russia takes the information war against Ukraine into video games

russia is taking the information war against Ukraine into the world of video games. It uses them and related sites to spread propaganda to a new, mostly young audience, which the Kremlin uses to justify the war in Ukraine, writes The New York Times.

For example, in the game Minecraft, which is owned by Microsoft, russian players recreated the battle for Soledar, a Ukrainian city that russian troops captured in January.

And the channel for the russian version of World of Tanks, a multiplayer war game, marked the 78th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in May by recreating a Soviet tank parade in Moscow in 1945.

“The gaming world is really a platform that can impact public opinion, to reach an audience, especially young populations,” said Tanya Bekker, a researcher at ActiveFence, a cybersecurity company who has uncovered several examples of russian propaganda in Minecraft.

In April, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that the company’s security service detected attempts by russia to infiltrate some gaming communities. According to him, Microsoft informed the governments of the countries, which it did not name, about this.

“In truth, it’s not the No. 1 thing we should worry about,” Mr. Smith said at an economic conference in Washington organized by Semafor, the news site. “They’re going to publish information somewhere. You know, it just happens to be a good place for them to get the information into circulation.”

The head of Microsoft’s threat analysis team, Clint Watts, told researchers at New York University’s Stern School of Business that a russian paramilitary group known as the “Wagner Group” was pushing “malign narratives” on Discord and Steam to support Kremlin views. Perhaps it also sought to encourage recruitment into the ranks of militants.

“Russian propaganda is testing new things to promote its regime,” said Artem Starosek, head of the Ukrainian Molfar community.

Molfar researchers found more than a dozen cases of pro-Kremlin propaganda in Minecraft, Roblox, russian versions of World of Tanks and World of Warships, Fly Corp, Armored Warfare and War Thunder.

Following russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Microsoft announced that it was suspending new sales of products and services to Russia to comply with sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe. But russians continue to find ways to exploit its games and sites like Discord and Steam.