Friday, June 21, 2024

A Russian Su-57 Was Damaged In Ukraine – Now Comes The Misinformation

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One of the Russian Aerospace Force’s most advanced—and most expensive—combat aircraft was reported to have been damaged on Saturday in a raid carried out by Ukrainian forces. As reported by David Axe for, drones struck the Akhtubinsk State Flight Test Center in southern Russia 365 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border, and a Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name Felon) is believed to have been badly damaged, possibly beyond repair.

Reports have further circulated that a second Su-57 may have also been damaged. The incident is notable as the Felon is the Kremlin’s most advanced combat aircraft. The fifth-generation multirole fighter has earned comparisons to the United States Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. It has a price tag somewhere north of $50 million, and if confirmed destroyed, it would be the first stealth fighter to be lost in combat—albeit not actually in air-to-air combat.

Satellite images of the “before and after” of the Akhtubinsk State Flight Test Center have widely circulated on social media, but right on cue, there has been plenty of misinformation making the rounds on social media. This has included satirical posts that poke fun at the official narrative, while clips from video games and images that are unrelated to the incident make it hard to tell fact from fiction.

This follows similar posts last week after the Iranian-back Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed to have successfully targeted the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea. While many of the posts were also satirical, some still made the rounds throughout the Middle East and were accepted as fact.

All The News Fit To Post—Satire Confuses Matters

The fact that actual news stories are mocked is a bit of a concern, especially given that so many users of social media rely on those platforms as their primary source of news and information. Satire is increasingly becoming a form of misinformation and disinformation, even if that isn’t the intent.

“Satire has a way of measuring who is in and who is out—but sadly, people who mistake satire for legitimate news may not know they didn’t get the joke, and so we have more lies pumped into the news bloodstream,” suggested Susan Campbell, distinguished lecturer of communication, film and media studies in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of New Haven.

“What this episode points out is that a system of government such as ours demands that people be media savvy and willing to do their own digging to check the veracity of the information flooding onto social media platforms,” Campbell continued.

Russian Propagandists Providing Confirmation

Also surprising in this latest incident is that the often vocal Russian propagandists haven’t tried to conceal that the high-value aircraft may have come under attack. Instead of pushing out misinformation/disinformation, there has been confirmation shared on the social media messaging platform Telegram.

In addition, those posts have been critical that a Su-57 could even be found in Kyiv’s crosshairs.

On the Fighterbomber Telegram channel, which remains a popular forum for Russian airmen and their supporters, questions were raised as to how such an expensive warplane could so easily be damaged or destroyed.

“The Su-57 was damaged by shrapnel; it is now being determined whether it can be restored or not.

If not, then this will be the first combat loss of the Su-57 in history… For the price of this Su-57 alone, shelters from UAVs could be built for all PTA aircraft in the country,” the post on the Fighterbomber Telegram channel noted.

Such criticism is unique given the Kremlin’s control of the media, yet, it is also part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s misinformation/disinformation campaign.

“The propagandists have been criticizing the Kremlin for some time now, as there needs to be a release valve,” explained Dr. Matthew Schmidt, professor of national security and political science at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.

“Putin’s brand of autocracy has never been as strong as China’s, and Putin’s wasn’t designed to stop all dissent, but instead was designed to control the dissent,” added Schmidt. “The critical part here is that the pattern in Russia has been not to criticize Putin but to criticize the military establishment and those beneath him. It isn’t Putin making these mistakes, they’ll publicize. Rather it is the generals and ministers making these mistakes, and the posts will drive Putin to make the policy changes without blaming him.”

Already some high-ranking officials have been sacked, including Sergei Shoigu, who is no longer serving as minister of defense.

“That is a classic Russian narrative going back to ‘fairytales’ where the Tsar was ignorant that things that his boyars and princes were doing and hurting Russia,” said Schmidt. “The Tsar eventually is told of the bad things his princes are doing and then reacts. That is the same structure being conducted by the military critics.”

Satire and misinformation will confuse matters, and later when it can’t be denied any longer, someone else will take the blame!

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