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Russia has been laying groundwork online for a ‘false flag’ operation, misinformation researchers say.


At the request of The New York Times, the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit research group, independently evaluated the report and said the research appeared reliable.

Here are some of the unsupported claims the European Expert Association researchers found.

On Dec. 21, the Russian defense minister, Serhiy Shoigu, alleged that the Ukrainian army was preparing to attack two separatist-held territories in Ukraine. The next day, the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published a report that claimed, without proof, that a stash of chemical weapons had been given to Ukraine by the United States, according to the researchers.

Throughout January and February, the researchers said, Russian-backed media spread the rumor, which was amplified on social media. “Chemical weapons are already present on the territory of Ukraine,” said a message in one anonymous Telegram channel with 24,500 followers. The post was viewed by 7,000 people.

Russian state media has been spreading rumors that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are planning an attack on Donbas, the separatist region in eastern Ukraine, with the help of American, British and Polish mercenaries, according to the researchers.

The rumor then spread on Facebook and YouTube. “The Ukrainian people are waiting for Mother Russia to free their younger sister from the Nazis and the State Department,” said one Facebook post that collected nearly 100 likes. On YouTube, a video spreading the same unproven claim collected more than 31,600 views.

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