Pages, 91 Facebook accounts, two groups and one Instagram account were blocked. The reason for the decision was “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”— activities where groups of accounts and pages try to mislead people about who they are and what they do, while also relying on fake accounts. In February 2022, the company took down another network targeting Ukraine across social media platforms. Facebook’s internal investigation found links between that network and NewsFront, among other outlets distributing pro-Kremlin content.
NewsFront profiles are consequently not accessible on Facebook and their domains are blacklisted.
Meta claims to track down new tactics by NewsFront: “We know that this is a highly adversarial space where covert influence operations we take down try to adapt to detection by changing their behaviors, including spinning up new domains. As part of our continuous enforcement against this entity, we monitor and take action against recidivist attempts, including blocking of their new domains, like we did in this case.”
However, the block applies to web addresses belonging directly to NewsFront—i.e. their main Russian site and other subdomains. As our analysis finds, hyperlinks to other NewsFront content, like Telegram posts, are therefore not blocked. This allows propaganda content on the site to reach Meta’s platforms via an intermediate link. Once there, they can easily spread. We have seen that links with an invitation to follow the NewsFront Telegram channel are spreading across pro-Russian Facebook groups and pages.
We discovered that at least 5.5 thousand links citing NewsFront Telegram channels and website domains have appeared on Facebook since 2018. Links began to appear in 2020, just as the block from Facebook began. The second wave hit in 2022 just after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The NewsFront infrastructure operatives actively used Facebook to migrate and develop its presence on Telegram.
This is aligned with findings from one of our previous investigations, published in March, in which we analyzed how Telegram became the first-choice platform for Russian propaganda in Central Europe. At that time, we asked the platform for comment on our findings, which showed that Telegram is heavily used to disseminate disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist content, including content from sites sanctioned by the EU and other countries (e.g. RT, NewsFront).
Telegram, in response, assured us that “it is abiding by EU sanctions by blocking access to the channels of RT and Sputnik for EU-based users.”
Reaproached with our latest findings, Telegram admitted that, while it blocked NewsFront’s channel in the USA, following US sanctions, it didn’t do it for any of the European countries.
“In the EU, however, we were not aware of any sanctions against NewsFront and had not been contacted about that by EU representatives. Now that we are aware of sanctions against NewsFront’s editor-in-chief, it has also been blocked, just like RT and Sputnik before it,” Telegram replied to us.
Shortly after receiving our questions, some of the NewsFront Telegram channels, including Slovak, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, French and Spanish, did indeed get blocked. However, the Polish, Serbian, German and English have still been available or they soon resurfaced under new names. In Slovakia a new channel appeared.
From rallies in a small town in Bavaria to Berlin-based company
Over nine years of NewsFront’s existence, they managed to launch 11 language versions of their website. The first established were in German and Serbian.
Our earlier investigation discovered that Germany became a main hub of disinformation and Russian propaganda in Central Europe. On its website, NewsFront claims to have offices in Bulgaria, Serbia, Germany, France, Spain, Great Britain, Georgia, and Hungary, and says that most of their workers are volunteers. Our investigation confirms its connections to Russian state-owned media.
Germany only recently came into hot water because the country is still the home base of TV Novosti-owned Ruptly GmbH, a provider of video content. This is a company suspected by German intelligence of having become more and more important for Russian propaganda in Germany, since it can still operate from Central Europe, open bank accounts, and conduct transactions in euros. The company was founded by TV Novosti to act as a commercially-funded sister agency to RT. Ruptly has an active German licence for broadcasting and has, other than RT, never been sanctioned. For a long time, Ruptly was thought to be a digital content creator that is aimed at the Western political left.
An analysis of both media outlets, Rutply and NewsFront, shows some overlap. Until recently, Ruptly has been providing video content for NewsFront. In one of its articles, NewsFront also confirms that Ruptly was in fact the “video agency” of RT, which has been sanctioned in the EU, and according to its own account, is in liquidation.
As outlined in the sanctions by the United States and by academic researchers analyzing the Russian propaganda ecosystem, the outlets involved in Russian influence operations repeatedly republish content from each other in an attempt to legitimize and popularize their disinformation narratives.
