France detects massive Russian disinfestation campaign in Europe

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RTHE US IS has been at the forefront of Internet disinformation techniques since at least 2014, when it began using bot farms to spread fake news about its invasion of Crimea. According to French authorities, the Kremlin is at it again. On February 12, Viginum, the French foreign disinfection watchdog, announced that it had uncovered preparations for a large-scale disinfection campaign in France, Germany, Poland and other European countries, partly linked to the the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the elections to the European Parliament in June.

Viginum said it discovered a Russian network of 193 websites it calls “Portal Kombat”. Most of these sites, such as topnews.uz.ua, were created years ago and many were left dormant. More than 50 of them, such as news-odessa.ru and pravda-en.com, have been created since 2022. The traffic to these sites is currently, which is in several languages ​​including French, German , Polish and English, low. But French authorities believe they are ready to act forcefully as part of what one official calls a “massive” wave of Russian disinformation.

Viginum says it looked at the sites between September and December 2023. It concluded that they don’t actually create news stories, but are designed to produce “false or misleading” content. spread about the war in Ukraine, both on websites and through social media. The basic goal is to undermine support for Ukraine in Europe. According to the French authorities, the network is controlled by a single Russian group.

It was no coincidence that the French made the announcement on the day that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, hosted Donald Tusk, the new Polish prime minister, in Paris. The pair met before a joint meeting later that day of the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland, a group nicknamed the “Weimar triangle”. These are also the main countries that the Russian campaign is designed to target. “We are in a time of vulnerability” ahead of the European elections, said Stéphane Séjourné, the French foreign minister.

The election of Mr Tusk last October, who is central to the right of Europe, has raised hopes of reviving this three-way relationship within the European Union, which had deteriorated under the was there before. The relaunch of the Weimar form “marks the return of Poland to the center of the country.” EU issues”, said Gabriel Attal, the new prime minister of France, on a trip to Berlin last week. It could also help to resolve the troubled relationship between France and Germany.

For France, the discovery of this latest attempt at Russian instability comes after a series of initiatives it has given to Moscow. Last November, the French foreign ministry denounced a “Russian digital interference operation” that spread pictures of the Stars of David stenciled on walls in a Paris area, to increase inter-communal tensions was promoted in France shortly after the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Viginum then discovered a network of 1,095 forward bots X (formerly Twitter), which published 2,589 posts. He recently linked this to a Russian internet outlet known as Trusted News, which was notorious for cloning the websites of Western media outlets to spread fake news; the EU called that complex “Doppelgänger”.

France held the same network responsible in June 2023 for hacking various French media websites, as well as the website of the French foreign ministry. On the ministry’s website, hackers posted a short statement suggesting, falsely, that France was to introduce a 1.5% “security tax” to finance military aid to Ukraine.

As the campaign for the European Parliament elections approaches, France is thought to be a particular target for Moscow. According to an article in the Washington Post In December, Kremlin documents show that Russia has been trying to undermine French support for Ukraine. He also has a clear interest in promoting division in France, at a time when Marine Le Pen is riding high in the polls for the next presidential election in 2027. The hard-right leader , which previously financed ventures with a Russian bank loan, stands. to take maximum advantage of France’s polarized politics.

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