Another Ukraine: a disinformation platform run by an exiled Ukrainian oligarch in Russia

Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who is close to Vladimir Putin, found refuge in Russia after leaving Ukraine, where he faces treason charges. He runs a Russian-language portal pushing Kremlin narratives on Ukraine and the war, but his latest foray into disinformation has run into its own challenges.

Every day, new phrases hammer home messages from Another Ukraine, a Russian-language portal launched in the summer of 2023: “Russia is Ukraine’s only salvation,” “They wanted NATO and are ready to die for Western interests.” The news is uniformly negative.

The project is officially led by Viktor Medvedchuk, a leading figure pushing pro-Kremlin interests in post-Soviet Ukraine, but it is orchestrated behind the scenes by Ilya Gambashidze’s Social Design Agency, a Russian IT company closely linked to the Kremlin whose digital disinformation campaigns are now targeting international opinion. The digital platform claims to “unite the dynamic forces capable of reversing the situation and pulling the Ukrainian people out of the impasse in which they find themselves”.

Read moreIlya Gambashidze: Disinformation soldier or king of Russian trolls?

Medvedchuk is certainly no stranger to intrigue and disinformation. For 20 years, the oligarch had been a conduit for Moscow’s interests in Ukraine, in both the political sphere and the media. His close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have made him a reviled figure in his home country. The two men, about the same age, have known each other since the early 2000s. Putin had just come to power in Russia and Medvedchuk was chief of staff for Ukraine’s then president Leonid Kuchma.

Their relationship took on a personal dimension when Medvedchuk became Putin’s “kum”, a term of kinship in Slavic culture, a link cemented when Putin was chosen as godfather to Medvedchuk’s youngest daughter.

Medvedchuk likes to emphasise this personal bond with Putin to show off his own importance. 

Placed under house arrest in May 2021 after being charged with treason, he escaped and went on the run just days after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.   

The eventual recapture of the man branded a “traitor” in Ukraine caused a sensation: dressed in camouflage clothing, disheveled and weak, Medvedchuk’s release from jail was eventually granted in September 2022 when he was included in a prisoner exchange. Kyiv saw the release of 215 soldiers, including 108 from the Azov regiment captured in Mariupol, while 55 Russians were also freed. The transaction was unbalanced, but as they say in Russia, “Svoïkh nie brossaïem”: We don’t abandon our own.

‘Alternative narrative’

Russia provided a refuge for Medvedchuk, as it had for another disgraced Ukrainian, former president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych, toppled by the Maidan revolution (2013-2014), was convicted in absentia for high treason after fleeing to Russia. 

Stripped of his Ukrainian nationality, Medvedchuk, 69, realised he had no future in the country. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further marginalised Ukrainian forces loyal to Moscow. The Opposition Platform–For Life party, co-founded by Medvedchuk, was banned; the three television channels he unofficially controlled were also suspended.

Putin would have been infuriated by this turn of events. “He took it as a personal affront,” said one of his longtime associates, speaking anonymously, as cited by the Russian media outlet Verstka. “Medvedchuk and his channels played the role of a bridge and offered hope for resolving the Ukraine issue through political methods.” Medvedchuk’s exile meant the Kremlin lost its key means of influence in Ukraine and the country moved further away from the Russian orbit. 

According to Verstka, Medvedchuk fueled the ideological narrative the Russian leader wanted to hear, assuring him that there was enduring pro-Russia and pro-Putin feeling in Ukraine.

Medvedchuk’s misadventures in Ukraine did not mean an end to his involvement with his former country. When the Kremlin again attempted to regain control of the “Ukraine issue”, it was Medvedchuk who was given the job, with the aim of imposing an “alternative narrative”.  

Despised in Ukraine, Medvedchuk is not held in high regard in Russia either. However, “Medvedchuk’s allegiance and loyalty are crucial to explain why Putin has always relied on him,” said Ukrainian journalist Maksym Savchuk, author of a book dedicated to the oligarch’s connections.

In January 2023, the former Ukrainian MP broke his silence by writing a column in the newspaper “Izvestia”, where he presented the main ideas of the Russian camp. Medvedchuk positioned himself as a representative of the “peace party” against a Ukrainian elite labeled as “neo-Nazi” and belligerent, manipulated by the West. State media made an effort to bolster his stature. He appeared on Russia’s Channel One, where he was presented as “one of Ukraine’s most famous opponents”.

Ukraine’s ‘dead end’

Despite losing all credibility as well as his media holdings in Ukraine, Medvedchuk continues to propagate disinformation and pursue his own interests. Yanukovych was considered a capable manager; Medvedchuk, on the other hand, is known as an “ideas guy”. According to Meduza journalist Andrey Pertsev, he is indebted to the Kremlin but also aims to capitalise on his status as a privileged intermediary for Putin. “He is arguing the merits of his approach to obtain funds and is negotiating new deals in Russia,” Pertsev said.

Another Ukraine is the latest outlet for Medvedchuk’s ambitions. Officially, it is a public organisation located in central Moscow, a few metres from the ministry of foreign affairs. It specialises in targeted information, which it uses to try “to interact with Ukrainians with pro-Russia convictions, inside Ukraine and beyond its borders”, according to Savchuk.

Another Ukraine’s team is composed of journalists and commentators from the 112 Ukraine channel, banned in 2021 by the authorities in Kyiv, as well as disgraced political figures and “political technologists” – a Russian term for those engaged in political manipulation. 

Almost all are accused in Ukraine of separatism or treason. The nature of the project remains nebulous: Another Ukraine defines itself as a “movement” with Medvedchuk as “chairman of the council”. “It seems to me that they, themselves, do not know exactly what its true purpose is,” Savchuk noted. 

On the Another Ukraine website, the oligarch regularly publishes posts on Ukrainian domestic politics, the conduct of the war, and the need for an entente with Russia. However, “Medvedchuk is just the public face of this project,” said Anton Shekhovtsov, director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity in Austria. Shekhovtsov said its communications strategy was entrusted to the Social Design Agency led by Gambashidze, one of the key figures of Russian disinformation campaigns targeting an international audience. 

Testing storylines 

Another Ukraine aims to appeal to that part of the Ukrainian population favourable to Russia and establish a connection with it, according to Shekhovtsov. One method involves taking the pulse of this population and measuring its reaction to various narratives. The project uses the image of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657) monument in central Kyiv, a symbolic choice given the dual legacy of the Cossack leader: While some consider him a symbol of the Ukrainian state, Another Ukraine lauds him for seeking protection from Moscow. 

In a 2021 publication of collected works, “Histoire partagée, mémoires divisées” (Shared history, divided memories), historians Volodymyr Masliychuk and Andrii Portnov note the inscription that paid homage to Khmelnytsky in Russian on the monument’s pedestal: “Russia, united and indivisible.”   

The project also manages “assistance centres” for Ukrainians who are temporarily in Russia and willing to settle there permanently.   

But according to Savchuk – who investigates corruption for Radio Svoboda, the leading international broadcaster in Russia and a division of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – this new influence operation is not working. “In Ukraine, the project is seen as a collection of pariahs who Medvedchuk is feeding rubles so they will do what they used to, not so long ago, on his now-defunct television channels,” he said.   

Moreover, Another Ukraine is only accessible online inside Ukraine by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Nevertheless, the movement has ambitions to extend its influence beyond Ukraine and Russia. In December it announced the opening of a Serbia division – headed by Dragan Stanojevic, a pro-Russian populist MP who has long done business in Ukraine.

Savchuk described the move as a “mutually beneficial collaboration”. “For Stanojevic, this branch is a way of appearing even closer to Putin among his electorate; for Medvedchuk, it is proof that his organisation is influential and that it is taking on an international dimension,” he said. “The fact that the Ukrainian government demanded its closure gave Another Ukraine even greater prominence – people started talking about it.” 

But turning Medvedchuk into a respected figure, recognised as a credible interlocutor abroad, may be an overly ambitious goal.

“I don’t think the Social Design Agency will be able to improve his image, even though that would be a fundamental goal if the project is to be effective,” said Shekhovtsov. “The public face of Another Ukraine should be a personality who gives interviews to the international media, someone who people want to know better. And here, that’s not the case – not in the slightest.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Ilya Gambashidze: Simple soldier of disinformation or king of Russia’s trolls?

