WASHINGTON â? On Jan. 23, 2017, your day he started as a Washington correspondent to get Sputnik, Andrew Feinberg was e-mailed a copy of a âstyle guideâ that will laid out the organizationâs mission.
The 103-page handbook for publications associated with Sputnikâs Kremlin-owned parent company, Rossiya Segodnya, made it clear that conventional journalistic neutralityÂ was not the companyâs mandate. Instead, Sputnik reporters had been told they should provide readers âwith a Russian viewpointâ on issues and âmaintain allegianceâ towards the country.
âOur main goal is to inform the international audience about Russiaâs political, economic and ideological stance on both local and global issues,â the guide scans. âTo this end, we must always strive to be objective but we must also stay true to the national interest of the Russian Federation.â
The guide, which was written within English, is included among more than 10, 000 internal Sputnik messages on the thumb drive that Feinberg supplied to the FBI, which is investigating the particular agency for possible violations from the law that requires agents of international nations to register with the Justice Section. The guide appears to contradict recurring claims by Sputnik executives that will theyÂ follow traditional journalistic standards plus operate independently of the Kremlin and therefore are dedicated to objective reporting. For example , within August, when Sputnik opened the headquarters in Scotland, Sputnik publisher and director Nikolai Gorshkov informed a local news agency, âNo one has ever called me from Moscow.â
âI can assure you there is no hidden agenda,â Gorshkov said.
Contacted by Yahoo Information, Sputnik spokeswoman Beverly Hunt refused that the style guide applied to the task of the companyâs American reporters.
âTo our knowledge, Feinberg has never been employed by Rossiya Segodnya, which is a Russian news agency and does not provide services on US territory,â Hunt said in a written declaration.
In fact, Feinbergâs email displays the style guide was delivered to him by his editor from Sputnik, Peter Martinichev.
Feinberg, who also worked at Sputnik from The month of january until May, turned over the adobe flash drive filled with emails during a job interview by an FBI agent plus Justice Department national security attorney for over two hours on September. 1 . In August, another ex-Sputnik staffer, Joe Fionda, also offered the Justice Department a box of information with hundreds of documents. Google News obtained copies of the files Feinberg and Fionda provided in order to law enforcement.
Hunt, the Sputnik spokeswoman, noted that the ex-staffers had âcopied corporate emails and internal documents.â
Feinbergâs interview was part of an evidently widening investigation by the bureau to the role played by Sputnik as well as the Kremlin-owned television network, RT (formerly Russia Today), in seeking to form the views of American viewers. In a report last January, the particular U. S. intelligence community determined both news organizations as part of âRussiaâs state run propaganda machineâ that serve âas a platform for Kremlin messagingâ and performed key roles in Russian Leader Vladimir Putinâs âinfluence campaignâ during the 2016 presidential election. Yahoo News has additionally learned that the Senate Select Panel on Intelligence is investigating RT and Sputnik as part of the broader ¨¹bung into Russiaâs election meddling. RT recently disclosed that a U. Ersus. shell company that handles a lot of its production and operations in Washington was instructed by the Justice Department to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The move led RT to take down some ads it put up in Washington and New York mocking the intelligence communityâs assertion Russian media outlets interfered in the election.
Yahoo News has independently verified the authenticity of some of the Sputnik emails Feinberg gave to the Justice Department. The messages depict an organization that stuck closely to the Kremlinâs party line.
The documents also suggest Sputnik journalists had relationships with hackers linked to Russian intelligence and key American allies of Donald Trump. The information Fionda sent to the Justice Department highlighted a tweet in which one of Sputnikâs radio hosts boasted about his role in connecting Guccifer repayments 0, the hacker behind the Democratic National Committee leaks, to Roger Stone, an early architect of Trumpâs campaign. On April 30, Feinberg emailed Martinichev about a party he attended that was sponsored by the conservative blog Gateway Pundit. Feinberg said he stepped out for a cigarette and undergone Michael Flynn Jr., the son of Trumpâs former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
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âI introduced myself, told him I was Sputnikâs WH reporter and that Iâd love a chance to give him and his dad to tell their story without the Russia conspiracy mongering. He said he and his dad are BIG fans of Sputnik and gave me his contact information,â Feinberg wrote.