The politician who became the face of German NewsFront before and until the sanctions were issued was Johannes Normann, a member of the AFD, a right wing populist party in Germany. He does not hold any political offices, but has been a member of AFD for roughly ten years and makes appearances in the “alternative” media landscape. He is very active in the right wing populist scene, particularly with his social media accounts, which have tens of thousands of followers. He boasts about socialising regularly with figures of the German, Austrian and Swiss alt-right movement.
He started to appear in NewsFront videos as early as 2016 as an interviewee and he also contributed articles to the German NewsFront site. He says he is friendly towards Russia, but the reason why he wanted to contribute to Newsfront was because he felt that there he was not “censored.”
In May, he confirmed on Twitter that he had been in contact with Anastasia Shkitina (according to Normann, she is based in Crimea). He says they’ve known each other since 2014. Shkitina is one of the names that emerged from the data analysis of emails linked to the NewsFront websites. She regularly appeared on German NewsFront and in interviews with Normann. The interviews stopped in 2020.
Since NewsFront has been sanctioned by the United States, Normann no longer appears in the interviews. Before the sanctions, he lengthily explained the location and history of his small home town in Bavaria, Mömbris, and the nearby smaller city of Aschaffenburg, of which he seems very fond. Up until 2020, NewsFront seemed to have a keen interest in Aschaffenburg and ran articles featuring the otherwise nondescript, provincial city. Why this city would be interesting for NewsFront’s audience is unclear. Although such articles no longer appear, since 2023 the TV Novosti-backed outlet Ruptly seems to have developed an interest in Normann’s home region of Aschaffenburg, a small Bavarian town with 60,000 inhabitants. Normann says he has no connection to Ruptly.
The Russian “journalists” of Ruptly seem to consider Aschaffenburg a very important place in Germany, one where events of national importance take place. Ruptly published video content of anti-government rallies in the town five times this year already, including on June 25, a day after the Prigozhyn mutiny.
Interestingly, the rallies in Aschaffenburg, which Johannes Normann sometimes promotes on his social media accounts, have increased in number and intensity since 2023. Videos of these events are featured by Russian state owned media, and play a role in the Russian narrative and propaganda framework.
“Conspiracy theories and other fake news that are purported by Russian propaganda media are multiplied and reinforced by such rallies as the ones that happen regularly now in the small town of Aschaffenburg”, says Elisabeth Fast, a researcher of the German Amadeu-Antonious Foundation. “They pick it up and report about it – often blowing it up and making it more of an issue than there really is. It’s a way to support such demonstrations because they want to make sure that the momentum does not get lost.” The goal, according to Fast, is to reinforce division and conflicts in societies.
The close contacts and the contributions of Normann to NewsFront are the first known connection between a German AFD member and the FSB-directed Russian propaganda machine. It was a former employee of the German NewsFront, who revealed to the German newspaper Die Zeit that funds making up “a large part of the budget” were allocated to him directly by Russian security services. Also, the United States in their sanctions made clear that NewsFront was “FSB-directed.”
Confronted with these findings, Normann said that he would be willing to speak with NewsFront again. Asked about the sanctions, he says that they are irrelevant to him: “I find it very disturbing that we let a foreign power control our news,” he said.
Ironically enough, a couple of weeks ago, Normann—who often has reiterated Russian propaganda falsehoods about Ukraine—has been convicted of a felony: he spread a symbol on social media that is prohibited by German law. It was a swastika. While he appealed the conviction, in a separate court case he is accused of endorsing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Twitter (now X).
Serbian ex-politician got a job offer
The Serbian NewsFront website was launched in 2015 after Knyrik was allegedly contacted by some volunteers from Serbia, “concerned about the growing influence of Western media in Serbia,” as he told Radio Free Europe.
In an interview for NewsFront in early 2016, Knyrik stated that one of the goals of the newly opened newsroom was to “prevent the Ukrainian scenario in Montenegro.” In October of that year, Montenegro was set to hold parliamentary elections, which were particularly important because their outcome would determine whether the country would vote to join NATO.
