Many mayors of European capitals fall for an artificially generated Vitali Klitschko and chat with him digitally. The so-called "deep fake" is noticeable, but the uncertainty is still great. The investigation is ongoing, Berlin's mayor Giffey sees attacks on democracy.
Everything was right for Franziska Giffey: Vitali Klitschko's face on the screen, gestures, facial expressions, lip movements - but it wasn't him. It was not the well-known Kiev mayor and former professional boxer who held successive conferences with city hall heads across Europe, but an unknown person. The politicians are victims of a so-called deep fake, a particularly carefully manipulated video call. Madrid, Vienna, Budapest and possibly other cities are also affected. The connection to the Ukraine war is obvious, but a suspect has not yet been named. In Austria, the Foreign Ministry drew a first conclusion: Before such talks, politicians should in future consult the responsible embassy, as the APA news agency reports.
The real Vitali Klitschko said at the weekend in Kyiv: "A fake Klitschko who said absurd things has contacted several mayors in Europe," said Klitschko in Kyiv in a video distributed by "Bild". Behind it is criminal energy. It must be determined urgently who is behind it.
In Berlin, the state security service responsible for politically motivated criminal offenses is investigating. Madrid filed a complaint against unknown persons for using a false identity. "Even professionals can't tell if they're talking to a real person or a fake," Giffey said. You only had doubts when you switched to the video because of the questions from the stranger. The interlocutor wanted to know whether Berlin could help organize a Christopher Street Day in Kyiv. "So I said to my people: 'Something's wrong here.' And that's when the conversation ended." That was after almost half an hour.
In Madrid, Mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida quickly became suspicious of the video call with the alleged Klitschko and broke off the conversation, a spokesman for the mayor's office said. Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony said there were "several strange, suspiciously provocative questions" towards the end. He broke off the conversation. In Vienna there was no termination. A press release from the town hall after the meeting on Wednesday said that Ludewig had promised Klitschko solidarity. At the weekend, Ludwig said he had noticed an unusual tone of voice. The alleged Mayor of Kiev became unusually demanding towards the end of the video call, Ludwig told ORF. "But it wouldn't have made me question that in any way."
Realistic-looking media content that has been manipulated using artificial intelligence techniques is referred to as deep fakes. The photo released by the Berlin Senate Chancellery shows Kiev's mayor in a setting that looks like an interview with a Ukrainian journalist in the spring. Klitschko wears the same jacket and the Ukrainian flag can also be seen in the background. Video footage of the interview at the time may have been used as a basis and merged in real time with the voice and lip movements of whoever was actually speaking to Giffey. Experts call this face reenactment.
According to the Senate Chancellery, the conversation with Giffey was requested by email on June 2nd and then further initiated in this way. It is therefore the same email address as in Madrid. After criticism that the e-mail did not have the official domain ending of the mayor of Kiev and was therefore recognizable as a forgery, a Senate spokeswoman explained that it was "not unusual, especially since the beginning of the war" for established Ukrainian contacts to use addresses without an institutional e-mail signature or domain communicated. The Ukrainian embassy was informed in advance about the meeting date. Giffey said, "It was a pretty standard process."
At the beginning of the conversation, the other person asked to be able to speak Russian so that his employees could listen. The other side called in a Russian-German interpreter. Klitschko said on Saturday that official talks could only take place through official channels in Kyiv. He never needs a translator for conversations in German or English.
Giffey responded with concern to the forgery: "It's a tool of modern warfare." The aim is to shake trust in the Ukrainian partners. From the perspective of the SPD politician, deep fakes pose a threat to the democratic social order. People might be put in their mouths with words they never said. "That means that in the future we will have to go into the test even more and be even more suspicious."