The Kharkiv Borodino: Russia Claims Credit for Killing French Mercenaries. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 15-21 January 2024

Russian media have been claiming that Ukraine is losing the war for almost two years now, and last week’s reports were no exception. Such claims are being supported by the news of unclear prospects of continuing Western aid to Ukraine. The issue has been causing considerable internal disagreement both in the USA and within the EU. The AFU are experiencing ammunition shortages. According to the propaganda, all the above means that victory is just around the corner.

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Russian media also claimed to have eliminated 60 French mercenaries in a series of missile strikes on Kharkiv. Even though the claims were immediately denied by the French Foreign Ministry, the Russian propaganda machine did not skip a beat. The disinformers avoided reporting on the downing of their aircraft in the Sea of Azov. When the cat was finally out of the bag, they insisted on the “friendly fire” version.

This monitoring report covers these and other topics of the disinformation spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.


Waiting for the Victory

Last week, Russian media focused on the discontinuation of Western aid to Ukraine. The reports were full of optimism and undisguised gloating.

According to Russian media, the absence of active supplies of weapons and ammunition has had a negative impact on the situation at the front (without any effect on front line dynamic — editor’s note). Russian propaganda keeps repeating that Ukraine is lacking firepower and that victory is just around the corner: “Russia has already secured a strategic victory in Ukraine. Now we just wait until the objectives of the special military operation are fully met which should not take long”.

The propagandists are using the reports on dwindling ammunition supplies to support their earlier claims that the war would have ended quickly if not for the West: “Without Western help, Ukraine would only have resisted for the first days or weeks of the conflict”.

At the same time, the news feeds are full of reports on the achievements of the Russian military-industrial complex — first and foremost, in building drones. The propagandists commended the Russian industries for ramping up production to unprecedented levels in contrast to Ukraine: “Moscow has managed to set up mass production of UAVs capable of attacking the AFU militants and their armored vehicles in the dark. They have been a true game changer since the Nazi forces have no such capabilities. All they have are home-built drones supplied by local enthusiasts”.

The Russian disinformers’ enthusiasm is partly due to the reports on China’s commitment to remain Russia’s loyal partner: “Beijing supports Moscow and has no intention of pressuring Russia into withdrawing from the war”.

The propagandists spread the news that the Chinese delegation had refused to meet with Zelensky in Davos on 16 January: “Vladimir Zelensky got the cold shoulder from the Chinese representatives at the Davos forum”, “Kyiv suffered a humiliating blow”.

After the news had appeared on the website of the American news outlet Politico, it was actively spread by the disinformers.

The Peace-Loving Russia

“The West is regularly stirring up hysteria among the citizens of its countries warning of an allegedly imminent war with Russia. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia has no such plans or intentions” — such was the reaction of Russian propaganda to the statements of senior military commanders of NATO countries about the need to bolster their defense capabilities and be prepared for a direct confrontation with Russia.

This evokes the feeling of déjà vu as similar statements came out just before Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in February 2022. At the time, both the Russian president and the entire Russian diplomacy asserted that Moscow had no such intent. This turned out to be a blatant lie.

However, Russian propaganda keeps shifting the blame onto the West: “Germany is preparing for a military confrontation between NATO and Russia which, according to the scenario of the country’s defense ministry, could happen in 2025. Such plans were revealed after a “secret document” had been leaked from the Bundeswehr”.

The propagandists argue that it is NATO that is preparing for aggression by resorting to such dangerous actions as military exercises: “NATO is using the upcoming maneuvers to send a powerful message to Moscow about the state of the alliance’s readiness for war”.

The Hidden and the Legendary

On 15 January, the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported on shooting down a Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft and damaging an Il-22M airborne command post over the Sea of Azov.

The official Russian propaganda tried to avoid mentioning the “incident” altogether. The media which had not been able to contain the leak followed with the “friendly fire” version. The propaganda simply refused to recognize a Ukrainian military success of such magnitude: “The loss appears to have been caused by friendly fire. According to experts, it must have been due to the “friend-or-foe” system malfunction”.

To drown out the unpleasant reports, the propagandists reported on a successful precision strike on a temporary facility used by foreign mercenaries in Kharkiv. “According to the Russian military, more than 60 military from foreign countries, most of them French nationals, were eliminated”.

Despite the denial of the Russian fabrication by the French Foreign Ministry, the propaganda kept on spreading the news.

The so-called experts came up with a version based on nothing but conspiracy theories that "Paris considers Ukrainian defense minister Rustem Umerov responsible for failing to ensure protection for the French mercenaries in Kharkiv” allegedly causing France to cancel Umerov’s visit to the country.

This report was preceded by the announcement on Umerov's cancellation of his visit to France for security reasons. This is a vivid example of how propagandists use real facts to fabricate their lies.

False Start for World War III

In mid-January, Iran launched missile strikes on Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. On 15 January, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired ballistic missiles at what it described as “the headquarters of spies” in Erbil, northern Iraq.

Margarita Simonyan, the top propagandist and the RT editor-in-chief, hurried to announce the beginning of World War III: “Here comes World World III”.

The propagandists news outlets reported that Iran had attacked the US Embassy. Those reports informed Simonyan’s “analytics” (or rather, more elaborate lies) which accused the world media of following gag orders from government to cover information and claimed that the media had allegedly ignored Iran’s attack: “The CNN front page is all about what Trump did or did not. They must be waiting for the orders on what to say about the strikes”.

