You may have seen the recent video of a Russian woman wearing a white suit as she marches across a training range with explosions going off around her. The video was widely covered on April 25, and many news outlets speculated on the new and mysterious “Terminator” suit that makes a person immune to explosions.
In reality, all these outlets were cleverly duped by yet another Russian disinformation campaign. The video was released by Russia’s deputy prime minister, and shows a new protective suit allegedly being developed for Russian Armed Forces by the Central Research Institute of Precision Machine Building.
So what’s the problem? Veteran-run military news website Funker530 notes that in addition to being explosive-proof, the suit may also be magic—since it seems capable of making the environment around her explosive-proof as well.
Either that, it states, “or, this is just a video of a woman in a flame retardant suit walking through a field of pyrotechnics.”
If you watch the video, you’ll notice the explosions don’t seem to damage the surrounding environment—at least not in the way that real, military-grade explosives would. You’ll see a few pieces of shrapnel from the pyrotechnics, and some soot left behind, but the rest of the scenery looks generally untouched.
Propulsion also plays an important role with military-grade explosives. Even if the woman were wearing a bomb-proof suit, any real explosions would still throw her in the air—which they don’t in the video.
Russia has been extremely successful lately in its creation of well-tailored disinformation campaigns. The idea behind disinformation is to create news stories with some sliver of truth but with false conclusions, and with the goal of getting the stories covered in foreign media.
The propaganda trick was used heavily by the Soviets, but the history of disinformation actually dates back into Tsarist Russia.
Disinformation typically has a political or ideological goal, and is tailored to alter public perceptions in the host country’s favor. One of its most common uses by Russian agencies is to create false stories to undermine the image of the United States, but Russia has also been using it to pump up its own image.
In Russia today, many of its disinformation campaigns are created by its Internet Research Agency, better known as the “troll farm.”
New York Times Magazine published a good exposé on the troll farm on June 2, 2015, although the story missed the historical context of Russian disinformation. It discovered the agency was behind several fake stories, including one about a Louisiana chemical company leaking toxic fumes, and another about an Ebola outbreak in Atlanta.
More recently, a fake video showing people dressed as American troops and shooting a Quran was traced to the Russian agency. The damage from the fake video had already been done, however, since it was circulated among Russia’s muslim population.
The latest video seems to go along a similar route. Russia is facing heavy international pressure, and positive news coverage goes a long way to improve its international image.
Veteran-run news site, SOFREP, had debunked another otherwise successful Russian disinformation campaign on March 28. The Russian military claimed one of its special operations soldiers called an airstrike on himself, since he was surrounded by ISIS fighters. The story was again widely covered in global news outlets, but SOFREP noted many of the gaps in the story, and stated, “in truth, this is clearly nothing more than yet another dual-purpose Russian information operation.”