Russia takes advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to contribute to the general panic and confusion in the EU through its most used weapons – fake news and disinformation. The EU experts noted over 100 instances of virus-related disinformation in the last two months, including claims that the virus was a Western-made biological weapon. News outlets like Russia Today, Sputnik, News Front, Oriental Review, Geopolitica and others are used in waging the informational war.
Some examples of biased or straightforward erroneous information, which although later dismantled by the authorities, were further propagated by Russian sources:
- COVID19 is less harmful than the flu – information given by various influencers on social media, including doctors and politicians, presenting data without evidence in an attempt to prove that there are many other causes of disease more serious than the coronavirus infection. An example from a medical center here: https://www.facebook.com/medicentrum.ro/photos/a.132500858213874/151392869658006/?type=3&theater
- It was brought to Europe by migrants – after registering the first patient with Coronavirus in Hungary, an Iranian student, President Viktor Orban did not miss the opportunity to declare that “migration is responsible for spreading the coronavirus”: https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-to-eu-counterparts-clear-link-between-coronavirus-and-illegal-migration/
- It is exacerbated by taking ibuprofen to relieve symptoms – it started from a Twitter message by the Minister of Health of France, information quickly clarified by the World Health Organization: https://twitter.com/olivierveran/status/1238776545398923264
In the last 2-3 weeks, as the virus reached Romania, the local public space became infiltrated by Russian made fake news. A few examples:
🛑 Americans are doing the biggest military exercise in Europe during the coronavirus crisis, which means that “something is being hidden from us”, that “it is a conspiracy”. This misinformation first appeared in the News Front in Bulgarian, and later translated and spread to Romanians as well: https://bgr.news-front.info/2020/02/28/nato-shhe-prevrne-es-v-ogromno-ognishhe-na-koronavirusnata-epidemiya/
☑️ The truth: Defender Europe 2020 is an exercise planned 3 years ago, of which Romania is also part together with the other allied states, and which aims to strengthen the defense against aggressions coming from the East, which is the source of manipulations today.
🛑 A video of the President of Serbia, Aleksandr Vucic, in which the European Union is being blamed with proletarian anger that it has abandoned Serbia in the coronavirus crisis. Sputnik published on its website in the Republic of Moldova this video with subtitles in Romanian, from where it was later distributed on social media: https://ro.sputnik.md/International/20200319/29588454/Preedintele-Serbiei-ia -mulumit-China-to-support-get criticized hard-UE.html
☑️ The truth: Serbia has become a de facto ally of Russia, coordinates all its economic and military policies with Moscow and it is there where it should seek support. The EU has already allocated a budget of 37 billion euros for member countries in the fight against coronavirus. Therefore, lies and manipulation head-to-tail, heavily distributed by the agents of the East in Romania
🛑 Fake news claiming that the EU is helping France with 300 billion euros and Romania with only one billion euros. Many public persons have attacked the EU on the basis of this false information, which was dismantled in an official message sent by the European Commission Representation in Romania. This lie appeared in Sputnik in Romanian language, and the false statement was attributed to a Romanian politician to gain credibility: https://ro.sputnik.md/economics/20200321/29615321/Norica-Nicolai-Comisia-European-d- 300-billion-euro-France-and-one-billion-euro-Romaniei.html
☑️ The truth: The Commission approved the proposal by the French authorities to grant state aid worth 300 billion euros. The amount comes from the state budget of France. More details here: https://bit.ly/3biH8W8
Russia’s use of disinformation as a weapon in its hybrid war with the West intensified after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Seeking to destabilize the West by enhancing its vulnerabilities and turning them into problems, Russia contributed to the raise of populist movements and parties in Europe.
Marine Le Pen and National Front in France, Mateo Salvini and Lega Nord in Italy and Viktor Orban and FIDESZ in Hungary are only a few examples of politicians and parties that promote an anti-Western agenda in their respective countries, and at European level. Financial connections of some of the populist parties with Russia have already been exposed.
To protect yourself from fake news and disinformation, we recommend that you review the sources of the materials you are reading and make sure that they are credible and can be correlated with a clear author. When looking at a news story that raises suspicions, it is important to check if the information appears in other, more credible, news outlets. Don’t believe everything you read on social media.
To check if a news item is false, we suggest using this search portal created by the European Union:
Photo credit: Balkan Insight