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Fact check: Do these videos show Wagner battles in Russia?

June 27, 2023

The world held its breath as Wagner forces advanced on Moscow and their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, seemed to challenge President Vladimir Putin. Many videos claim to show clashes between both sides, but not all are real.

Three screenshots showing alleged battles by Wagner forces in Russia, all false
These images are said to show Wagner clashes in Russia. They are, however, not realImage: Twitter/Arma 3/Call of Duty

After Saturday's surprising about-face following an alleged coup attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group, the world is still looking for answers. Prigozhin apparently wanted to overthrow the Russian defense minister — and possibly even more.

Since the weekend, countless photos and videos have been circulating online, allegedly showing battles between Wagner mercenaries and Russian troops. Some, however, have actually been taken from computer games like "Arma 3" or "Call of Duty."

A Wagner attack on Moscow's airport?

Claim: This photo, shared more than 600,000 times on Twitter as this article was being published, claims to show a still from a security camera recording a "full assault on Moscow International Airport" by "Wagner mercenaries."

DW fact check: False.

This viral tweet is not proof of an attack by Wagner forces on one of Moscow's four international airports. In fact, the photo shows a scene from a video game. The grainy, black-and-white snapshot is difficult to verify. However, the muzzle flashes from the weapons appear to be fake, resembling clouds rather than real blasts. A reverse image search quickly reveals the actual source of the image: a blog entry describing a scene in the 2009 game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" — one of the world's most popular first-person shooter games.

The blog features the same image seen in the viral tweet. Instead of a real assault, it shows a screengrab from a controversial mission known as "No Russian," in which the player takes part in a fictional massacre of civilians at a fictional international airport in Moscow.

Did the Russian Air Force attack Wagner fighters on the M4 highway?

Claim: This video, viewed more than half a million times, allegedly shows the "Russian Air Force Engaging Wagner PMC Ground Troops on the M4" highway that links Moscow and Rostov-on-Don, where Wagner fighters briefly seized a key military facility.

DW fact check: False.

Here, too, the tweet isn't showing the real situation on the ground in Russia, but another scene from a video game. To analyze the video, DW used the fake news debunker plugin by InVID & WeVerify. Using still images generated by the plugin, we ran a reverse image search and found severalvideo platforms showing the exact same sequence, linked to the game "Arma 3." The game, from Bohemia Interactive, is said to offer players the chance to "experience true combat gameplay in a massive military sandbox" set in the near future.

Did the Russian air force attack Wagner positions?

Claim: This video is supposed to show a "war in Russia" and further attacks by the Russian air force on "Wagner PMC Ground Troops."

DW fact check: False.

As with the previous tweets, users were quick to question the authenticity of this video. And rightly so: The video doesn't show images of a "war in Russia," but rather yet another video game sequence — once again, a scene from "Arma 3." Our research, using a reverse image search of a video still, lead us to a YouTube video that went viral with 43 million views. It shows a sequence from "Arma 3" which has often been used to portray an alleged real battle.

Video game sequences were already being shared on social media in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, allegedly showing real fighting. And quite often, these photos and videos end up deceiving people.

Ukraine war fact check: 1 year since Russia's invasion, 1 year of disinformation warfare

This article was originally published in German.

Edited by: Wesley Dockery