Who wants us to believe that Ukraine is giving weapons to Hamas?

Allegations that Ukraine supplies weapons to Hamas have been actively circulating in social media for the past month.

Some of the claims are based on completely fabricated publications that imitate authoritative Western media. Such is the case with a fictional report that mimics the look and feel of the BBC. It was posted by a fake account that claims to be from investigative media outlet Bellingcat but is not.

Neither the BBC nor Bellingcat published such information – it is completely fabricated. A fact check made by Euronews shows that the fabricated video was initially distributed by pro-Kremlin online groups. Afterwards, it appeared on social networks and gained popularity.

A screenshot of a fabricated Washington Post op-ed also falsely claims that “Ukrainian arms shipments to Hamas have tripled in the past month.” The fake title is signed by Chris Moltisanti, a character on the TV series The Sopranos.

The same claims, unsupported by any evidence, are being spread quite officially by the Russian state. At a meeting of the UN Security Council, the first deputy of Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said that “about 20 per cent of the Western weapons supplied to Kyiv end up on the black market,” adding that “corruption in the country is the main reason why the armed forces of Ukraine are experiencing a shortage of ammunition”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken in the same fashion: “Now they say: weapons are getting into the Middle East from Ukraine. Well of course they are because they are being sold. And they are being sold to the Taliban and from there they go onto wherever.”

The allegation that Kyiv was selling Western-provided weapons to Hamas dates back to the early days of the war in the Middle East.

The idea that Ukraine sells Western weapons on the black market is an old one. An analysis of the publications in the Russian media shows that it appears immediately after the start of arms deliveries to Ukraine and is launched by the Russian propaganda media whenever the topic of ammunition shortages in Ukraine is discussed.

The allegation is part of a general narrative of growing corruption in Kyiv, with high-ranking officials actively involved in black market arms deals. Such is the case with former Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who is widely alleged to have personally overseen the deals without any evidence.

Former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, also said on his official Telegram channel that “weapons handed over to the regime in Ukraine are being actively used in Israel”.

In a post in X, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative in the US Congress, says: “We must work with Israel to trace the serial numbers of all American weapons used by Hamas against Israel. Are they from Afghanistan? Are they from Ukraine? The answer is very likely both.”

It is not the first time Greene has shared false information emanating from pro-Russian media. In an X post from March 2022, the congresswoman spoke of “secret US biolabs on the territory of Ukraine”, and in her speeches, she often defends the position that the US should stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

There is also a version of the claim in which Ukraine is reselling the weapons it received from Nato to a Mexican cartel. It starts from an incorrectly translated report by a Mexican media that quickly reverberated on social networks. Subsequently, the false claim was also shared by the Republican presidential candidate of the United States, Vivek Ramaswamy.

What all these cases have in common is that there is no evidence whatsoever of the allegations that Ukraine supplies Nato-provided weapons to criminal and terrorist groups. The other thing they seem to have in common is the role of the Kremlin in dispensing the narrative.

The investigative organization Bellingcat, as well as fact-checkers, believe that the claims are being spread with the active assistance of the Kremlin, by pro-Russian media and social media profiles.

In response to the claims, the Ukrainian media outlet The New Voice of Ukraine not only accused Russia of spreading false information but also claimed that Russian intelligence had handed Hamas weapons seized from Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Ukraine to discredit Kyiv.

Among Ukraine’s counterarguments is that the weapons it receives from Western countries can be traced and identified. “All foreign [military] installations have geolocation equipment, so it is easy to determine where they are. Their number is constantly monitored,” explains Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military and political analyst from Information Resistance, a Center for Military-Political Studies project in Kyiv.

The narrative that Ukrainian weapons are being sold on the black market or sent to criminal gangs is often propagated using fabricated evidence. Although doubtful, their authenticity cannot be directly verified or disproved. This is the case with the videos presented as Hamas publications that are distributed on social networks.

The fake BBC video showing weapons is believed to have been fabricated in Russia or Ukraine. The original source of the video is unknown.

The clip was distributed mostly among pro-Russian profiles in X and Russian channels in Telegram. A fact check by France 24 shows that the weapons seen in the video were not used by Hamas. A media consultation with a specialist on the subject confirms that such weapons have not been shown on the official channels of the group, which instead has weapons of Israeli, Lebanese or Iranian origin.

Another important thing – the information being published by the official Hamas channel contains a watermark with the group’s logo, which is not visible in this video. Specialists assume that the weapons seen in the footage were seized from the Ukrainian armed forces.