When the facts were established, and it became clear that there had been no attack on the US Embassy, Simonyan tried to wriggle out of admitting a lie: “Whether a world war breaks out now or a little later depends on whether Washington politicians decide to use it to their advantage now, before the election, or vice versa”.

Russian media also claimed that the United States is planning wars for its own gain: “By spinning the international situation out of control, the United States is trying to find new reasons and grounds for writing off foreign debt leaving its own partners high and dry”.

The Election Campaign: Putin’s Diplomatic Achievements

Ahead of the presidential election, Russian propaganda has been emphasizing Putin’s brilliant diplomacy. They claimed that it was the West that had initiated the break-up. Instead, they actively covered Putin’s contacts with other countries which are remaining Moscow's die-hard allies: China, DPRK, Belarus, and Iran.

Here is a report on Putin talking to the leader of India: “Putin and the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi discussed Russia-India relations in a telephone conversation”. Another report told Russians about the unprecedented level of relations with Pyongyang. The media also reported on Russia’s excellent relations with Niger: “The parties noted the importance of developing Russia-Niger relations in the sphere of defense and agreed to bolster the cooperation and joint efforts to stabilize the situation in the region”.

Each international phone call made by Putin is presented as evidence of Russia’s influence as a global player. This is especially true about conversations with the leaders of countries that avoid directly stating their attitude to the Russo-Ukrainian war.

This is done to reinforce the common belief in Russia’s great achievements under Putin's rule before the elections. The key messages are that Russia remains a power center, that no important issues can be resolved without Russia, and that Putin is an influential politician and a mighty king to be reckoned with.

In turn, the reports such as “Argentina formally rejects invitation to join BRICS where Russia plays an important role” are explained by Argentina's undreadiness: “The Russian leadership realizes that Argentina’s sovereign decision not to join BRICS was not a refusal, but rather an acknowledgment of the country’s unreadiness to join the block at the current moment” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov”.

The Problems


It is no secret that Western sanctions have been crippling the Russian civil aviation. The country is experiencing a record number of air accidents, airplane breakdowns have become more frequent, and many services have been discontinued. Reports on the problems are becoming more difficult to contain from appearing in the media. Last week, there were reports on rising airfares alongside news on aircraft breakdowns. Despite the obvious, the propaganda keeps telling Russians that the future is bright. Some media outlets reported on new developments in the aircraft industry and assured that the Russian aviation industry would soon completely replace imported parts to make it immune to Western sanctions.


In addition to the traditional shortage of eggs, there were reports on shortages of essential medicines in Russia. According to the media, a number of essential medicinal drugs may soon disappear from the shelves.

“There appears to be a shortage of Effient (also marketed as Prasugrel), the unique drug which helps prevent repeat heart attacks. The pharmaceutical is produced by the American company Eli Lilly”, “The drug has dissapeared from the pharmacies of Moscow, Moscow region, St. Petersburg and retail outlets in other regions”.

“Moscow pharmacies have been reporting shortages of Methylprednisolone which is used to treat rheumatic diseases. A representative of the Ministry of Health stated that the drug can be replaced with Prednisone. However, such replacement is impossible for about 30% of patients according to experts. This means about 182,000 people could be left without treatment”.

“There has been a shortage of Ixabepilone (Ixempra), an oncology drug of unparalleled efficacy which has been used for breast cancer treatment”, “Although experts agree that the drug is not indispensable, the shortages mark a negative trend of shrinking opportunities”.

Russian media claim that their domestic medicines are not worse than Western ones or announce production of their own equivalents.


The inflation in Russia and the devaluation of the ruble are becoming more and more evident. Most products are growing in price, and there is no way for Russian media to ignore it: “Cocoa went up by 9%, boiled sausage — by 7.5%, Hercules oatmeal — by 4.2%, mayonnaise — by 3.9%, and sweet cottage cheese desserts — by 3.5%.”

Even vodka and wine went up in price while beer has become less expensive.

Interestingly, the media also included the reaction of ordinary Russians to the official announcements. For example: “The Bryansk Department of Statistics has calculated the cost of the food basket. In December, the minimum set of products in the region used to cost 5.67 thousand rubles. The price of the food basket has risen two percent relative to the November level”. However, consumers responded to the news with bitter criticism. “How do you expect an adult to buy enough food to eat with this amount of money: “Is that the price of an empty basket?)))”, “This is what a person needs to spend to eat for a week - not to last a family of two or more for a whole month”, “Am I doing my math wrong while picking food from the shelves?”, “Do you mean the money enough to buy a day’s meals? Or did you forget to put an extra zero at the end?”.


The Methodology

To monitor the information published on disinformation websites, we analyzed approximately 500,000 news reports collected from ~ 1,000 Russian websites. The data for the analysis was collected and provided by SemanticForce.

Each paragraph was processed using an algorithm which defines its topic automatically. The resulting topics (i.e. groups with similar content) were short-listed by the topics relating to the war or its consequences for Russia. The number of mentions of a certain topic was then counted for each publication. Our conclusions are based on the respective findings and the quotes from paragraphs referring to each topic.

disinformation eng russo-ukrainian war

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