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EU East StratCom Task Force: MH17 disinformation: back in the headlines – Disinformation Review

8 June 2017


MH17 disinformation: back in the headlines

This week, one of the most infamous of disinformation stories in the pro-Kremlin echo-chamber made it back to the headlines: the tragedy of flight MH17. As we have shown before, some key disinformation narratives often come back after a time in the shadows. And, as we have also highlighted before, pro-Kremlin disinformation often follows certain patterns which we can see again in this case.

This time round, we learn that some new documents supposedly prove that it was the Ukrainian Secret Service that was responsible for the downing of the plane – another one of the many theories spread by pro-Kremlin outlets. Yet the whole process of planting the story, echoing it and multiplying it by state-owned media shows typical signs of a state-sponsored active measure. For example, this “scoop” was first presented in a small pro-Kremlin paper, then, after being translated into English, travelled to hundreds of websites prone to conspiracy theories, pro-Kremlin narratives and anti-establishment stories. In the course of 3 days, the article was translated into 24 languages before it landed on the main pro-Kremlin outlet Sputnik, presented as a question rather than a statement. For a track record of Sputnik’s skills in investigative journalism, see this.

Also a Czech outlet claimed this week that the downing of the plane was a false flag operation designed to discredit Russia. This is again a favourite claim aimed at sowing confusion, which we’ve identified before. Now, Bellingcat has presented further evidence to support their conclusion about the truth regarding MH17.

Sputnik continuing to sow doubt about the downing of MH17.

Provoking tension in Ukraine

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, pro-Kremlin disinformation has been a paramount instrument for the Russia-backed separatists and for Russia itself. And it remains very much an effective tool to provoke tension in the country. This week, we saw disinformation claiming that Hungarians living in the Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia were declaring autonomy and that the Ukrainian Security Service was detaining and persecuting the activists involved. The disinformation was even supported by faked signs. However, the whole incident has been denied by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine through an official statement, condemning it as “a provocation against the Hungarian community”.

This is not the first time that disinformation has been deployed concerning ethnic minorities in Ukraine. StopFake has put together a list of previously debunked stories about alleged regional minority autonomy demands, including Polish, Romanian, Gagauz and Crimean Tatar minorities in Ukraine.

Click here for the FULL TABLE of recent stories repeating disinformation (.pdf).


Inside RT and Sputnik

Two more whistleblowers give the inside story on how Russian state-sponsored outlets RT and Sputnik work to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation.

Read more

Attractive for millions

Almost 10% of people in Central and Eastern Europe trust online disinformation outlets as relevant sources of information on world affairs, says a study by the Slovak GLOBSEC institute.

Read more

The role of talk shows on pro-Kremlin TV

Talk shows on Russian state TV are of a peculiar nature – and not irrelevant to pro-Kremlin disinformation at all.

Read more


Buy likes and friends!

With the automat shown above, tilting social media is taken to new heights. The device allows you to use cash to pay for making a selfie, printing your favourite shots from your Instagram account – and buy likes for your social media profiles. For 50 RUR (a little more than a euro), you get 100 likes. Double the amount, and you can get 100 friends in Instagram and the popular Facebook clone, Vkontakte.

According to Facebook users, the automat stands on the Okhotny Ryad metro station next to Red Square and the Kremlin. The propaganda analyst and blogger Alexei Kovalevtweeted about the automat: his tweet has already gained almost five thousand retweets and more than seven thousand likes for the tweet – we suspect without making use of the services in question.

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Every Thursday, the Disinformation Review brings you the latest cases of news articles carrying key examples of how pro-Kremlin disinformation finds its way in international media, as well as news and analysis on the topic. The review focuses on key messages carried in international media which have been identified as providing a partial, distorted or false view or interpretation and/or spreading key pro-Kremlin messaging. It does not necessarily imply however that the outlet concerned is linked to the Kremlin or that it is pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. The Review is a compilation of cases from the East Stratcom Task Force’s wide network of contributors and therefore cannot be considered an official EU position. Likewise, the news articles are based on the analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force, so information and opinions expressed there cannot be considered an official EU position. Any errors or misrepresentations should be reported to the East Stratcom Task Force for correction at

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