Russian disinformation campaigns are nothing new, but the latest attempt is particularly bizarre and surprisingly audacious. Imagine a story so outlandish that it involves a high-end luxury car, fake invoices, and deepfake videos—all centered around the wife of a country’s president. Welcome to the world of propaganda 2.0.

Olena Zelensky and the Phantom Bugatti

So, here’s the scoop: a state-owned Russian news site is pushing an obvious falsehood that Olena Zelensky, the wife of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, bought a Bugatti Tourbillion from Bugatti Paris. In reality, the dealership has denied this claim, even going so far as to announce legal action against the propagators of this bizarre narrative.

How It All Began: Enter Verite Cachee

This wild story first saw the light of day on a French-language website called Verite Cachee, which translates to “Hidden Truth in France.” Launched just last month, right before the French elections, this site is a classic example of low-quality, AI-generated, pro-Russia content. Think of it as the internet’s equivalent of a shady back alley.


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Fake Invoice and Deepfake Videos: The Propaganda Toolkit

The site didn’t stop at a mere article. It featured what it claimed to be an invoice for the Bugatti and even posted a deepfake video on Instagram. In the video, someone pretending to be a dealership employee proudly announces the sale of the Tourbillion to Olena Zelensky. If it sounds too far-fetched to be true, that’s because it is.

RIA Novosti Picks Up the Story

Not surprisingly, the story was then picked up by RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned publication. It’s like a game of telephone, but with a much more sinister twist. As the story spread, it gained traction, despite its blatant falsehoods.

Ukraine’s Center for Countering Disinformation Steps In

Ukraine’s Center for Countering Disinformation quickly flagged the claims as obviously false. They pointed out the suspicious timing of the story, which coincided with the upcoming NATO summit in Washington D.C., where President Zelensky is scheduled to attend.

Bugatti Paris Calls Out the Fake Invoice

Bugatti Paris was quick to dismantle the fake invoice, noting several glaring inaccuracies. According to their statement, the mandatory legal details were missing, the vehicle’s price was incorrect, the options and their descriptions were inconsistent, and the graphics were outdated. Essentially, the invoice was a hot mess.

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The Power of Media Literacy

Despite the crude and obvious nature of the disinformation, it hasn’t stopped people from believing it. On social media platform X (formerly Twitter), “Bugatti” became a trending topic with nearly 100,000 posts. Sadly, not all these posts were from people debunking the story; some were genuinely convinced.

The Man Behind the Curtain: John Mark Dougan

BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh traced this bit of propaganda to a network of sites run by John Mark Dougan, an ex-Florida cop now living in Russia. Dougan operates several pro-Russia disinformation sites and has a history of spreading false stories. For instance, he previously pushed a rumor that President Zelensky bought two yachts with U.S. taxpayer dollars—a story that was even cited by U.S. senators Marjorie Taylor Greene and J.D. Vance.

Why This Disinformation Campaign Matters

At first glance, this might seem like just another silly internet hoax, but it’s a part of a much larger and more dangerous game. Disinformation campaigns like this one are designed to sow discord, spread confusion, and ultimately weaken trust in democratic institutions. They exploit the gullibility of the public and the speed at which misinformation can spread online.

The Role of AI in Modern Propaganda

One of the more concerning aspects of this story is the use of AI-generated content. As AI technology becomes more sophisticated, so too does its potential for misuse. The Verite Cachee site is filled with low-quality, AI-generated content that pushes a pro-Russia narrative. This is a chilling reminder of how AI can be weaponized to produce vast amounts of propaganda quickly and cheaply.

The Legal and Ethical Implications

Bugatti Paris’s decision to take legal action against those who propagated the fake story underscores the serious legal and ethical implications of such disinformation campaigns. Fake invoices and deepfake videos aren’t just misleading; they’re defamatory and damaging to reputations and businesses.

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Combating Disinformation: What Can Be Done?

So, what can be done to combat such brazen disinformation campaigns? Here are a few steps:

  • Media Literacy Education: Educating the public on how to critically evaluate news sources and spot fake news is crucial.
  • Fact-Checking Organizations: Supporting fact-checking organizations that can quickly debunk false stories.
  • Legal Actions: Encouraging businesses and individuals to take legal action against those who spread harmful disinformation.
  • Regulation of AI Content: Implementing regulations around the use of AI in content creation to prevent misuse.

Conclusion: Stay Informed and Skeptical

The tale of Olena Zelensky’s non-existent Bugatti purchase is a bizarre yet telling example of the lengths to which disinformation campaigns will go. As consumers of news, it’s more important than ever to stay informed, skeptical, and vigilant against the spread of fake news. Whether it’s a high-profile political figure or an everyday topic, questioning the source and veracity of information is crucial in today’s digital age.

By fostering media literacy, supporting fact-checkers, and holding perpetrators accountable, we can push back against the tide of disinformation and ensure a more informed and discerning public. So next time you see a sensational headline or an outlandish claim, remember the fake Bugatti—and dig a little deeper before you believe it.

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