MELBOURNE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Blackstone (NYSE: BX) today announced that real estate funds and private equity funds managed by Blackstone (“Blackstone”) have completed the acquisition of Crown Resorts Limited (“Crown”) in the largest transaction to date for the firm in Asia Pacific. The transaction comprises three premium resort and casino properties in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Blackstone will work with the management team at Crown and its thousands of dedicated employees, as well as their representatives from the United Workers Union and other partner unions, to transform these properties into world-class entertainment destinations and continue Crown’s transformation to operate at the highest standards of compliance, governance, and integrity.
As one of Australia’s largest entertainment groups, Crown makes a major contribution to the Australian economy. Crown’s core businesses include two of Australia’s leading integrated resorts, Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth, as well as Sydney’s latest premium hotel resort and dining precinct at Crown Sydney.
Alan Miyasaki, Head of Real Estate Acquisitions Asia, Blackstone, said: “We are thrilled to become the new owner of Crown, bringing our expertise in hospitality to help the company achieve its full potential as a leading travel and leisure company. We first invested in Crown two years ago, seeing the tremendous underlying potential of the company and its people. We look forward to working with the teams at Crown and applying our experience in owning and operating marquee hospitality brands around the globe with the highest levels of ethics and integrity to create something unique for employees, local communities, and visitors.”
Chris Tynan, Head of Real Estate Australia, Blackstone, said: “This is a great opportunity that plays to Blackstone’s strengths – investing significant capital and resources to rebuild Crown into an iconic destination for travel and leisure that everyone can be proud of. Blackstone has built a strong Australian presence over the last 12 years. We look forward to supporting the local economy, creating jobs, and attracting visitors to Crown’s exceptional properties.”
Steve McCann, Crown Resort’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “Today, Crown emerges as part of the Blackstone family, which is the start of a new era for this great company and its 20,000 team members. Over recent times, Crown has undergone immense transformation, and we know under Blackstone’s ownership, we will realize our vision to deliver world-class entertainment experiences and a safe and responsible gaming environment.
“Australian tourism has entered a recovery phase, and we believe this trend will continue. Crown’s suite of outstanding assets has built a loyal customer base over the past 28 years, and we are excited about the opportunities ahead of us as we revitalize Melbourne and Perth and celebrate the addition of Sydney. With Blackstone’s investment and expertise, we’re confident Crown will cement its place on the global stage as one of the world’s leading owners and operators of integrated resorts,” he said.
Blackstone has built a strong track record in the wider hospitality, travel, and leisure sectors. The firm completed the sale of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas this year, after transforming the property into one of the most vibrant destinations on the Las Vegas Strip. During its 8-year ownership, Blackstone implemented significant operational changes, developed best-in-class management team, and invested significant capital to renovate 3,000 guest rooms and enhance F&B offerings. In addition, Blackstone owned Hilton Hotels Corporation for 11 years, during which it helped double the size of the company to more than 5,300 properties and 400,000 employees worldwide. Its other recent investments in these sectors include the acquisition of an 8-hotel portfolio across Japan’s top tourist destinations; acquisition of Bourne Leisure, a premier British holiday company; and joint acquisition of Extended Stay Hotels.
About Crown Resorts
Crown Resorts is one of Australia’s largest entertainment companies, owning and operating a suite of world-class integrated resorts. Its property portfolio includes three award-winning resorts in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, as well as London’s prestigious Crown Aspinalls, a high end, boutique casino in the West End.
For 25 years, Crown Melbourne has been Australia’s leading luxury integrated resort and casino, offering guests a range of exceptional entertainment and event experiences; premium hospitality, dining, spa and retail; and gaming. Crown Perth is Western Australia’s only integrated resort and casino, and features a combined 1188 hotel-room capacity, expansive lagoon and private pools, and 33 bars and restaurants. Crown’s newest property, Crown Sydney, opened in December 2020 setting a new standard in luxury hotel and dining experiences. Crown Sydney is the tallest building in New South Wales, and features 349 hotel rooms and villas, 13 signature restaurants, a VIP, members only casino which is due to open shortly, two pools, a spa, and Crown’s first ever luxury serviced apartment offering.
As one of Australia’s largest hospitality employers, Crown’s properties support the employment of a diverse mix of over 20,000 people.
Blackstone is the world’s largest alternative asset manager. We seek to create positive economic impact and long-term value for our investors, the companies we invest in, and the communities in which we work. We do this by using extraordinary people and flexible capital to help companies solve problems. Our $915 billion in assets under management include investment vehicles focused on private equity, real estate, public debt and equity, infrastructure, life sciences, growth equity, opportunistic, non-investment grade credit, real assets and secondary funds, all on a global basis. Further information is available at www.blackstone.com. Follow @blackstone on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
Ahead of the 2020 elections, Connecticut confronted a bevy of falsehoods about voting that swirled around online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, wrongly said absentee ballots had been sent to dead people. On Twitter, users spread a false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and across the highway.
Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.
“We have to have situational awareness by looking into all the incoming threats to the integrity of elections,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of the state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we view that as a critical threat to the democratic process.”
Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight an onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s elections.
ABC/Ipsos poll from January, only 20 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, campaigning — often successfully — on the untrue claim that it was stolen from him.
Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that the efforts to limit misinformation could restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices. (A U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.) On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently paused the work of an advisory board on disinformation after a barrage of criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.
