Conspiracy theories and pro-Russian propaganda in EaP countries
The Romanian Center for European Policies – a leading Romanian think tanks specialized in EU affairs – has been monitoring the spread of fake news, disinformation campaigns and propaganda related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the six Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Their research included a review of online sources such as: Russian language broadcasts, local pro-Kremlin media, state-controlled media, and local obscure websites known locally for disinformation in each of the six countries. In addition, they referred to fact-checking websites fighting fake news and they looked at the social media accounts of prominent public officials and influencers. The organization interviewed experts and/ or journalists in each country in an effort to get more insight about the most vocal pro-Russian public figures and the main media outlets promoting Kremlin propaganda, as well as the target groups most sensitive to disinformation and any legal actions taken by the authorities to fight disinformation.
The Romanian Center for European Policies launched an interactive map of the most popular fake news in each country, main spreaders, targets and objectives. They were able to distinguish five main topics/ categories of disinformation:
i) Anti-Western propaganda,
ii) Spread of anti-vaccine misinformation,
iii) Kremlin-backed propaganda and disinformation campaigns,
iv) Improving self-image: China’s use of COVID-19 pandemic, and
v) Wide dissemination of popular conspiracy theories.
To find out more about the main topics of disinformation in the region and in each country, please access the interactive map at the following link: https://crpe.ro/eapfakes/
Moldova: Distrust in the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was fuelled not only by disinformation campaigns originating in Russia, but also by local figures, such as the Igor Dodon, the president of the country, several high ranking members of the Orthodox Church, some obscure portals, and religious portals and a handful of marginal politicians.
Belarus: The „star” of COVID-19 disinformation is Aleksander Lukashenko, who dismissed the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it „mass psychosis” and promoted bogus remedies.
Ukraine: Ukraine remains one of the main targets of the Russian propaganda machine. The main false narratives in Ukraine attempt to portray it as a failed state or a fascist state, under the external influence of foreign governments and international organizations. Popular conspiracy theories include 5G conspiracy theories or the „creation” of the virus in a US lab located in Ukraine.
Georgia: The Lugar laboratory served as the main target of pro-Kremlin disinformation. It was portrayed as a facility used by the US to produce biological weapons. 20% of Georgians believe that the lab contributed to the spread of pandemic. Anti-Western narratives were also circulating widely, alongside conspiracy theories.
Azerbaijan: Despite statistics, many Azerbaijanis denied the existence of the outbreak or believed that the threat was exaggerated. Popular narratives focused on the successful collaboration with Russia or Turkey in the fight against COVID-19.
Armenia: Anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and anti-globalization narratives were disseminated by social media influencers and journalists, reaching broad audiences. Several doctors and medical professionals also contributed to systematic spread of disinformation.
Please find also two reports on the same topic – one considering all EaP countries and one focusing on the Republic of Moldova:
1) Conspiracy theories and pro-Russian propaganda in EaP countries. Driving factors and potential beneficiaries. The report presents an overview of the disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories present in the six countries of the Eastern Partnership during the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore the main disinformation subjects, drivers, and their beneficiaries. The paper speculates on the potential short term and long term consequences of disinformation on the overall resilience of these societies, and, in particular, on its impact on the image of the European Union in the countries of the EaP.
2) Disinformation and propaganda in the management of the COVID-19 crisis in the Republic of Moldova
Photo source: E-International Relations