This week, a number of influential media outlets, including Reuters and FT, have reported that Kremlin mouthpieces and Russia-linked social media profiles started a ‘significant disinformation campaign’ to aggravate the situation amid the coronavirus outbreak.
They referred to an ‘EU document dated by March, 16’, which turned out to be the report authored by the EEAS Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division. The details have been recently published on EuvsDisinfo.eu, the flagship project of the EEAS East StratCom Task Force.
According to the authors, the world is now witnessing ‘a substantive amount of both misinformation and disinformation spreading on- and offline’. Following the report, EuvsDisinfo.eu provides an overview of currently trending false narratives:
The coronavirus is a biological weapon deployed alternatively by China, the US, the UK or even Russia (with the aim of destroying the EU and NATO)
The coronavirus did not break out in Wuhan, China – the US is concealing its true origin, which is in fact the US or US-owned laboratories across the world
The outbreak has been caused by migrants and migrants are spreading the virus in the EU
The coronavirus is linked to 5G (e.g., Wuhan as a 5G testing ground)
The EU has failed to handle the crisis – the EU is a disaster for Europe
The EU is not ready to provide urgent support to its Member States – instead, they have to rely on external support (e.g., Italy), with China mentioned most often as the source of such assistance
China is coming to rescue the EU as Brussels abandons EU Member States
Schengen no longer exists – Europeans are in quarantine, but migrants can move freely
The coronavirus is a hoax, it does not exist
The EU could impose mass vaccinations
Cures: claims that natural remedies exist to cure the virus, which are often combined with anti-vaccination narratives
Miscellaneous conspiracy theories: historical predictions about the pandemic, plagues hitting the planet, secret “Deep State” attempts to control population growth, the pandemic being caused by chemtrails or leading to World War III.
The coronavirus is a relentless and daily topic in pro-Kremlin media, including state-owned outlets, the report by EEAS reads. As of 19 March, the East StratCom Task Force has collected over 110 corona-related disinformation cases in the public EUvsDisinfo database since 22 January 2020. These messages are characteristic of the Kremlin’s well-established strategy of using disinformation to amplify divisions, sow distrust and chaos, and exacerbate crisis situations and issues of public concern, the authors stress.
EuvsDisinfo.eu also focuses on the Kremlin’s disinformation strategies vis-à-vis domestic and international audiences:
Messages targeting domestic Russian audiences describe the virus as a form of foreign aggression, for instance claiming that the coronavirus originates in secret US or Western laboratories and emphasising that challenges coping with the virus mainly affect foreign and democratic countries, while Russia is fighting the outbreak
Messages targeting international audiences (in English, Italian, Spanish and Arabic, among other languages) follow a different approach: they focus primarily on conspiracy theories about “global elites” deliberately weaponising or exploiting the virus for their own ends. Here the aim is to induce distrust in national and European authorities and healthcare systems, international institutions, and scientific experts, among others.
Belsat.eu, following EU vs Disinfo