War in Ukraine: France updates “Portal Kombat”, a network of Russian propaganda sites

Called “Portal Kombat”, this network of 193 sites was brought to light after four months of work by Viginum, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference.
BigNazik via Getty Images Called “Portal Kombat”, this network of 193 sites was brought to light after four months of work by Viginum, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference.

BigNazik via Getty Images

Called “Portal Kombat”, this network of 193 sites was brought to light after four months of work by Viginum, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference.

INTERNATIONAL – Big discovery for Viginum, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference. After four months of work and investigation, France announced this Monday, February 12, that it had uncovered a large network of 193 sites in the United States. They all have one thing in common: legitimizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Fruit of the work of , this discovery sheds light on this network “structured and coordinated” of digital interference from Russia, as the second anniversary of the , on February 24, approaches.

Between September and December 2023, Viginum therefore analyzed the activity of this network of “information portals” digital “with similar characteristics, which broadcasts pro-Russian content to an international audience”. It was named “ Portal Kombat “.

On this network, several sites belonging to “the ‘pravda’ ecosystem” (truth in Russian, named after the former organ of the Soviet Communist Party) directly target “Western countries that support Ukraine”according to the Viginum report released this Monday.

And if the repercussions in the French-speaking digital public debate remain moderate at this stage, despite a system considered “elaborate”a diplomatic source cited by AFP adds that Viginum estimates “that the criteria for foreign digital interference are met, with certain content potentially harming the fundamental interests of the nation”.

Mass disinformation

And all of Europe, in addition to the United States, seems to be affected by this network. Thus, the site intended for Spain is called pravda-es.com, the one intended to be read in the United States or the United Kingdom is pravda-en.com. Germany, Austria and Switzerland have pravda-de.com, Poland pravda-pl.com and the French version is therefore logically called pravda-fr.com.

Between June 23 and September 19, Viginum indicates that these five portals published more than 150,000 articles, mainly from posts by Russian or pro-Russian personalities, content from Russian press agencies, or websites of local institutions or actors.

More than 180 other sites, with similar graphic charters and which distribute pro-Russian content, but for Russian-speaking or Ukrainian audiences, are digitally linked to the Pravda portals, again according to the French organization.

On January 22, pravda-fr.com published a list of 13 “mercenaries” French which, according to this site, “were in Kharkiv”in northeastern Ukraine, during a Russian strike a few days earlier, a strike having “eliminated” around sixty fighters “most of whom were French citizens” and injured 20 others. The AFP had, however, exchanged with three of these “mercenaries” presumed, in fact three volunteers in the Ukrainian army, all alive. One of them, met by AFP at the foot of the French Alps, claimed to have left Ukraine in September 2023.

Another example this Monday with the French version of Pravda which headlines: ” That’s enough ! : France calls for radical measures against Zelensky ». However, these comments are not those of a government representative but those of , president of the Patriots, a small French far-right party.

Paris and Berlin walk together

Believing that Portal Kombat sites, for which Viginum provides the names, can act as cells “dormant”capable of being activated at any time, Paris and Berlin communicated with one voice this Monday following a meeting in the format “Weimar” near Paris, to which the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs was also invited.

“Today we are launching a Weimar format alert mechanism, a response system” Has “unacceptable interference”declared the French minister, when his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock added that “ the analyzes carried out by France show the importance of moving forward together and developing a plan to manage disinformation.”

A reaction that is not long in coming, especially since “ we expect an acceleration of the various Russian actions, even a massification”, according to a military source cited by AFP. It must be said that many elections are expected around the world in 2024. More than 70, including the United States.

Since September, another campaign nicknamed “Matryoshka”Or “Russian dolls”, is closely monitored by France. It consists of directly calling on the media to encourage them to verify false information. According to experts, this is a “diversionary enterprise” Russian to exhaust Western fact-checkers.

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