“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”
Connecticut and Colorado officials said that the problem of misinformation had only worsened since 2020 and that without a more concerted push to counteract it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of elections. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.
“We are seeing a threat atmosphere unlike anything this country has seen before,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state of Colorado. Ms. Griswold, a Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, has received threats for upholding 2020 election results and refuting Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.
Other secretaries of state, who head the office typically charged with overseeing elections, have received similar pushback. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s win in the state, has faced fierce criticism laced with false claims about the 2020 election.
In his primary race this year, Mr. Raffensperger batted down misinformation that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead people who cast ballots in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won his primary last week.
Colorado is redeploying a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is composed of three election security experts who monitor the internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.
Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit. It looks only for election-related misinformation on issues like absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.
“Facts still exist, and lies are being used to chip away at our fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Griswold said.
Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the internet for election falsehoods. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved $2 million for internet, TV, mail and radio education campaigns on the election process, and to hire an election information security officer.
Officials said they would prefer candidates fluent in both English and Spanish, to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer would track down viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and look for emerging narratives and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the dark web.
“We know we can’t boil the ocean, but we have to figure out where the threat is coming from, and before it metastasizes,” Mr. Bates said.
He has said that his gun company was born out of his poor golf game. Instead of puttering around the course, Mr. Daniel started using an AR-15 — the type of gun he would later go on to make — for target practice. “Every shot he fired filled him with a satisfaction he’d never before experienced,” the company’s website says.
At the time, Mr. Daniel had trouble finding a way to mount a scope onto his rifle. He began designing and selling his own accessory that allowed gun owners to add lights, a range finder and lasers onto the rifle.
He got his break in 2002 at a gun show in Orlando, Fla., where he was approached by a representative of the U.S. Special Forces. He ultimately won a $20 million contract to produce the accessories for combat rifles. More deals followed. In 2008, he won a contract with the British military, according to Daniel Defense’s website.
By 2009, the company had expanded to making guns for consumers. Its military ties were the basis of its marketing, which often featured heavily armed fighters. “Use what they use,” one ad says. Another shows a military-style scope aimed at passing cars on what looks like a regular city street. Others include references — using hashtags and catchphrases — to the “Call of Duty” video game.
Before the 2000s, most gun makers did not market military-style assault weapons to civilians. At the largest industry trade shows, tactical military gear and guns were cordoned off, away from the general public. That started to change around 2004, industry experts say, with the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban.
“Companies like Daniel Defense glorify violence and war in their marketing to consumers,” said Nick Suplina, a senior vice president at Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that supports gun control.
In 2012, the Sandy Hook shooting led to an industrywide surge in gun sales, as firearm enthusiasts stocked up, fearing a government crackdown. In an interview with Forbes, Mr. Daniel said the shooting “drove a lot of sales.” (Forbes reported that Daniel Defense had sales of $73 million in 2016.)
After the shooting, Daniel Defense offered employees extra overtime to meet skyrocketing demand, according to Christopher Powell, who worked for the company at the time. “They kept people focused on the task at hand,” he said.
But in the late 2010s, some colleagues started to worry that Mr. Daniel had become distracted by the glamour of marketing the brand and rubbing shoulders with celebrities and politicians, according to a former Daniel Defense manager. They voiced concerns that some of the marketing materials were inappropriate for a company that manufactures deadly weapons, said the manager and a former executive, who didn’t want their names used because they feared legal or professional repercussions.
Some ads featured children carrying and firing guns. In another, posted on Instagram two days after Christmas last year, a man dressed as Santa Claus and wearing a military helmet is smoking a cigar and holding a Daniel Defense rifle. “After a long weekend, Santa is enjoying MK18 Monday,” the caption states, referring to the gun’s model.
The industry’s aggressive marketing has landed some companies in trouble. Earlier this year, the gun maker Remington reached a $73 million settlement with families of children killed at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn. The families had claimed that Remington improperly marketed its assault rifles, including with its weapons appearing in “Call of Duty,” which the killer at Sandy Hook had frequently played.
A year after Sandy Hook, with the Super Bowl approaching, Daniel Defense deployed a new marketing stunt.
The National Football League had a policy prohibiting ads for weapons on its telecasts. But Daniel Defense tried to buy a 60-second spot that depicted a soldier returning home to his family, with ominous music in the background. “I am responsible for their protection,” the ad’s narrator intones. “And no one has the right to tell me how to defend them.”
Given the N.F.L.’s ban on gun ads, it was no surprise that the ad was rejected. (Daniel Defense claimed that the ad complied with the policy because the company sells products besides guns.) But Mr. Daniel turned the rejection into a rallying cry, and the conservative media lapped it up. Appearing on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” he urged viewers to “call the N.F.L. and say, ‘C’mon, man, run my ad.’”
“That is Marty Daniel at work,” Mr. Powell said. “He’s not one of those typical C.E.O.s that you see.”
Mr. Daniel and his wife, Cindy, have worked hand-in-hand with the National Rifle Association to raise money for the group, sell weapons to its members and beat back calls for gun control.
In recent years, Mr. Daniel and Ms. Daniel, the company’s chief operating officer, became outspoken supporters of Donald J. Trump, contributing $300,000 to a group aligned with Mr. Trump. Mr. Daniel joined the “Second Amendment Coalition,” a group of gun industry heavyweights who advised Mr. Trump on gun policy.
