What we know about “Portal Combat,” the network of pro-Russian disinformation sites condemned by France

Viginum, the service responsible for foreign digital interference, has identified nearly 200 sites that disseminate massively misleading content, designed to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine and influence support for Kiev, including France.


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France condemns the existence of a network of pro-Russian propaganda sites in Europe, which have been nicknamed "Portal Combat" (Illustrative photo).  (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/AFP)

No “Adverse Information Maneuvers” K “France strongly condemns”. The war in Ukraine will soon enter its third year, and numerous elections will mobilize public opinion around the world, Vigenum, a French organization fighting foreign digital interference, announced on Monday February 12, around 200 in existence. “Information Portal” Used to broadcast pro-Russian propaganda aimed at Kiev supporters in Europe. Here’s what we know about this network, nicknamed “Portal Combat.”

Three “ecosystems” of promotion sites.

After four months of work, Viginam busted the network “Structured and Coordinated” At least 193 news portals “with similar characteristics, which broadcasts pro-Russian content to an international audience”, in Europe and the United States. In their technical report (PDF)The French organization fighting digital intervention distinguishes three groups that appeared in different periods.

The largest portion (147) belongs to this“Historical Ecosystem”. This set of sites created since 2013 is primarily targeted “Russian and Ukrainian audiences”With domain names containing local names in both countries. “Some of these sites, particularly those targeting Ukraine, are now inactive or offline”Viginum notes.

“” ecosystem brings together 41 “Landmarks” Made between April and December 2022, and aimed at a Russian-speaking audience in Ukraine. “Some sites target very specific and strategic areas such as Kherson or Mariupol”The report clarifies.

Founded in June 2023, the most recent sites are its “Pravda Ecosystem”, a Russian word meaning “truth”, referring to the name of the former daily newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party. Five in number, they aim straight “Several Western countries that have publicly shown their support for Ukraine” : France (with, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (, Poland (, Spain (, the United Kingdom and the United States ( pravda-

Viginum estimation “with high confidence” That these three groups “belongs to the same digital infrastructure”. The network was nicknamed “Portal Combat” by the organization, “In reference to (her) Offensive Information Strategy” and famous video game series Terrible combat.

Massive, automated and targeted releases

The purpose of the network is “Covering the Russian-Ukrainian conflict by presenting it in a positive light ‘Special Military Operations’ (The name given to the invasion by Russia) and defaming Ukraine and its leaders”, says Vijinam. To do this, sites publish content “Very ideologically oriented (WHO) Expose stories that are clearly inaccurate or misleading”.

For example, a fake list of 13 “Mercenary” French angle “was in Kharkiv” According to, at the time of the Russian strike on the city. or titled content “‘That is enough!’ : France calls for radical action against Zelenskiy”The comments were actually made by Florian Philippot, a former far-right MP accustomed to conspiracy theories and whose statements did not commit Paris.

To increase their influence, these sites publish massively and automatically: according to Vigenum, the Pravda system published more than 152,000 articles in less than three months (between June 23 and September 19). There is no original material, but the covers of the volumes are mainly taken from “Social media accounts of Russian or pro-Russian actors, Russian news agencies and official sites of local organizations or actors”..

These sites also cover other themes “Close to French-Speaking Conspiracy Circles”.to disgrace “Political Speech, Media” or international organizations, referring to viginum. With this in mind, they can seize other news away from Ukraine: pravda-fr has published a lot of content “Discrediting the French presence in the Sahel or promoting cooperation between Russia and the African continent”Organization details.

Ecosystem sites “historical” Take the material for their part “Quite a bit
politicized, even harmful” But those targeting Russian cities “Promotes de facto political content that extols, among other things, the merits of ‘special military operations'”. On the other hand, the “” sites created after the invasion of Ukraine were designed from scratch. “The Real ‘Sounding Box'” Russian propaganda, trying“To stoke the resentment of the local Russian population against the Ukrainian authorities and report on ongoing military operations.”.

In France the effects are in principle limited

“Despite an expanded system, results in France remain moderate”explains Vijinam Figaro. The audience of Pravda Network sites appears small compared to the number of published materials: in November 2023 pravda-fr recorded only 10,700 visits, compared to the Polish (17,600), German (34,400), English (36) editions. 700) and was lower than the Spanish. (55,000).

This limited audience should not be taken lightly, however, stresses Viginum. “Given its technical characteristics, the processes implemented as well as the objectives pursued, this network constitutes a foreign digital intervention”Completes a technical report.

No specific actor or sponsor was designated as responsible for the operation of the interference, neither in Vigenam’s report nor in official declarations from Paris, Berlin, or Warsaw. General caution for Paris, given the technical and diplomatic difficulties in attributing such actions to a specific group. However, this structure is presented as a “Russian Network” In a press release from the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

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