He may not be a household name, but Ilya Gambashidze appears to be involved in almost all of the latest Russian disinformation operations across the world. His disruptive cyber actions earned him a spot last year on the European sanctions list. But a FRANCE 24-RFI profile of Russia’s mystery man of manipulation reveals an operative with a far smaller disinformation stature than the Kremlin’s previous troll czar, the late Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

He emerged from anonymity in the West in the summer of 2023. Ilya Gambashidze’s name first appeared on the July 2023 Council of the European Union’s list of Russian nationals subjected to sanctions.

The list – which transliterated his last name from the original Cyrillic text as “Gambachidze” – noted that he was the “founder of Structura National Technologies and Social Design Agency” and was a “key actor” in Russia’s disinformation campaign targeting Ukraine and a number of West European countries.

By November, the US State Department was citing Gambashidze in a media note on the Kremlin’s efforts to covertly spread disinformation in Latin America.

The tactics cited in the US and EU documents detail the disinformation strategies employed in a vast operation dubbed Doppelganger by EU officials, which clones and creates fake websites impersonating government organisations and mainstream media.

The Social Design Agency (SDA) and Structura were described by the US State Department as “influence-for-hire firms” with “deep technical capability, experience in exploiting open information environments, and a history of proliferating disinformation and propaganda to further Russia’s foreign influence objectives”.  

The SDA fulfills a dual role, according to Coline Chavane, threat research analyst at, a French cybersecurity company. “The SDA acted both as a coordinator of the various players involved in these disinformation campaigns, and as an operator, creating false content,” she explained.

Exploiting crises from Ukraine to Gaza war

In addition to being a prolific disinformer, Gambashidze is also an opportunistic one. Months after his name appeared on the European sanctions list, Gambashidze was busy trying to fan tensions between France’s Muslim and Jewish communities following the Gaza war launched by Israel in response to the October 7 Hamas attack.

The French foreign ministry has linked an anti-Semitic Star of David graffiti campaign in the Paris region to Operation Doppelganger. Viginum, the French government agency for defence against foreign digital influence, has accused the SDA of seeking to amplify the surge in anti-Semitism in France by using bots to proliferate Star of David posts on social networks.

The Kremlin has even cited Gambashidze as the chief organiser of a new anti-Western propaganda campaign in Ukraine, according to documents detailing a disinformation plan signed by the SDA boss and leaked to Ukrainian media.

In the leaked documents, Gambashidze is presented as one of the main shadow advisors to “The Other Ukraine”, a massive Kremlin propaganda operation targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“One reason for talking about Gambashidze is he looks very central. His name keeps cropping up including with respect to Ukraine,” said Andrew Wilson, a professor of Ukrainian studies at University College London.

When contacted by FRANCE 24, the Council of the European Union declined to comment on the importance that Brussels attaches to this Russian propagandist, citing the “confidentiality of preparatory work” in deciding whether to sanction an individual or a company.

Gambashidze is not the only Russian involved in Operation Doppelganger cited by the EU. Individuals linked to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit, have also been sanctioned.

Nor is he the sole orchestrator of the new disinformation campaign in Ukraine. He is also said to have worked with Sofiya Zakharova, an employee of the Russian Department of Communications and Information Technology, dubbed “the brain” of Operation Doppelganger.

In the footsteps of Yevgeny Prigozhin

With the SDA and Structura cropping up in multiple Western investigations and news reports on Russian disinformation, Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian political scientist and director of the Austrian-based Centre for Democratic Integrity, notes that his omnipresence suggests that “Ilya Gambashidze and the SDA are gradually replacing Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troll factory”.

Before the Wagner militia chief’s death in August 2023, Prigozhin ran a network of “troll farms” that conducted disinformation operations covering vast ground, from the 2016 US presidential elections and the Brexit vote to online anti-West campaigns in Africa and Asia.

Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash just two months after he led a failed mutiny in Russia has left the disinformation throne vacant, according to Shekhovtsov. “There’s a place up for grabs and the competition is fierce. For now, Ilya Gambashidze appears to be well placed,” he noted.

But Gambashidze has not yet reached Prigozhin’s disinformation stature, and his vast domain could be divided between several inheritors. “We are currently witnessing a restructuring of the propaganda ecosystem in Russia. There isn’t necessarily one player at the heart of the system. It’s more like a network that’s being set up,” said Chavane.

In the past, when Prigozhin was the tutelary figure of the Kremlin’s cyber propaganda, “disinformation was organised in a pyramid structure, whereas we seem to be moving more towards a spider’s web structure with several players linked together in a network”, explained François Deruty, Sekoia’s chief operations officer.

A discreet Rasputin of disinformation

Gambashidze and Prigozhin have a difference in style as well as stature. The middle-aged Gambashidze, with his rather stern Russian technocrat demeanor, has none of the bluster and media showmanship of the late Wagner boss. While Prigozhin was known for his public boasts and rants, Gambashidze’s modus operandi appears to be discretion.

Very little is known about his private life, and the Internet provides little information about him – not even basic details such as his age. According to Russian investigative journalist Sergei Yezhov, Gambashidze is 46 years old.

There are no details about his birthplace, education and family life either. The only available piece of information is that he comes under the fiscal jurisdiction of a Moscow tax office. Photographs of Gambashidze are equally rare, and one of the most recent shows an austere-looking man with thinning hair and no other distinguishing features.

On the European list of sanctioned individuals, he is described as having “formerly worked as a counsellor … to Piotr Tolstoi”. It’s a noteworthy detail. Piotr Tolstoi, commonly spelt Pyotr Tolstoy, is none other than the great-grandson of Russian literary icon Leo Tolstoy. The younger Tolstoy is the deputy chairman of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. He was also deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe before Russia was expelled from the organisation – which is distinct from the EU – following the 2022 Ukraine invasion.

The lack of information, discretion and cited ties to prominent Russian politicians paints a picture of a mysterious master of manipulation, a latter-day Rasputin of disinformation.

‘Third-rate political technologist’

But images can also be deceptive. “If there’s so little information about him, it may be simply because he’s not important enough in Russia,” noted Andrey Pertsev, a journalist with the Latvia-based independent Russian website, Meduza, and an expert on Moscow’s corridors of power.

Gambashidze’s case illustrates how the same individual can be perceived by two very different worlds. In the West, he is considered a threat, with Europe going so far as to include him on its list of sanctioned individuals. In Russia, on the other hand, he is at best “a third-rate political technologist”, according to Pertsev, using a Russian term for the professional engineering of politics.

While the term “political technology” is largely unfamiliar in the West, it’s well known to Russian and Ukrainian audiences acquainted with the state’s manipulation of techniques to hijack and weaponise the political process.

It’s also the subject of Wilson’s latest book, “Political Technology: The Globalisation of Political Manipulation”, and Gambashidze appears to neatly fit the definition of a political technologist. “His career looks super typical. A lot of these political technologists are entrepreneurial. They sell services, they come up with ideas,” explained Wilson.

Internationally, political technologists are most often associated with Prigozhin, who sent dozens of them to African countries to help Moscow’s protégés win elections. But most Russian political technologists are focused on domestic politics and local parties, according to experts. “We mustn’t forget that their main bread and butter consists of handling local elections, working for governors or parties,” noted Shekhovtsov.

“That’s where the money is,” explained Pertsev. A political technologist’s influence is therefore measured above all by the prestige of the election he or she is supposed to help win.

Gambashidze is no exception. He has handled elections in Kalmykia, one of Russia’s 21 republics, located in the North Caucasus, as well as in the Tambov Oblast, one of the least populated regions of central Russia.

“His [SDA] team often made mistakes and he was repeatedly called back to Moscow to avoid an electoral setback,” explained Pertsev, who says he cannot understand how such an individual ended up in Brussels’ crosshairs.

On the messaging service Telegram, anonymous accounts make fun of the questionable effects of Gambashidze’s advice to Batu Khassikov, governor of Kalmykia in 2019. Not only did Gambashidze fail to get Khassikov re-elected, but the incumbent’s popularity rating actually plummeted at the time.

A pig release backfires

In August 2023, a Gambashidze associate thought it wise to organise a release of pigs tattooed with the Communist Party emblem in Khakassia, a republic in southern Siberia.

