How will Russia react to the use of Bayraktar drones by the Ukrainian Armed Forces? This was the main question arising after the Ukrainian UAV hit the enemy cannon on the territory of the occupied “ORDLO.”
It appears that the response was mostly uniform: Russians unanimously condemned this “harsh” response of the Armed Forces, though in different ways. In addition, the Russian information forces resorted to a special operation: they hacked Ukrainian websites, posted fake messages discrediting the Armed Forces, and then cited those messages in the Russian media.
The Centre for Strategic Communication together with the communication team of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces conducted an analysis of this information attack.
Immediately after the Bayraktar hit the enemy cannon, which was shooting the Hranitne locality in the Donetsk oblast, the Ukrainian side highlighted what was special about the counterattack. Namely, they explained that this step was:
- the first combat use of high-precision weapons—strike UAVs;
- a demonstration of the Armed Forces’ military power;
- a natural response to armed provocation;
- a logical step after diplomatic conflict resolution methods failed;
- revenge for the Ukrainian soldier killed by the occupiers;
- and even a humane act, because no means of defeating manpower were used, it was only the equipment that was destroyed.
In response, the Russian side accused Ukraine of all mortal sins: violation of the Minsk agreements, the use of prohibited weapons, preparation for further escalation of the conflict and even large-scale “liberation of territories.” They also said that the supply of such high-precision weapons to Ukraine “does not contribute to the settlement of the Donbas situation.”
But what was clear among all these statements was that Russians could not fully believe how decisive the Ukrainian Armed Forces were. Even the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Lavrov, stressed that “information is being checked,” because “it is difficult to tell the truth from fiction.”
“You’re all lying”
The reasons for these doubts became partly clear after a more careful analysis of the information field of the occupied Donbas and Russia. It turned out that apart from militant narratives, there was also debunking that was disseminated at the same time: that there had allegedly been no Bayraktar strike. It was allegedly staged. What is more, this statement was attributed to Ukraine’s Minister of Defence Andrii Taran.
“Ukraine has never used Bayraktar strike drones in the conflict in eastern Ukraine … The video disseminated in the media is a fake created by pro-Russian mercenaries. The video clearly shows it was a pre-laid engineering charge that went off, not a munition from the drone” — this fake quote was published on the website Dialogue.
The Centre for Strategic Communication contacted the editors of the website, asking to clarify the source of the statement. They responded that they had not published such news, and that the website had been hacked. A statement later appeared on their website, and the news item was rewritten.
But this information was already spread to the Russian segment of the Internet. The first publications emerged in the collaborator channels on Telegram.
Later, it moved on to more “prestigious” propagandists: Alexander Kots, TV channel “Tsargrad”, Lenta.ru, etc.
The manner of the special operation clearly indicated that it was Russian special services behind it.
But the story did not move forward, since clear evidence was widely publicized, while the source of this story was suspicious at best. Russians were ready to insist that Ukrainians had lied again, but this plan was thwarted by proper communication on the part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Gay battalion, crimes against children and the Armed Forces surrounded — same old fakes
Since the Taran story failed, the hostile special services immediately proceeded to come up with new ones, based on old narratives. And soon, an entire series of hacker attacks was perpetrated against Ukrainian websites.
First, one Telegram channel published a link to a website with a collection of “crimes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against children.”
Later, the same resource came up with a story that the 80th brigade of the Armed Forces would serve as a basis for a separate Blue Tornado battalion, where only gay men would serve. It was announced on the hacked Invictus Games website—a sports portal for veterans with injuries or disabilities.
The next (and probably not the last) fake was the “appeal” of “entrapped” Ukrainian soldiers to President Zelenskyy. They made a direct reference to the battle of Ilovaysk. This fake proved “the most successful,” since it was cited even by Olga Skabeyeva on Rossiya TV channel.
Thus, the last few days have seen a typical information and psychological special operation in Russia. It consisted of the following stages:
- creation of a fake (Taran’s statement, gay battalion, suffering children, entrapped soldiers);
- publication of the fake on a hacked Ukrainian website;
- legalization of misinformation through messages in the “grey segment” of the media (Telegram profiles);
- further dissemination in the Russian media.
The purpose of the operation was to discredit Ukraine’s military success and to prevent the improvement of Ukrainian soldiers’ and citizens’ morale after a successful counterattack.
This method, a massive fake attack, was chosen because Russia’s response arsenal has already become quite limited. Ukraine has shown that it is ready to respond to military aggression in a military way.