NAfter Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey received a questionable video call from Vitali Klitschko at the end of June, it soon became clear that the mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv was not behind it, but two Russian comedians: Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov. Under the pseudonyms Vovan and Lexus, they publish videos of their digital ring pranks on “Rutube”, the Russian equivalent of YouTube. They call politicians like Justin Trudeau and George Bush jr. or celebrities like JK Rowling. At the moment, Vovan and Lexus are trying to elicit negative statements about Ukraine from their interlocutors.
Everyone who was deceived quickly agreed that the supposedly humorous action was part of Russian warfare. It remained unclear where Kuznetsov and Stolyarov get their funds to stage their deceptive maneuvers. In an interview with the RBB magazine “Contrasts” they now announcedthat they are paid by “Rutube”. The video portal belongs to Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned company Gazprom. “We work for Rutube and are Rutube ambassadors. So we get our money from there,” Stolyarov told the “Contrasts” reporters.
So far, excerpts from discussions with European politicians, including Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw, and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, have been available on Rutube under the heading “The Journey of Ukrainians through Europe”. According to “Contrasts”, the following videos, including that with Franziska Giffey, will be released next week.
How did the comedians manage to fool the politicians?
It has not yet been clarified how the “comedians” managed to simulate interlocutors such as Vitali Klitschko or, in the case of Rowling, Volodymyr Zelenskyj, in such a way that those called were fooled. The Berlin Senate Chancellery initially suspected that they had been taken in by a so-called deepfake. A program is fed with image and video data of a face in order to later reproduce it artificially by incorporating it into video or live recordings like a digital mask. According to Contrast magazine, which analyzed photos of the video call, it is more likely that the video calls were made using older recordings that could be rearranged at the touch of a button.
The director of the NATO Center of Excellence for Strategic Communications, Jānis Sārts, also has his say on “Contrasts”. He emphasizes how important it is for a regime like Putin’s to also control the “humor” which, in the case of Vovan and Lexus, is directed exclusively against Western politicians. Inciting them to make negative statements, for example about Ukrainian refugees, fits in with the Kremlin’s comprehensive information war strategy.
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