Russia accused of faking Ukrainian assassination plot of Russian TV host

Photos released by Russian police from the apparent scene of arrest show Nazi memorabilia next to copies of The Sims 3 video game, which critics say was mistaken for SIM cards

Video released by Russian security forces on April 26, 2022, shows apparent arrest of neo-Nazis who plotted to assassinate Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov, deemed by some as a staged plot by Russia. (Screengrab/Russian police)
Video released by Russian security forces on April 26, 2022, shows apparent arrest of neo-Nazis who plotted to assassinate Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov, deemed by some as a staged plot by Russia. (Screengrab/Russian police)

Photos released by Russian security forces on Monday showed items allegedly found at the house of a person Russia claims was among six neo-Nazis working with Ukraine in a plot to assassinate an influential pro-Kremlin TV host.

But some of the items shown in the released pictures have led some to suspect that the plot was staged by Russia and that Russian officers mistakenly confused SIM cards with a popular video game.

According to a report by the New York Post, the Russian federal police (FSB) said Monday it had arrested six individuals suspected of plotting to kill Russian TV Host Vladimir Solovyov, who is widely regarded as a Kremlin propagandist. The Russian police said the plot was coordinated with Ukrainian security services.

Searching the suspect’s homes, the FSB claimed to recover “an improvised explosive device, eight improvised incendiary devices of the Molotov cocktail type, six PM pistols, a sawn-off hunting rifle, an RGD-5 grenade, more than a thousand cartridges of various calibers, drugs, fake Ukrainian passports [and] nationalist literature and paraphernalia.”

But lying beside a red Nazi t-shirt, and other apparent Nazi memorabilia allegedly belonging to the suspects, were three copies of “The Sims 3” — a popular life simulation video game.

This led some commentators to consider the possibility that the alleged assassination plot was actually poorly staged by Russian security forces.

“Somebody from the top most likely wrote: ‘3 симки’ (‘three SIM cards’), and some genius obeyed,” one user wrote on Twitter, responding to a tweet by BBC journalist Francis Scarr, who asked: “Who knew they were so into The Sims 3?”

“I genuinely believe this is a dumb FSB officer being told to get 3 SIMs,” tweeted Eliot Higgins, the founder of investigative research group Bellingcat.

According to the Post report, the Russian state news agency RIA published another video of the arrest that showed an inscription written in Russian inside an unidentified book that was signed with the words: “signature illegible,” which supports the idea of a poorly-designed staged scene.

Russia and Ukraine have been waging a relentless information war ever since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The most prominent example surrounded the mass killings of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, which Kremlin-backed media have denounced as an elaborate hoax.

Denouncing news as fake or spreading false reports to sow confusion and undermine its adversaries are tactics that Moscow has used for years and refined with the advent of social media in places like Syria.

“This is simply what Russia does every time it recognizes that it has suffered a PR setback through committing atrocities,” said Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow with the Russia and Eurasia program at the Chatham House think tank. “So the system works almost on autopilot.”

Journalists gather as bodies are exhumed and removed from a mass grave on the grounds of the St. Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints church in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 13, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Before the war, Russia denied US intelligence reports that detailed its plans to attack Ukraine. Last month, Russian officials tried to discredit AP photos and reporting of the aftermath of the bombing of a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which left a pregnant woman and her unborn child dead.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has effectively framed the war as a “David vs. Goliath” narrative, underscoring the country’s swift efforts since the first days of the conflict to win the information war, as its citizens, officials, and diplomats battled for hearts and minds and proactively engaged with world governments, companies, and individuals on social media channels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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