Three claims accuse Volodymyr Zelensky of being addicted to cocaine
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In recent weeks, people have been sharing at least three videos purporting to show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky either using cocaine or making incoherent remarks after allegedly consuming drugs. But these videos have been cut misleadingly and sometimes even digitally manipulated.
These accusations against the Ukrainian president are nothing new: During Ukraine's presidential election in 2019, his opponents accused him of being addicted to cocaine. Zelensky went as far as to take a live drug test on social media.
Supporters of outgoing president Petro Poroshenko, who was defeated in the election, challenged the results of Zelensky's drug test and then mocked him in a campaign clip.
Claims of drug use have emerged again in relation to Zelensky, this time via misleading videos shared online with captions in French and English.
A video digitally manipulated to put cocaine on president's desk
The first video that has been shared since April 23, mainly on pro-Russia groups on Telegram, claims to show a pile of white powder on Zelensky's desk while he is videochatting with Elon Musk.
But, as shown by Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, that pile of white powder was added digitally to the video. In the original video published on March 6, there was no powder on the desk.
Pro-Russian accounts are currently sharing a video (left) that has a big ol' pile of cocaine digitally added to smear Zelensky. The original video (right), sans cocaine, can be found here https://t.co/cChEsa7Sbj pic.twitter.com/JAfGsiEIDj— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) April 23, 2022
Some users have questioned whether the March 6 video was itself edited. But two seconds into the video, a halo of light can be seen passing over a bank card placed on the desk. However, the bank card does not glow as it should, proving that it was added digitally.
An edited video to twist his words
A second video posted on April 18 on the "Invaccinable" Telegram channel, well known for sharing disinformation related to Covid-19, claimed to show an interview in which Zelensky admits to being "a junkie". On the video's subtitles, in French and English, we can read: "At 7am I got up. Took a walk with the dog. And I do snort drugs."
As explained by our colleagues from AFP Fact Check, the original interview was conducted by the Ukrainian media source Ukrainskaya Pravda on January 21, 2019. In it, Zelensky explains that he does not use drugs, and talks about the benefits of sports as follows:
"This is the 'diet' I follow. At 7am, I get up, take my dog out and work out. What is the point of working out? It's about pushing yourself. It gives you energy for the whole day, I recommend it to everyone, but not through intensive practice because it makes you want to sleep during the day. And this release is enough for the day, yes."
His words were twisted to make it appear that he was talking about cocaine. This edited video has been circulating since at least 2019 and had been debunked by Ukrainskaya Pravda, as explained by AFP.
A selfie video of Zelensky on drugs?
In the final video, which has been circulating since April 17, the Ukrainian president can be seen on camera showing off some items in his office. Those who shared the video said he filmed himself after consuming cocaine and that the video was "deleted from the internet". They also claim to see part of a pipe on his desk.
Yet, it is easy to find this video, originally published on April 16 on Zelensky's Instagram. The video has not been deleted.
In it, the Ukrainian president explains, visibly exhausted, on the 52nd day of the war in Ukraine: "We are working [he then shows his speech], we love [he shows his family photo], we are grateful [he shows a sculpture of the Borodyanka rooster], we are proud [he shows the Ukrainian flag], we will be victorious."
Comparing the original video with the one circulated by users claiming that Zelensky was drugged, the Observers' editorial staff could also see slight visual and audio differences: The quality of the video was degraded so that it was harder to perceive all the details.
The audio seems to have been compressed, causing a loss of sound quality and accentuating the low tones of the president's voice.
And the supposed cocaine on his desk is more likely to be reflections of light and golden lines that are embossed on its surface, visible in other images of the same office. The lower image quality of the video makes them harder to make out.