Kremlin propagandist who claimed he coordinated with Trump team was previously appointed as Putin’s “trusted confidant”
Konstantin Rykov boasted about his four year plan to “free America and make it great again.”
- In his November 2016 Facebook post, Rykov said he worked with a team of hacker groups and Wikileaks.
- New evidence paints a picture of Rykov not as a Putin-supporting blogger but a plausibly deniable asset for the the Kremlin.
- During the 2012 election, Vladimir Putin appointed Rykov as a “trusted confidant”, granting him access to the President and indicating a level of trust by Russian government.
By: Scott Stedman
The Kremlin propagandist who boasted on his Facebook page that he worked with Trump, WikiLeaks, and a team of hackers to influence the 2016 US election was appointed in 2012 as one of Putin’s “trusted confidants”. Konstantin Rykov was personally summoned by Putin’s election campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin to serve in this role as a trusted representative of the Putin campaign.
Days after the 2016 US election, Rykov posted on Facebook a detailed story of how he received a Direct Message from Trump in 2012, the beginning of a four year plan to elect Trump to the Presidency.
It’s time for wonderful stories. I’ll tell you about (now it’s possible) how Donald Trump and I decided to free America and make it great again. This took us as much as 4 years and 2 days…
At the beginning of the brave and romantic [story] was not very much. A pair of hacker groups, civil journalists from WikiLeaks and political strategist Mikhail Kovalev.
The next step was to develop a system for transferring tasks and information, so that no intelligence and NSA could burn it.
Since the moment Trump announced his candidacy, Rykov was an ardent public supporter. In the Washington Post, Rykov was described as a “Putin supporter”, in The Atlantic he’s portrayed as a “ pro-Kremlin blogger.” A fuller picture paints a different story of Rykov — an asset utilized by the Kremlin to do its dirty work with a level of deniability.
In order to drum up support and promote his message, Putin created an institution of trusted representatives — in Russian “trusted faces” — according to Ilya Zaslavskiy, the Head of Research at the Free Russia Foundation, a US non-profit. Zaslavskiy said that the group of trusted confidants usually consists of around five hundred “cultural figures and celebrities who meet [Putin] and get televised as his supporters.” These representatives are trusted by Putin himself and are often rewarded with “various small and not so small privileges after elections,” according to Zaslavskiy.
Personally appointed by Putin’s election chief, Rykov was one of the most important members of the 2012 group of trusted confidants. His boisterous, unwavering support of Putin was broadcast daily to his hundreds of thousands of social media followers.
The revelation about Rykov’s proximity to Putin during the 2012 election is the most stark example of the internet guru’s significance to the Russian government. From the mid 2000s through 2014 there are multiple instances of Rykov interacting with and on behalf of the Kremlin.
In 2007, the Washington Post identified Rykov as a blogger from whom the Russian government took direction on internet-issues. “The pearl of Rykov’s media empire is the two-year-old Vzglyad (“View”) online newspaper, the Post wrote, “which features a serious-looking news section with stories toeing the Kremlin line and a lifestyle section that covers the latest in luxury cars and interior design. Surveys rank Vzglyad as one of Russia’s five most-visited news sites.”
Anton Nossik, a Russian journalist who wrote about corruption in Putin’s Russia, said that Vladislav Surkov — Putin’s personal political adviser — organized private funding for Rykov. Nossik died suddenly in 2017 of an alleged heart attack.
In 2009, Rykov was “rewarded” with a position in the Russian government at the State Duma. Two years later, as Rykov was preparing to leave his position at the Duma, renowned political/tech scientist Evgeny Morozov explained that, “Russian leaders follow [Rykov’s] lead.” Morozov went onto write that Rykov shaped the Kremlin’s online propaganda machine.
During Marine Le Pen’s rise in France in 2014, the Kremlin again relied on Rykov to negotiate on behalf of the Russian government. Leaked text messages revealed that influential Kremlin adviser Timur Prokopenko was in communication with Rykov, who supposedly had access to Le Pen. The messages detail an alleged quid-pro-quo wherein Le Pen would recognize the annexation of Crimea in exchange for financial support from Russia.
“She hasn’t betrayed our expectations,” the Kremlin official replied.
“It will be necessary to thank the French in one way or another … It’s important,” [Rykov] said.
“Yes. Super!” the Kremlin official responded.
Le Pen publicly recognized Crimea as part of Russian territory and subsequently received over 40 million euros in Russian-backed loans to her Front National party. She denies that the two events are related.
This series of events portray Rykov not as simply a pro-Kremlin blogger, but instead as a strategic asset working for Putin. For the better part of a decade Rykov has allegedly received funding from senior Russian government officials and acted with their blessing.
Former senior US officials with whom I knew had knowledge of Rykov were not interested in discussing him. Rykov did not immediately return requests for comment.
Russian experts with whom I’ve spoken put varying levels of credibility behind Rykov’s claims of working with Trump; none were particularly convinced. There was more of a consensus in the plausibility of Rykov being part of the information warfare campaign that Russia launched against the 2016 US election. Nearly all agreed that Rykov’s claims were not frivolous or without meaning. Whether accurate or not, Vladimir Putin wanted the United States population to see these claims.
A spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller declined to comment on Rykov. Mueller continues to investigate if the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in their US election interference campaign.