On July 22, the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine released what appeared to be a shocking video: a Stinger, an American-made Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS), was found in the Luhansk Airport. The video shows LNR militants inspecting what looks like a weapons cache, with close-up shots of the various arms and storage boxes with English-language inscriptions on them.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published an article on the same day declaring that a number of American weapons had been found at the airport (currently under insurgent control), quoting the Luhansk pro-Russian militants on their unexpected findings.
It would be a scandal of monumental proportions if not for the fact that, as revealed by keen-eyed Russian and Ukrainian bloggers and social media users, none of this was real.
Playing up the scandalous “discovery,” the self-declared republic’s chief investigator Leonid Tkachenko was so outraged he said LNR officials had immediately contacted representatives of the conflict watchdog group Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to inform them of the findings.
As the video started to make the rounds online, many users quickly noticed that the “Stinger” launcher had a few very basic errors—including the English words printed onto its arms.
— Все Плохо (@sranysovok) July 22, 2015
The dunces “found some Stingers.” They wrote “TRACKING RAINER” on the tube, it should be “TRACKING TRAINER.”
— Kaiser Ostarrichi (@jaroshcard) July 22, 2015
Тест по английскому http://t.co/ypfvJ9WFkT Как правильно: RE USABLE или RE-USABLE? DATE LOUDED или LOАDED? TRACKING RAINER или TRAINER?
— Владислав Наганов (@naganoff_ru) July 23, 2015
English test: Which is correct? RE USABLE or RE-USABLE? DATE LOUDED or DATE LOADED? TRACKING RAINER or TRAINER?
Usually, these discoveries would be the final chapter to this story: a ham-fisted attempt to show American “weapons” shipped to help Ukraine, with funny spelling errors. But as gaming blogger Anton Logvinov discovered, there was an extra layer of absurdity to the story, in which life imitated art.
А теперь главное — знаете, откуда взялся Rainer? Из Battlefield 3. Именно изображение из этой игры вылезает первым при запросе Stinger в Google — картинка ведет на IGN.
Видимо, DICE намеренно искажали надписи, как и некоторые детали, потому что у них нет лицензий на вооружение.
And now the most important thing – do you know, where they got the “Rainer” from? From [the video game] Battlefield 3. That exact image from the game comes up first when you search for “Stinger” on Google image search, coming from IGN [a popular gaming website].
Apparently, DICE [the development agency of Battlefield 3] deliberately distorted the inscription, along with some other details, because they do not have the licenses to use these weapons [in the game].
Though it may not be your very first result on Google Image Search, you will see the aforementioned “RAINER” model of the Stinger come up among the top results.
The crux of the story, as Baudrillard would have been thrilled to conclude, was that the fake Stinger in the LNR video turned out to be modeled after an inaccurate virtual model of the gun. As you could imagine, the discovery led to a deluge of mirth and jokes among Russian and Ukrainian users, underscored, of course, by countless screenshots from video games.
Киборги отходят к Пескам от ДАП pic.twitter.com/FByhfpGNwG
— Росжирнадзор (@Cunst_antin) July 23, 2015
The Cyborgs [nickname for the Ukrainian fighters who defended the Donetsk Airport] leave the Donetsk Airport for Peski.
— Petr & Mazepa (@PetrMazepa) July 23, 2015
Look, the “Stinger” is a fake! [Image caption: “Motorola [pro-Russian rebel commander] captures a Polish mercenary,” depicting a scene from the Polish-made game The Witcher.]
А вот боец добровольческого батальона сбивает беспилотник ОБСЕ pic.twitter.com/WjAfj0OTUD
— Росжирнадзор (@Cunst_antin) July 23, 2015
And here is a fighter from a volunteer battalion shooting down an OSCE drone.
But perhaps Battlefield 3 was not the only artistic influence on the fake Stinger launcher. According to one eagle-eyed social media user, the serial number on the found “Stinger” is very similar to the model in another video game, Operation Flashpoint: Red River.
— magic unicorn's shit (@bad_typeid) July 23, 2015
While the incident with the “shocking discovery” of “US weapons” in Luhansk airport is cause for laughter and humorous jibes, it also underscores a more sobering point about the information war: that those fighting for control of the information space are perfectly willing to bend and distort reality to create the appropriate framing for their claims and to sow doubts in the minds of media consumers and Internet users. All that remains for the public, then, is to keep being skeptical, to question what they see, and to think critically when faced with things like virtual guns in “real” videos, themselves a perfect metaphor for information manipulation.