Monitoring the Russian media can be fun and entertaining if you pay attention to details. On May 3, a Russian Su-30SM fighter jet crashed in Syria,and the Russian self-propelled anti-aircraft missile and gun system Pantsir-S1 tipped over. Both events took place on the same day. Inspired by the news, InformNapalm volunteers started searching for new incidents and extraordinary episodes in the aggressor country’s army that happened on May 4. But we ran into something that had no explanation: news about the conviction of the pilot of the Baltic Fleet for the crashed Su-27. Upon further checks, the news turned out to be part of the manipulation involving top Russian news agencies.
Many readers are already used to the Russian media creating fake and manipulative materials about events in Ukraine for the past 4 years, and it does not come as a surprise anymore. But this paranoid manipulation based on distorted data appeared on the pages of leading Russian media and it concerned an event in Russia.
So, on May 4, websites Lenta.ru, Vzglyad.ru, Life.ru and many others referred to the publication of Kaliningrad.Ru and announced that the Russian pilot who had crashed the Su-27 was given a suspended 2-year sentence.
“The pilot of the military unit in Chernyakhovsk (Kaliningrad Oblast) was convicted for damaging the Su-27 fighter jet. He was given a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment with a two-year probation period, Kaliningrad.ru reports, citing the press service of the Military Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Baltic Fleet. “The violation of flight rules by the pilot made the aircraft inoperative and caused material damage to the Ministry of Defense in the amount of 27,042,978 rubles,” the department noted. As per the publication, the serviceman demonstrated partial repentance. When deciding on a verdict, the court took into account the fact that the accused person had never faced criminal charges and had always had positive references. According to the investigators’ findings, a year ago, during landing, the pilot tried to release the deceleration parachute, but pulled up the landing gear instead. As a result, the nose section of the aircraft fuselage hit the paved runway”.
This story could have made another reason to mock some ham-handed Russian pilot. But while checking the background facts of this story, we noticeda curious pattern of manipulation which we deemed worth an analysis.
- All Russian media that reprinted the news were referring to the publication on Kaliningrad.ru website dated March 29, 2018 (archive).
- On March 30, 2018, website Vzglyad already noted that the court had granted the appeal of the defense, the verdict of the court of first instance was dismissed, and the case was sent for revision (archive).
- But on May 4, 2018, the same Vzglyad, along with a number of other news outlets, publishes a note, referring to Kaliningrad.ru article dated March 29, 2018, claiming that the pilot was convicted. Interestingly, a few hours later Vzglyad removed this story, while other Russian media did not. Therefore, we can assume that this portal is the initial publisher of the bogus story based on the distorted news.
- The news article of May 4, 2018 does not mention the name of the pilot, although it appeared in earlier publications dated March 30, 2018. This is Sergei Nefedov, a senior lieutenant of the Baltic Fleet naval aviation.
Vzglyad is most likely involved in an information campaign lobbying for on behalf of the defense of the officer in question. This can be assumed because they released a series of apparently impartial materials, such as An undertrained military pilot was turned into a criminal and The State Duma supported the military pilot convicted for a damaged aircraft.
Moreover, this media outlet is the only one that published a photo of the senior lieutenant Sergei Nefedov and accompanied it by a note “from a personal archive”.
It is likely that the revision of the case got going again, and the defense started using the already tried and tested mechanism of interaction with the editorial office of Vzglyad. They posted the old fake story about the officer being sentenced to 2 years, which was picked up by other media. However after a while, the bogus story was removed from the initiator site. Since the media space of Russia was already warmed-up with the news of May 3 about the crash of the Russian Su-30SM aircraft in Syria, the editorial office of Vzglyad probably decided to use this moment to publish a story about the trial of the Su-27 pilot.
These manipulations may help the young officer avoid punishment in the course of the new court deliberations, but the wave of discontent in the Russian society has been created artificially in this case. This incident reveals another side of the hybrid war, it shows that Russia can initiate such manipulations but eventually also be vulnerable to bogus stories created by its own media. This is an interesting example, which should be studied and used to develop proper countermeasures in the field of information security.
By Andriy Lysytsyn specially for InformNapalm
(Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0)