Russia has been building ‘false flags’ online for months, research shows

Throughout January and February, the researchers said, Russian-backed media spread the rumour, which was amplified on social media. “Chemical weapons are already present on the territory of Ukraine,” said a message in one anonymous Telegram channel with 24,500 followers. The post was viewed by 7000 people.

Unsubstantiated claim 2: The Ukrainian army is preparing to attack Donbas.

Russian state media has been spreading rumours that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are planning an attack on Donbas, the separatist region in eastern Ukraine, with the help of American, British and Polish mercenaries, according to the researchers.

The rumour then spread on Facebook and YouTube. “The Ukrainian people are waiting for Mother Russia to free their younger sister from the Nazis and the State Department,” said one Facebook post that collected nearly 100 likes. On YouTube, a video spreading the same unproven claim collected more than 31,600 views.

Unsubstantiated claim 3: Nuclear power plants are at the centre of a US plot.


In this narrative, the Russians accuse the Ukrainians and Americans of planting a false flag.

Since January 30, all 15 of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants have been generating electricity, marking the longest stretch of full utilisation of nuclear energy in the country. That comes as Ukraine’s authorities decided to disconnect from the power grid with Belarus and the Russian Federation and implemented the plan to do so.

Russian state media began to spread the idea that Ukraine was overestimating its ability to keep up with its energy needs, and that the country’s nuclear facilities were in dire need of repair. Russian media implied that Western countries could be organising to attack the nuclear facilities and place the blame on Russia.

On February 12, a Telegram channel with more than 15,000 followers posted that the British Special Air Service was preparing an attack on one of Ukraine’s power plants.


And on February 15, the Telegram channel of a Russian war correspondent, Alexander Kots, alleged that Ukraine had asked for special equipment from the US to help mitigate a possible natural disaster, including to help with radiation and chemical fallout, according to the researchers. Kots added the unfounded accusation that the Ukrainians were devising a false-flag event – accusing Russia of preparing a terrorist attack against a nuclear power plant. His comments were seen by 83,900 people on Telegram, the researchers reported.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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