Information manipulation and disinformation manoeuvres by Russian actors currently serve well identified strategic objectives:  to legitimize Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, to undermine the cohesion of support for Ukraine, and to destabilize the societies of liberal democracies.

These actions target Ukraine first and foremost, but also Western public opinion and leaders as well as public opinions in third countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Russia has also recently stepped up its disinformation action in other regions, such as Latin America.

Traditional Russian modus operandi

  • Creation of media outlets, foundations and think tanks controlled by Russian actors.
  • Use of hundreds of thousands of inauthentic social media accounts belonging to fake users who post and share anti-West and pro-Russia content.
  • Some accounts are managed by troll farms, and others run automatically as bot accounts.
  • Hidden placement of publications: this is a practice used by both state and private Russian disinformation actors. It involves having legitimate media outlets publish “ready to use” articles that are favourable to Russian interests in exchange for payment.

This modus operandi, like corruption, enables Russia to circumvent:

  1. The rules adopted by fact-checking bodies; 
  2. The detection mechanisms of social media platforms that aim to fight information manipulation; 
  3. European Union sanctions on recognized Russian propaganda entities such as Russia Today or Sputnik.

The mercenaries of Russian influence also rely on local intermediaries. These individuals, who often receive payment, may themselves believe ideologically and realize what they are doing. However, in other cases, these mercenaries achieve their ends by deceiving their interlocutors who are unaware that they are victims of the Russian propaganda machine. More precisely, various Russian modus operandi for information manipulation have been identified since the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine began.

Russian manoeuvres rely on a wide range of channels: imitation of official sources (fake Facebook pages of major international media outlets publishing real articles), Telegram channels and conspiracy networks, but also official channels and actions in the physical world

Multilayer actions are now widespread: the first articles expressed false allegations on the basis of questionable evidence, a second wave of articles commented on the first articles, and so on, to the point that this fabricated information has now been included in official Russian stances at the highest level of the Russian Government. The objective is to flood the news space to create confusion.

“Fake fact-checking” has existed since 2014 and is now even more prevalent. It consists in debunking false allegations created for the occasion. Unable to propose a credible counternarrative , Russia has invented multiple alternative narratives to divert attention.

The timing of information operations is essential for determining the outcome. Narratives are spread at key moments of political debates in the targeted countries. These operations are often conducted during elections.

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