Disinfo: Arrest of Russian ‘mercenaries’ in Belarus was a Ukrainian provocation

Summary

The 33 Russian citizens arrested in Belarus in late July have been labelled members of the Russian private military company Wagner and allegedly hired to destabilise the country. However, a Russian newspaper investigation traces the affair to Ukraine and says it could be a provocation by its intelligence services.

The tickets for the group were booked by a Ukraine-based travel agency, according to information provided by Turkish Airlines. The Ukrainian firm had only opened in January 2020. Yet another Ukrainian firm, also registered in January, was used to buy tickets for the second group of contractors. 

The journalist behind the investigation believes that the entire set-up was orchestrated by Ukraine’s successor to the KGB, the SBU, which then allegedly tipped off its Belarusian counterpart about the ‘Russian mercenaries’, portraying them as a threat to Belarus and aiming to drive a wedge between Moscow and Minsk.

Disproof

The story advances recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about Ukraine and its security services

Despite its considerable length, the “investigation” originally published by the pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda bases its claim of Ukrainian involvement in the affair entirely on the manner in which the plane tickets were acquired. 

A fact-check by The Insider website notes that it is common practice for travel agencies to operate in multiple countries under one brand name. Coral Travel, the Russian company mentioned by Komsomolskaya Pravda, has offices in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere

“It is an internal matter of the travel agency to decide through which country office the tickets should be purchased,” the fact-check states and adds:

“This author’s personal experience attests that plane tickets acquired via a Russian aggregator may have been purchased by an international company with links to Russia through a Ukrainian travel agency. [...] Alleging Ukrainian involvement based solely on the way in which the tickets were purchased is about as logical as labelling anyone who uses a Chinese smartphone an agent of China.”

Updated 21 August 2020: the debunk reflects the situation as of the 13 August 2020, when it was first published. On the 20 August, Ukraine’s Secret Service (SBU) officially stated that any rumours of its alleged involvement in the matter were false.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 207
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 07/08/2020
  • Language/target audience: English, Russian, Spanish, Castilian, German
  • Country: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus
  • Keywords: election meddling, Alexander Lukashenko, SBU

Disclaimer

Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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Beirut explosion was staged by Mossad

The tragic explosion which rocked Beirut last week was not an accident, but an expertly planned terrorist attack by Israeli intelligence aimed at displacing Hezbollah from Lebanese territory.

While ammonium nitrate may have been the primary explosive, various photographs clearly show that the blast was triggered by a thermonuclear explosion. The signatures of the initial detonation, as well as the resulting white mushroom cloud and burst of red fire, all indicate that a complex weapons system was utilized.

Disproof

Conspiracy theory. 

Contrary to the author’s claim, a mushroom cloud can result from any large enough explosion, not necessarily a nuclear one. In fact, the Beirut blast lacked precisely the two elements which accompany a nuclear detonation, namely a white flash and a searing thermal pulse. Additionally, a non-proliferation expert dismissed the claim citing the small size of the explosion and an absence of radiation in the area. 

The EU criticised the elections and repression in Minsk, but in fact, the EU and its members have the same lack of democracy and repression

The EU criticised the elections and repression in Minsk, but in fact, the EU and its members have the same lack of democracy and repression.

In 2005, a Referendum in France rejected the constitutional treaty but two years later the treaty of Lisbon was ratified. France did not respect the will of its citizens. Germany didn’t either since no referendum was even organised. This is a violation of democratic principle and all media are silent about it. Ursula von der Leyen, condemned the repression in Belarus and asked for accuracy in the result of the vote.

But there is a landslide victory for Alexander Lukashenko whereas no such legitimacy happened for the regime of Merkel or the EU.

Furthermore, in France, the repression was violent against the yellow vests. More recently, in Germany, for the day of Freedom where half a million people demonstrated for their freedom on August 1st. The press said only 20,000 people attended the event and demonstrators were arrested by the police.

European, French or German elections are in no circumstances any better than elections in Belarus. Even though, Belarus is not a perfect democracy, the European Union is no better.

Disproof

Recurrent disinformation message using relativism to undermine European values and at the same time legitimatize low standards of democracy, in this case in Belarus. Following these elections which took place on Sunday 9th August, Ursula von der Leyen declared that:

Harassment & violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe. Fundamental rights in Belarus must be respected. I call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the votes in yesterday’s election are counted & published accurately.

The European Union has also urged the Central Electoral Commission of Belarus to publish the results reflecting the choice of the Belarusian people.

Candidates and demonstrators are questioning the honesty of the official election results, as several potential opposition candidates were barred from running. International observers were concerned about the fairness of the electoral process.

Pseudo human right defenders’ White Helmets embezzle 1/3 of their funds

Germany demanded that the White Helmets’ support fund return part of their donations. According to the newspaper Welt, the decision was prompted by a recent investigation by Dutch journalists. They discovered a number of financial violations with the fund of pseudo-human rights defenders, as well as their founder.

A third of all funds received were spent by the White Helmets not for charitable purposes, but for other purposes.

Disproof

The report by Rossiya 24 mixes up narratives. The German newspaper die Welt, to which Rossiya-24 refers, reports on the financial audit of the Dutch NGO Mayday Rescue. As a result, so far, the German Foreign Office (Auswartiges Amt) asked Mayday Rescue to reimburse about 50 thousand euros from the total of 19,62 million euros granted. Mayday Rescue was known as a donor to the White Helmets.

No narrative on "pseudo humanitarian organisation" was advanced by German journalists. This recurrent narrative was added by Rossiya-24. Welt emphasises that "the Federal Foreign Office pointed out that the allegations only related to the Dutch NGO. The work of the White Helmets and their important commitment to the Syrian civilian population should be expressly separated from it". "The White Helmets are known for their work in the Syrian civil war because they are often among the first to help out after bomb attacks. In the past eight years, they saved more than 115,000 people, according to US figures", - says die Welt.