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Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center: 100+ Putin-Boosting Websites and Top Ten Myths
NewsGuard has identified 116 Russian disinformation sites and is tracking the top false narratives that they are publishing about the invasion of Ukraine
By Madeline Roache, Sophia Tewa, Chine Labbe, Virginia Padovese, Roberta Schmid, Edward O’Reilly, Alex Cadier, and Marie Richter
Last updated: March 3, 2022
Months before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, false narratives about Ukraine and its allies, many promoted by the Kremlin’s disinformation apparatus, were already proliferating online. From false claims of Ukrainian genocide directed at Russian-speaking Ukrainians, to assertions that Nazi ideology is driving Ukraine’s political leadership, these claims are being used to justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In this Tracking Center, NewsGuard is recording and debunking the top myths related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict — and the dozens of disinformation and propaganda websites spreading them. As new domains publishing false narratives are identified, or as new myths appear and evolve, NewsGuard will update this report accordingly.
Tracking 116 Russian Propaganda Sites
Russia employs a multi-layered strategy to introduce, amplify, and spread false and distorted narratives across the world — relying on a mix of official state media sources, anonymous websites and accounts, and other methods to distribute propaganda that advances the Kremlin’s interests and undermines its adversaries. Its government-funded and operated websites use digital platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to launch and promote false narratives. NewsGuard has been tracking these sources and methods since 2018. and licenses its data about Russian propaganda efforts to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Cyber Command, and other government and defense entities.
The three most influential among websites known to be funded and operated by the Russian government are the state media sources RT, TASS, and Sputnik News. Below are links to NewsGuard’s Nutrition Labels for these three sources:
Researchers, platforms, advertisers, government agencies, or other institutions interested in accessing the full list of domains can contact us here: Request domain list.
Top 10 Russia-Ukraine war myths:
Myths that exaggerate Ukrainian aggression or downplay Russia’s intentions:
MYTH: Russian-speaking residents in Donbas have been subjected to genocide
THE FACTS: The International Criminal Court, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have all said they have found no evidence of genocide in Donbas, the eastern Ukrainian region partly occupied by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called the genocide claim a “reprehensible falsehood” in a Feb. 16 2022 post on its official Twitter account. It said that the mission “has complete access to the government controlled areas of Ukraine and HAS NEVER reported anything remotely resembling Russia’s claims.”
MYTH: Polish-speaking saboteurs attempted to bomb a chlorine plant in Donbas
THE FACTS: Days before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine shared a video claiming to show that its militia prevented Polish-speaking “saboteurs” from blowing up chlorine containers at a sewage treatment plant near separatist-controlled town Horlivka in Donetsk on Feb. 18, 2022. The Donetsk People’s Republic also said that the saboteurs were part of “two special purpose groups of the VFU [Ukrainian army].” However, the video turned out to be manipulated, and there is no evidence that saboteurs attempted such an attack in Horlivka.
MYTH: Ukrainian forces bombed a kindergarten in Lugansk on Feb. 17, 2022
THE FACTS: Russian news sites claimed that the Ukranian army bombed a kindergarten in the village Novaya Kondrashovka, which they said was located in the Russian separatist-controlled Lugansk republic in eastern Ukraine. However, analysts at Bellingcat reported that both the location of the kindergarten and evidence from the scene indicate that the shelling came from the south, where Russian-separatist frontlines are located. Correctly placing the kindergarten in the Ukrainian village of Novaya Kondrashovka, a few kilometers north of the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists, and analysis of a crater next to the site, shows that “the shell clearly came from the south” according to Bellingcat’s Director of Training and Research, Aric Toler.
MYTH: Russia did not target civilian infrastructure in Ukraine
THE FACTS: As Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the Russian government claimed that the Russian army was using precision-guided weapons aimed only at military targets, not civilian infrastructure. These claims have been repeated uncritically by various Russian-state news sites.
