As the French president's visit to Ukraine approaches, Paris is toughening its tone toward Russia, accusing Russia of leading an intensified disinformation campaign and being responsible for the deaths of two frontline humanitarian workers.
• Also read: According to Paris, the two Frenchmen killed in Ukraine were “humanitarian aid workers”.
• Also read: “French mercenaries” in Ukraine: Paris identifies a “coordinated maneuver by Russia”
Tensions between the two countries have increased in recent weeks over Ukraine, with Moscow criticizing France's “militaristic frenzy” after promising new arms sales to Kiev.
Russian Ambassador to France Alexei Mechkov was summoned on Monday to the French Foreign Ministry, which once again condemned the Russian attacks that killed two French humanitarian workers in Ukraine last Thursday and denounced “the resurgence of disinformation against France.” said the Quai d'Orsay ministry.
For its part, the Russian Embassy pointed out that in this interview, Mr. Mechkov denounced “the irresponsibility and danger of Paris' increasing involvement in the Ukraine conflict.”
He accused France of supplying Kiev with “increasingly destructive and deadly weapons” and of failing to condemn recent particularly deadly Ukrainian attacks in Russia and the Moscow-occupied zone in eastern Ukraine.
“Wave of disinformation”
According to the French ministry, the two humanitarian workers died in a strike in Beryslaw, a small town on the north bank of the Dnieper, in which three Frenchmen were also injured.
Paris condemned an act of “barbarism” by Moscow. The anti-terrorism public prosecutor's office launched an investigation on Friday evening.
“We hope that what happened will make French public opinion think even more about the merits of the counterproductive and dangerous line of its leaders regarding the conflict in Ukraine,” the door said on Monday. -Spokesperson for Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova.
“We have of course been paying attention to these new emotional outbursts (…) that are directed against our country,” she also said when asked by the media about the French reaction to the deaths of humanitarian workers.
This episode takes place shortly after a battle between Paris and Moscow in the information sector. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed last month to have “eliminated” around sixty militants, including most of them “French mercenaries,” in an attack on the night of January 16-17 in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine. Information was immediately denied by Paris.
In the wake of these accusations, several lists, including one purporting to reveal the identities of some thirty “dead French mercenaries,” were widely circulated by Telegram channels and pro-Kremlin activists, before French volunteers in Ukraine themselves denied this, including three to the AFP.
“We expect a wave of disinformation ahead of Macron’s visit to Ukraine,” a French military expert recently emphasized to some journalists.
“France is now one of Russia's main targets in the information field,” he recalled, estimating that the story of the alleged mercenaries was “a textbook case,” as the pace of the accusations responded closely to French announcements in favor of Kiev.
Russia is regularly accused by Paris of manipulating information against France and other Western countries.
In June, French authorities denounced a large-scale digital interference operation, notably through the publication of false content hostile to Ukraine on websites imitating those of major French newspapers. One of these articles claimed that Paris would introduce a tax to fund aid to Ukraine.
In the fall, false advertisements and false graffiti targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky began circulating online, reinforcing the idea of growing weariness of public opinion in Europe and the United States toward Kiev.
The message: Make people believe in an increase in spontaneous anti-Zelensky demonstrations in Western countries whose leaders nevertheless overwhelmingly support Kiev.
These narratives are based on a classic process of disinformation with a political aim and aim not only to undermine that support but also to foment disunity within Western societies, French officials believe.
“Russia cannot expect any fatigue in the Europeans’ support of Ukraine,” Emmanuel Macron assured last Thursday after European leaders reached an agreement on 50 billion euros in aid for Kiev. A clear message to Vladimir Putin.
The French president announced in January that he would visit Ukraine in February, a visit whose date has not yet been announced.