Russian propaganda inventing fakes about French troops in Donbas

Russian propaganda inventing fakes about French troops in Donbas

'Helpful expert' from US, post in French-language segment of X and fake Charlie Hebdo cover

Last week, the English-language Chinese news outlet Asia Times, referring to an article by the former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (1981-1988) Stephen Bryen on the Substack service, reported that France had already sent its troops officially to Ukraine. The issue concerns the first 100 soldiers from France's 3rd Infantry Regiment. They have allegedly been deployed in Sloviansk to help the 54th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Subsequently, such reports were picked up by Russian propaganda media, Telegram channels and accounts on the social media site X.

This is a fake. The author did not provide any evidence for what he wrote. The French Foreign Ministry immediately denied the information.

"Disinformation campaigns on France's support to Ukraine are as active as ever. France has not sent troops to Ukraine," the ministry wrote on X.

Even after this, Asia Times wrote in a footnote to the article that on May 6, in Stephen Bryen's material on the Substack service, the link to the source of information disappeared, and in a new post "About Sources & Methods Analyzing Ukraine" he allegedly clarified the situation and provided the link. In the new material, Bryen writes that his sources are authors on X and Telegram channels, rather than Russian, Ukrainian or Western media. He also adds that he is confident in his sources, without providing any active hyperlinks that can be verified (one link leads to the account of the propagandist news site Sputnik on X and is not displayed even through the web archive - ed.). The material ends with a sentence that the author is not a prophet and has the right to make a mistake.

In the justification material, Stephen Bryen also calls members of the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine mercenaries. This is not true. Ukrainian law bans the participation of mercenaries in hostilities and is punishable by imprisonment. But according to a Ukrainian presidential decree of 2016, foreigners can be accepted for military service under a contract with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and on the initiative of President Volodymyr Zelensky, a few days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on February 27, 2022, the formation of the International Legion was announced. This allowed foreign volunteer fighters, including those with Ukrainian roots, to defend Ukraine.

Earlier, Ukrinform already wrote about Stephen Bryen, who supports Russian narratives and publishes many pro-Russian materials on the social network Substack, from where Asia Times takes them.

However, fakes about French troops in Ukraine were not limited just to Bryen and Asia Times. Later, a post was published in the French-speaking segment of the social media site X about the considerable achievements of the representatives of the French Legion, who were allegedly deployed in Sloviansk and there they destroyed a Russian brigade, 34 tanks, 125 armored vehicles, 36 artillery systems, etc. in one week. However, French media wrote nothing about this.

To confirm, the post was illustrated with photos from the war in Ukraine. However, using a reverse image search, it was established that they were all taken in 2022.

Another fake on this topic was a fabricated cover of the new issue of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It allegedly depicts a caricature of a French soldier riddled with bullet holes. The cover also seems to say, "Cold, stinky, holed, made in France, but not cheese." This is another forgery that went viral in propaganda media and social networks.

The fake cover says that the issue number is 1659. In fact, the latest issue this week came under No. 1659 and has a completely different cover. You can verify this on the official website of the magazine and the official pages of Charlie Hebdo on social networks.

In early May, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the strategic security goal was to prevent Russia from winning the war and that he did not rule out sending European ground troops to Ukraine, given a certain development of events.

The Kremlin intensified propaganda. On the one hand, the method of intimidation is used, saying that if such troops are sent to Ukraine, the situation will get worse. That's according to recent statements made by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov. On the other hand, propagandists are trying to convince the foreign audience that foreign troops are already in Ukraine, but they are not told about it.

In mid-April, after Russian strikes on Sloviansk, when two apartment buildings, an educational institution and a bank building were damaged, propagandists cynically declared that they had eliminated French "mercenaries."

Dmytro Badrak

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