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France Exposes Mega Russian Disinformation Campaign

The Kremlin is undermining ‘conditions for democratic debate,’ says French foreign minister.

PARIS — France has uncovered a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign to undermine Western support to Ukraine, the country’s agency in charge of spotting foreign interference online announced today.

“The involvement of Russian embassies and cultural centers that actively participated in amplifying this campaign, including via their institutional accounts on social networks, is a further illustration of the hybrid strategy Russia is implementing to undermine the conditions for democratic debate,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said, according to Agence France-Presse.

According to agency Viginum’s report, the campaign consisted of spreading pro-Russian content; impersonating media such as Le Monde, Le Figaro and Le Parisien, as well as government websites including France’s ministry of European and foreign affairs; creating websites on francophone news with polarizing angles; and coordinating fake accounts to spread the content created.

The disinformation campaign was named Reliable Recent News, after the pro-Russian website. It’s the second wave of the so-called Doppelgänger operation which was uncovered last year by NGO EU DisinfoLab and Meta, AFP reported, adding that German media such as FAZ, Der Spiegel and Bild were also targeted.

Despite the shutdown of Kremlin-backed outlets RT and Sputnik, Russian disinformation is still spreading across EU countries. Earlier this month, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová told POLITICO that Russian narratives are finding fertile ground in her country.

The main narratives pushed by the disinformation campaign are the ineffectiveness of sanctions against Russia; the alleged Russophobia of Western states; the supposed predominance of Nazi ideology among Ukrainian officials; and the negative effects of welcoming Ukrainian refugees for European countries.

In 2021, France created an agency — Viginum — to spot manipulation of information coming from outside the country, which is under the secretariat-general for defence and security’s authority.