IT IS NOT TRUE THAT 70,000 US SOLDIERS LANDED IN HAMBURG, EVEN LESS TRUE IS THAT GERMANS ARE IN PANIC

It is not true that 70,000 US troops are deployed in Europe. Due to the newly-emerged with coronavirus situation, the US military has decided to halt the transportation of troops and military equipment for Defender Europe 20, and the total number of US troops participating in the exercise is 6,000.
The news is completely taken over from Kurir.Rs, which was originally published by the news agency Ruptly on 21.02.2020.
In a time when Europe and the whole world are facing a pandemic of coronary virus and the struggle to deal with it, certain portals in northern Macedonia are taking fake news and conduct anti-NATO propaganda from Serbia.
The period of publication of this article is symptomatic. On March 24, 1999, the 78-day NATO bombing campaign of the former Yugoslavia began. The intention is obvious – playing with the national sentiment, and creating a sense of insecurity by presenting the US and NATO allies as occupiers.
This anti-NATO and anti-US narrative begins to spread by the Italian Communist media outlet, Il Manifesto, with the publication of an article entitled “30mila soldati dagli USA in Europa senza mascherina” (“30,000 US troops in Europe without masks”) on 02 March 2020.

The Magazine.mk portal, in its article argues about the alleged arrival of 70,000 US troops at Erding Airport in Hamburg, Germany. Furthermore, the text states that Germans are confused and frightened by the arrival of so many troops in their country. Finally, the author of the text, as a hypothetical answer, states that their arrival is related to the execution of the “DEFENDER – Europe 20” exercise. As a source of the article is stated Serbian portal Kurir.rs and Magazin.mk.

The portal, by twisting official information about the exercise, deliberately and intentionally creates a conspiracy theory whose ultimate goal is to present the United States and its allies in a negative context and at the same time to create a sense of insecurity among the citizens.

In the period from 21st to 23rd March 2020, in North Macedonia this news with identical title and text content was first published by Magazin.mk  and then taken by Real1Fans.com, Republika.mk, Pressing TV, and Portal First.mk.

In neighboring Serbia the news was originally published on March 20th, but its sharing continued in the following days: : Republika.rsPravda.rs, Espreso.rs, Srbija Danas (20.03), Kurir.rs, Srbija Danas (21.03), RTV AS, Vidovdan, The World News Platform, Balkan Press.

First that it has published the news of the arrival of US troops in Germany is the news agency Ruptly. Their post, which provides detailed and precise information on the purpose of the arrival of US troops, states that on 21 February 2020, a total of 234 US troops landed at the Hamburg airport who, after unloading all equipment from the ships at Bremerhaven, port, will head to training centers in Poland to participate in the “Defender Europe 20” exercise. The F2N2.mk team previously wrote about the Defender Europe 20 exercise.

This anti-NATO and anti-US narrative begins to spread by the Italian Communist media outlet Il Manifesto, who on 02 March 2020, has published an article entitled “30mila soldati dagli usa in europe senza mascherina” (“30,000 US troops in Europe without masks”), which claims that US troops sent to “protect Europe from new emerging threats” will be released from public health measures put in place by governments in Europe to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. According to the research by the Atlantic Council, this news is getting more attention in Russia, which is rapidly expanding on the Russian social network Vkontakte.

Almost a month later, in the region, the news was originally published by the Serbian portal Republika.rs  (20.03.2020) entitled ” “How do they not mind corona ?! A mystery of the landing of US troops in Europe.” Namely, the article says that tens of thousands of US troops have arrived in Europe via 7 different airports. The author of the text, by raising hypothetical questions such as “whether the pandemic is artificially caused” and “whether the United States may have a vaccine that is kept secret,” spreads the conspiracy theory that the alleged coronavirus does not affect US troops only.

This is the critical moment when this news, with such content, from a truth becomes a half-truth and from which eventually develops a whole narrative of conspiracy theory. The order of spreading the news can be found at the following infographic:

On 21.03.2020, the portal Kurir.rs publishes an article entitled “Germans in panic, 70,000 US troops landed in Hamburg! What’s going on, where are these going ?! A large number of tanks were unloaded. ” Although the title states that there are 70,000 US troops, the text which is scarce and composed of a few sentences, is stating that according to some estimates around 80,000 soldiers arrived at the airport Erding in Hamburg, Germany. This is the first time that the famous Erding Airport appears.

What is symptomatic is that it does not indicate how they came to this number, on the basis of what calculations have been made, and what is the source of this information. In addition to the text is published an amateur video posted on a private Twitter account signed as “Babica Travica“, which is composed of two shorter videos.

The first video shows US troops getting off the plane and heading to the airport bus, and the second is showing armored combat vehicles loaded on freight wagons that are believed to belong to the US Army.

What can be noticed in the article by Kurir.rs, but also in the post of Twitter account of Babica Travica, data about the author of the video and when was recorded are missing. Also, it is an anonymous twitter account registered in September 2019, which has so far posted a total of 20 tweets and has 125 followers.

If you compare the date and time of posting the video on Twitter and the article by Kurir.rs, the difference is only 15 minutes.

Immediately after the publication by Kurir.rs, within a few hours the same news was taken and published by Srbija Danas and Balkans Press. In North Macedonia, this news with identical title and text content, was first published by Magazine.mk. The same article, with similar text and identical video from the same Twitter user, was published by Real1Fans.com, Republika.mk, Pressing TV, and Portal First.mk. Interestingly, the same portal Magazine.mk had previously shared articles aimed at spreading anti-NATO and anti-US narratives.

