Did a special April 2023 (issue 337) of The New European (TNE) feature on its cover a cartoon of a scowling Rishi Sunak, U.K. prime minister, looking at Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy sitting on the lap of the Dalai Lama, who has stuck his tongue out -- with Zelenskyy saying, "I'll suck it if you pay me!"? No, that's not true: This fake cover was posted online before TNE published its Issue 337 for the week of April 20-26, 2023. The real TNE cover shows a photo of Sunak sitting in a lawn chair by the pool at the Château de Courcy in Normandy, France. The main cover line reads, "Rishi Sunak's war on the elites"
The cartoon was posted on Telegram by the channel ТелеДНО (TeleDNO) on April 14, 2023. The Telegram post was captioned in Russian:
Журнал «European» нашёл того, кто точно сможет сдружиться с Далай Ламой: «Я пососу, если ты заплатишь».
[Translated by Google:] European magazine found someone who could definitely be friends with the Dalai Lama: 'I'll suck if you pay.'
The main cover line of the fake cover reads:
HOW MUCH IS BRITAIN WILLING TO PAY TO RESOLVE THE UKRAINIAN CRISIS? BY JAMES BALL
This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Wed Apr 26 13:28:19 2023 UTC)
On April 20, 2023, TNE introduced Issue 337 in a tweet (below left), posting four images. One image shows the TNE cover featuring a photo of Rishi Sunak (center). The same day another tweet (right) featured a photo of a related article reporting about the fake cover cartoon and naming it the lie of the week.
(Source: Twitter screenshots taken on Wed Apr 26 13:28:19 2023 UTC)
The text in the TNE related article reads:
LIE OF THE WEEK
Fake TNE cover: 'How much is Britain willing to pay to resolve the Ukrainian crisis?'
Vladimir Putin, Russian president, indicted international criminal, former spy, via various online channels including Telegram, April 17 2023
WHY IT'S A LIE
• Over the weekend of April 15-16, a front cover image of the New European #337 appeared online. It showed Volodymyr Zelensky sitting on the Dalai Lama's lap, as Rishi Sunak looked on disapprovingly. But it was a fake.
•The Centre for Countering Disinformation, a branch of the Ukrainian government, reported that images of the phoney front page first started circulating on the Telegram social media platform. A statement by the centre said that 'such fake covers of well-known western publications aim to discredit Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky on the world stage.'
• Regular readers of TNE will of course have spotted the fake immediately: the Kremlin-approved cover isn't funny, it doesn't make sense and it looks crap. But perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. Almost all of Russia's best journalists have been terrified into silence, or jailed, or murdered.
This fake English-language cover has been shared by accounts posting in several different languages:
And it was on China's Weibo: https://weibo.com/7488137069/MCGU6fdi2
This cartoon plays off a real controversy. On February 28, 2023, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, kissed a boy on the lips and asked the boy to suck his tongue. Public criticism of this was not immediate because the video of the incident did not emerge for some time. On April 10, 2023, a formal statement was posted on Twitter that expressed the Dalai Lama's wish to apologize to the child and his family.
Other Lead Stories fact checks about the war in Ukraine can be found here.