Portal Kombat: Russian Misinformation Ring Caught

Replication. Repetition. Reproduction

Shankar Narayan
6 min readFeb 15, 2024

Remember the American patriot who said you need to flood the (media) zone with shit. For years I kept wondering where these people get their ideas from.

Sick. Revolting. Cynical. Ugly.

But effective.

It works.

On the way to my work, I kept asking myself what is the difference between replication, repetition and reproduction. Not a lot in the media world. What happens when it is done at volume? What happens when there is scale? What happens when the narrative that undergoes scalable reproduction is misinformation? What happens when that scalable misinformation has an anti-clone with diametrically opposite qualities of the original? Two lies, scaled from the opposite ends to counter the truth.

It results in mass confusion. Instead of fighting misinformation A with the truth, we will be fighting misinformation A overshadowed by misinformation B, while truth sits somewhere over the horizon.

Continuing this pattern for days, then weeks, and eventually months and years, the average consumer of information finds themselves adrift in a sea of falsehoods. Before they can navigate to the safety of reliable sources, exhaustion sets in, causing them to grasp onto the nearest counterfeit buoy, ultimately leading them to sink deeper into misinformation.

A meticulously crafted psychological operation capable of undermining the fourth estate’s effectiveness, a crucial pillar of the democratic system, can gradually weaken it over time. This insidious process becomes feasible when fueled by the efforts of countless individuals, driven by financial incentives, and possessing a mix of brilliance and moral depravity.

In 2024, the Kremlin faces a dire choice: adapt or face consequences. They’ve lingered at this crossroads, stalling and postponing action, but their investment, efforts, and expertise in disseminating misinformation won’t remain idle. Especially with the upcoming United States election in 2024, they’re poised to exploit every opportunity, making it a year of survival by any means necessary.

Portal Kombat:

In the lead-up to crucial elections and amid mounting concerns over foreign interference, French military and cybersecurity experts have uncovered a sophisticated Moscow-based network. Named as “Portal Kombat,” by the French authorities, this network spans over 193 sites, disseminating pro-Russian propaganda and misinformation across Western Europe.

Spearheaded by France’s Viginum agency, established in 2021 to combat digital manipulation, the investigation reveals a concerted effort by Russia to sway public opinion. Through social media platforms and messaging apps, the network amplifies narratives defending the Russian invasion of Ukraine and criticizing the Kyiv government.

With Viginum researchers tracing the origins of this disinformation campaign back to Moscow, the urgency to counter such malicious activities has never been more pressing. One pro-Russian channel on the French Telegram app churns out content at an alarming rate, highlighting the scale and velocity of this orchestrated misinformation campaign.

French defense specialists told The Guardian:

The sites linked to the disinformation network do not produce original material but were set up to flood the internet with material from Russian and pro-Russian figures on social media, Russian press agencies and other official accounts loyal to Moscow

Flood the internet with material!!!!!!

Why we need to stop this and how can we do it?

Recently, Mitt Romney, former Republican Presidential nominee and current senator of Utah, voiced his perplexity, stating, “I do not understand the electorate anymore.” His sentiment was sparked by the persistent backing of Donald Trump, despite a court verdict that would have historically marginalized any political figure within 48 hours. Romney reflected on the evolving landscape of the electorate, lamenting its departure from a time when civility and decorum held greater sway in American politics.

A decade ago, a group like QAnon would have struggled to gain traction, as its emergence would likely have been swiftly quashed by collective ridicule and rejection. However, in today’s climate, such movements find themselves not only surviving but even celebrated by certain factions.

This was no coincidence. Both inside and outside the media sphere, actors strategically infiltrated the mechanisms of information consumption. By inundating the public sphere with misinformation, they preyed upon people’s fears and anxieties to such an extent that falsehoods became accepted truths, while genuine facts were cast into doubt. As a result, individuals lost their ability to discern between reality and deception.

Conversely, those who should have been vigilant and proactive against such forces failed to recognize how external actors could exploit internal divisions and sow confusion.

Their inaction stemmed from underestimating the gravity of the situation, failing to perceive it as a significant threat. The fourth estate was similarly oblivious to their crucial role and the necessity of adapting to a new model of information dissemination.

The positive development is that today the entire democratic world has awakened to the source of this issue: the Kremlin. The actions of the Kremlin are now under intense scrutiny. This persistent investigation led French authorities to uncover Portal Kombat. Meanwhile, German authorities are also closely monitoring the situation. Encouragingly, small segments of the fourth estate are stepping up to the challenge as well.

Specifically, the investigative endeavors of German Magazine Der Spiegel and Latvia-based The Insider deserve commendation for their role in exposing malevolent actors within our midst and uncovering their external influences.

Let us take a closer look at two investigative reports from western publications.

The Insider uncovered a chilling connection between an aide of a far-right politician in Germany and his handler in Russia.

Leaked communications between Vladimir Sergienko, a naturalized German citizen, and “Alexei,” a suspected FSB operative, show the extent of Russia’s infiltration of the Alternative for Germany party. Their “active measures” included a plan to stop or slow delivery of German main battle tanks to Ukraine using frivolous litigation against the German government. It would only cost $93,000.

Whenever the bureaucracy takes action against politicians, they vehemently cry political vendetta — a tactic frequently employed to deflect attention from their corruption and maintain pressure on the government. This underscores the critical role of the fourth estate in exposing such corruption. The Insider’s ability to pursue these corrupt actors is particularly noteworthy, as bureaucratic hesitancy often arises when confronting political leaders or their aides in the opposition.

In November last year, Business Insider published intricate details of Kremlin’s efforts to contact billionaire Peter Theil and invite him for a meeting with the Russian President Putin.

The invitation was extended during a birthday celebration attended by Peter Thiel. Its delivery was so casual that it would have been difficult for anyone to discern being drawn into the Kremlin’s circle of influence.

The Kremlin’s attempts proved futile as Peter Thiel was already closely collaborating with the FBI, promptly reporting the Kremlin’s indirect approach. However, my focus lies not on the intricacies of the Thiel-Kremlin-FBI relationship, but rather on the significance of the Business Insider’s report.

This report serves as a wake-up call for the rich and powerful, highlighting the active recruitment efforts of foreign countries. It underscores the need for them to remain vigilant and steer clear of such approaches. While the Kremlin spreads misinformation among the general public, it also directly targets influential figures. It is the responsibility of the fourth estate to expose and counteract both strategies, with policymakers playing a crucial role in supporting these efforts.

France’s Viginum agency has exposed the Kremlin’s intensified efforts to disseminate misinformation in the Western world. It is imperative that every sector, from policymakers to the fourth estate, collaborates to enhance our response to non-state actors attempting to influence domestic affairs. Western media should follow Viginum’s lead and delve into the Kremlin’s misinformation operations. With the United States approaching a presidential election, it is insufficient to merely report on the event and scrutinize poll numbers endlessly. Vigilance must be prioritized to safeguard the election from foreign interference, ensuring fairness for the electorate.

What we require are additional investigative reports that continue to uncover these actors and thwart their efforts to advance selfish agendas through deceit and manipulation.

Given the current state of affairs, robust collaboration among policymakers, the media, and law enforcement agencies is imperative. A multifaceted problem demands a multifaceted response, and this collaboration represents one of the most effective tools at our disposal to combat the scourge of misinformation.

By intensifying scrutiny of misinformation operations and implementing proactive measures to safeguard electoral integrity, we can mitigate the pervasive threat to democratic societies.



Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.