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Let’s start from the beginning. First, it is true that US troops have arrived in Hamburg. But, airport with name “Erding” in Hamburg does not exist. It is true that there is an airport named “Erding North” near Munich, which is 681 kilometers from Hamburg. It is also true that there is a small airport for gliders and helicopters with a similar designation “St. Peter-Ording “, located near Hamburg.

This exercise is one of the largest multinational military exercises of NATO allies and partners led by US, scheduled to take place from February to July 2020 along with preparatory and final activities. What is not true is that 70,000 US troops will participate in the exercise. The exercise foresees participation of 37,000 troops from 18 countries, of which 20,000 are US, 2,600 are British, while the remaining 14,400 will be deployed from the remaining 16 participating countries.

Due to the newly emerged situation with coronavirus, the US military has decided to halt the transportation of troops and military equipment for Defender Europe 20, by which the number of soldiers participating in the exercise will be drastically reduced. According to the official announcement by SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which is HQ of the Allied Command Operations), in the period from January to March, in Europe arrived at a total of 6,000 US soldiers, which is almost 12 times less than the number that is displayed in articles by Kurir.rs and Magazin.mk.

 

Defender Europe 20 exercise has not been canceled, but will undergo some modifications in size and scope. However, during this time period, the Alliance’s priority is to take action to limit the spread of the virus and reduce the risks to its staff, for which and the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks in his message.

If you compare the images from the video posted by Raptley (left) with the video posted on Babica Travica’s Twitter profile(right), we’ll see that these videos were made at the same time, at the same airport.

Hence, the assumption is that the amateur video posted on Twitter dates from 21.02.2020, and it was recorded at the airport in Hamburg at the moment when US troops arrived. And most likely, the first video clip was recorded from a bus transporting troops.

The video clip originating from the anonymous Twitter profile, at the end displays a text, by linking this event with the corona virus.

What is most symptomatic is the date of publication. On March 24, 1999, the 78-day NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia began. Many Serbian politicians and citizens see the United States as the main initiator and “culprit” of the operation. Therefore, it is unclear why the Serbian portals headed by Kurir.rs have been waiting for a month to publish this article? The intent is obvious – to play with national sentiment, and to create a sense of insecurity by presenting the US and NATO allies as occupiers.

 

The spread the fake news in North Macedonia

On the impact that these disinformation texts have on the Macedonian public, in addition to a preview of their Facebook sharings:

Text from the Magazin.mk portal had 285 FB shares, 276 FB comments, 748 FB reactions, or a total of 1,309 FB interactions.

The text from the Real1fans.com portal had 61 FB sharing, 57 FB comments, 117 FB reactions, or a total of 235 FB interactions. Only public sharing of the MKzabava FB site with 264,738 followers is visible.

The text from the Republika.mk portal had 21 FB sharing, 10 FB comments, 13 FB reactions or a total of 44 FB reactions. The public shares are visible on the FB pages of Republika Makedonija, I ♥ MACEDONIA, Prva Republika, ONION.mk, with a total number of 415,290 followers.

The text from Portal Prvi had 4 FB shares, 6 FB comments, 8 FB reactions or a total of 18 FB interactions.


Background of the portals that spread the fake news

According to the research on the legal status of the Magazine portal, it is a portal with mk domain  registered to an individual Vasco Beleski, with address in Switzerland..

The portal has featured Impressum with editors, reporters, marketing and organization, but data for the publisher as a legal entity are missing. The only legal affiliation that has shown is as “Member of SuisseControls AG. By simply searching the web site of this Swiss company you can see the services it offers:

“SuisseControls’ range of facility services includes: Security Services, Support Services, Infrastructure Services, Cleaning Services and Real Estate Services.”

This may be merely an indication that the “primary purpose” of this portal does not correspond to the professional activity of the media, i.e. accurate and timely public information.

After Magazin.mk’s publication, follows the spread from the following 4 portals:

Real1Fans.com (anonymous portal, without impress, no mk domain registered) publishes a text entitled Germans are astonished, 70,000 US Troops and Tanks Arrived in Hamburg! (Video).

Republika.mk (a portal that is part of the group of media and online portals owned by Hungarian nationals – OCCPR) with title They Are Not Afraid of Corona: American Troops Arrive in Germany without Masks and Pressingtv with title They Are Not Afraid of Corona: American Troops without masks land in Germany, and Portal Prvi with title Germans in panic, 20,000 US troops and a large number of tanks unloaded in Hamburg – no one knows what happens?

 

All these texts contain the attached video of the aforementioned Twitter account Babica Travica @Babica TRAVICA. What is different is that, the Republika.mk and Pressing TV portals manipulate with another title i.e. “American soldiers without masks”, so the fear and panic they have to cause are directed towards the danger of spreading the virus..

From all the data presented above, we can conclude that the information presented in the original article is from unreliable and unverified sources and that certain information is deliberately misused to distort the facts, in order to create a sense of insecurity and panic among citizens, as well as to spread anti – NATO and anti-US narrative in society.

Also, NATO has neither hid the exercise, nor should citizens think that something is secretly happening.

On February 16, 2020, when US troops begin arriving in Germany, a video was posted on the US Army’s official YOUTUBE channel, where you can find out all the things that interest you. You can also check out the DW article on the arrival of US troops on 21.02.2020.

 

 

The analysis is written by:

  1. Rosana Aleksoska – Project manager, Fighting Fake News Narratives (F2N2)
  2. Elmas Hasanovic, MIS – Project Coordinator, Info-Center for Euro-Atlantic integrations

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