Russian disinformation campaigns are nothing new, but this one is particularly bizarre. A state-owned Russian news site is pushing an obvious falsehood that Olena Zelensky, wife of Ukraine president Volodymyr, bought a Bugatti Tourbillion from dealer Bugatti Paris. The dealer denies that this is the case, and in a statement said it's taking legal action against the parties that pushed this propaganda.

As noted by Italian journalist David Puente on X (formerly Twitter), the story emerged from a French-language website called Verite Cachee, or "Hidden Truth in France." The site went live just last month, ahead of the French elections, and appears to be filled with low-quality, AI-generated, pro-Russia content. 

The site has what it falsely purports to be an invoice for the car, and a deepfake video on Instagram of someone claiming to be a dealership employee announcing the sale of a Tourbillon to Zelensky. The story from this site was then picked up by RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned publication. 

 

Ukraine's Center for Countering Disinformation points out on X that these claims are obviously false. It also surmises that the claims were timed to next week's NATO summit in Washington D.C., which Zelensky will attend.

 

Bugatti Paris notes that the invoice is fake. "The mandatory legal details don't appear on the invoice, the price of the vehicle is obviously wrong, the price of the options and their descriptions are inaccurate and inconsistent, the graphics are outdated, and the [owners of Bugatti Paris] Car Lovers Group would never have allowed such a document to be issued." In case there was any doubt.

It's all a bit crude and obvious to anyone with even a bit of media literacy, but this whole thing hasn't stopped people from believing it. On X, "Bugatti" is a trending topic right now, with nearly 100,000 posts, and not just because people are excited about the Tourbillion.

BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh believes this bit of propaganda can be traced to a network of sites ran by John Mark Dougan, an ex Florida cop living in Russia who runs a number of pro-Russia disinformation sites. The BBC reported last year that Dougan's sites pushed a rumor that Volodomyr Zelensky bought two yachts with U.S. taxpayer dollars. That false story was cited by U.S. senators Marjorie Taylor Greene and J.D. Vance.

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