In fact, Amnesty International has documented multiple attacks by the Russian army against civilian targets in Ukraine. One day after the invasion, Amnesty International said that Russia was carrying out “indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and strikes on protected objects such as hospitals,” after documenting three incidents in the cities of Vuhledar, Kharkiv, and Uman, that it believes to have killed at least six civilians and injured at least 12 more. Agnès Callamard, the group’s Secretary General, said the Russian military used “ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely-populated areas,” adding that some of these attacks may constitute war crimes.
Myths that discredit Ukrainian leadership:
MYTH: Nazism is rampant in Ukrainian politics and society, supported by the authorities in Kiev.
THE FACTS: Radical far-right groups do exist in Ukraine and, according to a 2018 Freedom House report, they represent a “threat to the democratic development of Ukraine.” However, the report also stated that far-right extremists have poor political representation in Ukraine and no plausible path to power. Indeed, in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the far-right nationalist party Svoboda received 4.7 percent of the vote. In the 2019 presidential election, the Svoboda candidate, Ruslan Koshulynskyy, won just 1.6 percent of the vote, and in the parliamentary elections, Svoboda won 2.2 percent of the vote. Svoboda currently holds one parliamentary seat.
Myths that discredit Western support of Ukraine:
MYTH: The West staged a coup to overthrow the pro-Russia Ukrainian government in 2014
THE FACTS: There is no evidence supporting the idea that the 2014 Maidan revolution in Ukraine that led to the ouster of then-president Viktor Yanukovych was a coup orchestrated by Western countries. Indeed, it had all the markings of a popular uprising, not a coup.
MYTH: The U.S. has a network of bioweapons labs in Eastern Europe
THE FACTS: On Feb. 24, 2022, a thread by the Twitter account @WarClandestine suggesting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was actually targeting U.S. bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine was widely shared on social media using the hashtag #USBiolabs. The thread cited claims by Russian officials that the U.S. maintains a network of bioweapons labs near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe. Russian state-owned media outlets have been making similar claims since at least 2016.
These claims are typically based on a misrepresentation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, which collaborates with partner countries to reduce the threat of outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases by helping partners to secure dangerous pathogens and to quickly detect outbreaks, according to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s website. The U.S. has been providing aid to Ukrainian laboratories since 2005, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and U.S. Department of Defense signed an agreement intended to limit the threat of bioterrorism by implementing safeguards on deadly pathogens from Soviet-era biological weapons programs. The Biological Threat Reduction Program has since helped to construct and modernize Ukrainian laboratories. The labs themselves are run and primarily financed by the Ukrainian government. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) noted in response to claims about the presence of U.S. military biological laboratories in a May 2020 statement that “no foreign biological laboratories operate in Ukraine.”
MYTH: Modern ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia
THE FACTS: In Feb. 21, 2022, just three days before Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia,” Putin said, lamenting that the communists “gave these republics the right to leave the (Soviet) union without any terms and conditions.”
It is true that today’s Russia and Ukraine, both former Soviet states, share long periods of history. However, they have spent considerably more time apart than together. Russia and Ukraine’s shared heritage dates back more than 1,000 years, when Kiev was the center of the first slavic state, Kievan Rus, a medieval empire founded by Vikings in the 9th century and the birthplace of Ukraine and Russia. The historical reality of Ukraine is a complicated 10-century history of shifting borders and conquest by multiple, competing powers. While parts of modern-day Ukraine existed within the Russian empire for centuries, other parts in the west fell to the control of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Poland, or Lithuania.
Contrary to Putin’s claim that “the Bolsheviks invented Ukraine,” Ukraine had fought for, and gained, independence in 1918 — a status that lasted only a few years. In 1922, Russian Bolsheviks defeated Ukraine’s national government and established the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Ukraine would spend the next 69 years as part of the Union.
Putin’s claim that Moscow “gave” Ukraine the right to become independent of the Soviet Union “without any terms and conditions,” is incorrect because it was the Ukrainians who chose independence in a democratic referendum. In 1991, as the Soviet Union was dissolving, 84 percent of eligible voters in Ukraine went to the polls, and more than 92 percent voted to leave the Soviet Union. Moscow even vowed to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty as a condition of Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear weapons — which was memorialized in 1994, in an agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum.
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