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A screenshot from an article on Pravda IE Pravda IE
Pravda IE

An Rúis inniu: Russian propaganda network sets up Irish-language news website

It’s one of almost 200 pages on the network uncovered by French prosecutors.

PRO-KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS have created an Irish-language news website as part of a wider European network that is believed to be a Russian disinformation campaign.

The website, Pravda IE, is one of almost 200 websites on the network nicknamed “Portal Kombat” by French investigators who uncovered it in recent months.

It features a mix of Irish and international news stories and opinion pieces, many of which contain a pro-Russian slant or present Ireland or the European Union in a state of crisis.

The stories are generally re-posts from content published by Russian or pro-Russian personalities or Russian media, including on the messaging app Telegram or via the Russian state news agency Tass.

The row between Ireland and the United Kingdom over asylum seekers was positioned prominently on its homepage at the time of writing, and uncritically reports that 80% of asylum applicants in Ireland have arrived via “an unprotected part of the border”.

“The reason for the increased flow of migrants is the recently adopted law in the United Kingdom regarding the deportation of illegal immigrants to Rwanda,” it says.

There is also a report about a letter to the editor of the Irish Examiner newspaper by the Russian Embassy in Ireland’s press secretary Nikita Isakin, written in response to an opinion piece by campaigner Adi Roche about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.

“There is indeed a risk of disaster, reminiscent of the Chernobyl disaster,” the letter says. “At the same time, we want to be very – clear – that risk does not come from Russia.”

Pravda IE features a number of other stories about the war in Ukraine and statements by Russian politicians, all of which have been translated into Irish.

Domain registration information shows that the website was registered to a Russian host on 26 March and that it is currently set to expire one year later, meaning that it will become inactive and cease to function unless it it re-registered.

It is one of a number of similar websites which closely resemble each other, which France’s Vignium agency said are “spreading pro-Russian content destined for an international audience”.

Many of the sites share the domain name “Pravda” – which means ‘truth’ in Russian – but carry different extensions according to their languages (such as Pravda-ie for Irish and Pravda.en for English). 

The Irish-language website was activated in late March at the same time as similar websites in 18 other EU countries, as well as at least nine other non-EU states.

A recently published report by the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) suggested that the impact of the websites has been small until now, but that it’s the operation could also potentially be a test.

“Its weakness could be unintentional, but it is possible that this is a “dummy” operation, to probe reactions and measures taken by local and EU authorities, for future reference,” the report said.

“It is also possible that the network recently established will be used more effectively in a next phase, closer to the EU election’s date.”

It comes amid ongoing concerns about Russia sowing disinformation ahead of June’s European elections, with EU leaders concerned about weakening Western support for Ukraine.

In recent weeks, Czech intelligence uncovered evidence that some unnamed EU politicians took money to spread pro-Kremlin propaganda through a Prague-based news site.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024.

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