Friday, 28 October 2022

Lost In Lies: Keeping Track Of Russian Propaganda Claims


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Few countries have weaponised disinformation to the extent Russia has over the past decade. Yet for all its attempts at influencing foreign opinion through fabrications and false narratives, Russia generally puts surprisingly little effort into crafting most of its propaganda claims. Whether it's denying the use of cluster bombs over Syria while at the same time publishing a video showing Syrian-based RuAF aircraft carrying cluster bombs or using footage from a video game as evidence of the United States supporting ISIS in Syria, most false narratives serve to convince Russias's domestic audience or a foreign audience that is already inclined to believe Moscow's narrative in the first place. [1] [2]

In order to justify its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia attempted to create the false narrative that it was in fact Ukraine that invaded Russia and the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk Regions of Eastern Ukraine, with Russia merely counterattacking in an effort to defend its interests. In order to convince at least its domestic audience of Ukraine's grave intentions, Russia arguably pulled off the worst attempt at showcasing Ukraine's threat by staging a supposed infiltration by the Azov Regiment into Russia. [3] Geolocation of the footage (taken from the helmet of one of the Azov soldiers that supposedly participated in the infiltration) debunked the story within an hour after it turned out that the supposed incursion into Russian territory was in fact carried out from separatist-held territory. [4] 
 
Rather than showing the bodies of the five Azov soldiers that were supposedly killed during the incursion, Russian television instead showed a destroyed BTR-70M armoured personnel carrier (APC) that was painted in an ill-conceived attempt to make it look like a Ukrainian vehicle. [5] The BTR-70M is a Russian upgrade of the BTR-70 APC (not to be confused with Ukraine's and Azerbaijan's domestic BTR-70 upgrade programmes also designated as BTR-70M) that isn't even operated by Ukraine, further highlighting the stunning lack of attention that went into this false flag operation in the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022. [6]
 

The BTR-70M used in Russia's false flag operation. Considering Russia and Ukraine both operate the base BTR-70 and BR-80 versions, picking an APC that wasn't in service with the Ukrainian Army was arguably more difficult than picking one that is.

Russia has since attempted to establish numerous other false narratives regarding its war in Ukraine, often to cover up military defeats during the country's ''special military operation'' in Ukraine. Its failure to take Kyiv was branded as a distractionary operation to wear down the Ukrainian Army (which, judging by Ukraine's advances in the Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts, has failed miserably), the slow speed with which the Russian Army has advanced in Eastern Ukraine is said to be an intentional effort to minimise the amount of civilian casualties and Russia's embarrassing retreat from Snake Island was explained as a token of goodwill to pave the way for peace negotations. [7] [8] [9]
 
Unfortunately for Russia, many of its false narratives are soon overtaken by reports detailing the actual course of events. A prime example is that of how Moscow attempted to handle the attack and subsequent sinking of the cruiser Moskva off the coast of Ukraine. Struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles on April 13, the Russian Ministry of Defence was quick to report that the cruiser had not been targeted by Ukraine but had instead suffered a fire, which had been contained without damage to the ship's weapons system. [10] Later on 14 April, the Russian MoD had to admit that Moskva sank while being towed during stormy weather despite a lack of stormy conditions in that area. [11] The damage control party of the Russian MoD appeared just as bad as that onboard the Moskva, as an extinguished fire that had not damaged any of ship's weapons systems is hardly a satisfactory explanation for your largest cruiser to sink in calm seas.

The Moskva shortly before it sank to the bottom of the Black Sea, claiming the lives of at least 28 of its crew.

Russian disinformation has extended to its claims regarding the amount of Ukrainian equipment it has destroyed during its ''special military operation''. After first claiming to have neutralised the Ukrainian Air Force early on in the war, Russia has since claimed the destruction of 326 aircraft, roughly three times the number of aircraft actually operated by the Ukrainian Air Force. [12] The Russian MoD also claims to have to have disabled 90% of Ukraine's airfields, despite the continued operations of the Ukrainian Air Force from all airfields located on the territory it controls. [13]
 
Arguably the most amusing of Russia's claims is the amount of HIMARS it claims to have neutralised. Despite the fact that Ukraine only received 16 HIMARS by the 1st of October 2022, Russia miraculously claims the destruction of 19 HIMARS and the capture of another by that date. To provide evidence of the destruction of two HIMARS, the Russian MoD released footage of a precision missile strike against the second floor of a three-story office building, a rather unconvincing hiding place for truck-based rocket launchers. [14] [15] Interestingly, Russia has not reported the destruction of any M270 MLRS, despite the presence of eleven such systems in Ukraine. This likely has much to with the lack of attention that has been given to the M270 (at least compared to the HIMARS), giving Russia no incentive to falsely report on their destruction.
 

