In early March 2022, as wild rumors, lies, half-truths, and weaponized disinformation campaigns lit up social media amid Russia’s war against Ukraine, posts began to appear referencing leaked Russian plans for “public executions” there:
A similar post (“NEW: Russia’s intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, has drafted plans for public executions, mass detentions, and violent crowd control in Ukraine after cities are captured, per a European intelligence official”) was shared to r/ukraine on the same day, linking to a Bloomberg.com liveblog-style page:
Google Trends search data for a one-day period on March 3 2022 indicated concentrated interest in the claim. Searches with “Breakout” levels of popularity included “Russia public executions,” “public executions Ukraine,” and “Russian public executions.”
The Imgur post above included text at the bottom, which read:
I’m sure all of you have be contemplating what Ukraine will be like should Russia actually accomplish an occupation of that country, which, unfortunately despite heroic resistance, could come to be.
Unfortunately, public hangings is a tried-and-true method, employed by regimes that enjoy no public support.
Sauce: Bloomberg, via The Guardian (cause the former has a paywall).
The source shown (The Guardian) was not paywalled, as promied. Like Bloomberg.com, the blurb was part of a liveblog-style piece, added at 11:36 AM EST.
Russia has drawn up plans for public executions in Ukraine as and when cities are captured by Russian troops, Bloomberg reports.
Bloomberg cites a European intelligence official as saying that Moscow has drafted strategies to break morale in order to discourage Ukrainians from fighting back as cities fall under the Kremlin’s control.
The official said Moscow plans to crack down on protest, detain opponents and potentially carry out public executions, the news agency writes.
The Guardian cited Bloomberg.com, where the claim apparently originated. The relevant excerpt from their liveblog coverage cited an unnamed European intelligence official, and said:
Russia Seeks to Weaken Ukraine Morale: Intelligence Report (2:26 p.m.)
Moscow has drawn up plans for ways to break morale in order to discourage Ukrainian from fighting back as and when cities fall under the Kremlin’s control, a European intelligence official said.
That strategy includes crackdowns on protests, detention of opponents, and potentially carrying out public executions, the official said on the condition of anonymity. So far civilians in Ukraine as well as its military have put up strong resistance, including arming themselves as volunteer forces.
At the same time the claim about Russian plans for public executions in Ukraine circulated, Washington Post reporter Paul Sonne tweeted about another, similar discussion attributed to Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin. Sonne’s tweet (which appeared to be the primary source) quoted Naryshkin as claiming Russia had been “canceled” over its invasion of Ukraine:
Discussion that linked Naryshkin’s purported complaint that Russia was “canceled” by “‘tolerant’ liberal-fascist circles” to similar phrases in contemporary American politics was more overt than with the “public executions in Ukraine” report:
On March 3 2022, a Bloomberg.com liveblog included a brief entry about plans by Russia for public executions in Ukraine — information attributed to an unnamed (and thus, unverifiable) source in European intelligence. Some discussions about the claim observed parallels between the story and common narratives that motivated participants in the January 6 2021 Capitol insurrection and to other acts of political violence. A separate assertion that Naryshkin had complained that Russia was a victim of cancel culture circulated concurrently, with more direct parallels drawn on Twitter.