Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels promote narrative that Poland will annex western Ukraine
Narrative relies on forged documents and fake images of billboards in Poland.
BANNER: This image depicting a Polish general alluding to annexing parts of Ukraine was one of several circulating on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels that turned out to be fake. (Source: Signal Telegram Channel/archive)
Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels continue speculating on alleged Polish aspirations to annex parts of western Ukraine. Previously, channels and other sources published a falsified letter to “confirm” this theory. A new round of disinformation continues this campaign in an apparent attempt to discredit the Polish Army and drive a wedge between Poland and Ukraine.
The Russian Telegram channel Signal published forged photos of multiple billboards depicting Jarosław Mika, General Commander of Branches of the Polish Armed Forces, alongside the quote, “It’s time to remember history,” a reference to the historical fact that parts of western Ukraine were once Polish territory. The channel also mentioned the removal of Ukrainian flags from Polish public transportation, as well as a previous statement by Sergei Naryshkin, the chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, claiming the US and Poland were plotting to partition Ukraine. While the flag removal and Naryshkin’s statement both occurred, the channel claimed without evidence that Poland was about to invade Ukraine, using the forged billboards as additional evidence. Polish outlet Konkret24 was the first to confirm the billboard images had been forged.
The fake billboard story was later amplified by the Kremlin-tied Telegram channel Gossip Girl, which had previously published the forged letter alleging Poland’s intent to annex Ukrainian territory. “So what does Poland really want?” Gossip Girl asked. “Help secure western Ukraine by sending in troops or regain historical lands?”
Another Kremlin-tied channel, Legitimniy (“Legitimate”), forwarded the forged billboard images and claimed, “Poland is preparing for expansion, many factors indicate this, but no one will tell Ukrainians about this.” The channel also discussed that Poland might attempt to censor Ukrainian history, ironically reflecting what Kremlin is actually doing.
On May 3, Telegram channel Rokot|Ryk, which uses the Russian pro-invasion Z symbol in its logo, published a short clip of a speech by Polish President Andrzej Duda in which he said that there wouldn’t be any borders between Poland and Ukraine. In its original context, President Duda’s quote was in reference to a new era of Ukraine-Poland cooperation and opposition to Russian imperialism and its occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Presented out of context, though, the Telegram post misleadingly implied that President Duda was discussing the “inclusion” of Ukraine within Polish territory.
Pro-Kremlin channels embraced the false interpretation that President Duda intended to annex Ukraine, even suggesting the new country would be renamed “Ukropol.” On May 5, a video with Russian subtitles appeared on another channel with the ‘Z’ symbol and a user handle similar to the one used by Rokot|Ryk; the video was also posted to the pro-Lukashenka Telegram channel Zheltye slivi (“Желтые сливы,” or “Yellow Leaks”). The Signal Telegram channel picked up the video and claimed that in the future, President Duda “would be able to rely on the potential of its neighbors” in the Baltic states to build a community of nations. The channel concluded by describing this as an “imperialist statement,” and reiterated that Poland intended to expand its territory. Ukrainian Kremlin-tied channel ZeRada also published the video with the comment, “On what grounds [does Poland] propose to live on Ukrainian land?” and asked whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should reply to these claims. The post also alluded to the forged images of Polish billboards.
Meanwhile, on May 4, a video displaying the BBC News logo appeared online, repeating the same allegation that Poland was preparing to send troops to Western Ukraine “under the pretext of protection from Russia.” Captions in the video suggested that the Polish Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces had already ordered the army to “prepare for an invasion of Ukraine,” which was “confirmed” by a “published order” signed by General Mika. The video also asserted that Washington had endorsed Poland’s invasion to Ukraine, while NATO would “officially stand aside.”
As evidence, the video included a forged document previously analyzed by the DFRLab, which allegedly ordered Polish armed forces to prepare airborne units to be deployed in Ukraine. It also showed the fake billboards of General Mika, as well as a helicopter and Polish soldiers allegedly filmed in northern Poland preparing to deploy to Ukraine. The video was disseminated on Twitter, Telegram, and Facebook on multiple languages including Russian, French, Italian, Turkish and Czech.
A comparison of the fake video with authentic BBC News videos shows that placement of captions, font and graphics mimics authentic BBC videos, including a promotion for viewers to download BBC mobile app. However, as the BBC told Reuters and Konkret 24, the video was not published by the outlet; BBC News journalists Alistair Coleman and Shayan Sardarizadeh also noted on Twitter that the video was fake. Thus it appears to be yet another attempt by malicious actors to impersonate a legitimate news source, similar to another fake BBC News video from April 2022 that accused Ukraine of bombing the Kramatorsk railway station.
Cite this case study:
Roman Osadchuk and Givi Gigitashvili, “Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels promote narrative that Poland will annex western Ukraine,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), May 6, 2022, https://medium.com/dfrlab/pro-kremlin-telegram-channels-promote-narrative-that-poland-will-annex-western-ukraine-28514c829232.