It may be a tempest in a teacup, or, perhaps, a storm in a samovar. Russian social media is reacting strongly to something President Vladimir Putin showed filmmaker Oliver Stone for the director’s much-hyped, four-part series of free-flowing chats with the long-time Russian leader.
In episode three of “The Putin Interviews,” the Russian president shows Stone footage on a cellphone of what he claims are Russian operations in Syria. You see heavy bombardment, huge clouds and men running.
The problem? It may not be Russian operations at all.
The Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of Russian researchers who track Russian involvement in military conflicts, believes the footage is originally U.S. Department of Defense video, from either 2009 or 2013, showing anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan. It appears to have been originally posted on Military.com. According to CIT researcher Kirill Mikhailov, someone got hold of it, dubbed recordings of conversations between Ukrainian air force pilots over it, and published it last year, on the internet, as Russian military video from Syria, to see what viewers would do with it. Mikhailov calls it"a bit of amateur fake news bait."
“They posted it on YouTube to see how far it would go. It went to the top.”
Mikhailov said his team matched up the two videos, Putin’s and the doctored U.S. one, now out there on YouTube, and the explosions on each happen at the same time and the same place. He believes with 100 percent certainty that it is video of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon tells Fox News the video showed to Stone is not Russian military footage, and it does look like the original Military.com footage featuring Apaches.
The Kremlin has said that the video was part of a Ministry of Defense briefing to President Putin. It also said the phone he held up to Stone was not his, but an aide’s. The Kremlin says it will be able to authenticate the video, but won’t say how.
According to Russian network RT, Oliver Stone, at a festival in Norway, told the media “not to trivialize his documentary” over this.
"He brought out a phone and he showed it to us, we filmed it, and he said this was that,” Stone said about the incident. “Why would he fake it? I mean, the Russians did very well in terms of damages to ISIS in Syria.”
But Russian journalist and propaganda expert Alexey Kovalev said the video is a fake.
“It’s obviously not what Putin says it is,” he said. “That much is abundantly clear. And it tells you a lot about what kind of intel Putin is fed by his army of ‘Yes Men’.”
Meanwhile, Russian social media has turned the whole story into one big meme-a-thon, superimposing the Brooklyn Bridge onto Putin’s phone—look, it’s the new bridge to Crimea!
But Mikhailov of CIT told Fox News that jokes and memes aside: “If the man who has the nuclear codes gets fed un-fact-checked information and he’s the only one who makes big policy decisions in Russia, it is very concerning.”
Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox