France uncovers a vast Russian disinformation campaign in Europe

RUSSIA HAS been at the forefront of internet disinformation techniques at least since 2014, when it pioneered the use of bot farms to spread fake news about its invasion of Crimea. According to French authorities, the Kremlin is at it again. On February 12th Viginum, the French foreign-disinformation watchdog, announced it had detected preparations for a large disinformation campaign in France, Germany, Poland and other European countries, tied in part to the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the elections to the European Parliament in June.

Viginum said it had uncovered a Russian network of 193 websites which it codenames “Portal Kombat”. Most of these sites, such as, were created years ago and many were left dormant. Over 50 of them, such as and, have been created since 2022. Current traffic to these sites, which exist in various languages including French, German, Polish and English, is low. But French authorities think they are ready to be activated aggressively as part of what one official calls a “massive” wave of Russian disinformation.

Viginum says it watched the sites between September and December 2023. It concluded that they do not themselves generate news stories, but are designed to spread “deceptive or false” content about the war in Ukraine, both on websites and via social media. The underlying objective is to undermine support for Ukraine in Europe. According to the French authorities, the network is controlled by a single Russian organisation.


For France, the detection of this latest Russian destabilisation effort comes after a series of campaigns that it has attributed to Moscow. Last November the French foreign ministry denounced a “Russian digital interference operation” that spread photos of Stars of David stencilled on walls in a neighbourhood of Paris, in order to stir intercommunal tension in France shortly after the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Viginum then detected a network of 1,095 bots on X (formerly Twitter), which published 2,589 posts. It linked this to a Russian internet complex called Recent Reliable News, known for cloning the websites of Western media outlets in order to spread fake news; the EU has dubbed that complex “Doppelgänger”.

France held the same network responsible in June 2023 for the cloning of various French media websites, as well as that of the French foreign ministry. On the cloned ministry website, hackers posted a statement suggesting, falsely, that France was to introduce a 1.5% “security tax” to finance military aid to Ukraine.


Robin Edgar

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