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May 19, 2022
Ukraine crisis: A low-cost disinformation campaign aids Putin’s playbook
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Ukraine crisis: A low-cost disinformation campaign aids Putin’s playbook

While Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent this week, pro-Russia online disinformation campaigners unleashed numerous images and videos depicting Ukraine as the aggressor. Their often crude efforts were promptly dismantled by experts and fact-checkers. But for Moscow, quantity overrides quality concerns.

The disinformation examples abound the Internet: a photo of an alleged Ukrainian armored vehicle on Russian territory, a video of Ukrainian troops on an “invasion” mission infiltrating Russia, or another clip supposedly showing Ukrainian or Polish “saboteurs” trying to blow up Russian tanks. 

Days after the Kremlin slammed Western “hysteria” over the Russian military buildup around Ukraine, the messaging from Moscow has changed following President Vladimir Putin’s decision on Monday to recognise the pro-Russian, self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

The new narrative, sustained by a disinformation campaign, is focused on presenting “proof” of Kyiv’s belligerence, which is contradictory to the situation on the ground as Ukraine confronts the military might of its huge eastern neighbour. 

The disinformation circulates in pro-Russian groups on the messaging service Telegram and is then relayed by state and pro-Kremlin media organisations. Over the past few days, Russian state media has insisted that Putin has ordered troops on a “peacekeeping” mission into eastern Ukraine to prevent what the Russian leader has called a “genocide” of Russian-speakers by the government in Kyiv. 

‘Lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy’ editing The fake videos and images though have not escaped the attention of fact-checkers on the lookout for Russian disinformation on the Internet.  

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