The aim of the pig release was to discredit the republic’s Communist governor, Valentin Konovalov. But the plan backfired: Gambashidze’s associate was accused by a section of the local population of “ridiculing Russian history” and he was fined for violating campaign rules.

But the SDA’s most prestigious, if short-lived, client appears to have been Leonid Slutsky, who took over as head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) in 2022 after the death of Russia’s notorious, far-right populist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The new LDPR boss, aware of his lack of charisma, needed a political technologist. He ended up with Gambashidze. But he was quickly dismissed “without a moment’s hesitation, which means that Ilya Gambashidze is not considered very important in the Kremlin”, explained Pertsev.

How did such an individual come to be associated with large-scale disinformation operations on the international stage? “Sometimes it’s not competence that counts, but loyalty, and in Russia the quality of the network is central for a political technologist,” noted Wilson.

In Gambashidze’s case, the man who knows the man who knows President Vladimir Putin is Alexander Kharichev, a Kremlin adviser. But most important, according to Pertsev, is the fact that Gambashidze is “a fellow traveler” of Sergey Kiriyenko, a former Russian prime minister and currently the first deputy chief of staff in Putin’s administration.

In late December 2023, the Washington Post identified Kiriyenko as the top Russian official who tasked Kremlin political strategists with promoting political discord in France by amplifying messages to strengthen the French far-right. These included such talking points as the Ukraine war was plunging France into its deepest economic crisis ever or that it was depleting France of the weapons needed to defend itself.

“People come to Sergey Kiriyenko for electoral or other questions, and he delegates to Alexandre Kharitchev the task of finding the right political technologists,” explained Pertsev.

Cannon fodder in the information war

This is how Gambashidze came to be involved in international disinformation operations, explained Pertsev. “The main reason is that he’s cheap,” he explained, noting that in the Kremlin’s order of budgetary priorities, getting the right candidate to win local elections is more important than launching a disinformation campaign in Western Europe.

What’s more, “the best political scientists would probably not be interested”, added Pertsev.  For the big fish, working on disinformation campaigns targeting the West is not worth the risk since the domestic political market is more lucrative and they don’t risk ending up on international sanctions lists. In a way, Gambashidze is simply informational cannon fodder.

Yet the Kremlin’s great ideological war against the West – in which disinformation operations play an important role – has always been presented as a priority for Putin. It may seem incongruous to make a relatively minor figure like Gambashidze a central part of the disinformation schemes targeting the West.

But Gambashidze is not the only master on board. “As the defence of Russian values has been elevated to a matter of national security, Russian spies are inevitably involved in this type of operation,” noted Yevgeniy Golovchenko, a specialist in Russian disinformation at the University of Copenhagen.

Nor does the Kremlin require elaborate cyber-propaganda campaigns. “The most sophisticated aspect is the diversity of media and means used. For Operation Doppelganger, the SDA called on local media, journalists and YouTubers to amplify their messages. They also set up a vast network of fake sites, some of which were only visible in a specific country,” explained Chavane.

The fake news sites set up were rather crude clones of major news sites such as the French “20 minutes”, Germany’s “Der Spiegel” or British daily, “The Guardian”.

“The important thing is that these operations are inexpensive. One costs less than a missile over Ukraine. So even if they’re not perfectly executed by Ilya Gambashidze, the bet is that by stringing them together over a long period, they’ll end up working,” explained Golovchenko.

In Moscow’s informational warfare set-up, Gambashidze is a key cog in the wheel, in an approach reminiscent of Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine: sending in wave after wave of troops, in the hope that the enemy’s defences will collapse under the sheer numbers.

(This is a translation of the original in French.)

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Ukraine vows triumph over Russian ‘darkness’ on two-year anniversary of war

Ukraine on Saturday vowed to triumph over Russian “darkness” as it entered a new year of war weakened by a lack of Western aid and with Moscow emboldened by fresh gains. To mark the second anniversary, a virtual summit of G7 leaders was set to take place at Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral Saturday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attending. Follow FRANCE 24’s coverage of the two-year war anniversary.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on February 24, 2022, many expected victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.

Since then, however, Ukraine has suffered setbacks, with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive.

  • Ukraine faces problem finding new soldiers

Ukrainian army is facing problems finding fresh soldiers as, in addition to losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months. Kyiv passed a controversial bill to tighten rules on mobilization, as army recruiters roam the streets.

Ukraine’s military command has said 450,000 to 500,000 additional recruits are needed for the next phase of the war. Even if Ukraine succeeds in mobilizing that number, which is unlikely, it still would not be able to match the manpower of Russia, which has more than three times Ukraine’s population.

Lawmakers have spent months mulling over a controversial proposal to increase the conscription pool, as many Ukrainian men continue to evade the war in Ukrainian cities. Watch our report below.

  • ‘We need to convince at least 5 million people to come back,’ says Ukraine deputy minister.

FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg is joined by Tetyana Berezhna, Ukraine’s deputy minister of economy, in Kyiv. According to her, Ukraine needs its economy to grow by 7%, “and for that, we need to convince at least 5 million people to come back”. To achieve that figure, Ukrainian authorities started a “grant program” to help Ukrainians “creating companies”.

  • Putin ‘undermining democracy’ across globe, fighting military war in Ukraine & ‘hybrid war’ in West

Inna Sovsun, member of Ukraine’s parliament, deputy head of “GOLOS” Party, and senior lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, delivers her analysis of Russian aggression as the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year.

  • Ukraine’s Zelensky vows victory as Western leaders visit Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised victory against Russia on the second anniversary of the invasion on Saturday as his troops fight on despite a lack of Western aid and recent Russian gains.

“We will win,” he said at a ceremony at Kyiv’s Gostomel airport, which was targeted by Russia in the first days of the all-out assault in 2022.

He spoke alongside the Canadian, Italian and Belgian prime ministers and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen who came to Kyiv to mark the date.  

Ukraine’s military chief Oleksandr Syrsky said he was confident of victory “because light always conquers darkness”.

  • EU chiefs praise Ukrainian ‘resistance’ in visit to Kyiv

FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed that Europe would back Ukraine until it was “finally free” as she and three other Western leaders arrived in Kyiv to show solidarity on the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The visit by von der Leyen and the prime ministers of Italy, Canada and Belgium – Giorgia Meloni, Justin Trudeau and Alexander De Croo – was a show of support as Ukraine suffers shortages of military supplies that are hurting it on the battlefield as Moscow grinds out territorial gains.

  • UK pledges £245 million to boost Ukraine artillery reserves

Britain announced on Saturday a new £245 million ($311 million) defence package to help boost the production of “urgently needed artillery ammunition” for Ukraine, two years after war broke out with Russia.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said Ukraine’s armed forces “against all odds” had recaptured large parts of the land seized by Russia in its 2022 invasion. “But they cannot win this fight without the support of the international community – and that’s why we continue to do what it takes to ensure Ukraine can continue to fight towards victory,” he added.

The new funding will be used to “procure and invigorate supply chains to produce urgently needed artillery ammunition to boost Ukraine’s reserves”, said the ministry of defence (MoD). Ukraine has been “particularly noted for its highly effective use of its artillery”, the MoD added.

In an update to parliament on Thursday, Shapps confirmed the delivery of an additional 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles, bringing the total number to more than 1,300. He also announced the United Kingdom will co-lead an international coalition that will supply thousands of drones to Ukraine.

  • Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days, as FRANCE 24’s Grégoire Sauvage reports.

  • Ukraine vows triumph over Russian ‘darkness’

Ukrainian officials voiced defiance on the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, despite a bleak picture for Kyiv. “I am convinced that unity is our victory. And it will definitely happen. Because light always conquers darkness!” the Ukrainian army’s chief Oleksandr Syrsky said on social media.

Western leaders are in Kyiv and have pledged fresh millions to boost Ukraine’s military,   But the overall picture remains dark for Ukraine due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package, on top of delays in promised European deliveries. US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten”.

  • Ukraine attacks Russian steel plant with drones, Ukrainian source says

Ukraine attacked a steel plant belonging to Russia’s Novolipetsk RAO with drones overnight in a joint operation by the GUR military intelligence agency and SBU security service, a Ukrainian source said on Saturday.