Mr. Daniel told Breitbart News in 2017 that Mr. Trump’s election saved “our Second Amendment rights.” He and his wife have also donated to other Republican candidates and groups, including in their home state of Georgia. So far in the 2022 election cycle, they’ve given more than $70,000 to Republicans.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Tuesday that peace talks with Ukraine had reached a “dead end” and he falsely called the evidence of Russian atrocities in a Kyiv suburb “fake,” using his first extended remarks about the war in nearly a month to insist that Russia would persist in its invasion.
Speaking at a news conference at a newly built spaceport in Russia’s Far East, Mr. Putin said that Ukraine’s negotiating position at the talks, last held in Istanbul two weeks ago, was unacceptable. He pledged that Russia’s “military operation will continue until its full completion.”
But the operation’s goals, he said, centered on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists have been fighting since 2014. It was the first time that Mr. Putin himself had effectively defined a more limited aim for the war, focusing on control of the Donbas — and not all of Ukraine, which Mr. Putin and his subordinates have said should not even be an independent country.
“We will act rhythmically and calmly, according to the plan that was initially proposed by the general staff,” Mr. Putin said. “Our goal is to help the people who live in the Donbas, who feel their unbreakable bond with Russia.”
Just over a month ago, by contrast, Mr. Putin warned that Ukraine’s leaders risked “the future of Ukrainian statehood” by resisting the Russian invasion, which Kremlin military planners appeared to have mistakenly thought could be achieved with relative ease.
Still, Mr. Putin’s assertion of Russia’s more limited war aims in Ukraine cannot necessarily be taken at face value, and he may yet harbor an ultimate goal of taking control of the former Soviet republic. For months leading up to the Feb. 24 invasion, as Russian forces massed on Ukraine’s border, Russian officials insisted there were no plans to invade and that the buildup was merely a military exercise.
Ukrainian and Western officials have said they expect that Russia, having failed to seize the capital Kyiv and most other key cities in an invasion hampered by poor logistics, would soon mount an intense offensive in the Donbas, where the Russian military has been pouring in troops.
But almost seven weeks into the war, the Russians have yet to conquer Mariupol, the strategically important southern Donbas port that has come to symbolize the death and destruction wrought by the invaders so far. Western officials said they were evaluating unverified accounts that Russian forces may have dropped chemical weapons on a Mariupol steel mill that has become a bastion of Ukrainian army resistance. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, referring to the unverified accounts from Mariupol, said he took them “as seriously as possible.”
“Even during the Second World War, the Donbas did not see such cruelty in such a short period of time,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video released early Wednesday. “And from who? From Russian troops.”
Russian forces also have repeatedly fired missiles and artillery indiscriminately at civilian targets they have little or no hope of taking, including those in and around the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest. On Tuesday, New York Times journalists witnessed the aftermath of a Russian cluster munitions attack on a Kharkiv suburb that left a trail of casualties, craters and punctured roofs.
And the outside pressure on Mr. Putin continued to rise. On Tuesday evening, Ukraine’s security service said it had detained Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian oligarch and politician who is Mr. Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine, releasing a photo of him handcuffed and disheveled. President Biden took a new swipe at Mr. Putin, calling him a “dictator” who has committed “genocide,” and a U.S. official said the White House would soon announce new military assistance for Ukraine worth $750 million.
Mr. Putin’s appearance on Tuesday — coming after several weeks in which the public glimpsed the Russian leader mainly in Kremlin footage showing him holding meetings by videoconference — appeared intended to shore up domestic support for a war with no clear end in sight.
Marking Cosmonauts’ Day — the anniversary of the Soviet Cold War triumph in which Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space — Mr. Putin used the new spaceport, the Vostochny Cosmodrome, as his stage.
He was accompanied to the spaceport by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, Mr. Putin’s closest ally, an apparent reminder to Russians that they were not completely isolated in the war.
Mr. Putin parried a question from a Russian journalist about the atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha by retreating into his familiar arguments about Western “double standards.” He claimed that the world had been silent when the United States bombed Syria in the campaign against the Islamic State, and that Mr. Lukashenko had provided evidence that the scenes in Bucha were an orchestrated, British “provocation.”
“We discussed in detail this psychological special operation that the English carried out,” Mr. Lukashenko said in a news conference alongside Mr. Putin, referring to Bucha.
In fact, independent investigators, including journalists for The New York Times, have documented evidence of numerous execution-style killings, rapes and acts of torture against civilians in Bucha that had been carried out by Russian occupation troops before they retreated last month.
But inside Russia, Mr. Putin’s pronouncements are going increasingly unchallenged, with access to Facebook and Instagram and many independent news websites blocked, and a draconian wartime censorship law punishing any deviation from the Kremlin line with as much as 15 years in prison. While prices are rising and layoffs loom as Western companies pull out of Russia, there has been no sign yet of widespread public discontent, and pollsters see significant public support for the war.
It was the alliance of Western countries, Mr. Putin insisted, that would soon feel the political backlash from the economic pain wrought by the sanctions, as evidenced by rising prices for food and fuel. European countries, in particular, had shown yet again that they were collectively acting as a “poodle” of the United States, he said.
“They always miscalculate, not understanding that in difficult conditions, the Russian people always unite,” Mr. Putin said.
