False claims of French troops in Ukraine reveal wider deceptive narrative

By: nicoleta banila&
April 26 2024

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False claims of French troops in Ukraine reveal wider deceptive narrative

(Source: Madiyevskyy Vyacheslav/Ukrinform via Reuters Connect)

"Russia cannot and must not win this war... There will be French troops in Ukraine. There will be no red lines. I am the president of France and I decide." 

Social media users shared this quote as the words of French President Emmanuel Macron, claiming it was from an interview aired on French TV stations TF1 and France 2 on March 14.

The false quote seems to have been first distributed on X by Visegrad24, known for spreading disinformation, and was shared (archived here, here, and here) by numerous other social media accounts regularly posting about the Russia-Ukraine war.

The speech was not the only disinformation effort involving the narrative of French troops in Ukraine. In the last month, a fake army recruitment website, a video, and other claims all appeared, fooling some into thinking they were genuine. However, these tactics are not new and are most likely part of Russia’s efforts to make it look like it is fighting the West there, partly to justify a costly and prolonged war to its people while also undermining Ukraine’s strength.

Logically Facts takes a closer look at each of these elements of disinformation and how they are all connected. 

The fake Macron speech 

Facebook, X, Reddit, and Telegram screenshots with false snippets of Macron’s interview (Screenshots/Edited by Logically Facts)

The first element of this narrative on troops in Ukraine to be seeded was the Macron quote, which appeared around mid-March. The quote contains parts of a 36-minute discussion that has been taken out of context or completely rewritten. Coverage of the interview by prominent local and international media outlets such as Liberation, Reuters, and Politico does not mention it.

So, what did Macron really say, and in what context? 


Macron responded with an analogy when asked if he envisages sending troops to Ukraine, asking the host if she excluded getting up at some point in the interview. As the host said that she could not rule it out, Macron responded at the 0:54 time stamp: "There it is! We are not sure about doing it, but in any case, we are not in this situation today."

When asked by the host about the significance of such an important decision to send troops to Ukraine, Macron said at 2:53: "I assume it, because it is the role of the President of the Republic among our institutions. The President of the Republic is in charge of national defense. I'm not just making comments, he decides for the safety of French people."

Macron also added that while "all options are possible," his country "will never launch an offensive" and "will never take the initiative" to attack, as it is "a force for peace," stressing that France is not "waging war on Russia.”

An earlier statement on February 26, during which Macron said that while there was no consensus on sending troops to Ukraine, "nothing can be excluded," caused an uproar among Western leaders and was met with threats from Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov of a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. 

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about Macron’s interview - Telegram translation (Source: Telegram/Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

Stephen Hutchings, Professor of Russian studies at the University of Manchester, told Logically Facts that one of the main purposes of trying to suggest that France will definitely send troops to Ukraine is to sow division among Western allies. "The more that they can do to suggest that the West is not speaking with one voice and that Macron has spoken out of turn and that what he's trying to propose is something that will scare even other Europeans, the better it is for them."

Website clone fools many

On March 28, following the interview – its true content distorted through the circulation of the fake quote – French authorities blocked a fake army recruitment website claiming to seek 200,000 French soldiers to fight for Ukraine against Russia. The original website, sengager.fr, is the French army’s official and only recruitment online portal. 

An anonymous government source told AFP that the website seemed to be part of a Russian or pro-Russian effort to spread disinformation about French troop deployment in Ukraine.

Past examples could also indicate it could be a Russian operation: in 2022, EU DisinfoLab uncovered the Doppelganger operation, in which a Russia-based network cloned the websites of French and German ministries, NATO, and major media like the Washington Post and FoxNews, spreading disinformation through social media.

Comparison between the fake website sengager-ukraine.fr and original website sengager.fr showing very close similarities. (Source: https://web.archive.org/sengager.fr/Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts) 

We discovered some of the earliest mentions of the website on March 27 on X (formerly Twitter) – before it was blocked by the authorities. The website URL also appears in several forums and in comments on Russian media articles.

Public data indicates that the website domain sengager-ukraine.fr was registered anonymously on March 15, a day after Macron's interview for French TV, suggesting that these efforts to sow discord are linked. The website's hosting IP was also used to host four other now inactive sites, likely managed by the same person behind the fake recruitment website. An OSINT-focused X account found four other websites with the same IP, all flagged as phishing, malicious, or suspicious.

(Source: lookup.icann.org, Viewsdns/Screenshots/Markup by Logically Facts)

The French Defence Ministry told Logically Facts that the site is a "fake government site, relayed on social networks by malicious accounts, for a disinformation campaign."

Some X posts sharing the link to the website have Community Notes, but some, as seen here, here, and here, do not. The content continued to be posted on X even after the French Defence Ministry revealed that the website was fake.

A speech, a website, and now a video

A day after the French Defense Ministry announced authorities had taken the fake website down, Russian outlet Donetskmedia published an article treating the website as if it was genuine. The article is illustrated with a screenshot of the video shared on X that re-shared disinformation, such as one related to exorbitant spending made by the Ukrainian first lady, debunked by many outlets. The video is accompanied by a French caption whose translation reads, "If it’s a fake, why is it aired on TV?"

The video and screenshots were featured on Russian news websites such as Rambler, AIF, and Podolyaka and disseminated by Facebook users who appear to live in Russia, Slovakia, France, the U.S., Bulgaria, and Romania.