“The current regime is trying to force people into NATO…We have a duty to use the means of information to prevent the US from carrying out the Ukrainian scenario in Montenegro,” Knyrik then stated.
In 2016, NewsFront Serbia waged a fierce campaign against then-Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, who was pro-NATO. In their articles, they openly advocated voting for the pro-Russian opposition party, Democratic Front.
At that time, the editor-in-chief of the website was Oksana Sazonova, a Russian journalist, born in Odesa, who moved to Russian Rostov-on-Don and later to Serbia. Ukrainian website Myrotvorets published the screenshots from 2015-2016, showing that Sazonova held a conversation with NewsFront staff regarding the salary for her Serbian team. The discussed sum was 400 euro (about 259 euro for her and 141 euro for the team).
According to a Bellingcat investigation, in 2016, prior to the elections, Sazonova was in contact with a right-wing activist from Serbia named Nemanja Ristić. Shortly thereafter, Ristić was accused by the Montenegrin prosecutor’s office of being part of a group of people from Montenegro, Serbia, and Russia who planned to stage a coup on the election day in order to bring to power pro-Russian forces that would prevent joining NATO. Among the accused were the leaders of the Democratic Front, as well as two agents of the Russian military intelligence GRU.
After a few years of trial, the alleged coup plotters were sentenced to prison, and Ristić to seven years. However, the verdict was overturned, and a new trial is ongoing.
This was not the only controversy revolving around NewsFront Serbia and Sazonova at the time. In September 2016, regional media reported that the Kosovo police arrested Sazonova and cameraman Sergey Belous for a presumably illegal entry into Kosovo (which declared independence in 2008, but which Serbia claims as part of its territory). After a night in custody, they were fined and deported back. Sazonova claimed in an interview for Sputnik that they were rescued thanks to “Russian diplomacy.” As reported by the Voice of America, they were taken to Belgrade by representatives of the Russian Embassy.
It is not known when precisely Sazonova left the editorial position at NewsFront Serbia. In a 2019 interview, she spoke about her work in Serbia in the past tense. Still, she remained listed on the website masthead as an editor in chief until 2022. Our sources confirm that she had long left the website and deleted her social media accounts.
After Sazonova’s departure, Knyrik wanted Dragana Trifković to become the new editor. She is known in right-wing circles in Serbia as having been a prominent member of right-wing parliamentary parties until 2020. Today, she regularly makes public appearances as a pro-Russian analyst and expert on geopolitical issues and conflicts. She advocates for the separatism of Donbas and Crimea, and Ukrainian authorities have put her on their sanctions list.
According to our data analysis, Trifković was one of the people who had access to the NewsFront website in Serbia, which she confirmed in an interview to a Raskrikavanje’s reporter.
She told us that she just exchanged a few emails with Knyrik: once regarding organizing a journalistic visit to Donbas, and second time when he offered her a job. She believed Knyrik had offered her the editor’s position in NewsFront because she spoke both Russian and Serbian.
“He didn’t say it explicitly, but I understood from our conversation that we shouldn’t be anti-regime. I told him that, for me, objectivity is the main condition and that I cannot engage in propaganda,” she stated.
Trifković said that she was given access to the website even though the negotiations were not concluded, but she doesn’t know why that was the case. She still used her credentials to publish one of her interviews on Kosovo. She claims that she had no further involvement with NewsFront or contact with Knyrik after that.
However, before that, she collaborated extensively with the website: NewsFront, led by Sazonova, widely promoted Trifković’s views and activities, published her articles, interviews, and reports from various conferences in Russia and the seceded Ukrainian territories.
Trifković now distances herself from the website, which she considers “very unprofessional,” but says she does not believe that it is connected to Russian intelligence.
Boris Gaborov is also one of the people involved in publishing content on the Serbian NewsFront, according to our data analysis (he also has access to the main Russian domain). Gaborov claims to be the current editor of the website in Serbia, even though his name cannot be found on the masthead.