Feinberg told Yahoo that he and Flynn Jr. communicated via text messages after that initial conversation. Feinberg said he did not land an on-the-record interview or write about their conversations. The younger Flynnâwho did not react to a request for comment â? caused his father and was an associate of Trumpâs transition team. The elder Flynn was fired from his position as White House national security adviser in February after it was revealed he misled officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
In a Jan. 26 letter â? seeking credentials from the Washington Foreign Press Center â? that was on Feinbergâs thumb drive, Sputnikâs U. S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, described RIA Global LLC as âa United States entity that has a contract to act as the United States bureau of Sputnik News, the multi-media news initiative of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency.â In another email â? seeking credentials from the House of Representatives press gallery â? Gavasheli acknowledged that âmost ofâ their financing came from the Russian government, though he had claimed âroughly 10 to 20 percent of it comes from ads, paid subscriptions and other commercial activities.â In May, Sputnik was denied Capitol Hill press credentials due to its state funding.
Itâs unclear how many people Sputnik is reaching. Within an April email, Feinberg asked Vasily Minakov, the companyâs head of global public relations and communications, for information about the size of Sputnikâs audience. Minakov would not divulge those figures, but he noted Sputnikâs large social networking footprint.
âWe are not disclosing these figures openly. What we may say that Sputnik has around 14 M subscribers in total on social media,â Minakov said.
The emails Feinberg provided to the Proper rights Department show how Sputnik echoed the Kremlinâs message. In one example, Feinbergâs bosses urged him to generate stories deflecting blame for the chemical-weapons attack on Syrian civilians final spring away from Russiaâs Syrian number one ally, President Bashar Assad. Feinberg informed Yahoo News that he left the business earlier this year over pressure to advance the conspiracy theory, heavily promoted simply by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, about the death of a young staffer at the Democratic National Committee.
At Sputnikâs newswire, Feinbergâs work had been edited by a group of four publishers that included D. C. reporter Michael Hughes and Zlatko Kovach. The team was led simply by Martinichev and his deputy, Anastasia Sheveleva, both Russians. Multiple emails Feinberg provided to the Justice Department reveal he had to get approval and directions from his superiors on âanglesâ for everything he wrote. The Feb. 23 message from Hughes was one of many times this guideline was communicated to Feinberg.
âAlways pitch story angle BEFORE you do anything, get approval before writing and submitting a story. You should never submit an unapproved story. We might kill it if angle does not fit,â Hughes wrote.
The word âbeforeâ was bolded, underlined and pointed out in yellow. All of the emails mentioned in this story are being presented because they were written, including any transliteration and grammar mistakes.
According towards the emails on Feinbergâs thumb generate, he also had to get acceptance for every question he asked Whitened House officials including the press admin at the daily briefing.
âWe do it in this way to ensure we are on the same page regarding the question we ask on the record. It should never be a surprise,â Martinichev wrote in a March 13 missive.
In her email to Google News, Hunt, the Sputnik spokeswoman, defended this pre-approval process like a standard procedure.
âMost editors in any news agency need to know questions for a briefing. Itâs a regular practice,â Hunt mentioned.
At Yahoo News and most Oughout. S. media companies, editors might suggest and discuss questions using their White House correspondents, but there is absolutely no formal approval process. The email messages suggest an extraordinary level of microÂmanagement.
While Feinbergâs immediate supervisors worked within Washington, the emails show Sputnik staff in Moscow were frequently involved in the publication of stories. Sputnik stories followed rigid style suggestions. In a Feb. 21 message in order to Feinberg, Hughes described how the United states editors learned the ropes.
âWhen I first started they sent a couple âenforcersâ from Moscow that reviewed ALL of our stories in the beginning,â Hughes wrote, adding, âIt beat the main guidelines into our brains â a little tough love, so to speak. I called it style indoctrination.â
Hunt supplied Yahoo News with a statement through Hughes where he said this opinion was âobviously a joke.â
âWe âindoctrinateâ the very same way all news agencies âindoctrinateâ their newswire writers,â said Hughes.
