March 23, 2022

According to one narrative being shared on social media, Russia has a noble aim for its war against Ukraine: to end child trafficking there.

“Putin vows to ‘crush’ child traffickers in Ukraine,” read what looked like a headline in a screenshot shared March 2 on Facebook. The headline came from Real Raw News, an outlet known for sharing misinformation, including a similar claim on Ukraine that PolitiFact rated False.

“Putin is wanting to destroy the bio labs and confront many other crimes against humanity such as child sex trafficking,” read another post from Feb. 25, referencing a separate debunked claim that Ukraine has U.S.-funded bioweapons labs.

“Putin is cleaning up our mess,” said another lengthy and grammatically problematic post from Feb. 27. Ukraine is where “all the child trafficking and heroin money is washed,” the post said.

These posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There is no evidence that Putin’s decision to wage war in Ukraine has been motivated by a desire to rid the country of child trafficking.

And although they don’t mention QAnon, these claims echo ideas central to the conspiracy theory, experts told us. QAnon has as one of its assumptions that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles that include famous Democrats and celebrities.

Putin did not mention child trafficking in speeches or public meetings in the months leading up to the invasion, according to transcripts published by the Kremlin and reviewed by PolitiFact.

In one of those events, Putin claimed that ethnic Russians living in areas of Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists “have been literally tortured by constant shelling and blockades” and that they were “forced to seek shelter in their basements — where they now live with their children.”

Putin’s stated goal for the war has been to protect ethnic Russians against “humiliation and genocide” perpetrated by Ukraine and to “demilitarize and denazify” the country, according to a speech he gave on Feb. 24. PolitiFact rated Putin’s claim of genocide False.

The Real Raw News article said that its information came from an anonymous source at Mar-a-Lago with knowledge of multiple phone calls between Putin and Trump. But Real Raw News is known for fabricating sources, stories, headlines and even bylines. The Kremlin’s transcripts of Putin’s conversations, meanwhile, reveal no such correspondence.

It would make little sense for Russia to attempt to “crush” child trafficking in Ukraine, as it has a more serious problem with human trafficking than its neighbor, according to the State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons report. Both countries struggle with the issue, but Ukraine acted to solve it between 2020 and 2021, while Russia failed to make “significant efforts” to eliminate the problem, the report said.

While Ukraine convicted traffickers, increased financial assistance to victims, and launched awareness campaigns, Russia “convicted only one trafficker,” “did not initiate any new prosecutions of suspected traffickers,” and “offered no funding or programs to provide services for trafficking victims,” the report said.

Some recent Facebook posts explicitly made the connection between Ukraine and QAnon beliefs. “Ukraine was the epicenter of the cabal’s satanic operations,” said a Twitter post shared on Facebook as a screenshot but since deleted. “We will find that many of these ‘labs’ & underground bunkers in Ukraine hosted a lot of the cabals workings.”

Travis View, an expert on QAnon and co-host of the podcast QAnon Anonymous, said the pattern of these claims fits with past QAnon activity: “QAnon followers typically incorporate current events into their conspiracy theories, and the developments in Ukraine are no different.”

Jared Holt, a researcher who studies disinformation for the Atlantic Council think tank, said QAnon’s support for Putin is partly explained by followers’ support for Trump. The former American president has praised Putin publicly, including lauding his strategy in Ukraine in the early days of the conflict.

Another element at play is QAnon’s antagonism towards the traditional media and its vulnerability to disinformation from Russia, according to View and Holt.

“Putin represents a figure akin to Trump,” Holt said, in that they are both unfairly portrayed as a villain by corrupt authorities. In their eyes, Holt said, “Putin is fighting against a corrupt, Satanic cabal that has captured the Western world.”

Our ruling

A post on Facebook alleged that Russia started its invasion of Ukraine to fight child trafficking.

The claim originates in an article published by a website known for fabricating stories and sources.

There is no evidence that ending child trafficking is a goal of the war in Ukraine. Russia itself is failing to deal with human trafficking within its own borders, according to a report by the U.S. State Department.

And while Putin has been very descriptive about his reasons for invading Ukraine, child trafficking has never been mentioned.

We rate the post False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Luiz Romero is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. He is a freelance reporter with stories published by CNN, Wired, and Al Jazeera, and a volunteer…
Luiz Romero

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