Real news site or Russian propaganda?

(State Dept./M. Gregory)
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

At first glance, News Front looks like a legitimate news website. It’s not. It’s a Crimea-based propaganda outlet with links to the Federal Security Service, a Russian intelligence agency.

In its campaign to undermine Ukraine, democracy and free elections, the Kremlin creates websites like News Front that masquerade as independent news sites to spread disinformation.

News Front was founded in 2015 with the self-proclaimed goal of providing an “alternative source of information” for Western audiences. Publishing in 10 languages, it purports to provide “objective coverage.” Its content proves otherwise.

Some of News Front’s false claims include:

  • The United States created COVID-19 as a bioweapon and tested deadly viruses on people in Ukraine and China.
  • Ukraine is a colony of the International Monetary Fund.
  • The European Union had abandoned Ukraine.

Closer scrutiny shows collusion with Russia

In 2020, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed accounts connected to News Front from their platforms for violating their companies’ policies. Facebook, for example, cited News Front’s “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (PDF, 1.8 MB) on behalf of a foreign entity, namely Russia, seeking to manipulate public debate.

Time magazine likewise questioned the site’s self-proclaimed independence, saying in 2017 that News Front “rarely even pretends to uphold traditional journalistic standards.” The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab had noted News Front’s use of photoshopped content.

News Front is “one of the Kremlin’s most prolific and far-reaching propaganda weapons.”

~ Alliance for Securing Democracy, 2011

A former News Front employee said Vladimir Putin’s office gives assignments directly to the outlet, according to a 2020 U.S. State Department report (11.9 MB).

In 2015, the European Union developed a site, EUvsDisinfo, to combat the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns, including websites like News Front.

Screen grab of the EUvsDisinfo website

In April 2021 and again in March 2022 the U.S. Treasury sanctioned News Front and its high-level employees, calling the site a Russian intelligence-directed outlet. The Treasury Department said News Front “spread false narratives that advance Russian strategic objectives to destabilize Ukraine and falsely justify the Kremlin’s activities.”

The Kremlin’s disinformation and censorship campaigns have increased dramatically since its further invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

News Front is far from being Russia’s only fake news site. In March 2022, the Treasury Department sanctioned 11 Russian “intelligence-directed” disinformation outlets for spreading false narratives to justify Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. One of Russia’s primary disinformation narratives was that Ukraine was actually the aggressor, even though Russia attacked Ukraine and and seized territory in 2014, and then launched a massive further invasion of Ukraine in 2022.