How Russia fabricates evidence about alleged crimes of Ukraine. A story from the darknet
Almost from the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, Russian disinformers continuously spread fakes about Ukraine selling West-supplied weapons. However, since these stories didn't resonate well with Western audiences, Russia has recently backed up their disinformation spews with the "real evidence base".
The "evidence" used in Russian "investigations" were screenshots of advertisements allegedly offering to purchase Javelins and other American weapons on the darknet. Initially, these screenshots began to circulate almost simultaneously through a network of Russian propaganda Telegram channels. Then they were picked up by the Russian propaganda websites, as well as the English-language networks of various far-right and far-left anti-globalists, conspiracy theorists and other "fighters for the truth".
Why Russian marketplace is fake
The Russians worked thoroughly on the rollout of this disinformation campaign. They have created an entire darknet page that simulates a real marketplace selling banned goods and offering dubious services.
Danish cyber security researchers from Aalborg University explain: “Trading on the darknet is very similar to trading on the regular web; it is primarily based on trust. To create this trust, marketplace owners use several techniques to ensure that buyers & sellers are not deceived.”
First of all, the darknet marketplace must be known. There are not many sites for illegal trade, but there are many catalogues on the regular Internet that offer their names, descriptions and access addresses. We found reference to the Russian darknet site only on one, hastily made site, with almost no links to other marketplaces.
Owners of real marketplaces are afraid of DDoS attacks and automated information collection. They use CAPTCHA for extra protection. These checks are much more sophisticated than on the regular Internet. Users are offered riddles, puzzles, mini-games and mathematical equations - often several questions at a time. We saw none of this on the Russian platform.
Finally, genuine marketplaces use secure PGP protocols. This protects users from fraud and verifies the platform’s authenticity. Yet again, the Russian platform does not use similar protection systems.
Nothing gave away Stierlitz except for the parachute behind his back
Despite the lack of a regular darknet protection system, the Russian fake looks like a high-quality page. It has sections with instructions for sellers and buyers, a registration form, and reviews from alleged users of the platform. To an inexperienced visitor who came here to verify information about the sale of Western weapons by Ukrainians, it may seem like a real darknet market. But Russians gave themselves away when it came to the most banal thing — knowledge of the Ukrainian language.
Several stores discrediting Ukraine are registered on the Russian site. Their geographical location is "Kiiv" (not Kyiv). Three of them sell alleged weapons, two offer fake military documents to evade mobilization and another one offers secret documents obtained from the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
However, the most amusing marketplace is the PROVIDNYK ('GUIDE') store. Here you can use TRANSLATION ACROSS THE BORDER service (which is an automatic translation from Russian into Ukrainian meaning "transportation across the border") for about $15,000. Grateful "clients" of PROVIDNYK even left several reviews written in bad Ukrainian. They complain about the fascist-Nazi government in Ukraine, confess their love for Russia and do not want to go fight for NATO.