US exposes Russian plot to use fake videos as pretext for invasion of Ukraine

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The US has revealed new information about a Russian plan to use a fake video as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.

Senior government officials said Thursday the US believes Russia has already recruited players to stage a propaganda video showing “illustrative scenes of a staged fake explosion with dead bodies, actors impersonating mourners, and images of destroyed sites and military equipment.” indicates.

The White House on Thursday released the Kremlin’s alleged plans to fabricate an attack in hopes it would deter Moscow from carrying out its latest disinformation efforts.

“We made a decision — a strategic decision — to call out disinformation when we see it,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing with reporters last week. “We are much more aware of the Russian disinformation machine than we were in 2014,” Psaki added. “Russia has a limitless ability to misrepresent the truth and what it is doing.”

The Biden administration has redoubled its counterattacks against Russia’s disinformation machine, responding swiftly to the storylines Moscow is churning out to undermine trust in Western democracy.

Russia accelerates disinformation campaign about Ukraine and US

US officials registered a record number of efforts by Russian state media and proxies to disseminate anti-American and anti-Ukrainian content online, even as the Kremlin continues to threaten Ukraine by massing troops and equipment along the border.

In another example of Russia’s online malicious influence campaign, the self-proclaimed “Russian federal news agency” Avia.pro published an article on Jan. 23 claiming: “The United States has begun to transfer its heavy tanks and light armored vehicles to the… border with Ukraine, who appear to be preparing to use these vehicles to attack Russia.” While Avia.pro is geolocated in the Netherlands, open-source data indicates that the domain is, according to fact-checking website StopFake.org a private address of a residential building is registered in Moscow, Russia.

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In the example above, the self-proclaimed “Russian federal news agency” Avia.pro falsely claims that the US is moving tanks and armored vehicles to the border with Ukraine.

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Researchers from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis have sorted through an avalanche of disinformation produced by Russian state media groups – including state media outlets RT and Sputnik – who claim Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, and the West invented the invasion story as a pretext for its own military build-up.

DHS warned state and law enforcement partners this week that “from September 2021 to January 2022, Russian state media and proxy websites published a greater number of anti-Ukrainian and anti-American narratives month after month than in any previous period,” dating back to World War II.

Anti-Ukrainian and anti-American narratives are on the rise

According to the DHS Bulletin, published Monday and provided to CBS News, “Russian media article production targeting Ukraine” surpassed the 800 mark in January 2022. Researchers remarked reactionary Leaps into derogatory stories about the United States, NATO and its allies on December 7 after the video conference between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, then again on January 10 at the start of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Recently, Moscow’s online armies have been spinning wild disinformation tales accusing the US of hiring mercenaries to stage a chemical weapons attack and reviving false narratives that aligned Ukrainians with Nazism.

“Disinformation is a significant threat,” Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said on Wednesday during her diplomatic mission in Brussels.

“The narrative of disinformation is that Ukraine is the source of the crisis. That is not the case – Russia is the source of the crisis,” Neuberger stressed.

Russia also defends the lie that there are “significant NATO forces in Ukraine, significant threats from Russia in Ukraine,” Neuberger added.

Propaganda is flooding Telegram channels, according to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, an NGO backed by supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty. The group took note of a recently hatched claim that Ukraine and NATO are planning a covert ops code called “Crushing Sword”. This story, originally published on the Telegram account of Yan Leshchenko, the self-proclaimed military leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, and circulated by Russian state media, uses fake footage of Ukraine’s aggression as a pretext for a Russian military operation.

While many messages are posted anonymously, others on Telegram connect pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians such as Yevheniy Muraiev, owner of TV channel NASH and one of Moscow’s chosen candidate for pro-Russian leadership, According to recent British intelligence reports, Putin plans to install a puppet government in Kiev.

“Not a lonely cyberattack”: Russia’s hybrid information warfare

The White House on Tuesday deployed its top cybersecurity official to NATO to organize its mission to detect and counter Russian cyberattacks — both against Ukraine and possible retaliatory attacks against Europe and the US — “kinetic operations” aimed at targeting a population and government “The aim of Russian disinformation is to … shake confidence in a country’s government or make it difficult to assess a situation.”

Cyber ​​criminals attempted to “shake trust” in Ukraine last month, targeting more than 90 websites linked to 22 Ukrainian government organizations on Jan. 14 in a three-pronged operation to target Russia’s state promoted story, according to top Ukrainian cyber official Victor Zhora.

About 50 websites were defaced, with a “much smaller number of organizations and IT infrastructure” suffering damage. “Some external IT infrastructures were destroyed,” the deputy chairman of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine told CBS News.

Hackers successfully deployed specially designed “wiper malware” on two government agencies in Ukraine, but there is no evidence that personal data was compromised.

And while the Ukrainian government has yet to formally attribute the attacks to Moscow, the investigations point to familiar Russian tactics.

“It’s part of the hybrid warfare against Ukraine. Cyberspace is just one of its war zones,” said Zhora, who believes the investigation would benefit from international experts.

“We consider this a psychological operation against Ukraine,” Zhora said. “It’s about sowing chaos and instability,” he added.

The Ukrainian government’s websites, including the Foreign Ministry’s homepage, temporarily displayed a message warning the Ukrainian population to “be afraid and expect the worst.”

But in a way, officials had expected far worse. “Fifty defaced websites and a few data leaks isn’t a big deal.” said Zhora and paused. “It’s serious. It’s a good lesson for all of us. It’s another hit in a series of cyberattacks, but we’ve demonstrated that our security cybersecurity system works.”

Russia’s Fake Storyline Themes

The State Department issued a fact sheet last month highlighting five issues that Russia is trying to refine and sell in its disinformation campaign to streamline its own actions in Ukraine. First, there is “Russophobia” – Russia is misrepresented as an “innocent victim” of US aggression, the Soviet alliance with Hitler during World War II is downplayed, and the collapse of Western societies is presented as “imminent.”

“Disinformation has been part of Russian military doctrine for more than a decade,” said James Lewis, researcher and technology expert at CSIS. “The only thing the Russians have learned is that if you tell an untruth often enough, there are people who will believe it.”

Lewis says lessons learned were reinforced back in 2016, when Kremlin-backed trolls overhauled their “classic playbook” with an online disinformation campaign aimed at sowing doubt about the presidential election. The result culminated in a vast network of fake social media accounts, or “bots,” programmed to spread divisive political content across the internet, which would further exacerbate existing rifts in American society. But Russian meddling in the US election – which resurfaced for a bite in 2020 – also offered US officials their share of hard-earned lessons.

Pundits tracking the Kremlin-backed information warfare have applauded the government’s approach to countering Russia’s disinformation campaign, along with efforts by social media companies to curb fake news at its source.

“One thing that’s improved over the past few years is that the social media companies aren’t like, ‘Oh, we’re just, we’re just a bulletin board…’ anymore. much more aggressive effort to weed out fake information,” Lewis said. “The Russians are creating hundreds of fake people by using artificial intelligence to tweet nonsense. But there are much stronger efforts to expose that.”

Margaret Brennan and Olivia Gazis contributed to this report.



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