Nico Dekens, Director of Intelligence and Innovation Collection, ShadowDragon
Over the last 2-3 weeks, there has been significant online activity targeting Moldova in regards to the Ukraine/Russia war. Specifically, Russia is creating tension around Moldova/Transnistria in an effort to divert attention away from Ukraine.
Open source intelligence (OSINT) investigations reveal that false narratives from fake accounts are being pushed across social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, VKontake, Telegram and Instagram. These false narratives have led to anti-government protests in Moldova.
The overall narrative is a call to overthrow the current regime (i.e., the president must step down) and support Russian activities in Ukraine. These accounts are encouraging people to go out into the streets and demonstrate against the regime, and it is evident that Russia is achieving its goals. In addition to raising tensions via the internet, pro-Russian influencers in Moldova are organizing demonstrations, amplifying their narrative both digitally and physically.
There was a big push for participation in a large demonstration scheduled for March 13. The call to action was led by the Pro-Russian "Movement for the People Group," backed by the Moldovan political Shor Party led by exiled Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor. There are also numerous (automated) bot accounts that are spreading the exact same message.
This tactic is not only aimed to distract from the war in Ukraine, but to regroup and increase support for Russia's overall anti-European agenda. It was also observed that a few of the protesters interviewed during demonstrations did not speak Moldovan. When asked, they stated they are Russian nationals.
The information being spread claims that pro-Russian forces have rigged an ammunition store in breakaway Transnistria with explosives, one of the largest ammunition depots in Europe.
Abusing Deep Fake Technology and Disinformation From Pro-Russian Actors
- Russia is making use of Style GAN technology to create deep fake social media pictures.
- ShadowDragon also found that deep fake technology is being used to generate fake satellite imagery of war aftermath. The goal here is to keep investigators occupied as they attempt to geolocate these fake images.
- Hashtag hijacking of trending topics is another tactic being used to gain more momentum in Russia's efforts to make Moldova, and the regime, look unstable, corrupt and anti-Russia.
Example fake satellite imagery:
Closer examination of the road, terrain, and structures reveal these purported before and after images are fake.
Recently, some short video clips went viral showing military vehicle deployments at the Moldovan border. This was a disinformation campaign using old footage from a military parade that made it look like there were military vehicles (tanks) driving towards the border.
In conclusion, Moldova is a distraction from Ukraine. The concern is that Russia might invade Moldova. And this narrative in and around Moldova has just started, meaning this is just the beginning of a broader anti European campaign from Russia and pro Russia supporters.
As we continue to analyze the data sources we collect, data continues to tell an interesting story.