It should be reminded that on 18 January 2016, a new YouTube channel called Patriot uploaded its first video, titled "Appeal of AZOV fighters to the Netherlands on a referendum about EU - Ukraine." The video depicts six soldiers holding guns, supposedly from the notorious far-right, ultra-nationalist Azov Battalion, speaking in Ukrainian before burning a Dutch flag.
The authors of the latest investigation published by Bellingcat stress that there are numerous examples of genuine Azov Battalion soldiers saying or doing reprehensible things, such as making severely anti-Semitic comments and having Nazi tattoos. However, most of these verified examples come from individual fighters, while the video with the Dutch flag being burned and terror threats supposedly comes as an official statement of the battalion, Censor.NET reports.
The video has been proven as a fake, and is just one of many fake videos surrounding the Azov Battalion. This investigation was not ment to judge if the video is fake - as this will be assumed - but will instead examine the way in which the video originated and was spread. After open source analysis, it becomes clear that this video was initially spread and likely created by the same network of accounts and news sites that are operated by the infamous "St. Petersburg Troll Factories" of the Internet Research Agency and its sister organization, the Federal News Agency (FAN). The same tactics can be seen in a recent report from Andrey Soshnikov of the BBC, in which he revealed that a fake video showing what was supposedly a U.S. soldier shooting a Quran was created and spread by this "troll factory."
The creation and propagation of the fake Azov Battalion video was almost certainly not the work of a few lone pranksters, but instead a concerted effort with connections to the infamous Internet Research Agency, widely known as the organization based in St. Petersburg that pays young Russians to write pro-Russian/anti-Western messages in internet comment sections and blog posts. For the most part, the mainstream Dutch media was not fooled by the video and its threats of terror.
The fake Azov Battalion video is clearly linked to the interconnected group of users of Artur 32409, Solomiya Yaremchuk, Diana Palamar(chuk), and Viktoria Popova. The first two of these four users were the very first people to spread the fake video online, and copied each other in their posts. The video, uploaded to a brand new YouTube channel and without any previous mentions online, would have been near impossible to find without searching for the video title. Thus, it is almost certain that Artur (and by extension, the rest of the troll network) is connected with the creation of this fake video.
The way in which this fake video spread is the same as the disinformation campaigns operated by users and news sites ran by or closely linked to the Internet Research Agency.
Moreover, the fabricated screenshot supposedly showing the authenticity of the Azov Battalion video was first spread by, and almost certainly created by, a man named Yury Gorchakov. Gorchakov has been previously linked to the creation of a fake video of Right Sector.
The "troll network" of Artur 32409 frequently uses pohnews.org to spread disinformation. This site shares its administrator with whoswhos.org, which has been confirmed to be under the umbrella of the Internet Research Agency and its sister news organization, FAN. Leaked e-mail correspondences from 2014 courtesy of the hacker collective Anonymous International (aka "Shaltai Boltai") confirm that these organizations do not act independently and, at the time of the leaks, received instructions from the Kremlin.
In short, there is a clear relationship between the very first appearance of the fake Azov Battalion video in which a Dutch flag is burned and the so-called "St. Petersburg Troll Factory." The video was created and spread in an organized disinformation campaign, certainly in hopes of influencing the April 6th Ukraine-EU referendum. Most mainstream Dutch news outlets have judged the video to be a crude piece of propaganda; however, some online outlets, such as Geenstijl, have given some weight to the idea that it may not be fake. Therefore, we can say that the organization disinformation campaign has had minimal impact, as the only people swayed by the video seemed already be in the "no" camp against the Ukrainian referendum.