The source told Reuters the attack had caused a major fire at the plant and staff had been evacuated.

“Raw materials from this enterprise are used to manufacture Russian missiles, artillery, drones. Therefore, it is a legitimate goal for Ukraine,” the source said, without specifying the location of the plant.

  • Western leaders visit Kyiv for two-year war anniversary

Saturday’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who praised Ukraine‘s “extraordinary resistance” as she arrived in the capital.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also arrived in Kyiv to take part in the G7 summit.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters & AP)

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A Ukrainian soldier in France speaks about writing and recovery

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Ukrainian soldier and author Oleksandr “Teren” Budko spoke to FRANCE 24 about his path to recovery after losing both legs, his approach to writing and his patriotism.

On a recent evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in France, Oleksandr “Teren” Budko stood with his interpreter before a large audience of Ukrainians and other nationalities. Blond and with a boyish face, the 27-year-old Ukrainian soldier was on the French leg of his European book tour for “Story of a Stubborn Man”. The autobiography interspersed with memories from the front lines recounts his road from civilian to soldier and then to battle-scarred veteran.

Budko began writing the book in October 2022, just two months after losing both legs after a shell landed near him in a trench during the counteroffensive for the city of Kharkiv. “I found inspiration for my writing on the front lines,” he said. Even before the injury, he had been publishing short texts accompanied by pictures of him and his buddies in combat gear as they worked to repel the Russian enemy.

Athletically built and wearing a quilted blue shirt and shorts that showed his prosthetics, Budko was as comfortable as a stand-up comedian in front of a crowd. “There is no truth in the leg,” he said, repeating a Ukrainian proverb that suggests a person who has walked a lot cannot tell the truth because they are tired.

Appreciation for a war hero

Yet he wanted to get as close to the truth as possible while writing his book. He wanted to capture the voices of his comrades and the sights and the sounds of what he experienced in eastern Ukraine. He would try to write, but then get stuck with month-long bouts of writer’s block. A trip to Florida, where he went to get fitted with sports prosthetics so he could participate in the Invictus Games, finally changed something in him. “I was there under the sun, I swam in the sea in Miami, I ate at McDonald’s – and this gave me the perfect circumstances to write this book,” he said.

Thousands of miles away from Ukraine, he revisited his prior experience as a Ukrainian soldier. His days were filled with rehabilitation but, at night, he would write. Like plunging into the nearly clear waters off the Atlantic coast, he immersed himself in his memories of fighting the war and typed them up on a computer.

“Some of the people I wrote about in the book are dead, and that’s why it was so hard to write the text,” said Budko. Luckily, many people in the book did survive, “including my comrade Artem”, he said, nodding toward a young man in a wheelchair sitting in the front row. The audience responded with lengthy applause in appreciation of the two young men for their sacrifice – and for coming home alive.

Memories from the war

Budko agreed to an interview the next day to talk about what led him to fight in the war and his memories from that time. After a visit to Paris‘s Carnavalet Museum, with its elaborate displays dedicated to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the young man in a black hoodie settled at a kebab restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers, an eclectic street in the Marais neighbourhood of central Paris. He was accompanied by his editor and a lively group of young Ukrainians who, judging by their level of excitement, appeared to be visiting the French capital for the first time.

Sitting with his back against the wall, a bit apart from the group, Budko suddenly seemed less like a comedian and more like a wise old man. “I wrote this book for civilians and for people who had never seen war, so they could understand what happens on the front lines,” he said. 

Through his interpreter, Budko said he was in Kyiv when the war began on February 24, 2022. “I signed up as a volunteer because I wanted to defend my country from the enemy and help it gain independence,” he said.

Although he had never held a weapon before in his life, he joined the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion, a battalion of the Ukrainian Ground Forces established in May 2022. After some training and taking part in the defence of the capital Kyiv, Budko was deployed to northeastern Ukraine near Izium.

Most people in the battalion were volunteers who accepted the consequences of their choice, remembered Budko. “Of course Bakhmut and Avdiivka exist (two besieged cities known for scenes of the most ferocious violence of the war), but the life of a soldier is not only about fighting,” he added.

Budko recalled one moment when he ate a slice of foie gras for breakfast: “For me, it was a sign I was still alive,” he said. Despite being trained as killing machines, Budko said he and his fellow volunteers continued civilian life to the best of their ability, preparing traditional meals like borscht, a red beetroot soup, and taking the time to enjoy them with each other. This also meant saving abandoned cats and dogs and evacuating elderly people from zones that had become too perilous for them to stay.

An invincible optimism

From the trenches, the soldiers watched Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and followed news reports on military support from abroad. “We were interested in how the war was going to end, but of course the weapons situation was important too, because without weapons it was going to be impossible to end the war,” said Budko. “Despite the many weapons given, it was never enough.”

Writing the book also allowed Budko to relive some of the moments from “one of the best times of my life”, he said. The adventure, the camaraderie and the moments of peace, such as when he would lie down on the ground with a book, seem to have left Budko with a sense of nostalgia devoid of any bitterness. But today he preferred not to talk about the day he suffered the injury that caused him to lose both legs: “There is no trauma, but I’ve told the story too many times.”

Budko said he has always been endowed with an invincible optimism. He said what changed after the injury is that he “became braver and more open to people”.

Thinking back to his time in the service, the young man recalled the discovery of a small kobzar (a Ukrainian bard) figurine he made one day while digging trenches in the Kharkiv region. The statue was more confirmation that the lands were Ukrainian, he said, because kobzars never existed in Russia. It further convinced him of his role in preserving Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Budko likened the war to a “David against Goliath” struggle and voiced a warning about the existential nature of the threat: “The less support Ukraine gets, the closer the enemy gets to other European countries.”

With this in mind, his goal today is to “contribute to the Western population’s understanding of the war, and encourage them to support us so that they can help obtain a Ukrainian victory as soon as possible”.

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Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days.

Is “defend now, attack better later” Ukraine’s best shot? Two years after Russian forces invaded its territory, Ukraine has officially adopted a new strategy focused on defence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the situation on the front lines was “extremely difficult” in his daily address on February 19.

Since the failure of Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive, which cost Valerii Zaluzhnyi his position as commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, it is no longer time for major manoeuvres aimed at finding a breech in the Russian strategy, according to high-ranking Ukrainian sources. “We changed from an offensive to a defensive operation,” admitted the country’s new army chief, General Oleksandr Syrsky, in an interview with German channel ZDF broadcast on February 13.

Read moreZelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

It is hard to imagine any other option for the Ukrainian army. For months it has been up against an imposing Russian defensive line of trenches, concrete cones and minefields stretching 15 to 20km deep, preventing any armoured vehicle from piercing through.

“After regaining some of the territories that had been captured by the Russians, the summer of 2023 marked a turning point in the conflict. The deep Russian defensive lines exhausted the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians still have gaps and command problems, but they learn quickly and their ability to adapt should never be underestimated,” says Guillaume Lasconjarias, a military historian and lecturer at France’s Sorbonne University.

In the Ukrainian battlefield, the massive use of drones is also having a serious impact on offensive operations. . With these “eyes” positioned all along the front line by both sides, the battlefield has now become “transparent”, rendering obsolete the element of surprise so dear to military strategists.

“To concentrate efforts in one point is less and less possible. Instead, we are now seeing strategies based on multiple ‘stabbing’ motions. But in the end, this leads to exhaustion,” says Lasconjarias.

Ammo crisis

As a result, the front line is deadlocked and neither side seems able to bend their opponent. “As in World War I, we have reached such a technological level that we find ourselves at a dead end,” Zaluzhnyi admitted back in November 2023 in an interview published in British weekly The Economist.

“We must also take into account the recent change of leadership within the Ukrainian armed forces. A change of leadership requires the armed forces to take a moment to reorganise and reorient their structure and actions so they can be in line with the plans of the new chief of staff. Returning to a more defensive strategy in the short term may help to achieve this reorganisation,” says Nicolo Fasola, a specialist in Russian military issues at the University of Bologna.

The alarming shortage of ammunition is also forcing Kyiv to adopt a more cautious stance. In this static warfare, hundreds of thousands of shells are fired by each army every month. However, the blocking of aid by the US Congress and the delays in deliveries promised by Europe are severely handicapping Ukraine’s capacities.