On Feb. 9, Feinberg complained in order to Hughes that Sputnik staff within Moscow added an entire paragraph to some story he wrote without telling him.
âI didnât write it, itâs slanted at best, and my name is on it,â Feinberg wrote.
The story in question covered comments California Sen. Marco Rubio made regarding U. S. sanctions imposed towards Russia for allegedly interfering within last yearâs presidential election as well as for taking control of the Ukrainian area of Crimea in 2014. Moscow has vehemently denied meddling within Americaâs presidential race, and was adamant its presence in Crimea had been supported by a democratic referendum. The particular paragraph added to Feinbergâs story shown Russiaâs positions on both issues.
âUS-Russian relations soured followingÂ disagreements overÂ the crisis inÂ Ukraine. The United States imposed sanctions againstÂ Russia afterÂ Crimea held a referendum inÂ 2014 inÂ which a vast majority ofÂ its residents decided toÂ reunify withÂ Russia. Russian officials have denied meddling inÂ Ukraineâs internal affairs and have called allegations ofÂ interfering inÂ US elections absurd and an attempt toÂ distract fromÂ domestic issues,â it said.
Hughes informed Feinberg that the disclaimers about Ukraine plus alleged election intervention were needed at Sputnik.
âWe must write that paragraph- thatâs the Russian position not to mention the truth,â Hughes had written, adding, âEditors get in trouble for leaving it out. So, the option would be to take your name off the article if you have a problem with the last paragraph.â
âI suppose Iâll just have to get used to it and wrap my head around it. My name can stay on for now,â Feinberg replied.
âI had same experience!â said Hughes.
Hunt, Sputnikâs spokeswoman, defended the mandatory paragraph that was put into Feinbergâs story.
âBackground with the second side position is required in stories for balance and a usual practice in many newswire services,â she mentioned.
Hughes further argued the section contained âsimple facts.â
âRussian government officials have repeatedly denied involvement in U.S. elections. And we restated the Russian governmentâs position on the Ukraine crisis. No slant involved,â Hughes said.
The documents provided by Fionda and Feinberg could fuel growing demands simply by members of Congress that Sputnik and RT register with the Proper rights Department under the Foreign Agents Enrollment Act (FARA), which was passed simply by Congress in 1938 to battle Nazi propaganda. Â The law needs foreign agencies engaged in lobbying or even efforts influence American public viewpoint toÂ file detailed reports on their financing and operations. There is an exemption within the law for state-funded media businesses engaged in legitimate news gathering.
Fiondaâs information packet included a notice to the Justice Department urging the federal government to investigate whether Sputnik is violating FARA. Fionda said he proved helpful at the company from Sept. five to Oct. 19, 2015, plus felt Sputnik engaged in âpossible FARA violationsâ plus was acting as a direct broker of the Russian government.
Sputnik reports both Fionda and Feinberg had been fired due to performance-related issues. Certainly, the emails Feinberg provided towards the Justice Department show multiple situations where his editors expressed disappointment with his work, including his difficulty mastering the companyâs rigid tale format and falling behind Sputnikâs fast-paced schedule. Sputnikâs spokeswoman, Search, reiterated these complaints about Feinbergâs function, and said he âcontinually failed to meet the most fundamental newswire language and requirements.â
In selection interviews with Yahoo News and others, Feinberg has said his last straw from Sputnik came when his publishers pushed him to advance a conspiracy theory theory about the fatal shooting associated with DNC staffer Seth Rich. Throughout a meeting on his last day at the business, May 26, Feinberg said their editors told him to request whether Rich could have been involved in final yearâs leak of DNC email messages that law enforcement has attributed to the particular hacker Guccifer 2 . 0 plus Russian intelligence. Rich was photo in Washington, D. C., final July, shortly after the emails had been published by WikiLeaks. Though the situation remains unsolved, police have mentioned they believe Rich was murdered in a botched robbery.
The a large number of documents Feinberg provided to the Proper rights Department do not show any conversation of Rich. They do include several instances of Feinberg being told to request officials about the possibility Assad might possibly not have been responsible for the chemical assaults in Syria.
