This week we commemorated again the tragic loss of 298 lives on the 17th of July 2014, when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. As the subject of one of the most extensive and persistent of all pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns, the MH17 tragedy is something we have written about many times before.
This week, entirely predictably, came another blatant attempt to confuse; namely, a story that the flight was not downed by a Russian BUK-missile – as concluded by The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) – but was destroyed by an explosion inside the plane. This, and many other conspiracy theories have been debunked by Bellingcat simply by pointing to the open source evidence that is publicly available to all.
But the main dish of disinformation this week was a mix of several favourite pro-Kremlin ingredients: historical revisionism, NATO, Nazis and the Baltic states. It all started with another commemoration, namely the film produced by NATO about the so called ‘Forest fighters’, the resistance movement against the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states.
We will write about this disinformation operation in detail on our website. Here, let us just say that pro-Kremlin outlets managed to turn this story into claims that NATO glorifies Nazi collaborators – see for example on RT and Sputnik.
This was not the only time that NATO actions were likened to Nazi behaviour this week. For example, the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic states and especially the German-led battalion in Lithuania were said to be comparable to operation Barbarossa.
So, a NATO member, inviting other member countries to train together in order to reinforce NATO’s collective defence is comparable to a hostile invasion of another country by a Nazi regime. Read that sentence once more. Furthermore, NATO was blamed in Sputnik for creating a conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, a claim that clearly forgets that it was in fact Russia – not NATO – that illegally annexed a part of Ukraine in 2014.
Science fiction in Ukraine
As usual, Ukraine is a frequently occurring target in pro-Kremlin disinformation. Some of the more astonishing allegations were even brought to us by the TV channel owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defence. Through the years we have seen some truly outrageous claims about Ukraine, from the ludicrous – for example the claim that the Ukrainian army have zombies fighting within their ranks – to the utterly offensive – most infamously the false claim that Ukrainian forces crucified a three year old boy in the east of Ukraine.
This week, in an echo of that story, we saw the claim that a group of Ukrainian servicemen of the 57th mechanized infantry brigade celebrated a pagan ritual and sacrificed a local resident to a Slavic god. The disinformation was repeated in several outlets, and in one it was illustrated by a photo of a soldier eating a hand. The photo, which has been used in the past by pro-Kremlin disinformation articles, in fact originates from the Russian 2008 science-fiction movie: “We’re from the Future”.
The claim that Ukrainian soldiers sacrificed a person to a Slavic god was illustrated by this image, from behind the scenes of the 2008 sci-fi film “We are from the Future”.
Disinformation cases reported in the previous week