According to military experts, the “fire ratio” – which measures the difference in the rate of artillery fire between enemies – is currently one to ten in favour of Russia.

“Even if it seemed to even out last summer, the volume of fire has always been in favour of the Russians. In the Russian-Soviet military tradition, artillery is an extremely important factor in shaping the battlefield. Faced with this large and diversified artillery, the Ukrainians have more precise cannons, such as the French Caesar or the American M777. But they have two problems: they have to move more often to avoid destruction, and they can fire back only when they know they are going to hit the target because of their lack of ammunition,” explains Guillaume Lasconjarias.

“Ukraine’s resources are becoming more limited,” adds Fasola. “It should also be stressed that most of the sophisticated equipment supplied to Kyiv has not been used effectively. It is illusory to think that the Ukrainian armed forces, which could not be trained in an in-depth way, could use these resources as efficiently as a Western army.”

Preserving Ukrainian national unity

The recent withdrawal from the eastern town of Avdiivka illustrates Kyiv’s new defensive posture. After months of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff made the difficult choice of a tactical withdrawal. If it offered a symbolic victory to the Kremlin, this decision also preserved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. This decision is in stark contrast to the all-out tactics seen during the bloody battle of Bakhmut, a town in the Donbas region that fell into Russian hands in May 2023.

Along with flagging stocks of ammunition, dwindling manpower is another of the Ukrainian army’s major problems. According to a declassified document sent to the US Congress, Kyiv has suffered losses estimated at 70,000 dead and 120,000 wounded in two years. Russian losses are estimated at 315,000 dead or wounded.

In addition to the losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months.

“The real challenge for 2024 is for Ukraine to be able to regain some of the flexibility of its deployed brigades, which are now exhausted. It will also be necessary in order to mobilise newcomers, train them, equip them and take them to the front. This raises the question of the public’s ongoing acceptance of the conflict,” says Lasconjarias.

Watch moreIn Spain, Ukrainian civilians prepare for battle at a training centre near Madrid

A draft law wants to solve this problem. The controversial bill aimed at facilitating mobilisation was given the thumbs-up by the Ukrainian parliament on its first reading in early February. But the text has also triggered a lively public debate at a time when the stalemate in the war, the stagnation of the front and the uncertainty hanging over Western support have naturally affected the morale of both the troops and the population. Zelensky will have to work his way out of this down phase to preserve the national unity, which has so often been praised by his Western partners.

“From a military point of view, it seems impossible to avoid some form of conscription extension, but its political cost will be high,” says Fasola. “It also raises the problem of troop management, because if people are recruited by force or against their will, there are two possibilities: either you treat your troops as Russia does, meaning with no regard for their dignity and free will, or you end up with people who don’t want to fight or follow orders, which is very problematic for military strategy and effectiveness.”

‘War of attrition slowly but steadily in Russia’s favour’

While waiting to rebuild its offensive potential, the Ukrainian army will be trying over the coming months to inflict as many losses as possible on its Russian enemy while conserving its troops and ammunition. Beyond just holding out in a defensive posture, Ukraine is likely to continue its in-depth attacks against logistical infrastructures, particularly in the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod and in the annexed Crimean Peninsula in the hope of weakening Russia’s military system.

Kyiv’s official objective remains unchanged: to reconquer the territories annexed or occupied by Russia since 2014, which represents 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory.

Read moreMaidan Revolution protesters lament enduring corruption in Ukraine, 10 years on

According to analysts, only increased Western support could enable General Syrsky’s troops to move forward again. Such a scenario is far from certain, especially from the US: Democrats and Republicans are tearing each other apart in Congress over the question, and former president Donald Trump, who is hostile to continued US aid, is leading polls ahead of November’s US presidential election.

Moscow and Kyiv are “racing to rebuild their offensive capacities. If further Western funds are not released, if Russia gains the upper hand in one way or another, Moscow will have the opportunity to make further progress,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for New American Security, told AFP. “The dynamic has changed,” says the analyst, stressing that “from Putin’s point of view, 2024 is a crucial year”.

According to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24, Russia should be able to continue supplying the front line with troops and equipment throughout the year, but to no gain or advantage, at least in the short term. “The front line is not likely to change radically. Over the next few months, Russia will continue to gradually erode Ukrainian control of the front line, which will nevertheless be very costly for Moscow,” predicts Fasola. “I expect the war to continue in the same way as it is today, as a war of attrition that is unfolding slightly, slowly, but steadily in Russia’s favour.”

This story has been adapted from its original in French.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

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Fake news about Kremlin critic Navalny aims to discredit him after his death

Since news broke on February 16, 2024 that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had died while incarcerated in the Russian Arctic, there has been a resurgence of doctored images and fake news aiming to discredit Navalny and his family. We took a look at three of the most widely spread fake news items about Navalny. None of them are true.

If you only have a minute… 

  • A photo claiming to show Alexei Navalny doing a Nazi salute has been widely circulated on social media in the days since his death. But this image has been photoshopped. Moreover, it’s been circulating online for more than 10 years. 
  • A photo of Navalny’s wife posing on the beach with a man, said to be her lover, has been widely circulated online in recent days. But the man featured in the photo posted it online to show his support for the couple. And this photo, too, is a few years old. 
  • A video that has gone viral allegedly shows Navalny trying to get the money to carry out a coup d’état from an agent with the M16, the British secret service. The man in the video, however, is not Navalny. 

The factcheck, in detail 

A photoshopped image of Navalny doing a Nazi salute 

When news of Navalny’s death broke, several dozen accounts, like this one, shared this image of what seems to be a shirtless Navalny doing a Nazi salute, a tattoo of Adolf Hitler on his bare chest. Social media users who shared this photo claim that he is a neo-Nazi who doesn’t deserve praise. 

“Perhaps you’d like this photo of Navalny to be projected on the facade of the French embassy,” one X caption reads. 

This is a screengrab of a post on X from February 18, 2024 featuring a photoshopped image that makes it look like Navalny did a Nazi salute. © X / @kamouniac

If you carry out a reverse image search on this image (here’s a link to our guide), then you’ll see that it has already been circulated online. The oldest instance of this photo that we found was from a 2012 post on a Russian forum.

This is a screengrab of a post on the Russian forum pk25 from April 18, 2012, featuring the photoshopped image of Navalny doing a Nazi salute.
This is a screengrab of a post on the Russian forum pk25 from April 18, 2012, featuring the photoshopped image of Navalny doing a Nazi salute. © X / The Observers

It’s also possible to find another version of this photo from back in November 2011. In that version of the photo, the person doing the salute isn’t Navalny. Our fact-checking colleagues at AFP Factuel discovered this pre-photoshop version of the photo on this blog. On another blog, a social media user who goes by the handle “artem68” says that he took the original picture. He says that his full name is Artem Jitenev and that he was working as a photographer for the Russian press agency Ria Novosti. His post is called “protest russia – 2011”.

This is a screengrab from a Russian forum where a man says that he took this photo back in November 2011.
This is a screengrab from a Russian forum where a man says that he took this photo back in November 2011. © The Observers

The photo shared on X has been photoshopped – Navalny’s head has been pasted on the body of someone else doing a Nazi salute.

No, Navalny’s wife Yulia did not run off to a beach with a lover 

Another photo also went viral on both X and Facebook after news broke of Navalny’s death. This photo shows Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, posing with a man on a beach. 

The accounts that shared this image claimed the man was her lover. 

“Meanwhile, when he was stuck in a Siberian jail, she had already dumped him for a toy boy lover…”, reads the author of this post on X.

This is a screengrab of a post shared on X on February 18, 2024 that falsely claims that this is an image of Navalny’s wife and her lover.
This is a screengrab of a post shared on X on February 18, 2024 that falsely claims that this is an image of Navalny’s wife and her lover. © X / @JohnLeFevre

When we ran this image through a reverse image search, we realised that this rumour has been circulating since at least 2021. We discovered a post from August 18, 2021 on the Russian social network Vkontakte claiming that Navalnaya was in a relationship with Evgeny Chichvarkin, a Russian billionaire living in exile in France.

