Just days after two pro-Ukrainian guerrilla groups carried out a raid into Russia, paramilitary units held a press conference where they displayed recently captured “war booty” – notably a Soviet-era BTR-82A armored vehicle (APC). The Cold War vehicle was reportedly captured near the Graivoron border post.
Earlier this week, the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps had previously shared a video of the vehicle being captured. That 49-second clip quickly went viral, being viewed nearly a million times since the clip was posted on Tuesday morning.
At the joint news conference on Wednesday, the units – made up of anti-Putin Russians who have pledged to support Ukraine in the ongoing war, which entered its 15th month this week – said they had successfully entered Russia, briefly capturing at least two villages. . They returned to Ukrainian territory with the APC and claimed no significant casualties, with only two wounded.
Paramilitary forces used social media to share news of their recent exploits, while the Kremlin also used social platforms with its own grievances.
“The group of saboteurs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine entered the territory of the Graivoronsk district. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, together with the Border Service, the Russian Guard and the FSB [intelligence service] are taking the necessary measures to eliminate the enemy,” Belgorod Governor Viacheslav Gladkov said in a statement posted on social messaging service Telegram on Monday.
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Videos and photos of the Soviet-era APC BTR-82A weren’t the only images related to the attack that are now trending on social media. On Wednesday, the Kremlin posted footage it claimed was of US-made equipment allegedly used in the attack. In the photos, a pair of green-painted Humvees can be seen in a bomb crater, while a few other decommissioned vehicles were also present.
The location where the photos were taken has not been independently verified.
The US State Department has only acknowledged reports circulating on social media that US-supplied weapons were used. State Department spokesman Matthew Millier told reporters that “at this time we are skeptical of the veracity of these reports.”
This sentiment was even echoed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD). “It’s something we’re following closely”, Air Force Brigadier. General Pat Ryder, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said when asked about reports of American vehicles being used in this week’s attacks in Russia. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, in terms of the veracity of these images.”
The US made it clear that it would not “encourage or allow attacks inside Russia,” Miller added. “But, as we also said, it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war.”
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What is especially noteworthy is the response on social media, as several individuals have tried to debunk Russia’s claims. Commentators responded that it appeared the Humvees had sustained little damage and appeared to have been lowered into the crater.
It has been suggested that the vehicles were previously captured, and a self-proclaimed photo expert has highlighted some key details: “If these vehicles were to crash into position you would also expect to see dirt on top of the hood and damage to the front of the vehicles. it’s broken glass from what appears to be bullets that impacted after the crash. The wreckage of a lighthouse also appears to have fallen off a lot after the crash.”
The conflict in Ukraine has already become the first “social media war”, but based on the responses to photos posted by Russia, it appears that this is also the first conflict where propaganda is also fought by means of “collective sources”.
“Open source intelligence has become a mainstay,” explained technology industry analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.
Entner suggested that there is good reason for some social media commentators to be skeptical of Moscow’s claims.
“The US has lost so many vehicles that it is inevitable that some have arrived in Russia for evaluation,” he added. “They could be part of that contingent, they could have been from the pool given to Ukraine. I doubt they are Ukrainians as that would be the proverbial poking the bear for no apparent gain. Ukrainians have many other vehicles they could give to exile Russians without creating complications unnecessary.”
Social media was once widely employed to track losses on both sides and can now be used to counter official propaganda.
“While social media, in recent years, has been used as a platform for disinformation, these same networks have also proven to help dispel fake news,” added Jason Mollica, professor and program director for the Online MA in Strategic Communication at American University School. of communication.
“In a 2020 study by Statista, it showed that 39% of people aged 16 and over in the US were very confident in their ability to distinguish real news from false information,” continued Mollica. “People are much more aware, despite constant news trends that aren’t necessarily true.”