Ever since he appeared before tens of thousands at a Moscow stadium on March 18, Mr. Putin’s public appearances have been limited to brief clips showing him meeting with government officials, mostly by video link, in which he does not comment on the peace talks or the war. Instead, he lets his Defense Ministry and other officials do the talking.
Mr. Putin emerged from his cocoon on Monday for an off-camera meeting at his residence outside Moscow with Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria, the first Western leader to visit with him since the Feb. 24 invasion. Mr. Nehammer said the session left him convinced that Mr. Putin was planning a large and violent military assault on the Donbas.
On Tuesday, Mr. Putin arrived in the Amur Region of Russia’s Far East and was shown in video released by the Kremlin chatting informally with workers at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a sprawling facility that has been plagued by construction delays and remains unfinished.
While a key initial thrust of Russia’s invasion ended in a retreat, Mr. Putin insisted on Tuesday — as he did in the first weeks of the war — that the plan for what he calls the “special military operation” had not been altered. And he argued that what he called the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” to humble Russia had failed, pointing back to Soviet achievements in the space race as evidence that Russians could thrive despite sanctions.
Mr. Putin said Russia would move ahead with its lunar program, which includes a moon lander scheduled to be launched this year. And in a nod to Belarus’s status as Russia’s key ally in the war, Mr. Putin promised to send a Belarusian cosmonaut into space as early as next year.
“We are not going to isolate ourselves, and it is generally impossible to isolate anyone in the modern world, and most certainly not as huge a country as Russia,” Mr. Putin said.
Western countries have promised to continue to strengthen sanctions against Russia, with Europe increasingly discussing limits on Russian energy imports and more international businesses quitting Russia entirely. On Tuesday, Nokia, the Finnish telecommunications giant, joined its Swedish rival Ericsson in leaving Russia, portending new problems for the country’s internal communications.
Mr. Putin offered no hint on Tuesday that he was prepared to make peace before assaulting Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, which Western officials fear could be the most violent phase of the war so far. He insisted, as he has before, that Russia had no choice but to invade, alleging that the West was turning the country into an “anti-Russian bridgehead.”
“What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy,” Mr. Putin said. “They just didn’t leave us a choice. There was no choice.”
Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Babai, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul; Marc Santora from Warsaw; and Shashank Bengali and Megan Specia from London.
ST. LOUIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–McCarthy Holdings, Inc., one of the nation’s largest 100 percent employee-owned construction companies, recently promoted Kristine Newman to chief financial officer. Prior to assuming this role, Newman served as executive vice president for the company. She replaces retiring CFO Doug Audiffred, and reports directly to McCarthy Holdings, Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ray Sedey.
Newman joined McCarthy in 2005 as controller for the builder’s Southwest Region and was promoted to vice president, finance in 2016 and senior vice president, finance in 2018. In 2019 she assumed the executive vice president, finance position and became a member of McCarthy’s enterprise leadership team. Now as chief financial officer, she will be responsible for all accounting, finance and insurance components of McCarthy including cash management, investments, internal audit financial reporting and risk management.
“Kris has been working closely with [outgoing CFO] Doug Audiffred for some time to ensure a thoughtful and smooth transition,” Ray Sedey said. “In addition to her outstanding financial acumen, strong work ethic and exceptional professionalism, Kris brings a deep understanding of McCarthy and our industry. She is an inspirational and trustworthy leader, and I speak for our entire leadership team and all our employee-owners when I express how pleased we are to welcome Kris into this role.”
Newman began her career with Arthur Andersen LLP, working on audit and consulting engagements in the firm’s Chicago and Phoenix offices, prior to joining McCarthy. She is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). An Indiana native, Newman earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Purdue University.
In addition to her responsibilities with McCarthy, Newman was recognized as a “Most Influential Woman in Commercial Real Estate” (AZ Business Magazine, 2019) and serves on the national committee for the McCarthy Partnership for Women, the firm’s employee resource group dedicated to recruiting, developing and retaining women. She currently serves on the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce board of directors, is past president and current member of the Valley of the Sun Chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association and is past chair of the board of directors for UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix.
“It is an incredible honor to serve in this crucial role for our company,” Newman said. “I am grateful to be able to follow in the footsteps of Doug Audiffred, and his guidance through the transition period was extremely helpful and appreciated. I know without a doubt that this organization will continue to accomplish amazing things.”
About McCarthy Holdings, Inc.
McCarthy Holdings, Inc. is the oldest privately held national construction company in the country – with nearly 160 years spent collaborating with partners to solve complex building challenges on behalf of its clients. McCarthy Holdings, Inc. is comprised of McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. and Castle Contracting, Inc. Repeatedly honored as a Best Place to Work, McCarthy is ranked the 13th largest domestic builder (Engineering News-Record, May 2021). With approximately 6,000 salaried employees and craft professionals, the firm has offices in St. Louis; Atlanta; Collinsville, Ill.; Kansas City, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Denver; Austin; Dallas; Houston; and San Diego, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento, Calif. McCarthy is 100 percent employee owned. More information about the company is available online at www.mccarthy.com or by following the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
The images of dead Ukrainians, some with their hands tied and others haphazardly buried in pits, spurred shocked Western leaders on Monday to promise even tougher sanctions against Russia, including possibly on energy, as the Kremlin dug in and showed signs of preparing a new assault.
