Toward the end of March 2023, statements made by pro-Russian social media accounts — and even Russian state television — asserted with great pride that a hypersonic Kinzhal missile had taken out a secret underground NATO command post in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. While the depth of the purported bunker has varied wildly, the claims are unified by their assertions that:
- A Kinzhal missile fired from a Russian fighter jet took out a secret underground NATO command post in Lviv, Ukraine.
- The secret base was used by NATO to control anti-aircraft systems.
- Up to 300 people were located in and/or died in the bunker.
- Most of them were Americans and Poles.
- Among the dead were 40 high ranking foreigners.
The earliest English-language iteration of this claim Snopes has identified came from a March 1, 2023, item published on an Australian website, Cairns Daily, which publishes a wide array of misinformation. A summary of Ukraine war updates authored by a purported "Cossack Colonel Yuri Kominyenko" on that site included this claim:
In western Ukraine a Russian Forces Kinzhal struck a bunker extending to 80 metres deep. The RF believes this bunker near Lvov [Lviv] was a NATO strategic command point used to control anti-aircraft systems. It's still early days but the RF assumes there were up to 300 personnel in the bunker, 40 of which were high ranking foreign specialists, hence we can expect 40 body bags heading west in due course.
A website that pushes several conspiracy theories — The Intel Drop — also published this text verbatim on March 9, 2023, leading to some of the earliest viral tweets about this purported strike:
It bears highlighting that a deep underground base, in the unlikely event a Kinzhal missile could actually penetrate to that depth in the first place, seems wildly unnecessary for NATO, given that Lviv is located less than 20 miles from NATO member state Poland and their significant build-up of NATO forces.
The Kinzhal missile — a missile that can travel several times the speed of sound and evade Western air defenses — is a common feature of Russian propaganda, as are claims of Ukraine acting as a puppet of NATO.
The NATO command center strike claim regained virality on March 12, 2023, when a Greek purported news outlet, "Pronews," repeated the claim. By this point in time, the purported depth of the bunker had increased to 130 meters:
Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile with a target impact speed of Mach 12 (twelve times the speed of sound) managed to hit the Ukrainian-NATO joint command, control and communications center installed at a depth of 130 meters!
The underground headquarters (built 400 feet underground) housed a number of NATO officials and reportedly housed over 300 people. The Russians say they have pulled 40 dead from the wreckage of the underground headquarters so far, but most will never be recovered as they were buried by the debris.
It is unknown how many Westerners and how many Ukrainians were killed in the attack, but it is the first time that the West has counted so many dead, including officers and non-commissioned officers. Most are British and Polish, but among them were Americans and members of private companies supporting communications and data transmission.
Note that Lviv, in addition to being just miles away from NATO-member Poland, is extremely far away from the front lines and has no Russian soldiers on the ground to "[pull] 40 dead from the wreckage of the underground headquarters," shedding considerable doubt on the veracity of the claim.
The Greek story was nonetheless used by several outlets and even, apparently, Russian television programming, as evidence that the strike on this likely-imaginary NATO base was real:
Translated by Google Lens
Outside of the sheer implausibility of this event and the obvious lack of credibility of the outlets reporting on it, there is a central flaw in using the Pronews report as a confirmation of the strike: It attributes events that happened after March 8 to events that had already been written about by "Cossack Colonel Yuri Kominyenko" on March 1.
According to Pronews, the successful strike on the NATO command post occurred during a series of Russian missile strikes on targets across Ukraine between March 8 and March 9. This series of strikes did indeed include Kinzhal missiles and did indeed hit Lviv, among other locations.
Quotes from officials discussing that factual and well-documented series of attacks are included in the Pronews report as being relevant to a purported attack that had allegedly already happened. This is evidence of lazily written misinformation: The attack that is presently alleged to be responsible for the March 1 demise of a military base occurred on March 8.
Additional attempts to bolster this story further reveal its lack of credibility. A viral tweet from March 30 described the same claims made earlier in the month, but this time it included a photo of the purported attack:
The photo suffers from similar chronology challenges and equally significant geographic problems. It was taken in 2021 and shows the aftermath of a Russian airstrike in Syria.
Because the premise underlying viral claims about a NATO command center strike borders on impossible and is militarily improbable, because the only evidence supporting the event comes from websites that deceptively mix unrelated news stories to create legitimate sounding viral claims, and because there is no evidence this event occurred, Snopes ranks the claim "False."