This is a screengrab of a photo of Navalnaya and Chichvarkin on a beach, published on August 18, 2021 on Vkontakte.
This is a screengrab of a photo of Navalnaya and Chichvarkin on a beach, published on August 18, 2021 on Vkontakte. © The Observers

We took a look at Chichvarkin’s social media and found that he had posted that photo of himself and Navalnaya on his Instagram account on August 17, 2021. His caption reads, in Russian, “With the First Lady of the Beautiful Russia of the Future”. Below his caption, he added the hashtag “myfightingfriend”, the word “freedom” and tagged Navalny’s Instagram account.

This is a screengrab of Chichvarkin’s Instagram post. In it, he shows his support for Navalny and his wife. The post is from August 17, 2021.
This is a screengrab of Chichvarkin’s Instagram post. In it, he shows his support for Navalny and his wife. The post is from August 17, 2021. © Instagram / @tot_samy_chichvarkin

Three days later, on August 20, 2021, Chichvarkin shared a photo of Navalny himself and told his followers to check out Navalny’s most recent text. 

Chichvarkin was a friend of the couple and a supporter. This photo, which he posted himself, in no way proves that he was Navalnaya’s lover. 

Since the death of her husband, a large number of fake news items and doctored photos have targeted Navalnaya, who, in a video posted on February 20, said that she planned to “continue Alexei Navalny’s work”. 

And, finally, no, that’s not Navalny trying to raise money for a coup from a British spy 

A number of people have also shared a black and white video showing two men speaking in English in a café. Many of these people have claimed, wrongly, that the footage shows Navalny trying to raise money from an agent with the M16 to carry out a coup. 

“Navalny Asks for $10-20 Million a Year to Start a Color Revolution in Russia,” reads the caption on this TikTok account. 

This video was picked up by a Facebook account that added an additional claim – that Navalny was negotiating with a British agent from M16, James William Thomas Ford. 

This is a screengrab of a TikTok post published on February 17, 2024 that falsely claims that Navalny is trying to raise funds to carry out a coup in Russia.
This is a screengrab of a TikTok post published on February 17, 2024 that falsely claims that Navalny is trying to raise funds to carry out a coup in Russia. © TikTok / @todayisamerica

In the video, you can hear two men speaking. 

“If we had more money, we would expand our opportunities, of course,” one says. “If someone would spend, I don’t know, 10, 20 million a year on supporting this, we could see quite a different picture. And this is not a big amount of money for people who have billions at stake.” 

However, when we carried out a reverse image search on the footage, we discovered that the video was first broadcast on February 1, 2021 by the Russian TV channel RT. RT has had its broadcasts suspended in the European Union because it is believed to be a tool of disinformation used by the Kremlin. The news reported by RT was then picked up in this article by Russian press agency Ria Novosti. 

Neither of these two Russian media outlets reported that Navalny was in this video. They claimed that it showed a discussion between Vladimir Ashurkov, Navalny’s colleague, and a man named James William Thomas Ford, who they say is a British employee of the British embassy in Moscow and an M16 agent.

The Italian media outlet, which is a member of the IFCN (International Fact-Checking Network) confirmed that Ashurkov is indeed the person seated on the left in the video. Ashurkov does work with Navalny, according to his page on LinkedIn

However, the claims by these two Russian media outlets that the other person is a British employee of the British embassy in Moscow or an agent with M16 have not been confirmed by any other source. 

As for the topic discussed by the two men, also reported that “all the references” in the discussion “were about FBK”, the anti-corruption NGO founded by Navalny. There is no proof that the conversation included discussion about organising a coup. 

Read moreEU vows to hold Putin accountable at Navalny widow meeting

Navalny had most recently been held in a prison in the Arctic since he was arrested following his return to Russia in 2021. He had initially left Russia after he was poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok and hospitalised in Germany. 

Since the announcement of his death, a number of Western leaders have accused the Russian government of being responsible.

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Alcohol sales from Baltics to Russia surge despite Ukraine war

Latvia and Lithuania are accused of acting as middlemen between Western producers of booze and Russia.


Latvia was the biggest exporter of whiskey to Russia in 2023, according to data published by the Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti. 

That’s despite high tensions between the two countries following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions.

Ria Novosti wrote that Russia imported almost €244 million worth of whiskey between January and September 2023, almost four times more than in the same period the year before. 

Most of it came from neighbouring Latvia, which Ria Novosti said shipped products worth €177.4 million, followed by Baltic neighbour, Lithuania with €26.9 million.

Latvia’s exports to Russia were worth more than €1.1 billion in 2023, according to data from the country’s government cited by German news agency DW. More than half of all of Latvian exports to Russia were drinks, spirits and vinegar. 

The Baltic state exported more wine (€73 million) than even Italy (€68 million), a much bigger producer than Latvia, to Russia last year. 

“Latvia has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine and joined in pushing for EU sanctions against Russia following the invasion. At the same time, Latvia continues to serve as Russia’s primary source of whiskey, accounting for more than 70% of all Russian whiskey imports during 2023,” John Wright of the Moral Rating Agency (MRA) – an organisation set up to evaluate whether Western companies carried out their promise to pull out of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine – told Euronews. 

“The continuance of Latvia’s export business to Russia is both shameful and contrary to Latvia’s own values. Internally, we at the Moral Rating Agency refer to Latvia’s whiskey trade as ‘Whiskeygate’, both because it is scandalous and because Latvia is serving as a gateway for Western spirits companies into the Russian market.”

Middleman for Western companies

Latvia, according to local experts, is acting as a go-between in a process that involves Western companies unwilling to show they’re still selling their products to Russia amid the deadly war in Ukraine.

Matiss Mirosnikovs, an economist at the Bank of Latvia, told Euronews that while the country has long been a middleman for Western companies, it saw the number of re-exports of Western goods ramp up after Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. 

“If we look at where these goods are manufactured, what type of alcoholic drinks they are, we mostly see that those are of foreign origin, they’re not produced locally here,” he told Euronews.

“What I think is happening is that Western companies are trying to kind of shift attention away from their role as sellers [to Russia] and blame other distributors, while the names of the larger parent companies don’t show up in these trades, it doesn’t show that they’re directly linked with Russia,” Mirosnikovs suggested.

“We’re not to be blamed,” he added. “We’re on the border and you’ll have some Western exporters who are using this opportunity.” Latvia’s exports are not in violation of sanctions imposed against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Davis Vitols, Managing Director of the Latvian Alcohol Industry Association (LANA), agreed.

“Before Russia started the war in Ukraine, Latvia was one of the main hubs, if not the main hub, for many big alcohol companies’ reexports to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” Vitols told Euronews.

“According to the EU sanctions, alcohol exports to Russia and Belarus are still allowed, except bottles that cost more than €300, so, because Latvia does not produce whisky, these are reexported from other countries, where in Latvia, these bottles are being stamped according to exporting country laws,” he added.

Wright told Euronews that Latvia is “clearly serving as a ‘back door’ into the Russian market for Western spirits companies.” According to Wright, Latvia ranks as the sixth largest importer of Scotch in the world, “even though its population is smaller than that of Idaho,” he said. 

“Our calculations suggest that, if the Latvian population actually consumed all of the alcohol that the country is importing, then every Latvian man, woman, and child would be inebriated for the majority of each day. But this is not what is happening. Instead, the data shows that Latvia continues to redistribute about 5 bottles of whiskey to Russia for every 1 bottle of whiskey it consumes at home. “


Russian sources agreed with Latvian experts. 

“If previously, according to documents, imports went to Russia simply in transit through Latvia or Lithuania, now the final point is the Baltic States, and from there the delivery goes to the Russian Federation,” Veniamin Grabar, President of Russia’s alcohol company Ladoga, told Ria Novosti.

“The logistics chain has not changed, it has changed a little paperwork. The reason is that often foreign suppliers do not want to take risks and indicate Russia as the final delivery point.”

Mirosnikov told Euronewss the proportion of exports to Russia has actually dropped “dramatically” since 2014. 

Ten years ago Russia was Latvia’s second largest export partner, taking 14 per cent of total goods exported, now it’s lower than 6 per cent. 


“It’s still quite high, but its role has diminished over the years,” he continued.

‘Vital’ for Western businesses to stop

For Wright, it’s “vital for the Western business community to stand united and to continue to send a clear signal to Russia that its military aggression will result in economic ostracism from the Western world,” he said. 