The growing evidence that Russian soldiers killed scores of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving their bodies behind as they withdrew, prompted President Biden to call for President Vladimir V. Putin to face a “war crime trial.” Germany and France expelled a total of 75 Russian diplomats, and President Emmanuel Macron of France said the European Union should consider sanctions against Russian coal and oil.
“This guy is brutal,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Putin. “And what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it.”
In Moscow on Monday, Mr. Putin said nothing about his war in Ukraine, but his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the Kremlin “categorically” denied “any allegations” of Russian involvement in the atrocities. Instead, Russia’s state media aired relentless conspiracy theories about what it said was a Ukrainian fabrication, while the authorities threatened to prosecute anyone who publicly blamed Russians for the Bucha killings.
Russia said the bodies had been placed only recently on the streets after “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30. But a review of videos and satellite imagery by The New York Times shows that many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town.
The war in Ukraine may now be headed for an even more dangerous phase, despite Russia’s withdrawal last week from areas near Kyiv.
Ukrainian and Western officials said that Russia appeared to be positioning troops for an intensified assault in the eastern Donbas area, where the port city of Mariupol remains under a brutal siege. And in Kharkiv, roughly 30 miles from the Russian border, unrelenting bombardment has left parts of the city of 1.4 million unrecognizable.
The systematic destruction produces little military gain, but is part of a broader strategy to seize the country’s east, analysts and U.S. military officials say.
With the Russian economy showing some signs of resilience after the initial shock of the wide-ranging Western sanctions put in place after Mr. Putin’s invasion in February, the Kremlin appeared to be girding for a continuation of the war, despite talk in European capitals of now possibly banning Russian coal, oil or, less likely, gas.
“They are not going to stop,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said in a statement on Monday. “Putin’s order given to his soldiers to destroy our state has not disappeared.”
In a visit to Bucha on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine left the door open to a negotiated peace, despite the horrific scenes uncovered over the weekend. In a camouflage bulletproof vest, surrounded by soldiers and journalists, Mr. Zelensky accused Russia of “genocide,” but said he was still hoping to meet with Mr. Putin to try to stop the war.
“Ukraine must have peace,” Mr. Zelensky said. “We are in Europe in the 21st century. We will continue efforts diplomatically and militarily.”
Mr. Biden, speaking to reporters in Washington after returning from Delaware, said that “information” needed to be gathered for a trial of Mr. Putin, calling the Russian leader a “war criminal.” Mr. Biden said he would at some point be announcing more sanctions against Russia, without specifying what they would be.
In Europe, the growing evidence of Russian atrocities also appeared to be paving the way for more sanctions, even as divisions remained among E.U. members of whether to impose a broad ban on Russian energy imports.
“Today there are very clear signs of war crimes,” Mr. Macron, the French president, told France Inter radio. “Those who were responsible for those crimes will have to answer for them.”
European Union ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss another package of sanctions against Russia, but the extent of the new measures is still very much in flux, diplomats and officials said. A meeting of NATO defense ministers is also scheduled to take place that day.
Since the start of the conflict, European leaders, along with the United States, have pursued a strategy of putting sanctions in place a piece at a time, gradually toughening them to leave themselves more cards to play in case Russia escalates the conflict.
But the outrage over the new revelations of atrocities may force their hand.
One version of a new E.U. sanctions package under consideration could include a ban on Russian coal, but not oil and gas, E.U. officials said. Bans on Russian goods entering E.U. ports are also under consideration, as well as smaller measures to close loopholes in existing sanctions, European diplomats and officials said.
While Mr. Macron said the new sanctions should target both coal and oil, Christian Lindner, the German finance minister, indicated that coal would be the only Russian energy export included in the sanctions package. The European Union, he said, needed to “differentiate between oil, coal and gas.”
Coal, which is largely mined by private companies in Russia, is less critical to the Kremlin’s coffers than the oil and gas industry, in which state-owned companies play the leading role.
Germany is the key country holding the bloc back from an outright ban on oil and gas, though the idea is also unpopular in other, smaller European nations that largely rely on Russian supplies. Berlin has consistently argued that sanctions against Russia ought to hurt Russia more than they hurt Europe.
Germany’s hesitation to endorse oil and gas sanctions was on display Sunday, when cracks appeared in the coalition government’s position on such a move.
Christine Lambrecht, the defense minister, said the bloc should consider banning gas imports, while the economy and energy minister, Robert Habeck said such a move would not be useful because Mr. Putin has “already practically lost the war.”
“The horrifying news from Bucha will certainly pile more pressure on the E.U. to impose energy sanctions on Moscow this Wednesday, but hard-hitting import bans on oil and gas remain unlikely for now,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy.
“Internal momentum is building over stopping Russian coal,” Mr. Rahman said, “If anything, that’s likely to be the first thing Brussels targets on the energy side.”
Mr. Rahman said that, for now, the economic and political costs of a sudden stop of Russian oil and gas imports were too high for most E.U. leaders. He said it could take Russia using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine to lead the E.U. to impose sanctions on oil and gas imports.
Still, the Bucha revelations did prompt Germany and France — two countries that have long been careful to avoid provoking Russia — to escalate the confrontation with Moscow.
Germany said it would expel 40 Russian diplomats, an unusually high number for a single round of expulsions that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said was necessitated by the “incredible brutality on the part of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”
France said it, too, would expel “many” Russian diplomats stationed in the country; a Foreign Ministry official put the number at 35.
