Russia-Ukraine War Updates: NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Long-Term Aid for Ukraine

This week, the French government revealed that Russian state actors were engaged in a comprehensive and coordinated disinformation campaign. This campaign utilized fabricated French government and news websites to disseminate false information and erode support for Ukraine.

The revelation highlights the extent of the manipulation and deception employed by these actors to influence public opinion and sow discord. By utilizing deceptive tactics and fake platforms, the perpetrators sought to undermine trust and exacerbate tensions in the region. The French government’s disclosure serves as a reminder of the persistent threat posed by disinformation and the need for robust measures to counter such malicious activities.

The French government stopped short of directly accusing Moscow of creating the phony web pages, but said several bodies affiliated with the Russian government, including Russian cultural centers and embassies, “actively participated” in spreading disinformation in 2022 and 2023. The phony websites were created by Russian individuals and companies with ties to Russian government institutions, the French government added.

“This campaign consists, among other things, of creating fake web pages usurping the identity of national media outlets and government websites as well as creating fake accounts on social media,” Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister, said in a statement on Tuesday, calling it a “hybrid strategy that Russia is implementing” to undermine democratic institutions and countries.

The French foreign ministry thwarted an attempt to imitate its own website, she said.

Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokeswoman for France’s foreign ministry, said on Tuesday that the campaign had not had a measurable impact on French public opinion, but she noted that French authorities had taken the unusual step of publicly and explicitly denouncing the campaign.

“It is obviously a message that will be heard by those involved,” she said.

The disinformation campaign was dubbed the “Doppelganger” operation in a 2022 report by the E.U. Disinfo Lab, which found Russian propaganda being spread by sophisticated replications of major news outlets in several European countries. Meta, the social media company, publicly attributed the campaign to two Russian companies.

VIGINUM, an official French government agency created in 2021 to counter online misinformation from foreign bodies, said in a summary report of its investigation that the campaign involved “clearly inaccurate or misleading narratives” about the war that were produced by Russian or Russian-speaking individuals and several Russian companies, and that were then spread by Russian state or state-sponsored entities.

Obscure news websites, created shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, discredited Ukrainian authorities and spread false information — for instance that depleted-uranium ammunition given to Ukraine had created a radioactive cloud heading toward France.

The campaign also spoofed over 300 websites of news outlets or government agencies in Europe, often through “typosquatting” — registering a purposely misspelled domain name close to a legitimate site’s address. One convincing clone of the French foreign ministry website claimed that a tax would be imposed to raise money for Ukraine.

That misinformation was then amplified through “inauthentic” social media accounts and bots, but also by Russia’s own diplomatic network, the report said.

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