A video spreading across social media of Volodymyr Zelensky with a bag of cocaine on his desk is – of course – fake, and the latest in an ongoing smear campaign against the Ukrainian president.
In the manipulated video, a not-inconspicuous amount of white powder is seen next to Zelensky as he conducts a video conference with Elon Musk.
It didn’t take long before the original, cocaine-less clip resurfaced — BBC disinformation journalist Shayan Sardarizeh noted the original video was from March — but by then hundreds of pro-Russian, English-speaking Twitter accounts had spread the shallow fake video.
Disinformation investigative group Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins also shared a side-by-side comparison of the digitally altered video and the original:
Pro-Russian accounts are currently sharing a video (left) that has a big ol' pile of cocaine digitally added to smear Zelensky. The original video (right), sans cocaine, can be found here https://t.co/cChEsa7Sbj pic.twitter.com/JAfGsiEIDj
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) April 23, 2022
Pro-Russia Ukrainian politician Ilya Kiva previously appeared on Kremlin-funded media in March to propagate the Zelensky drug use smear. “He is a drug addict. Cocaine,” Kiva, facing treason charges in Ukraine, said on Russia’s Channel 1 (via The Mirror). “His addiction to cocaine also distorts reality.”
Another video that circulated on social media featured a clip of a years-old interview where Zelensky praises the drug, saying it “gives energy for the whole day.” A deeper dive into the interview revealed that Zelensky was just “really addicted to coffee.” “I don’t use drugs,” Zelensky added.
The drug rumors even date back to when Zelensky was running for president, resulting in both he and his opponent Petro Poroshenko — rumored to have an alcohol addiction — agreeing to blood screening tests that were broadcast live, the AFP reported. Both candidates passed.
However, since then, every sniffle seen in a Zelensky video that is uploaded online has been labeled as a side effect of cocaine use by the hundreds of pro-Russian social media accounts that spread the videos online, culminating in the obviously fake pile-of-coke video this weekend.
As Rolling Stone recently reported, as Russia’s military wages a more and more brutal campaign against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s propagandists have been in overdrive.