A widely-circulated report, which many saw as an accidental admission that Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine, has been exposed as a hoax.
The report, which outlets including The Daily Caller News Foundation reported at face value, claimed to expose a secret memo. It purportedly described Russian government compensation to the families of 2,000 soldiers who had died in Ukraine’s civil war. (RELATED: Russia Accidentally Reveals Its Massive Ukraine Body Count)
The story, which Forbes first broke in English, understandably attracted significant Western media attention and was promoted online by several prominent figures, including former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and ex-U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. If the numbers were true, they would have meant that Russia lost as many fighters in 18 months of an undeclared war as the U.S. lost in nearly 14 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
But Ruslan Leviev, an investigative journalist, soon stepped in to correct the record.
According to Leviev, who opposes President Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine, a number of clues indicates that the story is a fake. First of all, the sequence of events seems illogical: such a law would naturally only come after Russia publicly admitted its involvement in Ukraine’s war. And besides, Leviev wrote, under Russian law “compensations are already guaranteed for soldiers.” (RELATED: For Putin, Even A Tiny Fall In Popularity Could Be Huge)
But an investigation of the original outlet made it clear that the source was even more suspect than the information it disseminated. The site where the report came out, bs-life.ru, turned out to be a news aggregator that inexplicably edited parts of existing news stories. Its true business model was a fake “chat” client, which prompted users to submit their phone numbers, and then sold those numbers to a third-party marketing company.
Outreach by Leviev to email addresses and phone numbers purportedly linked to the site confirmed that the news source did not truly exist in any meaningful sense — as documented on his blog.
Leviev was clearly furious at the false news’ popularity: as he wrote, “spreading fakes is a huge boon to our enemy, the Kremlin, as it demonstrates the media’s incompetence.” He ended the post with a link to an article from RT, the Russian government’s English-language news outlet, mocking the fake report’s popularity — and spreading some new false rumors on the Kremlin’s behalf.
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