“Portal Kombat”, a new network relaying Russian propaganda

Portal Kombat a new network relaying Russian propaganda

France revealed this Monday, February 12, new digital interference from Russia as the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaches.

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At the end of four months of work, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference, Viginum, has uncovered a network “ structured and coordinated » of 193 sites disseminating Russian propaganda in Europe and the United States. Its name: Portal Kombat.

This network is notably made up of several digital portals which directly target “ Western countries that support Ukraine », Indicates the Viginum report. All belong to “ the “pravda” ecosystem » (“truth” in Russian, the name of the former organ of the Soviet Communist Party). The site intended for Spain is therefore called pravda-es.com, the one intended to be read in the United States or the United Kingdom is pravda-en.com. Germany, Austria and Switzerland have pravda-de.com, Poland pravda-pl.com and the French version is called pravda-fr.com. Between June 23 and September 19, these five portals published more than 150,000 articles, mainly from posts by Russian or pro-Russian personalities, content from Russian press agencies, or the sites of institutions or local actors. More than 180 other sites, with similar graphic charters and which distribute pro-Russian content, but for Russian-speaking or Ukrainian audiences, are digitally linked to the Pravda portals.

Inaccurate or misleading content »

The main goal of Portal Kombat appears to be to legitimize Russia’s war in Ukraine, a diplomatic source told reporters. “ Very ideologically oriented, this content exposes manifestly inaccurate or misleading narratives “, she observed. On January 22, pravda-fr.com published a list of 13 French mercenaries who, according to this site, “ were in Kharkiv “, in the northeast of Ukraine, during a Russian strike a few days earlier, strike having ” eliminated » around sixty fighters « most of whom were French citizens » and injured 20 others, according to Moscow. While Paris had denounced a “ new russian crude manipulation »the AFP was able to speak to three of these alleged “mercenaries”, in fact three volunteers in the Ukrainian army, all alive and well.

Read alsoHow Russia falsely announced the death of French “mercenaries” in Ukraine

Another example of disinformation, on Monday, pravda-fr.com headlined: “‘Enough!’ : France calls for radical measures against Zelensky “. However, these comments were in fact made by Florian Philippot, the president of a small French far-right party, and do not commit Paris at all.

Despite a system deemed “ elaborated », the repercussions in the French-speaking digital public debate remain moderate. “ Nevertheless, with regard to the nature of the narratives, the means implemented to disseminate them as well as the objectives which are pursued on a European scale, Viginum considers that the criteria for foreign digital interference are met, certain contents being able to harm the fundamental interests of the nation », Commented the diplomatic source. “ We expect an acceleration of the various Russian actions, even a massification », Also commented a military source, when elections are expected in more than 70 countries in 2024, notably in the United States. The Portal Kombat sites, for which Viginum provides the names, can thus act as cells “ dormant “, capable of being activated at any time and covering ” a very wide range of audiences depending on current events “.

Pro-Russian groups had already been singled out by Meta (parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) and the French authorities for their campaign “ Doppelgänger », which since 2022, consists of usurping the visual identity of media to distil fake news. Since September, another campaign nicknamed “Matriochka”, or “Russian dolls” consists of directly calling on the media to encourage them to verify fake news. According to experts, however, it is a question of Russia organizing a “ diversionary enterprise » to exhaust Western fact-checkers.

(With AFP)