Opinion: Russia’s cheap fake piece on “Ukrainian mercenaries” in Libya

Wed, 29.04.2020 12:34

Distribution of fake stories by Russian propaganda has always been structured, while the very process can be divided into three categories, depending on the scale, quality of execution, and the objective they are trying to achieve by spinning disinformation. Russian propaganda has been using pretty much invariable chains, which allows determining which security agency stands behind a certain fake story, as well as many other distinctive features.

This week, Russia’s gray-segment information resources (social media accounts, blogs, and low-profile news sites) span a video allegedly made in Libya purportedly showing negotiations between the troops fighting for the Government of National Accord (the body recognized internationally, including by the UN). Moreover, these negotiations are conducted “in Ukrainian”, Russian claim.

This video was distributed in line with the classical scheme for the piece of medium importance. At least, to date, it hasn’t become a federal-level spin. But, who knows? Perhaps this weekend, federal TV propaganda talking heads Kiselyov and Skabeeva will cover the topic, which will automatically testify to the top level of significance for the Kremlin.

But, let’s move to why I stress with such confidence that this video is fake and most importantly — why this disinformation piece emerged precisely now.

I should recall that this week, head of the GNA’s Interior Ministry, Fathi Bashagha, accused the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (whom Russia supports and on whose side Wagner PMC is fighting), of using chemical weapons, in particular, nerve gas, in Salahaddin district in the south of Tripoli.

Russian mercenaries, as well as the regimes they support, are often accused of employing chemical weapons. Until recently, Syria has remained the main platform for the use of banned arms. For the war crimes already committed there, Russian military commanders could be facing major prison terms in international courts. And therefore, they had to somehow put out yet another blaze of accusations. And what could be better than shouting out “Ukraine”?

To this end, a Telegram chat platform was used to introduce into a media field through a RYBAR channel a video purportedly showing negotiations of who are alleged to be Ukrainian mercenaries for GNA. The report was immediately picked up by other Telegram accounts and opinion leaders on various blogging platforms. A classical scheme for the spin: from low-grade info domains to actual media outlets. At the second stage, this spin was picked up by mass media, in particular the Federal News Agency, which even bothered to interview top notch propagandists like Vladimir Solovyov and Alexander Kots.

Although the two “masterminds” couldn’t deliver anything but contemplating nods, even the very video fails to withstand the slightest criticism.

Firstly, the video was published by an account that has been spinning propaganda 24/7 — not by some independent or more or less independent investigative outlet. Moreover, it was immediately picked up by Telegram accounts supervised by Russia’s defense ministry, from “Major General” to “Diana Mikhailova” on LiveJournal. Besides, rapid spread across media platforms was launched by FAN, the FSB affiliate, which is no surprise either. After all, PMC Wagner is the FSB’s branch, so Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media army quickly went to the rescue.

Secondly, not only is it impossible to figure out where the negotiations are being held in the video (was it Libya at all?), it’s only unclear whether its participants were Ukrainians. After all, they are heard speaking a Russian-Ukrainian dialect mix, known as “surzhik”, which is mostly Russian with the use of individual Ukrainian words. In fact, this could as well be the men from Russia’s southern Kuban region where such dialect is way too common… I wonder if Solovyov and Kots are aware at all of the widest variety of dialects of the Russian language spoken outside Moscow region?

So what does it all boil down to? We have a video showing unidentified persons in an unidentified location speaking “surzhik” which can be attributed both to southern Ukrainian regions (the conversation could be recorded, say, in Donbas frontline some time back), or to Russia’s Kuban and Don regions… At the same time, Russian propaganda claim right away that the men on the video are “Ukrainian mercenaries in Libya”. How about that? Conclusions are based on minimal to zero evidence.

But, most importantly, this hastily-made video was published right after the GNA accused Russian mercenaries of using chemical weapons. That is, Russian media are desperately trying to ride the tide of “Ukraine mercenaries” hype to put out the info blaze illuminating Russia’s crimes in Libya.

This is a completely standard, primitive, but traditional technique Russians tend to apply. For example, when Novaya Gazeta last year published the first part of its probe about Wagner PMC mercenaries torturing and killing a captured Syrian deserter, Russian media and low-grade chat accounts frantically spread reports of the alleged crimes by British specops troops in the Middle East.

When the fact of the supply of Russian weapons, money and manpower to Khalifa Haftar and his terrorist organization LNA was confirmed internationally, Haftar’s fighters in Libya started a hunt on Ukrainian cargo aircraft flying on behalf of the Red Cross, while Russian media and pseudo-experts tried to accuse Ukraine of arms smuggling. That smear campaign failed, too. They even went as far as trying to accuse Ukraine of supplying arms to Vladimir Putin’s crony Bashar Assad, which made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It’s even more ridiculous to recall reports about “Islamic State transit bases” in Ukraine, but nevertheless, Russia is still trying to keep the topic alive and finance it. Isn’t it ironic for a country which is one of the main suppliers of militants for this terrorist organization? Perhaps, having realized that the ISIS thing didn’t work out, they now decided to shift to Libya?

These and many other fake stories were easily debunked. But, most importantly, in their distribution, from the very bottom to the top of the propaganda chain, Russia has been involving almost the same range of resources, along almost the same constant algorithm.

Well, what can I say? It’s getting boring, girls!


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