Ukraine is winning the information war. Russians, still dangerous, are going underground.

Alex Zamkovoi is a journalist and fact-checker. In 2021, he joined, where he researches the spread of Russian propaganda and disinformation.

As fellow graduates of the United4News initiative aimed at countering disinformation, we discussed the Russia-Ukraine war, the not-so-mysterious case of former Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, why the West underestimated Ukraine’s resistance, and conspiracy theory trends.

Lesia: Alex, thanks for agreeing to give this interview. Your recent work included the case of Adrien Bocquet, a former French military serviceman, who made several big statements about the events in Bucha which echoed Russia’s narratives. Can you tell me more about that?


Alex: So, the story goes like this. Bocquet traveled to Ukraine and, according to his own account “witnessed firsthand” that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were committing atrocities. He also claims to have seen the Ukrainian army torturing Russian captives, for example by shooting them in the knee.

His story attracted our attention, so I began examining it further as it simply didn’t add up. Although he had indeed traveled to Ukraine, there is no proof that he visited Bucha.

Furthermore, he went to Ukraine in mid-April when Bucha and other nearby towns like Borodyanka had already been de-occupied, so it’s difficult to understand what he saw there.

Lesia: Which apparently didn’t stop him from “witnessing” the atrocities?

Alex: Indeed.

The entire timeline doesn’t stack up. He also claims to have videos of those tortures but has not shared any.

All we know is that he originally traveled to the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky hospital to deliver humanitarian aid. He also took a lot of photos to show that he was in Ukraine.

Lesia: Did he attract the attention of popular media?

Alex: Yes, for example he had interviews with the French cable channel BFM.TV. Other outlets like Sud Radio are not as popular, but they have an audience and Bocquet was invited for interview.


This shows how French journalists failed to fact-check their guest. We’re now trying to reach out to those outlets and diplomats to show them that Bocquet is a fraudster.

Marginalized and so-called alternative media have also picked up on his claims, which is problematic.

Lesia: Many conspiracy outlets appear to have shifted their focus from the pandemic to the Russia-Ukraine war. What do you make of that observation?

Alex: I agree. They’re always on the lookout for “it’s not what it seems” messages. The pandemic is no longer a trending topic, so they’ve found a new niche.

Often, you’ll see chat boxes where someone types in a quick entry along the lines of “but my friend who lives in that town describes the situation as totally opposite”. No one fact-checks those comments and, as a result, the fake message spreads.

Lesia: Are we winning the information war against Russia?

Alex: Yes, definitely. Not least because we have many western politicians and journalists on our side.

But it doesn’t mean that the Kremlin will give up. The narratives they spread are essential to their regime and they do find support in some countries, especially those that are traditionally more pro-Russia.


I observe quite substantial support in Bulgaria, Germany and Latvia, where the bubbled Russian communities are helping to promote the Kremlin narrative.

Moscow has also targeted the Greeks with their interviews of Mariupol residents who were taken to Russia. Some of them were pro-Russian to begin with, so they were happy to talk about the so-called “Nazis” who had been “humiliating” them for eight years.

Others were just forced to say things because they were scared. All of these interviews were translated into Greek.

Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, are much more resilient toward Russia. It seems like their media literacy levels are higher overall.

Lesia: I can’t help but feel that many in the West wrongly concluded from the outset of the war that Ukraine would fall to Russia because of so many ostensibly pro-Russian residents.

Alex: Yes. Not least because Ukraine has always been a tricky country for the West to understand in terms of what it wants, including in the foreign policy domain.

At the same time, they disregarded the diminishing influence of pro-Russian sentiment in cities like Odesa, where I’m originally from, and could have very well believed that the decentralization reform that in place since 2014 empowered local authorities to the extent that they would secede from Kyiv.


Russian propaganda also played a role since it continuously claimed that Russian speakers in Ukraine were discriminated against.

Lesia: Even though you and I, for instance, are predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Alex: Yes. In Odesa, for example, no one has ever stopped people from speaking Russian. On the contrary, you often had no choice but to speak Russian.

I went to a Ukrainian school. Later, when I enrolled in the Odesa Mechnikov National University, I had to switch to Russian because the classes were held in that language, even though Ukrainian is the only official language in the country.

Lesia: Let’s touch upon the case of Marina Ovsyannikova, the former Channel 1 journalist who fled Russia. In my view, had she been truly oppositional to Putin’s regime, she would have been imprisoned, if not worse. Yet, she was let out of the country and has even found a job at the German outlet Die Welt. What are your views on that?

Alex: I’d say that Russia carried out a special operation at a time when animosity toward the Russians was reaching its peak.

You rightly noted that Ovsyannikova was barely punished, with Moscow letting her out of the country quite fast. That’s not typical of the Kremlin’s behavior.

Besides, in totalitarian regimes, news programs are pre-recorded, which casts doubt on the act’s authenticity.

It seems like the Kremlin used her to soften the West’s attitude to Russia, and I don’t follow the logic of Western media who bought her performance. Curiously, despite jumping around with the banner “No war”, this did not trigger any movements nor spearhead any major anti-war rallies to weaken the regime in response to her dissent.


If Western media really believes that it’s unfair to punish all Russian journalists then they could have employed a number of others who lost their jobs in Russia, yet it’s Ovsyannikova who is now working for Die Welt.

Lesia: So, Russia has spent millions, if not billions, on its propaganda, including behemoths like Russia Today and Sputnik. Now they are banned in Europe. A recent survey by Eurobarometer has also shown that just 28% of Europeans trust news on social media. How will Russia go about trying to get its narrative across? Which loopholes will it try to use?

Alex: Well, the Russian propaganda machine has become much more marginalized after all the bans, so they will have to tweak their methods.

I think they will engage their nationals living abroad or bet on opinion leaders, especially those who have worked in Russia over time.

Lesia: Do any names come to mind?

Alex: Examples might include Kevin Rothrock, the managing editor at the English-language edition of Meduza; or Leonid Ragozin who describes himself as an ‘independent journalist.’


Obviously, in the current environment, it’s much more difficult to overtly spread the Kremlin’s narratives. It has to be done subtly, for instance, by saying that “we need to understand why Russia decided to invade Ukraine” or playing the NATO expansion card.

Also, Russia is actively engaging its cultural communities. Luckily, for the time being, they are ostracized, so it’s difficult for them to fully use that channel.

I’d also mention that their embassies have now become much more active, regularly publishing article excerpts.

Lesia: Alright, so Ukraine is winning the information war. But what do we do to ensure that our victory is a massive one and that Bocquet and the like do not spring up on national TV in western media?

Alex: I think we need to continue doing what we’re doing right now. In March, westerners were taken aback by Russia’s actions, bestowing great support upon us.

In April, the trend started to change with a certain air of fatigue emerging in Europe. You know, let’s just end the war, no matter how it ends, since there are now assumptions arising that the U.S. is the guilty party for prolonging it due to ramping up arms supplies.

It’s good that we have many western journalists on the ground who are being sent to Ukrainian cities to report what Russia is doing in the country. They help us do our job better.

Regarding Bocquet and the like, I think the Security Service of Ukraine should be dealing with so-called experts like him. We really need to be careful about who we let into the country to provide first-hand “accounts” of the war.

Lesia: And we will win of course.

Alex: That goes without saying.

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