“Evil Nazis against a Woman and Her Child”: How Russian Propagandists Renounced Their Own Fake about the Ukrainian Army

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Russian fake-makers came up with a staged video about a conflict between the Ukrainian military and a woman accompanied by a child. Top propagandists participated in promoting it, but the fake was debunked by their own colleagues on the same day.

The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security explains how this video feeds into a certain information attack and how it is tied to the fake about “desecration of the Quran” that was disseminated the day before.

How the video was posted

The video was uploaded in the afternoon of March 27. It was first published simultaneously by Telegram channels “Svezhesti” and “SHOT NEWS,” which have been repeatedly used to spread anti-Ukrainian fakes, as well as the resources of the popular Russian image board “Dvach” (Telegram channels “Dvach,” “Nyusach,” and the Twitter profile “Dvach.”).

A network of Telegram channels, information websites, TV channels, pages on social networks, etc. joined in on spreading the fake. More than 200 posts with this video were created on March 27-28 in Telegram and VKontakte alone, not including reposts and its use in comments.

This video with a comment in English was posted on Twitter by the official accounts of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Embassy in the UK.

How the fake was debunked

Almost immediately after the publication, social media users found too many signs that indicated the video was staged:

  • the video was filmed using a car video recorder, although they are prohibited in Ukraine during martial law. But the “military” somehow paid no attention to it;
  • there were no licence plates on the military vehicle;
  • the military vehicle was marked with the “Balkenkreuz” cross, which was used to mark Wehrmacht vehicles during World War II. The Armed Forces of Ukraine use a plain white cross;
  • the video sound has clearly been edited.

Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine made a detailed analysis of the fake on March 28. They drew attention to the Russian origin of the pickup truck frame.

But this time, part of the Russian propaganda resources joined the refutation. As soon as on the evening of March 27, the anonymous Telegram channel “Crocodile” (connected to the network of pseudo-Ukrainian channels, which includes “Legitymny”, “Resident”, “Sheptun” and others) published a number of questions about this video.

Another anonymous channel, Moscow Calling, and propagandist blogger Anatoly Shariy made public the video shooting location. They claimed to have received it from their followers in Donetsk.

As it turned out, the “road conflict” took place between Donetsk and Makiivka. Both cities have been under occupation since 2014. Now, this is deep rear of the Russian army, where no “AFU convoys” are moving about just yet. The authenticity of this information was confirmed by the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the MoD.

Why do Russian propagandists want to refute their own fake?

The rapid refutation of the fake by the Russian propagandists themselves may indicate the struggle of various groups of security forces for resources and the existence of serious conflicts between them.

In addition, the demonstrative exposure of the fake by Shariy and the administrators of other Telegram channels is a means of increasing confidence in their resources and attracting a new audience by throwing competitors under the bus. In the future, they can use this trust to:

  • spread more important Russian narratives and disinformation;
  • refute reliable information, now as “Ukrainian fakes.”

What happened after the refutation

After the fake was refuted, some of the resources removed the video without comment or apology. This was done by the admins of Telegram channels of Vladimir Solovyov, Siloviki RU and the Twitter account of Russia’s MFA. Yet, the message remained on the Twitter profile of the Russian embassy in London, despite a large number of comments exposing the fake.

Telegram channels “Zapiski Veterana” and “Rybar” kept the old publications, noting that the video turned out to be false.

They did the same on the “Dvach” Twitter account. The message has been removed from the Telegram channels of this resource.

However, the majority of news resources, administrators of pages in social networks and Telegram channels ignored the refutations. The fake was actively disseminated on March 28 and began to decline only the following day.

What is the connection of this video with the mockery of the Quran?

There is every reason to consider the fake story about the road conflict part of an information campaign to discredit Ukrainians in the eyes of the Muslim community. The day before, another staged video desecrating the Quran appeared: in the video, individuals pretending to be Ukrainian soldiers cut fat on the holy book of Muslims and burned pages from it for show.

The new video contains no direct mentions of Islam. But there are a few hints:

  • the “victim’s” last name is Mustafayeva, which is a common last name among Muslim peoples in the post-Soviet space;
  • after the last name is announced, the “soldier” calls the woman a “pig,” which is a horrible offence for a Muslim person;
  • the video appeared during the holy month of Ramadan and is dated March 24, one of its first days. 

Thus, in addition to promoting the general narrative of “an attack by armed Ukrainian Nazis on a defenceless woman and child,” the video had additional messages sewn into it for a narrower Muslim audience.

The vehicle for promoting the narrower narrative was the anonymous Telegram channel Dva Mayora, which published a long-read about discrimination based on religion, language, and nationality allegedly being Ukraine’s national policy.

This trend was supported by Telegram channels of Russian military correspondents, as well as resources targeting Muslim regions of Russia, primarily Chechnya, Dagestan, Adygea etc.

At the same time, Tsargrad TV and other far-right resources promoting radical Orthodox values and Russian chauvinism ignored the Muslim component. 

The Telegram channel “Armenians of Russia” did the same. Its target audience is not very friendly towards Muslims due to the long ethnic conflict with the Azerbaijanis and the war in Karabakh.

This is not the first time that the Russians have tried to put false information about chauvinism and Islamophobia, which are allegedly widespread in Ukraine, into the public space. This is done both to dehumanize Ukrainians and to mobilize representatives of the Muslim peoples of Russia to participate in the war of aggression. Against the background of problems with the recruitment of reservists in the army in Dagestan and Chechnya, the Kremlin is trying to come up with a motivation for the population of these republics to “protect their faith.”

In fact, though, thousands of Ukrainian Muslims are now defending their native land from invaders, and their fellow believers are experiencing all the horrors of occupation and living lives as IDPs and refugees on an equal footing with other citizens of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin’s regime widely practices repression against national and religious minorities in Russia and persecutes Muslims in occupied Crimea for their religious beliefs.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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