Russian “cyber soldiers” have launched a new offensive against foreign leaders, targeting social media platforms with a large-scale disinformation campaign that seeks to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine, according to research funded by the U.K.
Paid operatives working from a factory in St. Petersburg use the Telegram messaging app to recruit and coordinate supporters who then flood the social media accounts of Kremlin critics with comments supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, the U.K. Foreign Office said Sunday.
The so-called troll factory has developed new techniques to avoid detection by social media platforms, posting comments and amplifying pro-Kremlin content created by legitimate users rather than creating its own content, the Foreign Office said. Traces of its activity have been found on eight social media platforms, including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.
The operation has targeted politicians and wider audiences in a number of countries, including the U.K., South Africa and India, the Foreign Office said. It is believed to have links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by both the U.S. and Britain for financing the Kremlin’s online influence operations.
“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in the statement. “The U.K. government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.”