The faltering mobilization efforts and the resulting push to recruit more Russians into the military service created fertile ground for conscription-themed content and memes.
Russian propaganda claims
Social media users began to share an image showing former adult film star Sasha Grey dressed as a conscription officer.
Images of posters with a woman of Grey’s likeness have been shared on Twitter since November 27, appearing to show the California-born actress and model wearing a green uniform, while sitting at a desk. She can be seen looking at the camera with captions encouraging Russians to join the military.
Some social media users claimed or expressed the belief that the poster was real, and that Grey’s image had indeed been used as part of a recruitment campaign, while others pondered about her supposed in-person participation in the campaign.
Twitter user @igorsushko posted: “#Russia: Something’s not right with this military recruitment billboard.” His tweet garnered more than 2,500 engagements.
Another user, Maxim Mironov, a Russian opposition activist, posted the image, stating in Russian: “They say that Sasha Grey is going to file a defamation lawsuit against the Russian Defense Ministry.” The tweet had more than 450 engagements.
The image has also been widely shared on Telegram, including by Ukrainian YouTuber Vladimir Zolkin, whose post had more than 34,000 views, among others.
But did the former adult film star really take part in a Russian state-sponsored conscription promo? Or, as others deemed more likely, was her image used in the ad without permission? And was the banner in the photo even real?
Grey did not take part or agree to be featured in a Russian government campaign to promote its military service. The film star has confirmed so herself, while the image featured in the tweets is old, part of a composite, and has undergone several edits.
In a Twitter thread posted on November 28, Grey disavowed the image as fake, asking her followers to think carefully about what they shared online. But she also appeared to be puzzled by the provenance of the picture.
She said: “My phone is blowing up. Another flaccid attempt at creating hate and division. Can anyone verify if this is a real advertisement in Russia, and where?
“Meme or not, I don’t condone this. Be wary of what you share. PS the b**** are too big. Make love not war.”
Grey further questioned the poster’s authenticity and whether her photo had also been manipulated.
She said: “Where is this building? Why is the photo zoomed in? Why don’t we see surrounding buildings, and why aren’t we given an address? Apart from the bad photoshop, there’s a chance that the entire thing is fake and doesn’t exist. I need receipts.”
Several social media users and online outlets, including the Russian news site Mash, found the original photo which features a Russian female soldier in military uniform sitting at a table instead of Grey.
The images are almost identical aside from Grey appearing to wear different shoulder straps, which vary in color and in the number of stars. It is not clear why this detail was edited alongside the person’s face.
Newsweek traced the original photo to an April 2020 article in Vecherny Magadan, a provincial Russian publication based in the Far Easter town of Magadan.
The article, titled “There is no weaker sex in military service,” features a photoset with Ksenia Shinyakova, a sergeant in the local unit of Rosgvardia, which is an upper-echelon Russian domestic police force.
The exact photo appears in the article, but without the ex-porn star’s face superimposed.
This confirms that Grey did not pose for a Russian government propaganda PR campaign. But it does not disprove that the photoshopped image with Grey’s face superimposed, which appeared in the original tweet, was also used on a banner.
However, Global Defense Corp also found that this image was likely the result of digital manipulation.
The promo, which does indeed call on Russian men to join the professional military, predates both the mobilization and the February 2022 invasion, and was instead likely linked to Russia’s efforts to bolster its military after the March 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Curiously, this is not the first time that Grey’s likeness has been used in pro-Russian propaganda.
Her image was used without permission by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2015 in an anti-Kyiv propaganda poster, in which a nurse, with Grey’s face superimposed, was purportedly being murdered by a Ukrainian, The Moscow Times reported at the time.
The image, her name “Sasha Serova,” a play on Grey’s pseudonym (Serova is the Russian surname equivalent of “Grey”), and the story about her death was entirely fabricated.
Despite the story being fake, the post was shared more than 3,500 times, according to Mediaite—a website focusing on politics and the media.
Grey addressed the faked image in a series of tweets in February 2015. In one post, she said: “I <3 my Russian fans, but this propaganda takes it too far. News that I was a nurse killed in the Russian/Ukraine conflict. #****propaganda.”
She later added: “I have love and respect for all of my Russian and Ukrainian fans. I wish there was more I could do. #peace.”
Loose implementation of copyright and intellectual property laws in Russia means that images, videos, and deepfakes of Hollywood stars and Western celebrities, such as Bruce Willis or Jason Statham, are occasionally used in ads, posters, and other types of promotions.
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