On April 19, Martinichev wrote to Feinberg plus pressed him to ask the particular White House âif they are reviewing all these recent controversial dataâ indicating additional militants may have used chemical weaponry in Syria âafter their statement that only Assad had this capability.â Feinberg adopted up by emailing multiple mature officials and asking an associate to former press secretary Sean Spicer if he could ask something about âchemical weapons capabilityâ in Syria in that dayâs televised White House briefing.
âIt would make my editorsâ day if Sean could be so kind as to call on me by name, if he can remember and its not a problem,â Feinberg wrote.
Sputnik comes with an office in the heart of the downtown area Washington about three blocks from the Whitened House. The company was launched in 2014 after Putin dissolved the countryâs main state news agency plus replaced it with Rossiya Segodnya. Putin decreed that this new business should be focused on promoting Moscowâs plan beyond its borders, and he drawn on Dmitry Kiselyov â? a traditional television host and staunch ally of the Russian government â? in order to head the new company.
Sputnikâs Wa bureau includes staffers who work with a wire service, a stereo station and a website. The radio place began broadcasting in July right after Sputnik took over a local Washington place that featured bluegrass music. The particular companyâs newswire is less overloaded political than its other choices. Based on the messages on Feinbergâs browse drive, the wire service mostly published short briefs with rapid-fire quotes and updates. Sputnikâs stereo station and web page offer an exclusive brand of political commentary. The website features a blog mockingly called âThe Russians Did Itâ that satirizes claims that the Kremlin interfered in last yearâs usa president race. The introduction to the blog dismisses these allegations from American cleverness agencies as the âludicrousâ product of the âfantasy realm.â
âWelcome to the treasury of all things Russia didâ¦ not do,â the blogâs introduction starts. âTake a considered view of all the allegations usually accepted as incontrovertible fact by the mainstream media.â
Sputnikâs expansion in Washington as well as the larger changes to Russiaâs condition media apparatus came after Moscowâs military leadership began emphasizing propaganda as a weapon in the countryâs strategy. In February 2013, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the operational head from the Russian armed forces, published a treatise advocating for expanding the countryâs strategy to include âinformational â¦ and other non-military measures.â Gerasimov required using âinformational actionsâ along with âspecial-operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.â
âLong-distance, contactless actions against the enemy are becoming the main means of achieving combat and operational goals,â Gerasimov wrote.
Experts in the U. Ersus. and Europe have dubbed this particular âGerasimov doctrineâ of using media plus technology to destabilize rivals âhybrid warfare.â Earlier this year, a group of nine countries such as the United States teamed up to establish the Western Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. According to a pr release from NATO, the center, which is located in Finland, will be dedicated to research plus training to combat these brand new methods of warfare, and âactively counter propaganda with facts.â
âCountering hybrid threats is a priority for NATO, as they blur the line between war and peace â combining military aggression with political, diplomatic, economic, cyber and disinformation measures,â the particular press release said.
Here in America, several see Russiaâs actions in final yearâs election as a textbook sort of this hybrid warfare. The Oughout. S. intelligence community report that will called Sputnik and the RT tv network key parts of this âinfluence campaignâ described âKremlin loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actorsâ working in concert throughout the U. S. campaign. Recently, Russian federation has been linked to a $100, 000 Facebook ad campaign and an army associated with Twitter accounts with content made to ramp up political tensions amid the American election. This month, Facebook said it estimated the adverts tied to a Russian Internet agency were seen by about 10 million people before and after last yearâs election.
The intelligence report noted the Russian state media outlets cast President Trump as âas the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishmentâ and hailed his âvictory as a vindication of Putinâs advocacy of global populist movements.â According to the report, the Kremlin-owned media organizations also attacked Trumpâs opponent, Hillary Clinton, with allegations of corruption, rumors of health issues and damaging emails hacked from her campaign and published by WikiLeaks.
The packet of information Fionda provided to the Justice Department focused on two Sputnik employees: Cassandra Fairbanks and Lee Stranahan.
Stranahan came to Sputnik in April. He previously had worked at the conservative website Breitbart, under Trumpâs former campaign guru and adviser Steve Bannon. The month before he joined Sputnik, Stranahan sent out a tweet boasting he was the one who âintroducedâ former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone to Guccifer 2 . 0, the hacker who obtained emails from the Democratic National Committee which were published by WikiLeaks. American officials have said Guccifer 2 . 0 was working with Russiaâs military cleverness agency GRU as part of the coordinated hard work to help Trump in the election.
