Russian political technologist Peter Bychkov, who is employed as a businessman nicknamed “Putin’s chef”, has been accused of attempting to influence the outcome of the South African elections through work with an NGO called Association for Free Research and International Co-operation (Afric).
A report in The Daily Maverick details an alleged disinformation campaign which sought to elevate support for the ANC while undermining the DA and EFF ahead of the May 8 polls.
This campaign was reportedly waged under the guise of political analysis. It reportedly included plans to discredit opposition leaders including the DA’s Mmusi Maimane and the EFF’s Julius Malema and even planned to produce an “EFF manifesto sucks” video.
The campaign plans included the influencing of “public rhetoric”, “generating and disseminating video content”, “coordinating with a loyal pool of journalists” and “producing pro-ANC videos”.
Included in documents written by the NGO, there were election predictions that envisioned that the EFF would come second, after the ANC, a forecast that conflicts with polls, all of which placed the DA in their usual second place. Results so far appear to back this up, with the EFF at under 9% and the DA at over 25% so far.
There is no evidence that the campaign was actually employed or had any effect.
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Reports of attempts to influence the outcome of the SA elections follow a US probe into similar accusations relating to interference by the Russian government in the 2016 US elections which led to Donald Trump becoming president.
The Mueller report found that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.
This was found to have happened “principally through two operations”.
“First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favoured presidential candidate Donald J Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” the report says.
“Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton campaign and then released stolen documents.”
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)