“What kind of message does it send to Russian elites that certain Western countries and companies are willing to bend over backwards to continue providing Western luxury goods to Russia? And what kind of message does it send to the rest of Europe when even the Baltics are supporting Russia? Any country that is tempted to cut corners, either to enrich itself or to curry favour with Putin, should recall President John F. Kennedy’s admonition ‘that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside’.”

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Why pro-Russian accounts are sharing a fake video of French farmers and manure

Pro-Russian social media users have been widely circulating what looks like a Euronews report showing French farmers dumping manure outside the Ukrainian embassy. French farmers began protesting for better pay in January and the video claims that the farmers took the drastic manure action after the Ukrainian ambassador penned a letter asking them to stop their protests. But this video is fake. It’s one of a series of fake news reports aimed at making Ukraine look bad in the eyes of the West.

Issued on:

5 min


If you only have a minute:

  • A video that looks like a news report from broadcaster Euronews shows French farmers dumping manure outside what the report says is the Ukrainian embassy in Paris. According to the same “report”, the farmers were angry after the Ukrainian ambassador penned a letter asking them to stop their ongoing protests.

  • However, Euronews says this video wasn’t made by their channel. 

  • Moreover, the building in the footage isn’t the Ukrainian embassy, it’s actually the headquarters of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Regional Council in Dijon. Farmers really did spread manure there during a protest on December 15. 

  • The “news report” also features a letter from the Ukrainian ambassador. It turns out, however, that this is also fake. The signature looks nothing like the signature of the real ambassador. 

The fact check, in detail:

“Ukrainian embassy’s call to end protests angered French farmers” reads the text on a video news report that started to circulate on Twitter and Facebook on February 10. The news report, which looks like it comes from broadcaster Euronews, includes footage of a pile of manure dumped by farmers in front of a large building. 

This tweet from February 11 claims that farmers protested in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Paris. © Observers

French farmers began a series of massive protests back in January, demanding better pay and working conditions. The video claims that the farmers were angry that the Ukrainian ambassador had written them a letter, asking them to end their protests. The video further claims that the president of FNSEA, France’s main agricultural union, told the Ukrainian ambassador to “keep his opinions to himself”.  

This fake video garnered more than 150,000 views on Twitter. It was also published by dozens of Facebook accounts, like this one and, again, this one.

However, the video doesn’t appear anywhere on the Euronews website or any of its social media channels. 

Our team reached out to Euronews, who told us that they did not produce or publish this video. 

“It’s a sophisticated imitation of the style, visuals and format of Euronews,” the outlet said. “Over the past twelve months, we have encountered a number of similar cases where fake Euronews videos began to circulate online.” 

The images did not show an embassy, but the seat of the regional council in Dijon

Moreover, if you search online then you won’t find any information about a farmers’ protest in front of the Ukrainian embassy. 

Our team carried out a simple reverse image search on the video (check out our how-to guide to find out how). By doing this, we discovered where the video was really filmed. It shows farmers dumping manure in front of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Regional Council in Dijon and has been circulating online since at least January 3, 2024. French media outlet France Bleu also published images of the same protest. The manure dump was part of a protest organised on December 15, 2023 during which farmers decried a delay in subsidy payments.

Images available on Google Maps confirm that the building is, indeed, the headquarters of the regional council in Dijon and not the Ukrainian embassy in Paris. 

The building that appears in this video is actually the headquarters of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Regional Council in Dijon. Farmers protested in front of this building in January 2024.
The building that appears in this video is actually the headquarters of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Regional Council in Dijon. Farmers protested in front of this building in January 2024. © Observers


A fake letter from the Ukrainian ambassador 

The video also features a letter apparently sent from the Ukrainian ambassador to French farmers, dated February 7, 2024. However, no official source and no social media network mentions this letter. And our internet searches didn’t unearth any proof of this document’s existence.

This video claims that the Ukrainian ambassador sent a letter to French farmers, asking them to halt their protests.
This video claims that the Ukrainian ambassador sent a letter to French farmers, asking them to halt their protests. © Observers


However, the signature on this letter doesn’t correspond with the signature of the Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Omelchenko, as reported by Italian fact-checking outlet Open Online. You can see Omelchenko’s real signature on this letter to the city government of Neuilly, a western suburb of Paris, or this letter addressed to the former French ambassador in Ukraine. 

On the left, you can see the signature that appears on the letter featured in the viral video. On the right, you can see the real signature of the Ukrainian ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, on a thank you letter he wrote to the city government of the Paris suburb of Neuilly.
On the left, you can see the signature that appears on the letter featured in the viral video. On the right, you can see the real signature of the Ukrainian ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, on a thank you letter he wrote to the city government of the Paris suburb of Neuilly. © Observers


The FRANCE 24 Observers team reached out to the Ukrainian embassy, but we have not yet received a response. We will update this page if and when they come back to us. 

And, no, the president of a farmers’ union didn’t tell the ambassador to ‘keep his opinions to himself’ 

The video also reports that, after seeing the letter from the Ukrainian ambassador, Arnaud Rousseau, the president of farmers’ union FNSEA, told the ambassador to “concentrate on Ukraine” and added: “Ukraine doesn’t have the right to ask anything of the French people. Keep your opinions to yourself.” 

French farmers’ union president Arnaud Rousseau supposedly told the Ukrainian ambassador to “keep his opinions to himself
French farmers’ union president Arnaud Rousseau supposedly told the Ukrainian ambassador to “keep his opinions to himself”. © Observers

However, our internet searches dug up no proof that Rousseau had said anything of the sort. These quotes don’t appear in any media outlets or official documents. Our team reached out to FNSEA, but, for the time being, we haven’t heard anything back. 

Fake videos made to look like news reports from Western media outlets have been circulating since the start of the war in Ukraine, but their number increased dramatically in 2023. These videos are made as an attempt to discredit Ukrainian authorities. 

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Zelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky labelled it a “reset” while others have called it a “shake-up”: FRANCE 24 takes a look at the new team of army commanders tasked with helping Ukraine rebuild military momentum and ultimately win the war against Russia.

After weeks of speculation, Zelensky announced he was replacing popular military chief Valery Zaluzhny earlier this month while also unveiling a complete reshuffle of his top command.

To find out more about Zelensky’s new men, FRANCE 24 spoke to Ryhor Nizhnikau, a Ukraine specialist and senior research fellow at the Russia, the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Eurasia research programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Oleksandr Syrsky, commander-in-chief: ‘The Snow Leopard’ or ‘the Butcher’

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, 58, is hardly a new face to Ukrainians. Syrsky is a career military man who led Ukrainian troops against the Russia-backed separatist revolt in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014, earning him the nickname, “Snow Leopard”.

Until his appointment as the army’s new commander, Syrsky – whose leadership style is described as traditionalist and in line with his Soviet army training – served as the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces. He is credited with fighting off the Russians around Kyiv at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022 and for masterminding one of Ukraine’s most important victories in the war so far: the counteroffensive and liberation of the eastern Kharkiv region.

But the war has also cast something of a shadow over Syrsky’s name, earning him the much less flattering nickname “the Butcher”. According to Politico, this stems from Ukraine’s dire – and very deadly – defeat in the small but key city of Bakhmut which became known as the “meat grinder” and whose defence Syrsky oversaw.

According to Nizhnikau, Syrsky has a dual reputation. While he is viewed as a respected commander within the army, the general public has had a harder time swallowing the human losses he has been blamed for.

“While the polls show that [his predecessor], Zaluzhny, had 94 percent of the public’s trust, the number for Syrsky is something like 40 percent,” he explained.

One of Syrsky’s biggest challenges, Nizhnikau notes, will be to not only fill Zaluzhny’s boots, but to stop being compared to him.

Read moreUkraine’s Zelensky replaces top general Zaluzhny with Syrsky in dramatic military shakeup

Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of armed forces: The model soldier

Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk, 53, is Ukraine’s former deputy defence minister and was handpicked by Syrsky himself. In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, Syrsky said Pavliuk – who in the past two years has served as Syrsky’s deputy – was the only name he ever considered for the position.

Pavliuk fought on the front line in Donetsk in 2014. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022, he was in charge of defending the eastern regions and later the defence of Kyiv. He is a decorated “Hero of Ukraine” soldier.