Telegram and VK users quickly spread rumors about the website's deactivation, attributing it to France's inability to handle dissent regarding army enlisting, with some citing a fake French media article claiming Macron seeks 200,000 soldiers for Ukraine.

Collage of photos and a fake video of the recruitment campaign shared by Facebook, X, Telegram, and VK users (Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

The video begins with an initial LCI broadcast, abruptly transitioning to a recruitment video that lacks the LCI watermark. Verification using the InVID WeVerify plugin suggests that multiple frames in the video were likely manipulated. Any region with a distinct color from its surroundings, particularly white or light green against a dark background, could indicate tampering.

LCI told Logically Facts that the channel never broadcast the video and sent us the original video broadcast on March 26, which does not include any promotional video for the false website.

(Fake video analysis/Source: InVid. Screenshots/Composite by Logically Facts)

Reverse image and video searches revealed that the shots with President Macron were taken from his speech during a conference supporting Ukraine, while the short film is from a 2017 actual promotional video made by the Defence Ministry.

A perfect storm: accusations and threats fuel fake social media claims

Amid these tactics, a public statement from Russian Foreign Intelligence Services stated on March 19 that "Macron is driving the French to slaughter" by sending 2,000 troops to fight in Ukraine. A few weeks later, the Russian Foreign Ministry came up with other numbers, saying that approximately 1,500 French troops have already been approved to be sent to Ukraine and will be prepared for deployment in April. 

Swiftly after these statements, numerous Facebook accounts posted that French troops either arrived in Ukraine or were headed for Ukraine, while many also shared alarmist posts about the start of World War 3.

Collage of some of Facebook and X posts alleging the presence or imminent deployment of French troops to Ukraine (Source: Facebook, X/Screenshots/Edited by Logically Facts)

Other posts and articles falsely claimed that the French Ministry of Defense has received over 5,000 resignations from soldiers who do not want to go to fight in Ukraine, a claim echoed by Russian Ambassador to Paris Alexei Meshkov. 

One Telegram post, seen by 1 million users and liked by over 13,000, and also shared by pro-war Russian think-tank Rybar on X, says "it is no secret that the French were repeatedly met in Mariupol and Kharkiv region" and that "foreigners, and not only from France, have been present in Ukraine since the first months of the conflict" and "are far from being instructors." 

A tale as old as the war itself

Stephen Hutchings commented to Logically Facts that Russia is trying to confirm and strengthen what has become its main war narrative in front of its domestic audience, namely that it isn't at war with Ukraine, but with the collective West, and specifically with NATO. For the international audience, it is also a way of suggesting that Ukraine is weak and can't fight its own battles, and in that desperation, NATO is sending troops to bolster Ukraine. France is just the latest specific victim of this narrative. 

In January 2023, NTV television channel and other Kremlin media cited a Washington Post article to claim that the West was sending soldiers to Ukraine. However, the original article referred to International Legion fighters voluntarily joining the war. The fact-checking organization stopfake.org debunked the claim at the time.

Logically Facts has previously debunked claims of Russia being at war with NATO, shooting down a NATO helicopter in Ukraine, or destroying NATO weapons and ammunition depots there.

Other fact-checking organizations also debunked claims on NATO and France sending troops to Ukraine, as indicated by the European Fact-Checking Standards Network (EFCN) Elections 24 Check database gathering and categorizing fact-checked information ahead of the 2024 European Elections.

An important distinction

Commenting on Macron’s March statements, Russian Parliament Deputy Speaker Piotr Tolstoy told French TV station BMFTV: "We will kill all French soldiers who will come to the Ukrainian soil," claiming 13,000 mercenaries are fighting there, including 367 French, 147 of whom have died. However, a post on Telegram and Facebook mistranslated Tolstoy's remarks, incorrectly labeling all 367 as "French soldiers," when in fact, he just refers to them as "French."

Collage of social media posts with the mistranslated interview (Source: Facebook, Telegram/Screenshots/Edited by Logically Facts)

Just like Tolstoy, many Russian officials often talk about Western military and paramilitary troops being present in Ukraine without making a clear distinction between the two. In February 2024, Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, alleged that soldiers from NATO countries were operating as mercenaries. 

Professor Hutchings commented to Logically Facts, "The idea of France sending its own troops is one thing, but the idea that there are Western mercenaries is of a different order. And these stories have been in the Russian news feed ever since the war started, in fact before, they were circulating during the sort of frozen conflict in Eastern Ukraine."

Statements by Western leaders, NATO, along with credible media reports and analysis, indicate that no army except Russia has sent soldiers to fight on the ground in Ukraine, and that Western military presence in Ukraine is limited to training and monitoring the supply of ammunition. 

Despite this, it is expected that this narrative will continue to be exploited by pro-Russian and far-right actors, especially ahead of elections, in order to suggest that some Western leaders are seeking a direct conflict with Russia. In this example – a false narrative of a fake quote, fake website, and a video – it is France, tomorrow it may well be a different NATO country.  

Russia exaggerates the threat of Western military involvement in Ukraine to justify the war to its citizens and sow dissent in the West regarding support for Ukraine, Hutchings said. "One purpose of the stories is to remind Russians why they have to endure this war. It is a way of saying: 'It is not a war of our own making, we only intervened in Ukraine to defend ourselves from NATO.' If Russia succeeds in introducing doubt and dismay among the Western public about this war, the cost and its risks will be lower."

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