Gaborov doesn’t believe that NewsFront has connections to any intelligence service either. Every claim that comes from the West he dismisses as “nonsense.”
In our first phone conversation, he seems relatively open. He says that he mainly translates articles from the Russian NewsFront using Google Translate and that, currently, there is no one else on the website but him. He tells the Raskrikavanje’s journalist when and how he started collaborating with NewsFront and shares his motives.
However, after an hour, he calls back and demands his statements to be quoted anonymously. He warns the Raskrikavanje journalist that some people he told about her inquiries would call her but refuses to specify who they are. He accuses the journalist of working against her own country and threatens to file a harassment complaint.
This 30-year-old man from a small town in northern Serbia is also an administrator of numerous pages and accounts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, which publish patriotic or nationalist content. The most successful among them is the Facebook page “Ponosim se što sam Srbin” (Proud to be a Serbian), which has over 100,000 followers. After building up and gathering followers, he goes on to sell the accounts. We found an online ad where he offered an Instagram account called “Upoznaj Srbiju” (Get to know Serbia) with 19,000 followers for about 380 euros. He sells Twitter accounts for one Serbian dinar per follower (0.008 euros) and Facebook pages and groups for 0.02 euros per follower “because they are harder to create.”
Although skilled in managing websites and pages, Gaborov does not have a precise answer to why NewsFront is practically unknown in Serbia to the broader audience. He believes it’s because YouTube, Facebook and Twitter banned all NewsFront social media accounts in 2020. According to Similarweb data, the Serbian edition of the website is among the least influential when compared to NewsFront’s websites in other countries, where they are also banned from social media. For example, NewsFront Slovakia had more than 300,000 visits in June, while the Serbian edition had fewer than 20,000. The site NewsFront Serbia is present on Russian networks, but, even there, their reach is very limited (with around 500 followers on Telegram at the moment and a little over 1000 on VKontakte).
News Front expansion in Slovakia
One year after the exposure of the local NewsFront editor, the Slovak version of the Crimean propaganda website has been one of the most visited Slovak disinformation portals. It is also one of the most successful Telegram channels in the country. Although NewsFront has been expanding in recent years and has a presence in several countries in the broader Central and Eastern European region, it seems to have achieved its greatest reach in one of the smallest information markets: Slovakia. A few days ago, however, NewsFront Slovakia lost access to two powerful platforms for spreading Russian propaganda. The operator of Telegram has blocked their profile and their original website is also currently unavailable.
Although the Slovak version of NewsFront has been an active player in the disinformation scene for the past three years, it has not been one of the most well-known players in the country. The site kicked off its trajectory in mid-2020 without attracting much attention. Like in other countries, it rather served as a source of disinformation and narratives for other similar sites, as our previous investigation exposed. Since then, however, it has become one of the most visited conspiracy websites in the country.
According to Iveta Kupkova, Director of the Situation Centre of the Office of the Security Council in Slovakia, NewsFront has long been considered one of the key entry points for Kremlin propaganda and disinformation into the Slovak information space. “It even contributes to the spread of the same disinformation narratives that are spread in other EU member states. An example was the missile fall on the territory of Poland back in November last year,” the hybrid threat expert explains. She adds that NewsFront, along with other accounts on Telegram, spreads narratives taken from Russia in just a few minutes.
Top place by traffic
According to data from Similarweb, the Slovak NewsFront website is the second most visited after its Russian mother site. The estimated number of visitors per month is between 300 and 400 thousand visits. Geolocation data also show that most visitors come from Slovakia, but the percentage of Czech readers is also significant.
It also thrives on Telegram. Slovak NewsFront is one of the top five largest channels in Slovakia. The first year of the war brought them around 30,000 new followers, which moved it to the fourth place among Slovak-language channels. It has supplied other channels as well. According to our analysis, its posts were shared to many other channels and groups—and not only Slovak ones.
Since the summer of 2022, there has been a particular emphasis on Telegram as a platform for the dissemination of NewsFront content. The Slovak channel also managed to grow during that period.