Nizhnikau said Pavliuk is a very respected model soldier whose only drawback is that he temporarily veered into the political world by becoming a deputy minister in early 2023 and could be viewed as having a foot both in the Zelensky administration and in the army.

Yurii Sodol, commander of the joint forces: What happened in Mariupol?

Lieutenant General Yurii Sodol, 53, has also been handed the “Hero of Ukraine” award and is the former head of Ukraine’s marine corps. Like many of the others, he brings with him frontline experience from 2014 and is described by Nizhnikau as a “solid soldier”.

Although very little is known about Sodol – he has quite successfully managed to stay out of the public eye – questions remain over his role in the defence of Mariupol, of which he was originally in charge. As Mariupol came under siege, the captain of the Azov regiment acted as de-facto commander. According to Nizhnikau, although Sodol has in no way been accused of any wrongdoing, his and others’ role in this tragedy is “heavily discussed in Ukraine”. 

Documents that will be declassified after the war may very well show he was just following orders, Nizhnikau said.

He added that Sodol has proven to be an effective and modern army commander and is well known for the modernisation of the Ukrainian marine corps in line with NATO standards.

Ihor Plahuta, commander of territorial defence forces: The one with the missing biography

Major General Ihor Plahuta, 56, has been described by Ukrainska Pravda as “the most mysterious and ambiguous appointment” in Zelensky’s new team of commanders, with no trace of a past prior to 2005.

Plahuta’s documented experience with the army includes serving as commander for Ukraine’s Separate Presidential Brigade, the army’s 169th Training Centre, and the Southern Territorial Command of the Internal Troops of the interior ministry. More recently, he was the deputy commander of the Khortytsia operational-strategic group, which is a formation of Ukrainian ground troops fighting the Russian invasion.

Nizhnikau said Plahuta is by far the most politically risky appointment, not least because he – during his time with the interior ministry’s internal troops – was part of the force that stormed the Euromaidan protests back in 2014.   

But Nizhnikau said this does not seem to have counted against him so far. The Euromaidan experience does not necessarily discredit Plahuta because he was “quite reasonable – trying to negotiate with the protesters and avoiding unnecessary clashes – so most people seem to think it’s not that big of a deal”.

There are others in Zelensky’s government who were also on the “wrong” – that is, the pro-Russian – side of the Euromaidan protests, Nizhnikau noted.

Ihor Skybyuk, commander of air assault forces

Brigadier General Ihor Skybyuk, 48, is the youngest of the pack, and takes on his new role after serving as chief of staff and deputy commander of Ukraine’s air assault forces. Prior to that, he served as commander of the 80th Air Assault Brigade, known as the “Firefighters”, which took part in the 2022 Kharkiv counteroffensive.

Ukrainska Pravda cites official reports saying that it was thanks to Skybyuk’s “decisive and timely” actions that the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium was liberated. Skybyuk earned the “Hero of Ukraine” title for his efforts.

The newspaper described him as a balanced and calm leader who never shouts at his subordinates. 

Nizhnikau also cited Skybyuk’s reputation for bravery, adding that the Firefighters have “always been sent to the most difficult parts of the front and, at times, had to stop Russian offenses in open fields”.

Nizhnikau said the new military command seems to be a step in the right direction as Ukraine struggles to regain momentum on the ground after months of impasse, calling the new appointments generally positive “and, in some cases, very positive”. 

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Navalny is the latest martyr of Russian totalitarianism

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The choice which now has to be made is not whether to appease the Kremlin or go into an open conflict with it. The choice now is either to stop Russia in Ukraine or be forced to fight a resurgent Moscow in defence of Eastern Europe as a whole, Aleksandar Đokić writes.


As much as the news of Alexei Navalny’s sudden death on Friday came as an intense shock, it’s hard to escape the blood-curdling shadow of its inevitability. 

It’s as if all democratically inclined Russians, and those who study the Russian society, knew all along that Navalny would be taken out of the picture by Vladimir Putin at some point, but at the same time hoped that it, by some miracle, not come to pass. 

The death of Navalny is not and cannot be treated as an accident. Since no factual and fair investigation can be conducted in the totalitarian Russia of today, the causes of his death will remain a mystery. 

There is no point in believing that even his remains will survive for long after they are laid to rest as they carry important evidence. 

What is true, however, is that, in August 2020, before his imprisonment, Navalny was poisoned by a neurotoxin which left permanent detrimental consequences on his health; he was kept in solitary confinement for most of his prison term, and he complained about the lack of proper medical care. 

Given the facts, his death was premeditated and orchestrated by the Russian machine of repression, even if he was not directly poisoned for the second time (which can still very well be the real cause of his death after all).

A pattern of propaganda reveals a sinister farce

The handling of Navalny’s sudden death by the Russian state propaganda follows the same pattern as in the case of his poisoning. 

There are always two versions of events that transpired — one, it was an accident, and two, it was the work of the “Anglo-Saxon” security services. 

The accidental death is the official version, the narrative which comes from the Russian penitentiary authorities. In the case of Navalny’s poisoning, the official version was that he had a medical condition and was not poisoned at all, which independent medical analysis in Germany later refuted. 

The unofficial version stems from the Russian state media propagandists and state-operated blogs. 

Their narratives coalesce and by the rule of thumb all claim that Russia had no motive to eliminate Navalny so it must have been the “perfidious Anglo-Saxons” who stand to benefit the most. 

Once one analyzes Russian narratives for years, these patterns become obvious and impossible to miss. They can only instill doubt in those outside of Russia who think about Putin’s totalitarian prison camp only in passing.

Make no mistake: The siloviki are in charge in Moscow

The final elimination of Navalny, when he was already exiled to a maximum security prison in the Arctic Circle, sends a clear message that the Kremlin has stopped pretending that it cares one bit whether it’s seen as a civilised country ruled by law or a thuggish concentration camp with neon-lit commercials. 

The great pretence, which lasted in Russia for almost two decades, was founded upon the balance of two wings of its elite — the hawkish siloviki, agents of the security services and high-ranking military officers, and the capable technocrats, disinterested in empire-building as well as in democracy, and concerned only with the continuous functioning of the political and economic system. 

By engaging in a large-scale war he could not quickly win — or win at all — Putin has transferred all the real power to the military-security wing. 

The people like former FSB director Nikolai Patrushev now effectively govern Russia. They have taken over the political sphere, they have captured even the sphere of culture, where blacklists of undesirable actors, directors or performers have already been made and have left, for the time being, only the area of the economy in the hands of the technocrats. 

The siloviki want the West to know that they mean to go all the way, hence the nuclear threats in space, combined by the elimination of Navalny, all taking place during the Munich Security Conference. 

The thugs who now rule Russia are feeling quite confident; they are emboldened by the polling from the United States, which gives Donald Trump a slight advantage over President Joe Biden, and by the fact that much-needed military aid to Ukraine, currently awaiting the approval of the US House of Representatives, has been postponed on the urging of Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. 


The siloviki believe that victory is within their grasp. Eliminating Navalny is a clear sign of their confidence.

Between a rock and a hard place, the choice has to be made anyway

In the death of Navalny, however, Russia has gained yet another symbol of democratic martyrdom, as much as it lacks democratic opposition leaders. 

Better yet, it lacks an organised and unified liberal opposition. The million-ruble question is: who is next? Who will step up as the leader of the anti-totalitarian movement in Russia? 

The answer right now might as well be no one — at least in the few years of totalitarianism that are still ahead for Russia. Only the tawing process of transition from totalitarianism and back to authoritarianism can provide enough liberties for the opposition to once again start to form. 

That transition — as undemocratic as it will inevitably be — will most likely come from the top, and in order for that to be induced, Putin and the siloviki, who hold all the power in Russia, must hit a wall in Ukraine. 


This has to be a wall made not only of Ukrainian bravery and sacrifice, but of Western resolve to contain Moscow’s aggression before it engulfs more of Europe, and, eventually, most of the continent. 

The choice which now has to be made, first and foremost by the White House and Brussels, is not whether to appease the Kremlin or go into an open conflict with it.

The choice is either to stop Russia in Ukraine or be forced to fight a resurgent Moscow in defence of Eastern Europe as a whole.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.


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