And Lithuania expelled the Russian ambassador and recalled its own from Moscow, the first time that a European country has made such a move since the start of the war.
Russia promised to retaliate against the expulsions and dismissed the reports of the atrocities in Bucha, describing them as fabricated pretexts for more sanctions. State television even claimed that Western operatives had chosen Bucha for their “provocation” because the town’s name sounded like the English word “butcher.”
It was the latest instance in which the Kremlin’s media machine has tried to parry overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in an atrocity with a flood of conspiracy theories sowing confusion among casual consumers of the news.
It appeared likely that, inside Russia, the approach would work. The Kremlin narrative is increasingly the only one being heard by regular Russians, with independent news media shut down, access to Facebook and Instagram blocked, and a new censorship law punishing any deviation from that narrative with as much as 15 years in prison.
Driving the point home, the Russian general prosecutor’s office issued a statement on Monday indicating that anyone referring to the Bucha atrocities as Russia’s doing risked prosecution.
Anton Troianovski reported from Istanbul, and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Nefffrom Kharkiv; Megan Specia from Krakow, Poland; Constant Méheut and Aurelien Breeden from Paris; Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin; and Katie Rogers from Washington.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, took an unusual step last week: It suspended some of the quality controls that ensure that posts from users in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries meet its rules.
Under the change, Meta temporarily stopped tracking whether its workers who monitor Facebook and Instagram posts from those areas were accurately enforcing its content guidelines, six people with knowledge of the situation said. That’s because the workers could not keep up with shifting rules about what kinds of posts were allowed about the war in Ukraine, they said.
Meta has made more than half a dozen content policy revisions since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The company has permitted posts about the conflict that it would normally have taken down — including some calling for the death of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and violence against Russian soldiers — before changing its mind or drawing up new guidelines, the people said.
The result has been internal confusion, especially among the content moderators who patrol Facebook and Instagram for text and images with gore, hate speech and incitements to violence. Meta has sometimes shifted its rules on a daily basis, causing whiplash, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
contended with pressure from Russian and Ukrainian authorities over the information battle about the conflict. And internally, it has dealt with discontent about its decisions, including from Russian employees concerned for their safety and Ukrainian workers who want the company to be tougher on Kremlin-affiliated organizations online, three people said.
Meta has weathered international strife before — including the genocide of a Muslim minority in Myanmar last decade and skirmishes between India and Pakistan — with varying degrees of success. Now the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II has become a litmus test of whether the company has learned to police its platforms during major global crises — and so far, it appears to remain a work in progress.
“All the ingredients of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been around for a long time: the calls for violence, the disinformation, the propaganda from state media,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a former special rapporteur to the United Nations. “What I find mystifying was that they didn’t have a game plan to deal with it.”
Dani Lever, a Meta spokeswoman, declined to directly address how the company was handling content decisions and employee concerns during the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta said it established a round-the-clock special operations team staffed by employees who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It also updated its products to aid civilians in the war, including features that direct Ukrainians toward reliable, verified information to locate housing and refugee assistance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, have been directly involved in the response to the war, said two people with knowledge of the efforts. But as Mr. Zuckerberg focuses on transforming Meta into a company that will lead the digital worlds of the so-called metaverse, many responsibilities around the conflict have fallen — at least publicly — to Nick Clegg, the president for global affairs.
announced that Meta would restrict access within the European Union to the pages of Russia Today and Sputnik, which are Russian state-controlled media, following requests by Ukraine and other European governments. Russia retaliated by cutting off access to Facebook inside the country, claiming the company discriminated against Russian media, and then blocking Instagram.
This month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised Meta for moving quickly to limit Russian war propaganda on its platforms. Meta also acted rapidly to remove an edited “deepfake” video from its platforms that falsely featured Mr. Zelensky yielding to Russian forces.
a group called the Ukrainian Legion to run ads on its platforms this month to recruit “foreigners” for the Ukrainian army, a violation of international laws. It later removed the ads — which were shown to people in the United States, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere — because the group may have misrepresented ties to the Ukrainian government, according to Meta.
Internally, Meta had also started changing its content policies to deal with the fast-moving nature of posts about the war. The company has long forbidden posts that might incite violence. But on Feb. 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta informed its content moderators — who are typically contractors — that it would allow calls for the death of Mr. Putin and “calls for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to the policy changes, which were reviewed by The New York Times.
Reuters reported on Meta’s shifts with a headline that suggested that posts calling for violence against all Russians would be tolerated. In response, Russian authorities labeled Meta’s activities as “extremist.”
Shortly thereafter, Meta reversed course and said it would not let its users call for the deaths of heads of state.
“Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving,” Mr. Clegg wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The Times and first reported by Bloomberg. “We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving.”
Meta amended other policies. This month, it made a temporary exception to its hate speech guidelines so users could post about the “removal of Russians” and “explicit exclusion against Russians” in 12 Eastern European countries, according to internal documents. But within a week, Meta tweaked the rule to note that it should be applied only to users in Ukraine.
The constant adjustments left moderators who oversee users in Central and Eastern European countries confused, the six people with knowledge of the situation said.
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Putin’s advisers. U.S. intelligence suggests that President Vladimir V. Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine. The intelligence shows what appears to be growing tension between Mr. Putin and the Ministry of Defense, U.S. officials said.
