Russia spreading propaganda during COVID-19 pandemic: Canadian study
CALGARY -- Russia is releasing fake news stories and propaganda blaming the west for creating and releasing COVID-19, according to a report released Wednesday by the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.
Titled COVID-19 as a Tool of Information Confrontation: Russia’s Approach, the article claims Russia is waging a war of disinformation centering around the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to professor Sergey Sukhankin, the author of the report, the Russian narratives can be separated into three categories: simple, tricky and sophisticated.
The simple method uses basic language and straightforward arguments to reach the least informed of the Russian population by using biased media outlets, bloggers and, in some cases, first-hand accounts from Russians living in North America and the European Union.
The tricky narrative relies on the spreading of elaborate conspiracy theories aimed to create a sense of distrust against the west. They’re doing so by using Russian outlets and information platforms to give "evidence" the virus was created in America in order to halt the economic growth of China.
While the sophisticated method is a far more elaborate example of propaganda, aimed at small circles outside Russia. Claims that the U.S. is destroying global efforts in fighting the COVID-19 are being circulated citing the country's decision to decrease its contributions to the World Health Organization and its $60 million outstanding debt to the organization.
In advising how to avoid falling in the trap of fake news Sukhankin says you should "follow the official twitter announcements of the Canadian government and those officials that are in charge of those matters."
But he says it requires diligence to weed out the fake news from real.
“The Canadian audience will be exposed to fake news, to disinformation coming from Russia, potentially China, or other players,” warned Sukhankin.
Sukhankin says that Russia’s two main goals are to spotlight the "immorality of anti-Russian economic sanctions in light of COVID-19" and to damage, and potentially, destroy the European Union by undermining the solidarity among its members.
The E.U.’s External Action Service (EAS) has reported almost 80 incidents of COVID-19-related disinformation since Jan. 22.
Sukhankin says Russia’s propaganda targeting the West, and more specifically the United States, was prominent during the Soviet-era. The most successful attempt was Operation INFEKTION, where a rumour claimed the U.S. deliberately created AIDS/HIV.
Yevgeny Primakov, a conservative Russian politician, proved the rumor false in 1991, stating that "its main purpose was to spread global anti-Americanism."
After the fall of the USSR, Russia was unable to conduct their aggressive foreign policies due to a lack of resources. Their economy eventually began recovering in the early 2000s due to high oil prices.
In 2011, Russian propaganda outlets — including Sputnik Georgia, Eurasia Daily and Sputnik Armenia — returned to Soviet-style methods for spreading disinformation. Fake stories became commonplace and centred on meritless claims regarding the U.S. including accusations the Americans were testing new biological weaponry in Georgia.
According to Sukhankin, Russia is once again using these methods to attempt to push their own agenda by spreading disinformation in the midst of the global pandemic.
With files from CTV's Sean Marks