The extensive communication Zoran Zaev had with Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus reveals that he was in touch with a controversial fake news peddler who cooperates with leftist parties in Austria, the Ukraina, Israel, and has been frequently accused of corruption.
Zaev believed that he is communicating with Ukrainian President Petro Porosenko, where in fact he was talking to Alexei Stolyarov – Lexus, part of the duo of Russian pranksters. While most world leaders who Vovan and Lexus got in touch with figured the scam out in a matter of minutes, Zaev bought it hook, line and sinker, and himself initiated conversations with the Russians and sent them messages. Stolyarov shared the WhatsApp communication he had with Zaev with Republika, and in one instance it appears that Zaev sent him a picture made during a meeting with Tal Silberstein, a controversial propagandist from Israel who has worked on Porosenko’s election campaign at the time.
– Hi my friend I send this guy to you very early in the morning tomorrow, Zaev wrote to the Russian pranksters, believing that he’s sending a message to Porosenko.
Stolyarov says they were initially confused at this message, but soon realized what is happening.
– Ohh, Tal Silverstein. I have not seen your picture. He is helping me with tha campaign, they reply.
– I know. I wish you success. Tal is great guy. Super, Zaev wrote back.
Silberstein was most recently accused by the Austrian right of engineering the Ibiza wiretapping affair aimed at Austrian deputy Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache, who was accused of courting Russian businesses, which brought down the Sebastian Kurz Government. Kurz himself accused Silberstein of being involved in the wiretapping.
If true, in what looks like a Spy vs Spy cartoon come to life, Zaev was meeting and likely cooperating with a person who uses wiretaps to assault conservative parties across Europe, and was giving information on this meeting to Russian pranksters, who were recording Zaev’s calls.
Even before the Ibiza affair, Silberstein became a household name in Austria, when in 2017 it was revealed that he is working with then socialist Chancellor Christian Kern to set up fake news outlets and Facebook groups, and to spread unfounded rumors that Kurz and other conservative politicians are racists. Silberstein’s propaganda attempts were revealed in the public, as was his hefty 400.000 EUR price tag, and this badly damaged the Kern Government, contributing to his downfall. Silberstein’s name became synonymous with spreading fake news to attack your opponents.
Kurz won the 2017 elections and opted to leave out Kern’s social-democrats from the coalition and to work with the right wing FPO party, but this cooperation was short lived, and ended with the Ibiza affair.
Concerning the methods, this strongly reminds me of Tal Silberstein, the campaign aide of the Social Democrats in 2017. He used similar methods all across the world, Kurz said after the Ibiza scandal.
Silberstein was accused of fraud and corruption in Israel and Romania. He has also worked all across Latin America, as a high profile political operative. Naturally, he was heavily involved in Ukrainian politics as well, working with both Porosenko and Yulia Timosenko.
Following the publication of the Vovan and Lexus prank tapes, Zaev threatened to push for additional regulation that would limit free speech under the pretext of fighting fake news, and insisted that his naivete should not be exploited. But, at the same time, his messages reveal that he is meeting with a high profile creator of a fake news machine which was used by social-democratic parties against their political opponents.
Zaev himself, of course, grabbed power in Macedonia using a massive cache of illegally recorded phone conversations of officials from the previous, Nikola Gruevski led Government. The origin of the tapes and how his SDSM party got them is still being determined.