- Russian media is circulating claims of car bombings and chemical attacks blamed on Ukraine.
- The US, UK, and others have warned that Russia would seek to create a fake pretext for war.
- Some videos given as evidence have metadata suggesting they were made in advance.
As Russia continued to mass troops around Ukraine, Western leaders repeatedly said that its officials would manufacture media meant to create a pretext for invasion.
As of Sunday, numerous videos which could fit that description were circulating in Russian media.
They purport to expose Ukrainian attacks on the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, prompting a mass evacuation of the civilians who live there.
Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Sunday that such activity could draw “irreparable consequences,” seemingly an euphemism for war.
Here are some of the examples.
Manipulated video alleging chemical attack
Separatist leaders in Donetsk on Friday published a video claiming to show an attempt from Ukraine to blow up a chlorine storage facility in Horlivka.
—Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) February 20, 2022
Russian news agencies including TASS and Ria Novosti ran with the story, saying that the attempt had been foiled.
The video of the supposed incident was supposedly recovered from a Polish-speaking saboteur’s body, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said on Twitter.
But, Higgins noted, metadata from the video showed a creation date of February 8, and a project folder dated February 4, long before the attack that supposedly took place on February 18.
—Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) February 20, 2022
Also in the metadata are indications that other sources of audio and video were added to the clip.
A file included in the metadata leads to a 2010 YouTube video of a military firing range in Finland that has similar audio.
The sounds at the 16-second mark of the first video match those around 1 minute, 50 seconds in to the second clip.
Ukrainian intelligence officials warned last month chemicals stored in Horlivka coul feature in a false-flag operation, according to The Daily Beast.
“Emergency” evacuation call seemingly recorded in advance
Metadata also cast doubts on two other clips posted by Russia-backed separatists.
Two separate videos released on February 18, showing the leaders of Luhansk and Donetsk ordering seemingly spontaneous evacuations, were tagged as having been created on February 16, two days before, as noted by CNN.
—Mark Krutov (@kromark) February 18, 2022
A destroyed car raises more questions
Russian-backed separatist authorities claimed Friday that a parked jeep with nobody inside had been blown up near a government building in Donetsk.
Donetsk authorities blamed the situation on Ukraine
The car belonged to the head of the Donetsk separatist police, Denis Sinenkov, per Financial Times journalist Max Seddon.
A US official accused Russia of being behind the car bombing, as Insider’s Jake Epstein reported.
“Announcements like these are further attempts to obscure through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict,” a US State Department spokesperson told reporters, according to ABC News reporter Conor Finnegan.
Images comparing the bombed vehicle with an old image of a UAZ Patriot purported to belong to Sinenkov emerged online.
Though the license plate was the same, the body of the destroyed car appeared to be that of an older, less valuable vehicle.
—Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) February 19, 2022
An image of Sinenkov’s actual car, shared by Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan, appeared newer and bigger.
“Not only did the separatists prerecord the evacuation videos, but they also didn’t want to blow up the DNR militia head’s expensive UAZ Patriot so badly, they put their number plates on a different old UAZ worth a thousand bucks,” Giczan said on Twitter.
“Two cars. Same plate number,” tweeted BBC video journalist Abdujalil A.
An alleged attempt to demolish a bridge
In Luhansk, officials claimed they had foiled a plot to kill women and children being evacuated to Russia.
They said they had found a car in the village of Samsonovka, parked with high explosives equivalent to 200kg of TNT and a remote detonation device.
Video accompanying the news release showed a car being towed from under a railway bridge.
Luhansk officials said the road was being used for evacuations, and that a train full of evacuees was due to pass over the bridge just before the car was noticed.
Alec Luhn, a former Russia correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, noted that metadata for the video gave a recording date in 2019.
However, the purported date of June 12, 2019, did not appear to match conditions in the video which appeared to be made in winter.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told CNN that he had seen Russian “false flag” operations coming to fruition, though he did not give specifics.
The previous night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also warned that Russia was creating “a web of falsehoods designed to present any Russian attack as a response to provocation.”