Russian Propaganda in Action Again

Today, the world is entering into a deep political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. Due to COVID-19 virus outbreak almost every international actor is facing growing and suffering challenges. First of all the most important concern is social security which merges healthcare, humanitarian aid, and mental stability. Another issue is economic regress that has become an inevitable side-effect of Coronavirus.

The countries are using every available and sometimes unavailable tool keep the balance and meet the needs that arise from severe COVID-19 outbreak.

A lot of things are still unclear, like: Will the virus disappear when temperature is equal to 30°; When the vaccine may provided to most-affected countries; How soon the medicine will be ready etc.

However there are countries that try to benefit from this turbulent and unclear times. For example, Russia has launched a new campaign to destabilize Western countries, which aims at least on three fronts: the coronavirus epidemic, the US presidential election in November, and the economic and racial divisions. The complaint comes together from analysts and intelligence services in Europe and the Americans, who are however more alarmed than 2016, because this time the offensive is more sophisticated and is not limited to fake news.

China has insinuated that COVID-19 is a biological weapon brought by the US military to weaken it, but Moscow is much more active in exploiting the pandemic for its geopolitical goals. A 9-page report by the European External Action Service, dated March 16 and revealed by the Financial Times, states that “a significant disinformation campaign is underway by Russian state media and by pro-Kremlin organs. The goal is to aggravate the medical crisis in western countries, undermining public trust in health systems, and therefore preventing an effective response “. Since January 22, the EU has identified around 80 cases, in which accounts already used in the past to misinform Syria or the yellow vests in France, are now spreading falsehoods such as that the coronavirus “is a human creation turned into a weapon by the West” . The campaign also targeted Italy, with messages in italian language aimed at exacerbating fear and distrust of the authorities.

However, this is not the only complaint. Last month the Global Engagement Center (GEC), the division of the US state department that fights online propaganda, published a study that launched the same accusation. The research had analyzed about 2 million tweets in various languages ​​published between 20 January and 10 February, that is when the WHO had declared the international emergency, and at least 7% spread conspiracy theories such as that according to which the coronavirus had been created by the Gates Foundation, or was born as an American biological weapon. The Undersecretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Philip Reeker, had the following comment: «Russia’s goal is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and their allies from within. By spreading the misinformation about the coronavirus, it puts public safety at risk at the expense of the global response».

However, the offensive is not limited to the virus. US intelligence sources have revealed to Congress that Moscow has launched a new campaign to influence the November presidential election, but this time entrusted to the Foreign Intelligence Service led by Sergei Naryshkin, heir to the KGB and more sophisticated than the military service GRU that had managed the attack in 2016. The operation still includes fake news, to the point that on March 12th Facebook and Twitter dismantled an online network that spread falsehoods from Ghana and Nigeria to fuel racial resentment in the US. However, the FBI also investigates aid given to neo-Nazi groups such as Rinaldo Nazzaro’s “Base”: “Moscow – said Foreign Influence Task Force agent David Porter – wants us to tear ourselves apart.” The goal is therefore broader to help Trump beat Biden, for example by relaunching disinformation on the Ukrainian case, because it generally aims to weaken the US and Western allies by breaking them up inside them.

Grigol Julukhidze
Senior Fellow

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