How Russia Falsifies Western News and Tries to Undermine Support for Ukraine

Wednesday, 14 June 2023

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna has stated that the French authorities have found a large-scale Russian disinformation campaign involving Russia's embassies and cultural institutes.

More details about Russia's information special operation against France can be found in the article by Radio France Internationale "Operation Doppelgänger: How Russia Forged News of Leading European Media Outlets."

The disinformation operation named Doppelgänger (in European folklore, Doppelgänger refers to an evil double of a person, representing their dark side) was already documented in 2022 by the European organisation EUDisinfoLab and the American giant Meta.

It is currently in its "second phase," employing more sophisticated methods to circumvent countermeasures and remains less noticeable, according to a source in French security structures who spoke to Agence France-Presse.

In late September 2022, the company Meta announced that it had successfully stopped the operation of "covert influence" and information manipulation on the Facebook platform, conducted from Russia.

The operation was carried out by two Russian marketing consulting firms, which promoted articles on social media published on pirate websites. These two companies spent around $105,000 on the operation.

Now, at least four daily newspapers in France, namely Le Parisien, Le Figaro, Le Monde, and 20 minutes, have become victims of the Russian operation.

From a technical standpoint, this involves the creation (publication) of forged articles on pages that appear identical to official websites of popular media outlets but have different domain names (e.g., with the .ltd extension instead of .fr).

This type of cyber fraud is known as "typosquatting."

The Russian disinformation campaign in France was uncovered during investigations conducted by the specialised VIGINUM service, established in 2021 by the French government to detect and combat foreign interference in the digital sphere.

"This information manipulation campaign, which VIGINUM has been monitoring for over a year, aims to discredit Western support for Ukraine," states the conclusions published by the French intelligence service.

The French VIGINUM service has reported the discovery of 355 domain names used in the Russian disinformation campaign.

Since the end of May 2023, this cyber operation has reached a new level as the perpetrators began publishing materials imitating the publications of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The initial platform of the operation is called RRN, named after the pro-Russian website, Reliable Recent News (formerly known as Reliable Russian News) – a site created a few months after the start of Russia's war against Ukraine, where numerous fakes were published, including about the so-called "staged" battles in Bucha.

In addition to typosquatting, the platform disseminated caricatures of Zelensky or published pro-Russian discourse and fakes through certain so-called "reinformation" sites.

This operation is part of a long-standing and documented practice of influencing public opinion conducted by Russia, as stated in the report by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow is relying on fake news to undermine the international support for Ukraine in the West.

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