A multilingual Telegram channel sponsored by the Russian government serves as a repository for Russian propaganda videos about the war in Ukraine, Nisos, a U.S.-based digital intelligence firm that monitors disinformation and other cyberthreats, said in an October report.
“The videos can be downloaded directly from Telegram and that erases the trail that experts are trying to follow […],” said Patricia Bailey, senior intelligence analyst at Nisos, Voice of America reported.
“For the [Vladimir] Putin regime, narrative positioning is crucial: starting with the justification of the invasion in response to Ukraine’s intention to join NATO to the accusations of Nazism made against the Zelenskyy government. These are the bases of an argument that is flowing on social media and where few trace its origin to the Kremlin,” María Isabel Puerta, political scientist, PhD in Social Sciences, and professor at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, told Diálogo on November 6. “For Russia, counter-information is important, as are social networks, because they are environments vulnerable to disinformation.”
The videos available in 18 languages were disseminated on various social media through profiles with a “coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB),” meaning that these are “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate and achieve a strategic goal, where fake accounts are a central part of the operation,” Meta, the technology company formerly known as Facebook, indicated in a statement.
“The Russian state-controlled international news outlet RT is sponsoring the initiative as one of many recent tactics for circumventing Western bans on its media content,” Nisos said in the report. “The channel’s videos all tell the same story from different angles, claiming that the Russian military is generously saving a Ukrainian population besieged by a corrupt, genocidal government and by Nazi militants.”
Nisos identified 275 users on Twitter who post the videos and 123 users who post messages with identical syntax. Most do not use a human face as a profile picture and have linked to Russian ministries, embassies, and/or media accounts. In addition, other accounts function as amplifiers of the profiles of ministries, Russian embassies, and multilingual editions.
According to Nisos, the content was most frequently found in Spanish and Italian, followed closely by English, French, and Japanese. The second-tiered languages were German, Chinese, Turkish, Polish, and Russian.
Russian disinformation has triggered responses from neighboring countries. For example, the Kremlin claimed that Ukraine could use a “dirty bomb” on its own territory and then blame them, Swiss information platform SwissInfo reported on October 24. This Russian disinformation elicited a reaction from Poland, who believed that Russia’s intentions were to use this lie and take it out of context.
“In a blatant effort, Russia is trying to make an international issue in a bid to affect the relations between Ukraine and the West and stir up mistrust towards Kyiv,” Stanisław Żaryn, Poland’s secretary of state, said via Twitter. “It is also likely that these lies, currently high on the agenda of Russian propaganda, serve as an information background for possible Russian false-flag attacks that the Kremlin would later blame on Ukraine. Russia uses lies and false accusations to cover its own crimes.”
Dr. Puerta believes that Twitter currently lacks controls, making it much easier for disinformation to spread. “That’s what regimes like that of Vladimir Putin take advantage of. This is a backlash, due in part to the sweeping success of unchecked communication technology.”
Nisos concludes that this disinformation strategy took advantage of Twitter accounts that were already active to boost the profiles of Russian embassies or Russian media in various languages. Finally, it warns that further crossover from Telegram to newer social media platforms could be dangerous.