Fact Check: Audio Is Faked In Post Purporting To Show Navalny's Mother Accusing His Wife

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Audio Is Faked In Post Purporting To Show Navalny's Mother Accusing His Wife AI-Generated

Did Alexi Navalny's mother Lyudmila publicly accuse the politician's widow Yulia Navalnaya of capitalizing on her son's death? No, that's not true: The purported "address" is an AI-generated fake. Its origin can be traced to a network of Kremlin state-funded propaganda resources.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on X, formerly known as Twitter, on February 22, 2024. It opened:

🇷🇺 ‼️🚨BREAKING: Navalny's mother says:

- His wife did not seen Navalny for 2 years

- She forced him to go to Russia

- She made hom put all his property in her name

- She appears with other man in public

- Is shamelessly profiting on his death.

-> Looks like she planned it!

This is what the post looked like on X at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-02-27 at 10.46.10 AM.pngTwitter screenshot

(Source: X screenshot taken on Tue Feb 27 15:46:10 2024 UTC)

Throughout the shared clip, English subtitles that appeared to be an automated translation were seen in the frame.

The audio opened with a female voice addressing Navalny's wife by her maiden last name. It said (translated from Russian to English by Lead Stories staff):

Dear Yulia Borisovna Abrosimova, now I want to address you. You saw my son for the last time in February 2022. You are not prohibited from entering Russia, there is no open criminal case against you. But you've never come to visit him in two years. Since the spring of 2021, you are effectively not married to my son. You appear in public with other men. You're the one who forced him to come to Russia when he had just come out of a coma and had a poor understanding of the situation. Уou made Alexei put all his assets in your name. You disinherited even your own son, which is why he doesn't talk to you. You turned your daughter against your son. It was strange and weird for me to see you speaking on Alexei's behalf in Munich with a smile, just a few hours after his death, how you appropriate his voice after his death. You didn't even have the decency to wait, you didn't observe the mourning -- you rushed to peddle his death. You are a mean and low person. I despise you and forbid you to speculate on my son's, my child's name.

The clip ended with shots of Yulia Navalnaya at the Munich Security Conference where she delivered a speech (archived here) hours after her husband's death had been first reported (archived here) by the Russian government agency overseeing prisons.

The voice in the "recording" purportedly of Navalny's mother was unusually monotonous and flat, lacking a range typical to human speech, even in comparison to the two publicly known verified samples of the voice of Navalny's mother when, devastated and physically exhausted, she addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin demanding to return her son's body, on February 20, 2024, and February 22, 2024 (archived here).

These signs suggest that the voice was generated by neural networks "learning" from available samples.

Lead Stories tested the recording using DeepFake-O-Meter, a tool developed (archived here) by the University of Buffalo.

All five available models detecting audio fakes concluded that the voice of Navalny's mother from the post on X was AI-generated (click to view larger):

Screen Shot 2024-02-27 at 1.11.43 PM.png

(Sources: DeepFake-O-Meter screenshots taken on Tue Feb 27 16:50:21-18:10:20 2024 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)

The content of the "address" was strikingly aligned with other examples of Russian propaganda's messaging disseminated after the politician's death across multiple social media platforms and channels, including Russian-speaking immigrant groups on Facebook.

One of the first to post the "recording" was the Russian-language Telegram channel Signal (archived here). It cited some unknown "media" as a source but at that point, there had been no articles about it before.

Despite the name, this Telegram channel is unrelated to a project of the same title run by the Latvia-based newsroom Meduza.

Previously, the Bell, an independent newsroom covering Russia, wrote (archived here) that the Telegram channel Signal is part of a network funded by Russian government money. The Bell wrote that this particular channel is associated with subordinates of Christina Potupchick, a former commissar of the pro-Putin Nashi youth movement, who now caters to the online agenda of the Kremlin in general and the Russian ministry of defense in particular.

The fake address of Navalny's mother was then massively spread by pro-Kremlin channels on Telegram commonly referred to as Z-bloggers for promoting and justifying Russian aggression in Ukraine: for example, this post (archived here), this post (archived here), this post (archived here) and this post (archived here). The file was also shared (archived here) by the Russian ultra-conservative pro-Orthodox Church TV channel Tsargrad and several other websites like this one (archived here) routinely utilized for broadcasting the Kremlin agenda.

The coordinated campaign spilled across regions and languages. Besides Russian and English, blog entries and articles citing the English-language post on X that is the focus of this fact check appeared in Greek (archived here), Bulgarian (archived here), Japanese (archived here) and German (archived here).

On February 23, 2024, one of Navalny's allies, Ivan Zhdanov, told Dozhd', an Amsterdam-based Russian-language TV channel also known as TV Rain (as translated):

Some kind of dirt created by a neural network went online ... I think that they [the Kremlin] will use the same dirty methods, fakes, create something and leak it to Telegram channels.

As of this writing, the exact circumstances of Navalny's death in an Arctic prison remain unknown. Sources affiliated with the Russian government initially stated that it was due to natural causes. Navalny's family and allies use the term "killing" to emphasize the Kremlin's responsibility, given the political nature of prosecution, harsh prison conditions, a lack of medical care and a previous attempt to poison him.

Other Lead Stories fact checks mentioning Navalny can be found here.

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