Fact Check

Putin Deepfake Imagines Russian President Announcing Surrender

This is likely the first time that deepfake videos have been created and deployed in a war propaganda effort.

Published Mar 18, 2022

Image Via Snopes
A video shows Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing, in March 2022, the end of Russia's war with Ukraine.

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In March 2022, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine entered its third week, a video was circulated on social media that supposedly showed Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing that the Russian military was surrendering and the war in Ukraine was over:

This is not a genuine video of Putin.

Reuters provided a partial translation of this deepfake video, writing:

In the video, Putin appears to say, "We've managed to reach peace with Ukraine” and goes on to announce the restoration of independence of Crimea as a republic inside Ukraine. A tweet sharing the video with a caption in Ukrainian reads in translation, “The President of the Russian Federation announced the surrender of Russia. Russian soldier, drop your weapons and go home while you're alive!”

Putin has made no such announcement and as of this writing, the country is still attacking Ukraine. On March 17, the day after this video was posted, Russia bombed a theater that was being used by Ukrainian civilians as a shelter.

The video was circulated on social media a few days after a poor deepfake of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was shared online. Serhii Sternenko, the Twitter user above who shared this video, admitted in a follow-up tweet that this video was fake but said that it was "quality" work compared to the Zelenskyy fake.

Sternenko wrote (translated via Google and edited for clarity): "Learn, кацапи (a Ukrainian derogatory term for Russians), how to make [deepfakes]. This is a quality work, not the bullshit you [used] against Zelensky."

The above-displayed video was created by manipulating a real video of Putin that was originally posted by the Kremlin on Feb. 21. While Putin's movements in the edited video and the genuine video generally matched up, the edited version manipulated Putin's mouth to make it appear as if the fabricated audio was truly coming from the Russian president. This is most noticeable during portions of the video where the real Putin is silent and the fake Putin is speaking.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two videos.

Deepfake videos have been around for awhile, but up until now they have largely been used in a satirical fashion or to make fake porn videos. Sam Gregory, an AI and disinformation expert with the international non-profit organization WITNESS, said this is the first time that these deepfakes were created and spread as part of a war propaganda effort.

Gregory told Euronews: "This is the first deepfake that we've seen used in an intentional and broadly deceptive way ... It's not an effective deepfake, partly because it's not an extremely well-made deepfake, but also because Ukraine has done a masterful job pre-bunking and then swiftly rebutting the video."

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“Deepfake Presidents Used in Russia-Ukraine War.” BBC News, 18 Mar. 2022. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-60780142.

“Fact Check-Doctored Video Appears to Show Putin Announcing Peace.” Reuters, 17 Mar. 2022. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-putin-address-idUSL2N2VK1CC.

Holroyd, Matthew. “Deepfake Video Shows Zelenskyy’s False Call for Ukraine to Surrender.” Euronews, 16 Mar. 2022, https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/03/16/deepfake-zelenskyy-surrender-video-is-the-first-intentionally-used-in-ukraine-war.

“Putin Declares Peace with Ukraine in Debunked Deepfake Video.” Indy100, 18 Mar. 2022, https://www.indy100.com/news/putin-peace-ukraine-deepfake-video.

“Videos with False Subtitles Do Not Show Russian Leader Threatening War with Nigeria over Ukraine.” Fact Check, 14 Mar. 2022, https://factcheck.afp.com/doc.afp.com.326643N.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.