Russia peddles fake Zelenskyy suicide story, experts say

Pro-Russian online agents falsely claimed weeks after Moscow’s war on Ukraine began that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had committed suicide, part of an aggressive effort to undermine public morale and undermine the Ukrainian government, the United States cybersecurity company Mandiant said Thursday.

Zelenskyy’s false suicide claim is just one of many information operations Mandiant has tracked against alleged Russian and Belarusian actors who aimed to mislead the public in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere in Europe – or at least to blur the truth about the brutal war.

The influence campaigns, analysts say, underscore how the Kremlin is more engaged than ever in information warfare and efforts to shape perceptions of the conflict even as its soldiers suffer heavy casualties on the field. battle.

In another case, agents linked to Belarus falsely claimed that a Polish criminal network was harvesting organs from Ukrainian refugees, with the complicity of Polish officials.

“The proliferation of Russian-aligned IOs, both in scale and tempo, suggests the importance Russia places on shaping the information environment,” said Alden Wahlstrom. , senior analyst at Mandiant, told CNN. “We have observed well-known actors leveraging longstanding campaign assets and infrastructure to target Ukraine during the invasion, using capabilities they have invested in development over time.”

Mandiant did not directly point the finger at the Russian government for the false account of Zelenksyy’s suicide, but described the activity as an “alleged Russian influence campaign”. For decades and dating back to Soviet times, disinformation and other so-called “active measures” have been a key part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, according to scholars.

Facebook and YouTube in March removed a widely circulated “deepfake”,or a digitally altered video purporting to show Zelenskyy asking Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms. The real Zelenskyy appeared in a video shortly after saying that Ukraine’s defense continues.

At least some of the misinformation analyzed by Mandiant appears to have little success online. And Ukrainian citizens and soldiers show no sign of letting up in their resistance to the Russian invasion.

Suspected Russian agents, for example, posted false claims “on a very limited number” of websites and blogs that Zelenskyy killed himself in a military bunker in Kyiv in March, according to Mandiant.

The Russian government falsely presented its invasion of Ukraine as a “denazification” campaign despite the fact that Zelenskyy is Jewish. The fake suicide story bears some resemblance to the death of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1945, by suicide in a bunker as Soviet troops advanced.

CNN has asked the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry for comment on Mandiant’s research.

With the eyes of the world on Ukraine, other world powers have decided to sway public opinion about the war or sow discord among their rivals.

A pro-Iranian news operation impersonated a Russian journalist and posted tweets claiming that Israeli intelligence was backing Ukraine against Russia on the eve of war, according to Mandiant. It was an apparent attempt to increase tensions between Russia and Israel. The Israeli and Iranian governments are bitter enemies.

The US government has tried to shape public perceptions of the war in Ukraine in his own way, including creating a State Department account on Telegram, a messaging app popular with Russians.


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