Elon Musk tweet amplifies false Ukraine casualty numbers
Online articles and social media posts claim almost 2,700 NATO soldiers and military trainers have died during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is false; the military alliance has not deployed personnel to Ukraine and an official confirmed to AFP that none have been killed in the conflict.
"Ukraine: 157,000 soldiers dead," says a February 5, 2023 tweet. "234 Dead - NATO military trainers (US and UK). 2,458 Dead - NATO soldiers (Germany, Poland, Lithuania,etc)."
The post, published by an account called "Russian Market," accumulated thousands of shares -- thanks in part to Twitter owner Elon Musk.
"A tragic loss of life," the billionaire said in a February 6 reply to the tweet.
Eleven hours later, appearing to realize the numbers were wrong, Musk published a second tweet asking participants in Twitter's Community Notes moderation program to correct them.
Russian Market's post links to a January 25 article from a Turkish website called Hurseda Haber. The website, in turn, cites supposed data from Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency.
Claims of NATO casualties in Ukraine circulated elsewhere on Twitter, as well as platforms such as Reddit and Facebook.
The posts come as Russian forces advance toward Bakhmut and Vugledar, two key centers of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of Russia's intervention.
Russia has suffered 180,000 killed or wounded in Ukraine, while the figure for Ukrainians is 100,000 military casualties and 30,000 dead civilians, according to estimates that Norway's army chief released in late January 2023. In November, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said the Russian army had suffered more than 100,000 dead or wounded, with a "probably" similar toll on the Ukrainian side.
Those figures cannot be independently verified. But the claims swirling online are baseless, NATO told AFP.
"There are no troops or trainers under NATO command in Ukraine, and no NATO personnel have been killed in the conflict," an official at the Brussels-headquartered organization told AFP in a February 6 statement.
While member countries have given Ukraine weapons, money and logistical support, NATO says on its website that it is not sending troops to Ukraine because the alliance "has a responsibility to ensure that this war does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine."
No US, UK military casualties
Hurseda Haber claims in its article that MOSSAD intelligence indicates "NATO military trainers" from the US and UK have died during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Both countries say that is false.
"There are no US service members in Ukraine," said Garron Garn, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense, in a February 6 email.
The agency's February 6 casualty report does not include any military deaths in the country.
The UK's Ministry of Defense has also refuted the figures circulating online.
"This report is inaccurate. No UK Armed Forces personnel have been killed in Ukraine," the agency said in a February 6 tweet responding to Russian Market's post.
The Ministry of Defense added: "UK-led training of Ukrainian recruits is now taking place in the UK." The US, meanwhile, has trained Ukrainian troops at a base in Germany.
Ukraine has established an international legion for volunteers with varying degrees of previous military training. Several citizens from the US and UK have died during the invasion, albeit not in connection with official military or NATO operations.
"The Department of State continues to advise that US citizens not travel to Ukraine due to active armed conflict," the agency says on its website. "Those US citizens in Ukraine should depart if it is safe to do so using commercial or other privately available ground transportation options."
AFP reached out to Israel's Ministry of Intelligence for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.
EU corrected estimate
Russian Market's tweet also includes what appears to be a still from a video in which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says: "More than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed so far."
The tweet claims the clip "was deleted," referencing a post that von der Leyen published and then unpublished in late November 2022. The European Commission later released an edited version of the clip that corrected her statement about Ukrainian casualties.
"Many thanks to those who pointed out the inaccuracy regarding the figures in a previous version of this video," said deputy chief spokeswoman Dana Spinant in a November 30 tweet. "The estimation used, from external sources, should have referred to casualties, i.e. both killed and injured, and was meant to show Russia's brutality."
As for civilians, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded nearly 19,000 casualties -- including more than 7,100 deaths -- in Ukraine as of February 6, 2023.
AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about Russia's invasion of Ukraine here.