The policy changes were onerous because moderators were generally given less than 90 seconds to decide on whether images of dead bodies, videos of limbs being blown off, or outright calls to violence violated Meta’s rules, they said. In some instances, they added, moderators were shown posts about the war in Chechen, Kazakh or Kyrgyz, despite not knowing those languages.
Ms. Lever declined to comment on whether Meta had hired content moderators who specialize in those languages.
take action against Russia Today and Sputnik, said two people who attended. Russian state activity was at the center of Facebook’s failure to protect the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they said, and it didn’t make sense that those outlets had continued to operate on Meta’s platforms.
While Meta has no employees in Russia, the company held a separate meeting this month for workers with Russian connections. Those employees said they were concerned that Moscow’s actions against the company would affect them, according to an internal document.
In discussions on Meta’s internal forums, which were viewed by The Times, some Russian employees said they had erased their place of work from their online profiles. Others wondered what would happen if they worked in the company’s offices in places with extradition treaties to Russia and “what kind of risks will be associated with working at Meta not just for us but our families.”
Ms. Lever said Meta’s “hearts go out to all of our employees who are affected by the war in Ukraine, and our teams are working to make sure they and their families have the support they need.”
At a separate company meeting this month, some employees voiced unhappiness with the changes to the speech policies during the war, according to an internal poll. Some asked if the new rules were necessary, calling the changes “a slippery slope” that were “being used as proof that Westerners hate Russians.”
Others asked about the effect on Meta’s business. “Will Russian ban affect our revenue for the quarter? Future quarters?” read one question. “What’s our recovery strategy?”
Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.
The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.
For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.
The documents, spanning 2008 to 2017, show in previously unreported detail that Nokia knew it was enabling a Russian surveillance system. The work was essential for Nokia to do business in Russia, where it had become a top supplier of equipment and services to various telecommunications customers to help their networks function. The business yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, even as Mr. Putin became more belligerent abroad and more controlling at home.
For years, multinational companies capitalized on surging Russian demand for new technologies. Now global outrage over the largest war on European soil since World War II is forcing them to re-examine their roles.
The conflict in Ukraine has upended the idea that products and services are agnostic. In the past, tech companies argued it was better to remain in authoritarian markets, even if that meant complying with laws written by autocrats. Facebook, Google and Twitter have struggled to find a balance when pressured to censor, be it in Vietnam or in Russia, while Apple works with a state-owned partner to store customer data in China that the authorities can access. Intel and Nvidia sell chips through resellers in China, allowing the authorities to buy them for computers powering surveillance.
The lessons that companies draw from what’s happening in Russia could have consequences in other authoritarian countries where advanced technologies are sold. A rule giving the U.S. Commerce Department the power to block companies, including telecom equipment suppliers, from selling technology in such places was part of a bill, called the America Competes Act, passed by the House of Representatives in February.
“We should treat sophisticated surveillance technology in the same way we treat sophisticated missile or drone technology,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who was an assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Obama administration. “We need appropriate controls on the proliferation of this stuff just as we do on other sensitive national security items.”
Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and digital surveillance who reviewed some of the Nokia documents at the request of The Times, said that without the company’s involvement in SORM, “it would have been impossible to make such a system.”
“They had to have known how their devices would be used,” said Mr. Soldatov, who is now a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Nokia, which did not dispute the authenticity of the documents, said that under Russian law, it was required to make products that would allow a Russian telecom operator to connect to the SORM system. Other countries make similar demands, the company said, and it must decide between helping make the internet work or leaving altogether. Nokia also said that it did not manufacture, install or service SORM equipment.
The company said it follows international standards, used by many suppliers of core network equipment, that cover government surveillance.It called on governments to set clearer export rules about where technology could be sold and said it “unequivocally condemns” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Nokia does not have an ability to control, access or interfere with any lawful intercept capability in the networks which our customers own and operate,” it said in a statement.
MTS did not respond to requests for comment.
The documents that The Times reviewed were part of almost two terabytes of internal Nokia emails, network schematics, contracts, license agreements and photos. The cybersecurity firm UpGuard and TechCrunch, a news website, previously reported on some of the documents linking Nokia to the state surveillance system. Following those reports, Nokia played down the extent of its involvement.
But The Times obtained a larger cache showing Nokia’s depth of knowledge about the program. The documents include correspondence on Nokia’s sending engineers to examine SORM, details of the company’s work at more than a dozen Russian sites, photos of the MTS network linked to SORM, floor plans of network centers and installation instructions from a Russian firm that made the surveillance equipment.
After 2017, which is when the documents end, Nokia continued to work with MTS and other Russian telecoms, according to public announcements.
SORM, which dates to at least the 1990s, is akin to the systems used by law enforcement around the world to wiretap and surveil criminal targets. Telecom equipment makers like Nokia are often required to ensure that such systems, known as lawful intercept, function smoothly within communications networks.
In democracies, the police are generally required to obtain a court order before seeking data from telecom service providers. In Russia, the SORM system sidesteps that process, working like a surveillance black box that can take whatever data the F.S.B. wants without any oversight.
In 2018, Russia strengthened a law to require internet and telecom companies to disclose communications data to the authorities even without a court order. The authorities also mandated that companies store phone conversations, text messages and electronic correspondence for up to six months, and internet traffic history for 30 days. SORM works in parallel with a separate censorship system that Russia has developed to block access to websites.
