But it took only a couple of hours for the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine to exploit tragedy yet again and start spreading inflammatory, contradictory and divisive messages, even while the jewel of Paris still burned on Monday evening. The devastating fire brought down the cathedral’s famous spire and destroyed much of its roof.
For pro-Kremlin disinformation, the matter of timing is frequently used as ultimate justification for presenting different forms of conspiracies around any tragedy.
In the disinformation world, there are no coincidences. So false messages blamed the yellow vests for the fire, seeking revenge against Emmanuel Macron. Why? Because the fire started just before the president was supposed to address the French people with a speech!
Next, accusations followed that Islamists must be behind the catastrophe. After all, the fire occurred on the first day of the Holy Week in France, and earlier horrors have also taken place during this time period. For the conspirators, then, the conclusion is self-evident – it has to be the Islamists. “A mosque might be built at the site of Notre Dame”, the fog of falsehood further predicted.
A whole structure of disinforming argumentation around the Notre Dame fire was manufactured to blame Ukraine – and if we go back just a few weeks, the same happened with the New Zealand terror attack. This time, Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to France and apparent proximity to the cathedral was enough to trigger disinformation accusing Zelensky of the misfortune. But then the message became even more radical: France is now rightly suffering because it helped “Nazis to gain power in Ukraine”. But no, Ukraine still is not governed by Nazis, no matter how hard pro-Kremlin disinformation tries to justify Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine with these types of messages.
While the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, the Paris prosecutor’s office is currently treating it as an accident, ruling out arson and terrorism. Hundreds of millions of euros have already been pledged to rebuild the cathedral.
At the same time, pro-Kremlin disinformation has also been busy implying that the fire is “punishment for tolerance and gay marriages in Europe”, which is suffering from moral decay. In the same vein, Notre Dame was claimed as belonging in spirit to Russians, the only ones who apparently still uphold European values.
Russia Today also sought to create artificial parallels between recent attacks against Catholic churches in France and the Notre Dame fire. These efforts clearly appealed to its audience on social media, as the Facebook video post about the burning of Catholic churches in France (based on this RT article, published on 15 April) received 3.9K reactions and 5.8K shares. But the attempts to play with people’s anger ultimately backfired, and RT quickly had to correct the article on its website.