Tracking how Russia fabricated its pretext for invading Ukraine

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Japan

Publishing organisation: Nikkei Asia, Nikkei

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-04-08

Language: English, Japanese

Authors: Yuichiro Kanematsu, Kento Awashima, Toru Tsunashima, Hinata Miura, Marie Sahori, Hiroyuki Miyashita, Akihiro Tojo, Hiroshi Kuno


Yuichiro Kanematsu is an investigative journalist and main writer of this project.

Akihiro Tojo is a newsroom developer. He helped Yuichiro on the technical aspects by collecting and analyzing data.

Kento Awashima is a video reporter and Toru Tsunashima is a business reporter. Both contributed to Section 2 of the project.

Hinata Miura is a investigative journalist and Marie Sahori is an international news reporter.

Both Hiroyuki Miyashita and Hiroshi Kuno are designers.

Project description:

This project illuminated Russia’s disinformation campaign around its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Nikkei showed how Moscow created and spread misleading claims through social media networks. We focused on Russia’s activities on Telegram, a messaging app widely used in former Soviet Union countries.

Nikkei analyzed what methods were used to create false information. We identified relevant accounts and visualized the flow of data using a network diagram. We also analyzed Russia’s widespread use of artificial intelligence to generate false images.

Impact reached:

We published the visual story both in English and in Japanese. It was widely read.

The Japanese version notched more than 91,000 page views and was one of Nikkei’s most read stories in 2022. We acquired more than 20 paid subscribers through this content as of December 2022.

The English version on Nikkei Asia’s website won a gold award at The World Association of News Publishers’ Asian Digital Media Awards 2022 – Nikkei Asia’s first international prize for visually-rich content.

Techniques/technologies used:

To analyze the spread of disinformation, we focused on 15 posts of misinformation by Russian government-affiliated Telegram accounts.

We used Telegram’s analytical tool TGStat. It has an API option and it enabled us to search Telegram posts and related database information.

We tracked the information’s spread by collecting data on which accounts forwarded or quoted these posts. Through these investigations, we identified the accounts of experts who were close to Russian government. We also exposed channels thought to have been created to disinform.

To illustrate these relationships between Telegram accounts as a network diagram, we used the Python library NetworkX. This helped our audience to understand the disinformation activities visually. We used JavaScript library p5.js to publish the graphics interactively online.

Context about the project:

We published this project in early April when Russia’s massive disinformation campaign was still active.

The analysis of ongoing social network activities was difficult to do. We carefully identified the original posts that spread disinformation widely.

Some posts were taken down during our analysis.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Russia has made heavy use of disinformation to attempt to justify territory grabs since the days of the former Soviet Union. Notably, in 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine on the pretext that the government in Kiev was oppressing the region.

Nikkei’s project showed how Russia’s disinformation campaign has changed since then. Online social networks have a strong influence – and the Russian government has used them to the maximum.

Project links: