France revealed disinformation campaign “Matryoshka” seen as foreign digital interference

In a report published on June 10, France’s Viginum government service warns of the intensification this spring of this malicious campaign, which began in September 2023. 

While these pro-Russian maneuvers aim in particular to “discredit European governments, especially their policy of support for Ukraine,” France is “a prime target for the operators” of this campaign, the report stresses. Its main objective is “to discredit Western officials and media engaged in fact-checking,” as Viginum pointed out.

Western officials and media engaged in fact-checking are targeted

“Since the end of 2023, Viginum has been observing and documenting a malicious campaign likely to affect the French-speaking digital public debate,” notes the state’s technical and operational service responsible for vigilance and protection against foreign digital interference, according to its latest report.

The watchdog has determined that “the criteria for foreign digital interference” have been satisfied. This disinformation maneuver, named “Matryoshka” (from the Russian word for nesting dolls), began “at least in September 2023,” the report states. 

Matryoshka campaign disseminated fake content in a coordinated manner

The Matryoshka campaign, according to Viginum, “disseminates fake content (news reports, graffiti, memes, etc.) in a coordinated manner in the publication response space of X accounts of media outlets, personalities, and fact-checking cells from over sixty countries.”

Another notable feature of this campaign is that “Matryochka’s operators directly question the targets—on X and by e-mail—to ask them to investigate this false content,” as the government department points out.

Initially, Russian-speaking Telegram loops broadcast “fake content” imitating personalities and media outlets such as Le Parisien, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and France 24. “While they mostly propagate and amplify anti-Ukrainian narratives, this content also targets French policy in support of Ukraine, certain French political figures, and the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Viginum details in its report. Viginum found that pro-Russian informational maneuvers have already identified these channels in recent months.

In a subsequent phase, the dissemination of these fabricated news stories on X (previously known as Twitter) occurs through fictitious accounts, likely handled manually due to the detection of “targeting errors” by Viginum. These accounts directly confront the media, requesting that they confirm “the authenticity or veracity of the published content.”

“Since September 2023, Matryochka operators have conducted at least 90 successive maneuvers, during which they have adapted and tested different methods aimed at disseminating and then bringing content to the attention of their targets,” the Viginum report also stated. Since the campaign’s inception, it has targeted “more than 500 different X accounts.”.

Disinformation efforts aimed to discredit the French government

Viginum has observed this aim to discredit the French government in recent months, as they presented “several fake graffiti publications” as being located in the Paris region, with some notably caricaturing French President Macron.

Others targeted the organization of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games “with the aim of spreading the idea, to both French and international audiences, that the JOP 24 will be a failure,” stated the government agency. 

Viginum therefore considers that the Matryoshka campaign is “likely to directly harm the fundamental interests of the nation.” The state’s technical and operational service responsible for vigilance and protection against foreign digital interference admits that its modus operandi could “evolve over the coming months to improve the stealth of its processes, trap a greater number of targets, or reach a wider audience.”.

Viginum revealed several Russian disinformation campaigns

Since March, experts in Viginum’s Paris offices—the state service tasked with monitoring and protecting France against foreign digital media interference—have had to deal with a series of attacks and fake news propagated by Moscow and its influence outlets.

Viginum, announced in February 2024 the exposure of a Russian special operation known as Portal Kombat, in which a network of Russian websites disseminated Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s war in Ukraine, targeting European audiences with the intention of undermining the EU’s support for Kyiv.

In April, the French watchdog for countering foreign influence, Viginum, exposed several other Russian information operations aimed at different countries.

Calls to combat Russian disinformation

  • The representatives of France, Germany, and Poland called for increased joint efforts to protect against disinformation operations by foreign actors associated with Russia. 
  • France has requested that the EU implement new measures to target Russian disinformation and meddling globally, citing a draft proposal from Paris, seen by Bloomberg.
  • Recently, the George Clooney Foundation for Justice announced efforts to bring Russian propaganda employees to justice, pointing out that war propaganda is included in European countries’ criminal codes.
  • In our investigation into news websites that disseminate pro-Russian narratives in France, we identified a list of 40 outlets, the top three recent fakes disseminated by pro-Kremlin outlets, and key pro-Russian narratives.
Read all articles by Insight News Media on Google News, subscribe and follow.
Scroll to Top