Real Journalism – With a Russian Twist

We use the term Real Journalism loosely here. A short dive into propagandists and their actions in support of Russia, because who else would they support if we’re covering them?

SARFAN fans! The tragedy of flight MH-17 is not one many will forget. We have covered it in past articles, but for new readers the MH17 was a Malaysian passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian rebels using anti-aircraft weaponry supplied to them by Russia, killing the 298 people on board. Given the circumstances, it should come as no surprise to our readers that Russia would do everything they could to deny their role in this tragic event, to include launching disinformation campaigns and spreading lies to distance their involvement in the incident. With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to the Bonanza Media project which is ostensibly a special disinformation project working in coordination with Russia’s military intelligence. Their overall impact is limited to their core audience and Kremlin controlled media, with most of their press events attended by small groups of MH-17 truthers and usually snubbed by both mainstream media and the families of the MH-17 victims.

Bonanza Media was founded in 2019 and has a little over 1200 followers on twitter and 2.42K on Youtube. On their main page, they say their platform is used for independent journalists and they strive to unite people with analytical and critical thinking that go to extremes but keep common sense on all issues. They aim to deliver meaningful interviews, breaking news, live streams, bold journalism documentaries, and articles. Based on how authentic and truthful they want to appear, I’m sure you can all see where this is going.

As you watch their videos and read their stories please know that in fact Bonanza Media is a special disinformation project working in coordination with Russian military intelligence, the GRU, as we mentioned earlier. Bellingcat came out with an article in late November examining this relationship after Bonanza Media was launched and detailing how senior members of the GRU entered into direct and regular communication with the project leader.

Bonanza Media: Former RT Reporter Yana Yerlashova and Max van der Werff.Bonanza Media: Former RT Reporter Yana Yerlashova and Max van der Werff.

Bonanza Media: Former RT Reporter Yana Yerlashova and Max van der Werff.

For further insight into Bonanza Media, one must take a look at their founders: former journalist for RT (notorious Russian state-run media outlet) Yana Yerlashova and Dutch blogger Max van der Werff. The connection to RT should be an obvious sign that this project is dubious and was created with ill intentions.

Yerlashova, and even more so Max were well-known names among conspiracy-minded netizens prone to distrusting the findings of the official MH-17 investigation. Working for RT, Yerlashova authored documentaries critical of the Dutch-led investigation, and in one case had been accused of planting wreckage from the place at the crash site. Max, routinely critical of Ukrainian authorities and sympathetic to the Russia-supported separatists in the Donbas Region of eastern Ukraine, has already been a fixture on Russian state media as well as on separatist media in 2015 casting doubt on evidence implicating Russia and the separatists in the downing of MH-17.

One might ask how the GRU got in touch with Bonanza Media. In the summer of 2019, Yerlashova was already coordinating the project’s activity with senior officers from the GRU. Emails and phone records obtained by Bellingcat indicated that by August 2019, Colonel Sergey Chebanov – a graduate of Russia’s Military Intelligence Academy – was receiving regular updates about Bonanza’s plans and upcoming events. During most of the phone calls with Yerlashova, cell tower data showed he was based at the GRU headquarters.

For his clandestine communication with Yerlashova, he had bought a burner phone which he registered in the name of a non-existent elderly Georgian woman, standard tradecraft for GRU spies who did not want their calls to be traceable to them. Col. Chebanov spoke or texted with an average of twice per day from September 2019 through mid-2020, and with as many as 10 exchanges in a day. While Bellingcat did not know what the two discussed by phone, their occasional exchange of emails showed a consistent pattern of coordination between Bonanza Media’s activities and the GRU.

Using two different email accounts, Yerlashova sent Col. Chebanov draft articles intended for publication on the Bonanza Media website, as well as draft promotional materials for events involving Bonanza Media. For example, in an email from 21 February 2020, Yerlashova forwarded Col. Chebanov a draft teaser for the public screening of Bonanza Media’s documentary scheduled for 3 March 2020 in London. The teaser, prepared by the event’s UK organizer Theo Russell, was initially sent for Yerlashova’s approval by a Bonanza Media collaborator named Elena Plotnikova. Plotnikova is a vocal Netherlands-based Ukrainian pro-Kremlin activist and member of an opaquely funded organization called “Global Rights for Peaceful People” (Who Oleg Muzyka leads and was mentioned in one of our first articles calling out his wild ideology). In the organization’s own words, their main mission is defending the Russia-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine. Half an hour after Yerlashova received the proposed promotional text, she forwarded it onward for approval to GRU’s Col. Chebanov.

It should be obvious that Yerlashova and Max are spouting lies in line with their GRU masters’ rhetoric, and knowing this, why should we stand by and do nothing? If our leaders won’t take action necessary to stop obvious disinformation campaigns like this, then we have to start taking steps to ensure these people can’t operate with impunity. SARFAN fans, we are a community and we have to protect each other. If you see or hear about events sponsored by these two or anyone related to their organization, we ask that you reach out to your leaders and tell them to put a stop to these maddening acts. Bar them from local establishments, prevent them from lodging, make them feel unwelcome as they rightfully should when they have the nerve to openly say these vile things. Think about the victims of the MH-17, and how they’ll never receive justice when their murderers are allowed to roam free and spread lies about the circumstances of those tragic events. Maybe with more definitive acts on our part, we can start moving towards a more just resolution to these events and see the people in charge face trials and prosecutions for having participated in that horrible attack on innocent civilians. As always, stay informed, be safe, and if you have any ideas for articles in the future, please reach out! Also we’re trying to be more active on Twitter, so if you’d like to give us a follow reach out @SARFAN_Jan.


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