Telegram channels amplified document falsely justifying Russian invasion
Channels began circulating the 48-page document two days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
As Russia’s war against Ukraine continues, the DFRLab has been monitoring Russian websites and social platforms to track disinformation narratives attempting to justify Russia’s actions. As part of this monitoring, the DFRLab found a document entitled “Вся правда о преступлениях Украины на Донбассе” (“The whole truth about the crimes of Ukraine in the Donbas”) that has been amplified in Russian channels since February 26, 2022. The document saw cross-platform amplification, including websites, Telegram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Content of the document
Forty-eight pages long, the document targets Russia’s domestic audience in an attempt to justify war in Ukraine, sometimes using graphic imagery to do so. It paints a false picture of a “divided Ukrainian society” and claims that “fakes” about Russia’s actions in Ukraine are being spread deliberately. It also lists four “reasons” for Russia’s actions that align with official messaging from Kremlin authorities.
Reason #1: State Nazism, persecution, and killings of Russian speakers. The first chapter of the document consists of ten sub-sections. The text is accompanied by graphic images describing alleged atrocities of the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas over the past eight years. This section of the document claims that between 2014 and 2021, Ukrainian armed forces killed 150 children in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and are engaged in torture, kidnapping, and rape. The document also claims that Nazism in Ukraine is supported on a state level, despite the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish.
Reason #2: Ukraine was preparing a military attack on Russia, including a possible nuclear attack. Referring to President Zelenskyy’s speech at the 2022 Munich Security Conference, the document claims that Ukraine aims to develop its own nuclear weapons for potential use against Russia. The document lists four active nuclear power plants within Ukrainian territory and says the company operating them has partnered with US companies and the US government. This section also cites Aleksandr Borov, a Russian nuclear physicist, who claims that Ukraine is capable of creating a “dirty nuclear bomb” with recycled nuclear fuel from its plants.
The narrative about Ukraine creating a dirty bomb circulated on Russian platforms prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As previously reported by the DFRLab, Kremlin media have conflated the notion of a “dirty bomb” with nuclear weapons, despite the fact that a dirty bomb does not involve nuclear detonation, instead spreading radioactive material through conventional explosives. The document also claims that the West provides Ukraine with weapons that are used for offensive operations rather than for defensive purposes, and has been doing so since 2016.
Reason #3: NATO is making Ukraine “hate” Russia. This section of the document claims that Ukraine, with direct financial support from the West, has been waging information warfare against the Donbas and Russia. The document says that NATO has promoted Ukrainian hate towards Russia to encourage Ukraine to join the security the alliance and weaken Russian borders. According to the document, Ukraine is trying to drag the entire world into a war.
Reason #4: The West finances Nazism in Ukraine. The document claims that the Western politicians are deliberately expanding and financing Nazi movements in Ukraine to pose direct military threat to Russia.
The DFRLab found that the document is being disseminated through multiple channels. The earliest known appearance of the document took place on February 26, 2022 at 3:47 pm Moscow time, published in the Telegram channel Кремлёвская прачка (“Kremlin Laundress”). Using the tool Telegram Analytics, the DFRLab found that as of March 2, the document was posted in Telegram channels 548 times from February 26 to March 16, including in a channel of Vladimir Soloviev, the Russian pro-Kremlin journalist who was sanctioned by the EU a day before Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
On February 26 and 27, the document was published on multiple Russian websites, including Union of Volunteers of Donbas, Veterans of Russia, Politikus. The document became publicly available on the Russian cloud service Yandex Disk. The link to Yandex Disk was posted on Russian social networks and forums such as LiveJournal, Pikabu and Odnoklassniki. A YouTube channel also posted a scrolling video of the document with a dramatic background music.
The DFRLab also found that Russian Twitter accounts also attempted to amplify the document, but received almost no engagement.
The metadata of the document published by Kremlin Laundress suggests that the Word document was created on February 25. The chart below analysing the number of mentions of the document in public Telegram channels demonstrates zero channel mentions of the document on February 25, suggesting that the file started to circulate on the platform beginning February 26. The author of the document is currently unknown.
Cite this case study:
Sopo Gelava, “Telegram channels amplified document falsely justifying Russian invasion,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), March 16, 2022, https://medium.com/dfrlab/telegram-channels-amplified-document-falsely-justifying-russian-invasion-2101d7befec0.