According to the US government and independent experts, the Kremlin has launched a massive disinformation campaign aimed at undermining confidence in the drugs Modern and Pfizer.
Russian intelligence agencies are actively campaigning to spread misinformation about US-approved vaccines. The US Center for Global Engagement (a special anti-propaganda unit within the State Department) identified four online media that are used to publish negative materials about the developments of Pfizer and Modern. In particular, the publications write about the allegedly dubious effectiveness of drugs, exaggerate the risks of side effects and argue that Pfizer received regulatory approval under an abbreviated procedure. US State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed the links between the mentioned media and the Kremlin:
“We can confirm that all four media are controlled by the Russian special services and are spreading misinformation, in particular, about two vaccines that have been approved in the United States. It is absolutely clear that Russia is using old tricks and potentially endangering people’s lives by spreading misinformation about vaccines that we know save lives. ”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, answering a question from journalists about the unfolding information attack, also noted that the United States is ready to fight disinformation in all available ways:
“We are familiar with Russia’s approach and tactics in spreading disinformation. And at every opportunity we will emphasize that these vaccines are safe, ”said Psaki.
The approaches and tactics are really not new – the Kremlin uses proven resources to spread fakes. Two of them – News Front and New Eastern Outlook – featured in the August report of the Center for Global Engagement as so-called “proxy sites”. Their audience and reach differ significantly, but the goal is the same – the spread of Russian disinformation and propaganda. For example, one of the published materials questioned the origin of the coronavirus, a pandemic, while the authors blamed the United States.
The press secretary of Russian President Dmitry Peskov called the accusations of Russia’s involvement in the disinformation campaign nonsense. However, the data of the American intelligence services are also confirmed by independent research. The Alliance for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund in the United States examined the main messages of the government media in China, Russia, and Iran. The published report found that of the 50 most popular tweets from Russian state media about the Pfizer vaccine, 48 focused on the adverse effects of the drug, including reports of patient deaths.
At the same time, in an exclusive interview with Voice of America, one of the authors of the report, Bret Schafer, said that criticism of vaccines is selective and focused on attempts to undermine trust in Western drugs:
“One of the key findings of our report is that the awareness campaign was not intended to create skepticism about vaccines in general. This was not the goal, as the two countries – Russia and China – have their own vaccines that they aim to sell around the world. Therefore, these states were guided, first of all, by geopolitical and economic interests ”.
Geopolitics determined the tone of the messages after the start of negotiations on possible cooperation between the British-Swedish company AsrtaZeneka and the Russian Sputnik V. The authors of the report noted a sharp decline in negative reports about the Western drug. The development of the Oxford Institute was not criticized in the Iranian state media: Tehran signed a contract for the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the authorities were interested in convincing the population of its safety and effectiveness.
The leaders in terms of the number of critical reports in the media in Russia, Iran, and China were the drugs Pfizer and Modern. Researchers at the German Marshall Fund in the United States noted an interesting dynamic in coverage of competing vaccines from China and Russia.
“We drew attention to the almost complete absence of negative messages addressed to each other. The information in the Russian media about the Chinese vaccine was different from the corresponding reports about Western developments. However, it is also interesting that there were no positive messages either. I think they took an approach not to criticize but to ignore their vaccines. ”