Civil society groups, lawyers and activists have criticized the Russian government for using SORM to spy on Mr. Putin’s rivals and critics. The system, they said, is almost certainly being used now to crack down on dissent against the war. This month, Mr. Putin vowed to remove pro-Western Russians, whom he called “scum and traitors,” from society, and his government has cut off foreign internet services like Facebook and Instagram.
Nokia is best known as a pioneer of mobile phones, a business it sold in 2013 after Apple and Samsung began dominating the market. It now makes the bulk of its $24 billion in annual sales providing telecom equipment and services so phone networks can function. Roughly $480 million of Nokia’s annual sales come from Russia and Ukraine, or less than 2 percent of its overall revenue, according to the market research firm Dell’Oro.
Last decade, the Kremlin had grown serious about cyberspying, and telecom equipment providers were legally required to provide a gateway for spying. If Nokia did not comply, competitors such as the Chinese telecom giant Huawei were assumed to be willing to do so.
By 2012, Nokia was providing hardware and services to the MTS network, according to the documents. Project documentation signed by Nokia personnel included a schematic of the network that depicted how data and phone traffic should flow to SORM. Annotated photos showed a cable labeled SORM plugging into networking equipment, apparently documenting work by Nokia engineers.
Flow charts showed how data would be transmitted to Moscow and F.S.B. field offices across Russia, where agents could use a computer system to search people’s communications without their knowledge.
Specifics of how the program is used have largely been kept secret. “You will never know that surveillance was carried out at all,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a Russian lawyer who co-founded Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights group.
But some information about SORM has leaked out from court cases, civil society groups and journalists.
In 2011, embarrassing phone calls made by the Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov were leaked to the media. Mr. Soldatov, who covered the incident as an investigative reporter, said the phone recordings had come from SORM surveillance. Mr. Nemtsov was murdered near the Kremlin in 2015.
In 2013, a court case involving Mr. Navalny included details about his communications that were believed to have been intercepted by SORM. In 2018, some communications by Mr. Navalny’s supporters were tracked by SORM, said Damir Gainutdinov, a Russian lawyer who represented the activists. He said phone numbers, email addresses and internet protocol addresses had been merged with information that the authorities collected from VK, Russia’s largest social network, which is also required to provide access to user data through SORM.
“These tools are used not just to prosecute somebody but to fill out a dossier and collect data about somebody’s activities, about their friends, partners and so on,” said Mr. Gainutdinov, who now lives in Bulgaria. “Officers of the federal security service, due to the design of this system, have unlimited access to all communication.”
By 2015, SORM was attracting international attention. That year, the European Court of Human Rights called the program a “system of secret surveillance” that was deployed arbitrarily without sufficient protection against abuse. The court ultimately ruled, in a case brought by a Russian journalist, that the tools violated European human rights laws.
In 2016, MTS tapped Nokia to help upgrade its network across large swaths of Russia. MTS set out an ambitious plan to install new hardware and software between June 2016 and March 2017, according to one document.
Nokia performed SORM-related work at facilities in at least 12 cities in Russia, according to the documents, which show how the network linked the surveillance system. In February 2017, a Nokia employee was sent to three cities south of Moscow to examine SORM, according to letters from a Nokia executive informing MTS employees of the trip.
Nokia worked with Malvin, a Russian firm that manufactured the SORM hardware the F.S.B. used. One Malvin document instructed Malvin’s partners to ensure that they had entered the correct parameters for operating SORM on switching hardware. It also reminded them to notify Malvin technicians of passwords, user names and IP addresses.
Malvin is one of several Russian companies that won lucrative contracts to make equipment to analyze and sort through telecommunications data. Some of those companies, including Malvin, were owned by a Russian holding company, Citadel, which was controlled by Alisher Usmanov. Mr. Usmanov, an oligarch with ties to Mr. Putin, is now the subject of sanctions in the United States, the European Union, Britain and Switzerland.
Malvin and Citadel did not respond to requests for comment.
Other Nokia documents specified which cables, routers and ports to use to connect to the surveillance system. Network maps showed how gear from other companies, including Cisco, plugged into the SORM boxes. Cisco declined to comment.
For Nokia engineers in Russia, the work related to SORM was often mundane. In 2017, a Nokia technician received an assignment to Orel, a city about 225 miles south of Moscow.
“Carry out work on the examination of SORM,” he was told.
In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.
Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.
Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.
Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.
reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.
“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”
The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.
That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.
The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.
President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.
Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.
Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.
Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”
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Signs of a stalemate take shape. With Russia’s advance on Ukraine’s major cities stalled and satellite imagery showing soldiers digging into defensive positions around Kyiv, a consensus is emerging in the West that the war has reached a bloody stalemate.
A Ukrainian base is hit. A missile attack on barracks in the southern city of Mykolaiv killed more than 40 marines, a Ukrainian official said. That would make it one of the single deadliest attacks on Ukrainian forces since the start of the war, and the death toll could be much higher than reported.
Chernobyl workers are relieved. After more than three weeks without being able to leave the nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, 64 workers were able to be rotated out, officials said. Staff at the plant have been trapped since Feb. 23, a day before Russian forces took control of the site.
Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.
swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.
For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.
“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”
appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.
A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.
Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.
“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.
As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.
The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.