Russian Attempts To Boost Morale With Bizarre Stunt Risks Causing Accidents, UK Says
Pro-war actors are supposedly trying to raise morale by spoofing the 'Z' symbol
Strange Russian attempts to boost morale amid a stagnant performance in the Ukraine war just risks causing maritime accidents, according to the UK.
In its latest update posted on Twitter on Thursday, the ministry of defence claimed that experts had spotted a strange shape when looking at the geolocated tracks left by vessels in the Black Sea via open source software.
According to the MoD and the data science company Geollect, a 65km-long ‘Z’ symbol has been “remotely spoofed” near the occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
The ‘Z’ sign rose in popularity among supporters of the war around the time Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine last year.
It was first spotted painted on tanks crossing into Ukraine, before being emblazoned on billboards in major Russian cities and eventually being sold on merchandise by the Russian state news outlet RT.
Described as a “zwastika” in some quarters, there have been plenty of theories as to where the letter came from and why it’s so popular. Experts previously told HuffPost that it was simply a way for Russian troops to tell their own equipment apart from their enemy’s, because Russia and Ukraine use similar machinery.
Still, this particular ‘Z’ found in the tracking data is being perceived as a means to “bolster Russian morale”, according to the MoD – and it is thought to have been there since May 14.
What’s more, the pro-war sign also wasn’t created by actual vessels, according to the UK intelligence.
The MoD claimed: “Tracks making up the image suggested vessel speeds up to 102 knots (188km/h) further suggesting they were fake.
“Pro-Russian actors likely conducted the spoofing as an information operation, potentially in an attempt to bolster Russian morale ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.”
Russia has been waiting for a Ukrainian counterattack for months, but Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that not all of the equipment from the West has arrived yet – hence the delay.
Ukraine has made it clear that it wants to reclaim the Crimean peninsula too, almost a decade on from Russia’s annexation of it.
The MoD also claimed: “The spoofing of AIS increases the risks of maritime accidents.
“Despite Russian virtual information operations in the Black Sea, its physical navy remains vulnerable.”
The MoD claimed that “the Ivan Khurs intelligence gathering vessel” was probably attacked on May 24, too.
This is Russia’s most modern spy warship. It was in international waters when – according to clips released by the Russian defence ministry – it was attacked by several oncoming drones, although it allegedly was not destroyed.
Moscow blamed Ukraine for the attack, but Kyiv did not comment.
[1/4] Analysis by Geollect indicates that since 14 May 2023, commercial vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) data has been remotely spoofed to create the impression of a 65km long Russian pro-war Z symbol on the Black Sea, visible on open source tracking software. pic.twitter.com/aHUi5kqI6c
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 25, 2023