To provide evidence of the destruction of two HIMARS, the Russian MoD released footage of a precision missile strike against the second floor of a three-story office building, a rather unconvincing hiding place for truck-based rocket launchers.

Thanks to years of exaggerating Russia's superpower status, the Russian people have come to expect capabilities that the Russian Armed Forces can impossibly deliver on. As a direct consequence, the Russian MoD is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with a nation that expects it to swiftly deal with systems like the HIMARS, and an army that simply lacks the capabilities to locate, track and destroy said systems. To hide its own failures, the Russian MoD has to make up or at least significantly inflate Ukrainian losses to reassure its domestic audience. Of course, this wouldn't be an Oryx article if we didn't attempt to list and keep track of at least some of these claims.

The purpose of this list is to track Russian claims concerning the destruction of M142 HIMARS, Harpoon launchers, M777 howitzers, Bayraktar TB2s and Ukrainian aircraft and helicopters. This list is updated as additional statistics on losses become available.

M142 HIMARS (20)

  • 20 HIMARS claimed to have been destroyed or captured (1) by Russia's Ministry of Defence as of October 1, 2022. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [15] Only 16 HIMARS have been delivered to Ukraine as of the making of these claims. There is no visual evidence that supports the loss of any HIMARS.
 

Harpoon Launchers (5)

  • 5 Harpoon launchers claimed to have been destroyed by Russia's Ministry of Defence as of August 2nd, 2022. [16] There is no visual evidence that supports the loss of any Harpoon launchers.

M777 Howitzers (33)

  • 33 M777s claimed to have been destroyed by Russia's Ministry of Defence as of August 2nd, 2022. [16] Visual evidence at that time supported the destruction of seven M777s. A total of seventeen M777s are currently visually confirmed to have been destroyed: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15 and 16) (17)

Bayraktar TB2s (1000)

  • 1000 claimed to have been destroyed by Russian State TV as of June 30th, 2022. [22] Baykar Tech, the producer of the TB2, has never made more than 450 TB2s. Visual evidence at that time supported the destruction of nine TB2s. A total of fourteen TB2s are currently visually confirmed to have been destroyed: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13 (14)
 

Aircraft (326)

  • 326 claimed to have been destroyed by Russian State TV as of October 27th, 2022. [12] Visual evidence and obituaries support the destruction of 52 operational aircraft. [23]
 

Helicopters (163)

  • 163 claimed to have been destroyed by Russian State TV as of October 27th, 2022. [12] Visual evidence and obituaries support the destruction of 20 operational helicopters. [23]
 
[2] The Russian Ministry of Defence Publishes Screenshots of Computer Games as Evidence of US Collusion with ISIS https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2017/11/14/russian-ministry-defence-publishes-screenshots-computer-games-evidence-us-collusion-isis/
[3] Russian border security eliminates five saboteurs infiltrating from Ukraine https://tass.com/emergencies/1407169 
[5] Знищений російський БТР-70 "військових України" у районі кордону Росії [21.02.2022] https://youtu.be/tyCK_hdWxdE
[6] False Flag Shenanigans: Russia Destroys Own Equipment During False Flag Operations In Eastern Ukraine https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/02/false-flag-shenanigans-russian.html
[7] Russia says first phase of war is over as its advances in Ukraine appear to have stalled https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/25/europe/russian-general-calls-encirclement-of-ukrainian-cities-a-deliberate-plan/index.html
[9] Russian army draws down from Snake Island in goodwill grain gesture https://tass.com/defense/1473763
[11] Moskva cruiser sank while being towed in a storm — Russian Defense Ministry https://tass.com/russia/1438045 
[15] Russian industry studies captured trophy equipment in Ukraine — Shoigu https://tass.com/defense/1496437 
[17] Ukrainian MLRS platoon eliminated in Kharkov Region — Russian Defense Ministry https://tass.com/defense/1490321
[18] Russian troops obliterate HIMARS launcher, ammo depot in DPR — top brass https://tass.com/defense/1493145
[19] Russia says its forces wiped out three M777 platoons, one HIMARS platoon in Ukraine https://tass.com/politics/1511643
[20] Russian forces hit Ukraine’s HIMARS launcher in Nikolaev region https://tass.com/defense/1513027
[21] Fighter aviation of Russian Aerospace Forces downs Ukrainian MiG-29 in Nikolayev region https://tass.com/russia/1516499
[23] List Of Aircraft Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/03/list-of-aircraft-losses-during-2022.html