Fionda flagged the tweet in the box of information he sent to the F.
Stone told Yahoo News that will Stranahan was indeed the person who 1st told him about Guccifer second . 0.
âIntroduce doesnât mean introduce in the classic sense. He told me who he was. He believed he had hacked the DNC â that he was a hacker,â explained Stone.
Stone is a key figure in the congressional investigation into possible links in between Trumpâs campaign and the Kremlin, simply because he seemed to know in advance that will WiklLeaks would be publishing emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman Bob Podestaâs account. Â Last month, this individual testified before the House Intelligence Panel about his communications with Guccifer 2 . 0 and WikiLeaks, saying he never communicated directly along with WikiLeaksâ? mastermind Julian Assange yet learned about the siteâs plans to create emails damaging to Clinton through an intermediary. He described the particular intermediary as a journalist, but offers refused to identify him on the coffee grounds that their conversations were in confidence. Committee leaders said this week they might subpoena Stone to require your pet to identify the intermediary.
Stranahan mentioned itâs not him. âI donât know anything about that,â this individual said. âI have no relationship with anyone at all at WikiLeaks.â
However, Stranahan did verify he connected Stone to the hacker. He also said Guccifer second . 0 offered him documents that will his editors at Breitbart had been wary of publishing.
âBreitbart didnât want to run with them for whatever reason, and they were like, âHave Guccifer post them first,ââ Stranahan mentioned.
Stranahan noted he has discussed their interactions with Guccifer publicly upon Twitter and in video broadcasts. He or she doesnât believe the Justice Section has any reason to be worried about his communications with the hacker.
âI didnât do anything wrong,â Stranahan said.
Fionda also notified law enforcement about another colleague who also claimed to be in communication with Guccifer 2 . 0. In the information Fionda gave to the Justice Department, this individual included copies of Twitter communications in which Cassandra Fairbanks discussed swapping messages with the hacker. Fairbanks is definitely an activist who wrote for Sputnik from late 2015 until this season, when she joined the pro-Trump website Big League Politics.
Fairbanks told Yahoo News that Fionda was making too much of what the lady describes as a journalistic endeavor.
âI did communicate with Guccifer. I tried to interview him because â¦ I was covering the leaks,â Fairbanks explained. âI published like all of my conversations with him so theyâre public.â
Fairbanks said the particular hacker offered her documents, yet she was unable to write about all of them on Sputnik. Hunt, the Sputnik spokeswoman, said Fairbanks asked the particular companyâs U. S. editor within chief for permission to publish the particular emails and was denied.
âThe answer was: âAbsolutely not! We donât have a legal department on the spot to clear them and we have no idea whether these emails are authentic.â That was the end of the story for Sputnik,â Hunt said.
In a text exchange with Yahoo News, Fionda said he alerted investigators regarding Stranahan and Fairbanks because they âbraggedâ about being in touch with the hacker, while having connections to the Trump strategy and the Russian government through their particular work at Sputnik. In his letter, Fionda described Stranahan, Stone and Fairbanks as some of the hackerâs highest user profile associates.
âFairbanks, along with Roger J. Stone Jr., and Lee Stranahan of Breitbart News, are the three most prominent public figures to have disclosed contact with the purported Russian GRU persona Guccifer 2,â Fionda wrote.
The documents provided by Feinberg and Fionda also shed light on their fears the business was operating as an unconventional secret agent agency â? a worry which was apparently shared by some within the Trump White House.
In their conversations with investigators, Feinberg, in whose previous jobs included writing to get telecommunications industry trade publications as well as the Washington-insider website The Hill, comprehensive his concern that Sputnikâs confirming efforts may have served another objective.
âIn some ways, Sputnik was functioning as open source intelligence gathering,â Feinberg said in an job interview with Yahoo News.
