Posts omitted some of Microsoft co-founder's comments
Some prominent conservatives in the United States are sharing a video that appears to show Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates calling the Ukrainian government one of the worst in the world amid the war with Russia. This is misleading; the original footage shows the billionaire philanthropist was referring to Ukraine's past, but the clip was deceptively edited to omit the word "pre-war" from the start of his sentence.
"BILL GATES: The Ukrainian government is one of the most corrupt in the world," says a February 27, 2023 tweet from conservative activist Jack Posobiec, who has a history of amplifying disinformation, including with regards to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The 11-second video in the tweet was viewed more than 2.1 million times.
Similar posts -- including from Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, and promoters of the QAnon conspiracy theory -- drew hundreds of thousands more views across Twitter and other platforms, including Facebook and the messaging app Telegram. The posts spread amid a growing backlash from some Republicans over the billions of dollars the United States allocated to Ukraine to support it against Russia.
The clip in Posobiec's tweet shows Gates -- a frequent target of false internet claims and conspiracy theories, in part due to his support for vaccines -- saying: "The Ukrainian government is one of the worst in the world. You know, corrupt, controlled by a few rich people, I mean really unfortunate for the people in Ukraine."
Screenshot from Twitter taken March 6, 2023
But the short video snippet circulating online takes Gates's remarks out of context, cutting out the start of his sentence where he specified he was talking about Ukraine before the war broke out.
The logo in the lower right-hand corner of the screen reveals the comment came during a January 23 conversation Gates had with Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, a non-partisan think tank located in Sydney, Australia. The conversation lasted approximately one hour and covered topics including global health and climate change.
The full video shows Gates responding to a question from Fullilove about Ukraine and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"What have been your impressions about the way he has led his country, but also the way he has communicated, the urgency of his challenge to the world, and are there lessons that can be taken from that in terms of how some of these other challenges can also be communicated to the world?" Fullilove asked.
Gates responded: "It is very impressive that he has been able to draw the country together. And you know, the response, people did not expect Ukraine to be successful in avoiding Russia taking over the entire country. So there is a mix of, Russia was much weaker and less intelligent than was expected, and Ukraine was far stronger in aligning.
"Pre-war, you know, the Ukrainian government is one of the worst in the world. You know, corrupt, controlled by a few rich people, I mean really unfortunate for the people in Ukraine. Ukraine has better agricultural land than the United States does. I mean, it is the breadbasket of Europe. It is an incredible location. So hopefully post-war, as it gets rebuilt, it will first come up to Eastern European levels and then eventually European levels. So it is a country that has a lot of promise. But, you know, in the meantime it has been destroyed, and no one knows how long this war will go on."
A spokesperson for Gates confirmed to AFP that the former head of Microsoft was referring to Ukraine's "pre-war" government and that he does not believe the current Ukrainian government is one of the worst governments in the world. The spokesperson said the claims circulating online are false, pointing to the full video of the interview.
It is not clear if by "pre-war," Gates meant to refer to Ukraine's status under Zelensky -- who was elected president in 2019 -- or the previous regimes of Petro Poroshenko or Viktor Yanukovych. It is also not clear if he was referring to Russia's invasion in February 2022 or its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Gates's spokesperson did not elaborate.
Ukraine has a long history of corruption, although some officials have argued that the country is turning the corner as it seeks to integrate further into Europe. Transparency International ranked Ukraine number 116 out of 180 countries in its 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, a slight improvement on its score from the previous year.
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund praised Ukraine's anti-graft efforts following a visit to Kyiv in February, AFP reported.
AFP has debunked other misinformation about the war in Ukraine here.