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France accuses Russia of faking websites to sow confusion and disinformation about Ukraine war – AP

14.06.2023, 18:36
Photo: Channel 24
Photo: Channel 24

France’s government accused Russia on Tuesday of operating a long-running online manipulation campaign, including impersonating the websites of leading French media and the French Foreign Ministry.

The campaign is aimed at spreading confusion and false information about the war in Ukraine, writes AP.

The French agency responsible for fighting foreign digital interference, VIGINUM, said it has monitored the alleged operation since soon after Russia invaded its neighbor and that France was one of several European countries targeted. It said it traced the campaign to Russian individuals, companies and “state entities or entities affiliated to the Russian state.”

Last month, the agency detected a mirror website mimicking the French Foreign Ministry’s and intervened with “protective and preventive measures,” VIGINUM said in a report.

“France condemns these actions, which are unworthy of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. No attempt at manipulation will distract France from its support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s war of aggression,” the ministry said in a statement with unusually strong wording.

The Russian Embassy in France did not immediately comment.

VIGINUM said it identified 355 domain names usurping the identities of European media outlets, including those of French daily newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro. It said the content spread on the fake sites denigrated the Ukrainian armed forces and amplified criticism of sanctions against Russia and the impact of Ukrainian refugees on other European countries.

French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said it was the first time the government has “so clearly and explicitly” attributed blame for this kind of campaign.

She said the fake ministry website was aimed at creating confusion about France’s support for Ukraine and undermining democratic debate. She said the government’s intervention limited the impact of the mirror site, which she described as an element of “the hybrid war that Russia is currently waging.”

VIGINUM said the campaign has links to a sprawling disinformation network that Facebook parent Meta exposed last year, which sought to use fake social media accounts and sham news websites to spread Kremlin talking points.

As IMI reported, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has presented the newly approved National Security Strategy. It identifies Russia as the greatest threat to the world. According to the Security Strategy, external and internal threats are to be tackled together in the future. This includes not just military threats, but also cyber attacks or attacks on critical infrastructure.

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