Commentators at Kremlin-owned outlets, including RT editor Margarita Simonyan and Sputnik writer Armen Gasparyan, propagated unfounded rumors about Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and NEXTA Telegram channel founder Stepan Putilo in an effort to discredit them. Simonyan cited leaks to anonymous Telegram channels alleging that Tsikhanouskaya’s IQ was only “a bit higher than an orangutan’s,” while Gasparyan claimed on multiple social media platforms that a relative of Putilo collaborated with Nazis during World War II.
The emergence and amplification of these unsubstantiated smears is another example of Kremlin-backed information warfare in Russian-language information spaces amid the political crisis in Belarus. The lopsided vote count, the Belarusian people’s distrust in its veracity, and allegations of electoral fraud have led to ongoing mass protests around the country. Multiple state enterprises have gone on strike, including state-owned media outlets. In response, Belarusian authorities reportedly hired journalists from RT to provide favorable coverage and bolster the Lukashenka regime.
The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) has operationalized the study of disinformation by exposing falsehoods and fake news, documenting human rights abuses, and building digital resilience worldwide.