Fifty links to the Slovak NewsFront telegram channel were posted in the month after the outbreak of the war, and we cannot say for sure whether other posts with a link to the Slovak NewsFront were not put up before being deleted by Facebook. Subsequently, this trend declined, but, since the beginning of 2023, there has been a noticeable increase.
These links are mostly shared within Slovak-speaking Facebook groups, but are also spreading to Czech- and German-speaking communities. They include sympathisers of Slovak far-right politician and MEP Milan Uhrík, former minister of justice known for spreading various conspiracy theories Štefan Harabin and pro-Russian groups.
Despite the fact that experts have long warned about Slovak NewsFront, the state has not been restricting its activities. “As far as the website and the Telegram account are concerned, the state has no legal tools to act,” explains Iveta Kupková, director of the Situation Centre. However, she adds that the tool in their hands is the constant warning of citizens against false and misleading information that is spread on the internet: “This is actively sought by several accounts on social networks, for example from the Police Force, the Government Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others.”
After the NewsFront’s Slovak Telegram-channel was geo-blocked by the platform, a measure taken in response to request for comment to our research, it has still managed to maintain a majority of its followers.
The administrator of the Slovak NewsFront Telegram channel has already created a new one, which has managed to gather several thousand followers in a few days. He commented on the blocking by saying “Friends, this is the new TG-channel NEWS FRONT. The previous one, as you know, was blocked. Since they also synchronously blocked the comrades from Bulgaria at the same time, we know who is behind it…“
NewsFront’s biggest helper in the dissemination of its content is the Slovak pro-Russian biker gang Brat za Brata (Brother for Brother). The group has close relations with the Russian embassy in Bratislava. Their telegram account systematically amplifies the reach of the posts of both the Russian embassy and the Slovak NewsFront.
Despite the fact that the account of the Brat za Brata was created only shortly after the Russian aggression in Ukraine, it has managed to share up to 11 thousand posts from Slovak NewsFront. The statistics make the Brat za Brata channel the largest disseminator of official Kremlin narratives on the Slovak Telegram. They also reacted to the blocking of NewsFront’s Slovak channel and are now resharing posts from the newly created channel.
A temporary tool in the hands of the EU states was the blocking of websites that supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine and spread Kremlin narratives. However, in Slovakia, this was a provisional legal regulation. In the end, members of the Slovak Parliament did not permanently bring this solution into law.
The national security authority and analysis needed to block a given website was provided by the Centre for Combating Hybrid Threats of the Slovak Ministry of the Interior. These were “documents on the basis of which the office evaluates whether there is a reason to block a website,” Daniel Milo, the director of the centre, explained to us at the time. According to him, the analysis contained serious information that “constitutes grounds for exercising the NSA’s authority to place the website on the list of blocked entities.” Among other things, he said that “in the case of NewsFront, it is clearly proven that it is part of an information operation organized and paid for by Russia.” However, the website was never blocked.
Hungarian government propaganda leaves little room for NewsFront
NewsFront has been present in Hungary since 2018. It was launched shortly before the shutdown of Hidfo.ru website (Hídfő means bridgehead), which had a proven and openly Russian background with ties to the GRU. The first text published on NewsFront Hungary called for a “revolution” against Kyiv, the EU, and the US, and was authored by an alleged “freedom fighter” in eastern Ukraine. Our separate investigation into NewsFront Hungary—published on VSquare—reveal in detail that the colourful personality behind this text, a Tatar imam with military background from the Russian navy’s special units, Tanay Cholkhanov, has also been managing and editing NewsFront Hungary.
Cholnakov shared editorial duties with Sándor Csikós, a die-hard Communist and former Hungarian diplomat, until the site went dormant. Later, after a longer period of inactivity, NewsFront came back to life under a new head editor, Miklós Keveházy, Russian state propaganda’s number one “Hungary expert” and a former supporter of and interpreter for Hungary’s pro-Russian far-right Jobbik party.
Still, NewsFront’s Hungarian operation is one of the least successful of the agency’s 11 language versions. This is mostly because Hungary’s disinformation scene is very different from that in neighboring countries. In Hungary, Russian disinformation websites and the spread of suspicious propaganda news by Russian actors are not typical. They have little room for influence because their role is already played by the propaganda/media of Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian government, which itself spreads Kremlin narratives and conspiracies. Hence there is no need for disinformation sites with a potential Russian background like those operating more successfully in countries across Europe.