Similar is the case with an anonymous video of men with covered faces thanking Ukraine for the supply of weapons, which has widely circulated on Bulgarian social media.

Factcheck.bg has delved into this in detail. The Bulgarian original source of the video is the Telegram channel bgmilitary. Subsequently, it was published in the Facebook group “K0vid 19 Fraud – Stara Zagora Rescue Committee” and other Facebook groups with a large audience before it was distributed by individual users.

In the front – a man who introduces himself as a spokesman for Hamas. He is wearing a military uniform with a Palestinian flag patch. His face is covered with a red and white keffiyeh. He speaks Arabic, but it is obvious that it is not his native language. His words are translated into English with subtitles. Behind him – four armed men. Also in uniforms and with their faces covered. At the back – a green flag looking like the Hamas flag. The clip is titled “Representatives of Hamas released a video in which they expressed gratitude to Zelenskyy for the supply of weapons and help in the fight against Israel.”

Factcheck.bg did not find any information that could confirm that the footage shows representatives of Hamas. What was captured is not enough to determine where the video was shot either. But the inspection found that:

  • The speaker uses Arabic with an accent, which is unusual; Official speakers speak Arabic as their mother tongue;
  • The Hamas watermark, which appears on the organisation’s official publications, is missing;
  • Gratitude is expressed to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for providing weapons, but no weapons appear in the video.

The people’s faces are not visible in the images and their identities cannot be confirmed. The speaker in the clip uses Arabic with an accent, an expert confirmed to Factcheck.bg. His voice did not match that of the official spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, Abu Obeida, who is a native Arabic speaker.

Rana Salahat, a journalist with the Palestinian fact-checking media outlet Tahaqaq Observatory and a member of the AFCN (Arab Fact-checkers Network), confirmed that Hamas spokesmen are well known and no one else can come forward and speak publicly in this way on their behalf. In addition, the speech in the video differs from their usual way of speaking – it contains many mistakes and does not correspond to the usual vocabulary of Hamas.

Indeed, the Al Qassam Brigades represent the armed wing of the Hamas group. Their official spokesman is Abu Obeida. He is responsible for Hamas’ official statements, press conferences and videos. The group’s video posts are of high quality and feature only Abu Obeida. However, this is not the case with the specific video material. The quality of the image is poor, and the clip shows four men behind the speaker. The material is said to have been created to express gratitude for the supply of weapons, but no weapons are shown. At the end of the video, the camera pans down to a man’s body covered in cloth. The whole composition is more reminiscent of a ransom demand than an expression of gratitude for a delivery received.

The oldest publication of the video accessible from Bulgaria is from a user on X. It was created in September 2023 in the name of Jane Sikorski. A Google search for that name brings up posts about a famous photographer. Until the video was posted, the profile had only shared content from other X users. Mainly photos of flowers, landscapes and funny clips and pictures. The video of the men in uniform is the only “original” content uploaded to the platform. The post is from October 24 2023, and its text reads “Hamas receives weapons from Ukraine’s Zelenskyy”. It is also the last post from the profile.

This is a well-known pattern of spreading misinformation. A profile is created, the content of which for a given period of time is harmless and entertaining – photos of beautiful landscapes, pictures of animals and flowers, jokes. At some point, the profile starts publishing content with a political charge, military propaganda or disinformation.

Claims that Ukraine is involved in arms trafficking are not supported by any evidence from those who spread them. That is why it is difficult to find evidence to refute them. That’s exactly what disinformation broadcasters count on. The disinformation campaign about the US’s “secret biolaboratories” in Ukraine follows a similar model: official Russian statements, relayed by the Kremlin-controlled media and multiplied on social networks. Each time a new detail is added, countries, actors or context are changed, to achieve the desired effect: complete confusion in the audience and a feeling that there is no truth because everyone is lying.

This article was first published on factcheck.bg

Dafina Kandova

Dafina Kandova graduated in social sciences at the Lumière University Lyon. Her diverse path includes interests such as in-depth research on the European migration crisis and the migration policies of the European Union, as well as studying the influence of social networks on information consumption. She has a strong interest in the development of digital memory and its impact on the online traces we leave. Her professional path is characterised by diversity - she has experience both in writing articles about the activities of the non-governmental sector in Bulgaria and in managing projects for the construction of solar power plants in Kenya. She speaks English and French.