Russia Accuses Britain of helping Ukrainian ‘Fake News’ Campaign After Deadly Apartment Block Collapse
The deadly collapse of an apartment block in central Russia on New Year’s Eve has triggered a new round of information war with Ukraine and its Western allies, with Kremlin-backed media accusing Ukraine and even Britain of spreading false claims that the disaster was caused by a terrorist attack.
At least 33 people died when the 10-storey building collapsed in the city of Magnitogorsk, 1000 miles east of Moscow, and many other residents are still missing.
Much of the Russian media coverage has focused on the “miracle” rescue of an 11-month-old baby from the rubble, 35 hours after the building fell.
But after reports circulated that the disaster was terror-related, the Russian state daily Komsomolskaya Pravda lashed out at what it called this “sheer heresy,” blaming it on a fake news campaign being run from Ukraine with British help.
The paper said that it was being organized through fake social media accounts purportedly representing Magnitogorsk residents, allegedly set up by the psychological operations department of Ukraine’s special forces, working with the British military’s “77th Brigade” information warfare unit.
Britain has become an increasingly prominent target of Russian government and media attacks amid continuing tensions between the two states over the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal last year.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recently singled out the 77th Brigade, describing its alleged presence in Ukraine was “totally unacceptable.”
It’s still not clear what caused the apartment block to collapse. While the Russian authorities say that the most plausible cause was a gas leak, at least two Russian media outlets cited sources claiming that the blast was terrorism-related.
According to znak.com, investigators believe the blast originated in a second-floor apartment where an unidentified man was suspected of storing explosives for a planned attack on a local shopping center.
The Magnitogorsk disaster has rekindled memories of a series of explosions that destroyed apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in 1999, killing more than 300 people. Back then, critics accused the Russian security services of carrying out the explosions as part of a plot to ensure Putin would secure the presidency in elections held in March 2000.
Meanwhile, Kiev has accused Moscow of stepping up efforts to interfere in Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for March 31.
In an interview with the Kyiv-based news agency Interfax-Ukraine, the country’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, warned that Russian meddling in Ukraine’s presidential election will be “colossal.”