France on Tuesday said it had uncovered a major Russian disinformation campaign, with false news items hostile to Ukraine made to look like they were published by prominent French news media.

Western states have been acutely concerned about an intensification of Russian-led disinformation campaigns, as Moscow seeks to influence public opinion across the world over its invasion of Ukraine.

"France condemns these actions unworthy of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council," Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said. 

"The French authorities are working closely with their partners to defeat the hybrid warfare led by Russia," she added.

France has for several years sounded the alarm over alleged Russian disinformation campaigns in areas of Francophone Africa, particularly those where the Russian mercenary group Wagner has been active.

The campaign was carried about by "Russian actors" with "state entities or entities affiliated to the Russian state" then working to amplify its impact, according to Colonna. 

"This campaign is based in particular on the creation of fake web pages impersonating national media and government sites as well as the creation of false accounts on social networks," she said.    

- 'Won't deter France' -

At least four French daily newspapers -- Le Parisien, Le Figaro, Le Monde and 20 Minutes -- were victims of the operation.

Other major media were also targeted, particularly German ones including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Spiegel and Bild.

The French foreign ministry itself foiled an attempt to create a fake reproduction of its own website, Colonnna said. 

She added Russian embassies and cultural centres had "actively" participated in amplifying the campaign.

"The campaign is a new illustration of the hybrid strategy that Russia is implementing to undermine the conditions for peaceful democratic debate and therefore undermine our democratic institutions. 

"No attempt at manipulation will deter France from supporting Ukraine in the face of the Russian war of aggression," she added. 

The campaign is believed to involve techniques including producing fake articles on a page identical in all respects to those of the legitimate sites of media organisations, but with a different domain names -- for example .ltd instead of .fr.

The operation uncovered by the government is "the second phase" of a campaign that had already come to light in 2022 "but with more sophisticated modes of action intended to circumvent countermeasures and be less visible", a security source who asked not to be named told AFP.

This so-called "Doppelgaenger" operation had been documented in 2022 by the organisation EU Disinfolab, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

"Meta hoped that its report would put an end to the operation. This was not the case," said the security source.



Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.