A report by the European External Action Service’s strategic communications division, revealed by the Financial Times today, claims that “Russian pro-Kremlin media” are conducting a “significant disinformation campaign” to exploit the coronavirus pandemic crisis in Western countries by “destroying confidence in the emergency response”. The story has subsequently been taken up by much of the mainstream European media.

According to the nine-page report, Russia is once again trying to sow “confusion, panic and fear” and “stop people obtaining good information about the contagion” – as part of a broader effort to “subvert European societies from within”.

“The EU has recorded almost 80 cases in its database of Covid-19-related disinformation efforts since January 22”, writes the Financial Times, quoting the EU report that claims that “Russian state-linked false personas and accounts [are] pushing disinformation about the coronavirus in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French online”. The same accounts previously posted on subjects including the White Helmets in Syria, the French gilets jaunes protests and Brexit, the analysis states.

“The overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in western countries, specifically by undermining public trust in national healthcare systems — thus preventing an effective response to the outbreak.”

The report claims that pro-Kremlin social media persona sometimes promote the idea that coronavirus is “a human creation, weaponised by the West”. In Italy, the European country most affected by the epidemic, Russia is supposedly trying to exacerbate fears over the ability of national and international authorities to manage the outbreak.

As mainstream media and EU authorities have repeated so often over the last six years, at least since 2014, the Kremlin is incessantly engaged in a permanent effort to “deploy dozens of different and often contradictory narratives that are disseminated through official channels, as well as online and through social media […] to subvert European societies from within by exploiting their vulnerabilities and divisions.”

The European External Action Service, which did not comment on the document, said it is working closely on increasing social media monitoring together with international partners, including NATO.

Russia has denied previous accusation by western governments and intelligence agencies of actively targeting European and American audiences with disinformation or opinion-forming campaigns. News about the EU latest analysis about Russia’s alleged disinformation effort was widely reported across many Russian media outlets.

Stefano Di Lorenzo