In parallel with the intensification of the Russian military threat in Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin “Alt-Info”, as well as the supporters of the Alt-Info-affiliated “Conservative Movement” party, started to pursue a campaign to discredit the Ukrainian army.
On January 28th, “Myth Detector” fact-checked a video shared by a Georgian Facebook user, which depicted a young gay soldier meeting his boyfriend. According to Facebook users, the video was created to recruit citizens to the Ukrainian Army, but in fact, the film was made in 2012 in the UK by the “Coalition for Equal Marriage.” Notably, the fabricated version of the video has been circulating since 2017.
Georgian social media users shared the video with the following comments to discredit the Ukrainian army in a homophobic context:
Shako Kerelashvili: “Are these people going to the war? Such a nation does not deserve the right to exist at all …‼ ️”
“Taliban Conservative” and “Amirani Pruidze”: “My friends, this is the Ukrainian army, which is supported by our people attaching the Ukrainian flag on the profile pictures!! Go to Ukraine and stand by this lovely couple and fight.” (With identical text)
Nikoloz Mzhavanadze: “Ukrainians have announced the mobilization of gays to raise the fighting spirit.”
Zviad Tsakadze: “If you have an army of this spirit, Crimea was lost, the Ukrainians will lose even more in the future.”
Mancho Abramidze: “This is how the Ukrainians are going to win the war 🙂 It is not funny at all – how a Christian country has fallen and perverted like this. The thing is, they want it here as well, but this will not happen.”
“Myth Detector” studied the sources who disseminated the video in the Georgian information network in a coordinated manner against the background of the growing escalation between Ukraine and Russia. The video was also traced back to Russian sources in its early distribution. The following trend has been identified:
- In Georgia, the video was disseminated simultaneously by supporters of the ‘Conservative Movement” party on January 27th, and three days later, it was covered by “Alt-Info” and its host Nikoloz Mzhavanadze.
- The altered video was published in 2020 by a representative of the self-proclaimed republic of Lugansk to discredit the Ukrainian army;
- In February 2021, Russian-speaking social media users released the video shortly before the start of NATO military exercises in Ukraine;
- Russian-language sources linked the original British version of the video to the creation of an “LGBT battalion” in NATO troops;
The Dissemination of the altered video in Georgia
“Myth Detector” identified seven accounts linked to the “Conservative Movement” and “Alt Info”, which published the altered video with a false description, mainly on January 27th. On January 30th, the same video was shown on the “Alt-Info” program “Week with Nikoloz Mzhavanadze.” He later cut a fragment of the video and uploaded it to his own Facebook account. Nikoloz Mzhavanidze’s post was shared by the Facebook page “Georgian Return Fund“. Mzhavanadze allegedly deleted the post after the “Myth Detector” marked it as false.
Facebook user “Mancho Abramidze” uploaded the video to the Facebook group “Conservative Movement (Supporters)”. The video was shared on Facebook by the following users: Shako Kerelashvili, Zviadi Tsakadze, Taliban Conservative, Amirani Pruidze, Boris Dudauri-Giorgadze, Maqsime Bagrationi. After “Myth Detector” marked the information as false, part of the users deleted the post, but the video is still available on the accounts of Shako Kerekashvili, the Taliban Conservative and Amirani Pruidze. These accounts mostly share news related to the “Conservative Movement” and identical programs and posts of “Alt Info”.
3 accounts: Maqsime Bagrationi, Mancho Abramidze and the Taliban Conservative, conceal their identities and do not include photos revealing their identity. In addition, the posts shared by the Taliban Conservative and Amiran Pruidze were accompanied by an identical text.
||An artwork by Irma Prangishvili
||The Taliban Patrolling in Kabul/Getty Images
- The Dissemination of the altered video in the Russian language sources
Andrey Marochko, a former Defense Ministry official and military expert on the self-proclaimed Luhansk Republic, posted the altered video on his Twitter account in 2020.
In his tweet, Marochko stated that the autumn military conscriptions in Ukraine started on October 1st, and the video depicted perfectly who would be recruited in the Ukrainian army. Marochko’s tweet is no longer available.
The video was actively circulated by Russian social media in February 2021, shortly before the start of the “Defender Europe 2021” military exercise in Ukraine by NATO.
Russian-speaking users of Tik-Tok and Vkontakte also noted that the video showed Ukraine’s military mobilization. Tik-Tok user Goo_i linked the video to the EU and Western values, posting the following caption: “One step closer to Europe” and “European Gay Army, fighter pederasts.”
A scene cut from the video was manipulatively used by the Russian media proza.ru in 2020, as it appeared as the cover of the material, which was related to the beating of Ukrainian queer activist Viktor Pilikenko.
The following caption was attached to the photo: “Shock! NATO’s LGBT Brigade. “
Interestingly, the authentic 2012 British version of the video was also disseminated in Russian-language sources. However, in this case, the video was accompanied by an incorrect description. According to YouTube user Andrew Ivanov, the video featured a NATO LGBT brigade.
Edition ВОЕНКОМАТЫ РОССИИ – this video was published on February 19th, 2021. The publication argued that according to new NATO standards, when there are not enough resources, everyone in the army should serve, including LGBT people.
The edition “ВОЕНКОМАТЫ РОССИИ” published the video on February 19th, 2021. The publication argued that according to new NATO standards, when there are not enough resources, everyone in the army should serve, including LGBT people.
Russian media expressed concern about the admission of LGBT people in the Ukrainian army in 2017 as well. Ren TV article headlined “Ukrainian army turned into a giant LGBT brothel” stated that for years, due to lack of resources, LGBT people were regularly recruited into the Ukrainian army, which is why once the minority now constitutes the majority of the military, and these people are demanding medals and recognition.
According to a Razumkov Center poll of spring 2021, Ukrainians most often trust the Ukrainian military. According to Ruslan Deinichenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian fact-finding platform StopFake.org, this is the reason why the Ukrainian army is a frequent target of Russian propaganda.