December is a month when news outlets routinely compile lists of the best or worst events of the year, of inventions made and wars started or stopped, and of those who have died over the last 12 months. But thanks to Vladimir Putin, a new category has appeared – the compilation of the most outrageous fakes of Kremlin-controlled media.
Two “two top ten” lists of Russian fake news stories have appeared in the last few weeks, one taken from the BBC and a second from Ukrainian Information Resist Service. Taken together they suggest the sweep of Kremlin falsehoods and yet the willingness of some in Russia and the West to believe at least some of them either in whole or in part.
The top ten fake news stories issues by Russian news agencies and outlets according to the BBC over the last 12 months, in ascending level of absurdity (all are false), include the following:
10. Ukrainian schools are conducting special lessons in Russophobia. In fact, the Russian media fell into a trolling trap laid by Ukrainian media.
9. The British are buying up Putin calendars. In fact, few in Britain ever saw these calendars. They were mostly found in Russia itself or internationally on eBay.
8. Russian feminists put up a banner on the Kremlin towers. The Russian reporter who claimed this said he had seen it but couldn’t produce a photo. Later it turned out that what he had seen had been photoshopped by someone.
7. The former head of MI-6 reportedly said Britain planned to seize the Caucasus. The entire interview which appeared in Russian sources never happened.
6. A Petersburg woman died when Alexei Navalny supporters blocked an ambulance coming to her aid. A woman may have died, an ambulance may have been going to her rescue, but Navalny demonstrators were nowhere near by.
5. An American restaurant was reported to have prepared a hamburger in honor of Putin’s birthday. This never happened, as the owners of the restaurant in question told curious journalists.
4. Pro-Ukrainian “neo-pagans” took responsibility for a fire in Rostov. This never happened either but was the result of a YouTube leak by the security forces of pro-Moscow groups in the Donbas.
3. “Osama bin Laden met with Hillary Clinton at the White House.” The source of this lie was the Russian foreign ministry. The event never happened, although the Russian claim and a photoshopped picture was reported widely.
2. Putin showed Oliver Stone a video clip from 2009 US military activities in Afghanistan but said it was about Russian actions in Syria in 2017.
1. The Russian defense ministry offered a picture it said proved the US was providing weapons to the Islamic State. But in fact the picture came not from the Middle East but from a video game AS-130 Gunship Simulator. When the Russian defense ministry was caught in this lie, it blamed “the mistake” on a civilian employee who, it said, has been punished.
The top ten list offered by the Information Resistance group provides a useful supplement to the BBC offering. Again all these stories are fakes; the only differences are that the Ukrainian list is in descending order and covers a single week.
1. Russian sources provided a Czech outlet with an article falsely stating that the Crimean Autonomous Republic had a complete right to secede from Ukraine under Ukrainian law.
2. Using fake Russian reports, an Italian film repeated earlier falsehoods about the supposed participation of Georgian snipers during the Maidan in 2014. These have been shown to be false by Ukrainian, Georgian and Western investigators.
3. Ukraine supposedly wants to exchange Crimea for Transdniestria, a totally made up story disseminated by Lenta.ru.
4. A report on Vesti.ru said that the special services of the “DNR” and “LNR” had arrested a group of Ukrainian special forces, but there was no such group and therefore no such arrests.
5. Russian sources continued to insist that Holodomor, the mass murder of Ukrainians in 1932-22 by artificially-induced famine, was not intentionally directed at Ukrainians, despite the evidence.
6. Moscow outlets said that Poland had blocked truck traffic between Ukraine and Europe. In fact, the number of trucks going from Ukraine to Europe has expanded to such an extent that it has overwhelmed the capacity of border guards to deal with them.
7. Moscow stations reported that NATO does not want to admit Ukraine as a member when in fact the secretary general said exactly the reverse but did note that Ukraine must make a number of steps for that to be possible.
8. Russian channels said that 100,000 Ukrainian orphans had been driven into the streets. In fact, that has not happened. What has occurred is the launch of a program that will put them not in orphanages but in homes by the end of the next decade.
9. Russian commentators say that the Americans are using the population of Ukraine to test various drugs without the consent of the people there. Sergey Markov, head of the Moscow Institute of Political Research, said that the Americans treat Ukrainians “almost as if they were in German concentration camps … only the Ukrainian citizens don’t understand that they are in a concentration camp.”
10. Russian media say that anyone, including children, can get medals in Ukraine; but that is absolutely untrue, as those making this claim must know since they provide no evidence.
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