Russia Spreads New Fakes About Ukraine's First Lady Zelenska. No, She Did Not Buy A Bugatti

Russia Spreads New Fakes About Ukraine's First Lady Zelenska. No, She Did Not Buy A Bugatti

This is not the first time Russia has employed similar tactics to discredit the family of the Ukrainian president.

The Center for Countering Disinformation (CCD) has discredited a claim made by Russian propagandists alleging that the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, purchased a Bugatti Tourbillon for 4.5 million euros.

The video, staged by Russian propagandists, features a car dealership employee discussing a ‘closed’ presentation in which he showed the luxury car to the Ukrainian delegation. The video was posted to an unknown French publication “Verite Cachee” which was created on June 22, 2024. In addition to the fake video, the website features a slew of articles on the war with Ukraine from the Russian perspective.

The supposed car dealership employee has been linked to an Instagram account with just four posts. Experts believe the identity of the car salesman has characteristics of an artificially created deepfake.

The CCD believes this most recent attempt at disinformation was launched in anticipation of the NATO summit, which will begin on July 9th in Washington, DC.

Fakes about Olena Zelenska’s ‘shopping sprees’

In December 2022, a story surfaced that Mrs. Zelenska had gone on a 40,000 euro shopping spree in Paris, France. The story displayed traits similar to those of the fake Bugatti video — it was published on Twitter/X by an unverified user called De Fabron Olivier. The tweet cites an unnamed “reliable source” who it claims was an employee of the unnamed store on Avenue Montaigne where it claims the first lady allegedly shopped. Upon further research it was found that Olivier’s Twitter account itself could be geolocated to Saint Petersburg, Florida, USA.

When the Twitter account was run through Botometer—an online resource that analyzes accounts on X/Twitter—it scored 3.4 out of 5. Historically, accounts scoring 3.4 or higher are only 19% likely to be actual humans. Much like Veritee Cache, the Twitter account had published other fake news, such as misinformation regarding COVID-19.

In September 2023, a similar allegation once again came against Mrs. Zelenska, claiming the First Lady had spent 1.1 million at Cartier and fired a salesperson while she was at it. The claim was made in a video uploaded to YouTube user Marshall Leonard. Leonard’s video features screen recordings from the Instagram account of the “fired employee,” in which she describes having emigrated to America two weeks earlier and losing her “dream job” because of Mrs. Zelenska.

The Instagram account is private and has no publicly available content. Leonard’s YouTube video went viral on Pro-Kremlin accounts on Telegram, and, like the Bugatti story, it was later proven false by the Center for Countering Disinformation.

The lie heard round the world

All of these stories regarding First Lady Olena Zelenska share a common thread involving recently created media ‘outlets’ and fake social media accounts. They rely on made-up witnesses such as car salesmen or store clerks. One would imagine that if these claims were true, these unnamed witnesses would be convinced to speak in person regarding Mrs. Zelenska’s alleged purchases.

Over the last few years, Russia has become sophisticated in its disinformation campaigns. Its most prevalent tactic is creating fake websites and presenting them as media. The biggest difficulty in countering disinformation is that once it is released, it is incredibly hard to stop. Those who fall victim to it distrust government groups and are unswayed by facts no matter how they are presented.

Ukraine’s success relies in many ways on the support of its Western allies. Russian disinformation poses a huge threat to that support if left unchecked. The fight against Russian propaganda and disinformation has never been more important.

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