According towards the emails, Sputnik reporters regularly protected the White House, Capitol Slope, the Pentagon and the State Section, where they gathered information that might be of interest to the Russian intelligence solutions. Messages on the thumb drive Feinberg gave to the Justice Department display Sputnikâs team constantly peppering authorities officials about policy matters using a focus on those relevant to Russia, which includes American aid to its competitors, U. S. diplomatic engagement along with Moscow and ongoing negotiations plus military operations in Syria. Which questioning of officials didnât constantly result in news reports. While the email messages show that Sputnik editors usually had a voracious appetite for rates to publish on their news wire, within multiple messages, Feinberg expressed misunderstandings that stories were not being released after he did work this individual was assigned to do.
âIâm guessing nothing came of my quote from McCain?â feinberg asked in one email to an publisher dated Feb. 2 .
The communications show that Martinichev, one of Feinbergâs editors, repeatedly pressed him to obtain business cards from White Home aides, including Spicer, to share with all the Sputnik office.
âDid you have a chance to get Spicerâs business card? Is it possible in this crowd?â Martinichev requested Feinberg in a Feb. 2 information.
âDo you have any business cards from the deputies? Any contacts?â Martinichev pressed him within another email six days afterwards.
When he had meetings with resources, Feinberg was asked to provide reviews with details far beyond such a typical American publication would requirement of its reporters. He was penalized when he asked questions that will werenât approved by his superiors so when he failed to provide extensive information about his contacts with sources.
After he left Sputnik, Feinberg started to wonder whether he was being utilized to gather information for the Kremlin, not really the public.
âI have friends and colleagues who stopped talking to me because I took this job. Itâs humiliating,â Feinberg wrote in a single frustrated email to an editor, afterwards adding, âHonestly if the stigma is something I wonât ever be able to overcome Iâm not sure what Iâll do.â
Feinbergâs fear that Sputnik could be operating as an unconventional cleverness agency was apparently shared simply by at least some officials in Leader Trumpâs press shop. One previous White House staffer told Google News they âalways viewed that as a potential issue.â
âSputnik is a well-known arm of the Kremlin,â the staffer said. âDepartment of Defense blocks White House access to their website because it is not secure.â
When Feinberg was in the particular West Wing, the staffer mentioned the White House press store did its âbest not to engage with him, particularly on more sensitive matters.â
âI think it was definitely something those who had to interact with him daily considered albeit maybe not in a totally serious way. I never ever once responded to an inquiry and urged colleagues to do the same,â the staffer said.
Since Feinbergâs departure, Sputnik correspondent Cara Rinkoff has documented from inside the West Wing.
Sputnikâs spokeswoman, Hunt, dismissed the concerns the business is engaged in espionage.
âSeven percent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows â¦ Â So itâs not a surprise that some people fear they could be abducted by aliens or that Sputnik could be a spy agency,â mentioned Hunt, adding, âAnd probably even some former White House staffers share these views. If anyone has been playing spy it would be fired staffers who copied corporate emails and internal documents.â
Fionda, whose history includes stints as an actor plus film producer â? and beneath the pseudonym âsubverzoâ has ties towards the activist and hacking communities which includes Occupy Wall Street and AnonymousÂ â? shared some of Feinbergâs concerns regarding being used for intelligence gathering.
In the particular letter Fionda sent the Proper rights Department asking it to look in to whether Sputnik is violating the particular Foreign Agents Registration Act, this individual said that he was asked to create articles that contained âcategorically untrueâ info while working at the company. Fionda also said he was terminated after Sputnikâs U. S. publisher in chief Mindia Gavasheli requested him to obtain and publish email messages that had been hacked from former CIA Director John Brennan, an ask for Fionda said he saw because âa solicitation to espionage.â Gavasheli previously denied this particular in an interview with Yahoo Information where he said Fionda was terminated for lying about an illness in the family to take time off function.
Along with all of the intrigue, the record cache also has details of daily life from Sputnik. Many of the emails paint an image of a mundane workplace â? even though with a Russian twist. Email signatures and instructions from the IT division often came in Cyrillic, leaving United states staffers asking for translators. On February. 23, reporter Delal Pektas delivered a cheery email to the additional Sputnik editors and reporters.
âHappy Defender of the Fatherland Day!â she wrote. âI brought several bagels â? please help her! â? ******)
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