Russia, China sow jab disinformation: EU

·2-min read

Russia and China are seeking to sow mistrust in western COVID-19 vaccines in their latest disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing the west, a European Union report says.

From December to April, the two countries' state media outlets pushed fake news online in multiple languages sensationalising vaccine safety concerns, making unfounded links between jabs and deaths in Europe and promoting Russian and Chinese vaccines as superior, the EU study said.

The Kremlin and Beijing deny all disinformation allegations by the EU, which produces regular reports and seeks to work with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to limit the spread of fake news.

Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy "follows a zero-sum game logic and is combined with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine trust in western-made vaccines," said the EU study, released by the bloc's disinformation unit.

"Both Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media, including official diplomatic social media accounts, to achieve these goals," the report said, citing 100 Russian examples this year.

The EU and NATO regularly accuse Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilise the west by exploiting divisions in society.

Vaccine supply issues with AstraZeneca, as well as very rare side effects with AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, have been seized upon, the report said.

"Both Chinese official channels and pro-Kremlin media have amplified content on alleged side-effects of the western vaccines, misrepresenting and sensationalising international media reports and associating deaths to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Norway, Spain and elsewhere," the report said.

Russia denies any such tactics and President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign foes of targeting Russia by spreading fake news about coronavirus.

Sputnik V responded that the disinformation campaign is against Russia and its vaccine, not the other way around.

"We will continue to fight disinformation campaign against Sputnik V in the interests of protecting lives around the world and avoiding vaccine monopoly that some vaccine producers may strive for," it said on Twitter.

The Twitter account is managed by the Russian sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for marketing and promoting the Sputnik V vaccine.

China meanwhile promoted its vaccines as a "global public good" and "presenting them as more suitable for developing countries and also the Western Balkans," the report found.

Western Balkan countries are seen as future EU members.