Poland’s cat-and-mouse game
Polish NewsFront domain, created in 2020, was geoblocked by local authorities (ABW, the Internal Security Agency) multiple times. Currently, the Polish version of the website is unavailable to local readers. However, any time the ABW geoblocks it, the website reappears under a new/mirror domain. This is the same tactic as we exposed in the Niezależny Dziennik Polityczny case in a previous investigation.
Our source close to the Polish intelligence admits that geoblocking is getting less and less effective. While blocking sites is the right response, it is not a sufficient countermeasure. Russia’s operational model has been reconfigured, and new portals were created to replace the blocked websites. Surprisingly, some of these new portals are even of better quality than the previous ones.
The source adds that Western intelligence recently observed a new model of influence operations emerging. This involves raising the profile of new opinion leaders and pro-Russin activists in the West, as well as the penetration of micro information communities, like groups on messaging apps made up of 500 people
As in other CEE countries, Polish NewsFront has been significantly developing its presence on Telegram since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While in some countries NewsFront Telegram channels were temporarily geoblocked by the platform or even had to start from scratch like in Slovakia and Bulgaria, the Polish one still operates undisturbed, having reached 6,600 readers, and remains one of the leading channels of Russian propaganda on Polish Telegram. Its content is shared by other channels spreading pro-Kremlin narratives and conspiracies, like Anielskie Siostry Jasnowidzki and Ruch Oporu, and also by Russian and Belarusian propaganda channels.
It is still unknown who runs NewsFront’s online infrastructure in Poland. According to the data from our analysis, at least three email addresses have access to the Polish NewsFront website. We managed to link two of them to names of individuals based in Crimea and Russia.
One of them is Boris Yemets, who was born in Odessa and lived there until 2013. He held the position of the Chairman of the Odessa Regional Organization of the Russian Unity Party. After the Euromaidan, he moved to the annexed territories and became head of the state broadcasting company “Crimea.” He later became deputy editor-in-chief of NewsFront and, according to the data in our possession, uses several emails to log into the Russian version of the website.
Yemets did not want to talk to us when called on the phone and did not reply to our questions on the details of the Polish NewsFront operation or on the involvement of Russian intelligence.
The second person who appears to have access to the Polish version of NewsFront is Nikita Zakharov from Russia. According to Dossier Centre research, he was born in Novosibirsk. It is not known what his role in NewsFront is. In 2019, he frequently visited Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea where NewsFront’s main office is located. Asked for comment, Zakharov did not reply.
We still have not managed to identify the third email with access to the Polish NF website, and therefore cannot say whether any local contributors are involved in publishing content for the Polish audience.
According to our analysis, one of the main supporters of NewsFront on Polish Facebook is Sławomir Bogusław Czech, one of the early founders of Konfederacja Korony Polskiej, a Polish far-right party supporting Russia and sowing anti-Ukrainian ideas (Polish MP Grzegorz Braun is the party leader). His FB account most actively shares links to the Polish NewsFront.
“Just ask Knyrik”
It was not only Boris Yemets who reacted nervously when asked about involvement in NewsFront operations in CEE countries. Our reporters also contacted several people with access to the Russian version of the website to ask about their activities in NewsFront. Some of them refused to talk, while others sent us to Konstantin Knyrik, since he is in charge of the company.
We sent a list of detailed questions to Konstantin Knyrik, to which the sanctioned editor-in-chief of the NewsFront never replied.
Anastasiia Morozova, FRONTSTORY.PL (Poland)
Anna Gielewska, VSquare.org (Poland)
Karin Kőváry Sólymos, ICJK.sk (Slovakia)
Szabolcs Panyi, VSquare.org (Hungary)
Marija Vučić, RasKRIKavanje.rs (Serbia)
WDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (Germany)
Dossier Center contributed to the research
Debunk.org contributed to the data analysis