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17 July, 2024
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Did Zelensky really buy a hotel in occupied Cyprus?

Disinformation campaign falsely links Zelensky to Kyrenia hotel purchase


A false news story claiming that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had purchased the Vuni Palace Hotel in occupied Kyrenia circulated widely in Greece and Cyprus for nearly 36 hours. The story, propagated by Greek and Greek Cypriot media, suggested Zelensky used a company previously scrutinized by international media for the acquisition.

However, this story was quickly debunked by fact-checkers and independent researchers, including detailed analyses by and the JCPOA. It was identified as a classic example of Russian hybrid disinformation, aimed at influencing public opinion just a week before the European elections and amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The narrative was built on suggestive images rather than concrete evidence and spread horizontally through a network of accounts, including bots and branded profiles, that promote pro-Russian content, counter-information, propaganda, and specific narratives. Turkish news sites further propagated the story, and Greek and Greek Cypriot electronic media, susceptible to disinformation, reproduced the story uncritically across mainstream and fringe outlets.

The story was promptly debunked by both the President of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, and the Ukrainian embassy in Cyprus. They confirmed that President Zelensky had not purchased the hotel-casino in occupied Kyrenia.

This false news aligns with several elements of Russian destabilization strategy. The disinformation aimed to provoke Greek voters, particularly those adopting an anti-Ukrainian stance over the Cyprus issue, by suggesting that "Zelensky, whom we send weapons to, buys property in occupied Cyprus." This narrative was amplified by parties like the "Greek Solution" led by Kyriakos Velopoulos. The story's endurance among individuals prone to conspiracy theories and false news, due to cognitive dissonance, is a hallmark of Russian disinformation campaigns, as seen in Ukraine long after the events of 2013. It continued the attack on President Zelensky's character, a strategy that began before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, shortly after his election.

This incident underscores the ongoing threat of disinformation and highlights the importance of critical media literacy and robust fact-checking to counter the spread of fake news. As the European elections approach and the war in Ukraine continues, the need for vigilance against such tactics is more crucial than ever.

[Summary of Yiannis Ioannou's original story in Greek published in Kathimerini's Cyprus edition]

Cyprus  |  Ukraine

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