EUvsDisinfo: vaccine as an ideological weapon against the European Union and its Eastern partner countries

EUvsDisinfo: vaccine as an ideological weapon against the European Union and its Eastern partner countries

February 1, 2021

Since the New Year, the Kremlin is not only leveraging diplomatic channels, state-controlled media and networks of supportive and alternative media outlets to promote its narrative of Sputnik V vaccine supremacy, it is also running a simultaneous massive and misleading campaign to demote other vaccines, especially Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, according to the EUvsDisinfo project.

EUvsDisinfo says the ‘battleground’ has heated up, especially in countries of the Eastern Partnership, where Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia offer easily accessible media markets, and to a lesser extent in Azerbaijan and Belarus, where tougher media controls are in place.

The main Pro-Kremlin narratives can be found not only in Russian media, but also in pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets in EaP countries, with some country-by-country variations. These include:

  • ­“The Sputnik V vaccine is the first, it’s fully effective and with no side effects.
  • “Sputnik V is a global success. Many countries around the world are buying or interested in Sputnik V, including the US and EU member states.”
  • “The West (US and EU) are pressuring governments around the world not to buy or use Sputnik V .
  • “The situation in Europe is damaged by lockdowns, hampered by EU bureaucracy and slow national vaccination programmes.”

In Ukraine pro-Kremlin media focus on three main themes: the efficiency and safety of the Sputnik V, the alleged danger of Western-made vaccines, particularly Pfizer/ BioNTech, and the ‘genocide, which the Ukrainian government is committing against its own population by refusing to use the Sputnik V vaccine offered by Russia.

In Georgia, some  local actors are spreading conspiracy narratives claiming that the Pfizer vaccine alters human DNA. The EU, they say, uses disinformation to maliciously attack the Sputnik V vaccine.

In Moldova, pro-Kremlin disinformation mostly focusses on promoting the safety and efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine while disparaging the safety of Western vaccines, in particular the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The disinformation actors claim that the EU is drawing up ‘registers’ of those who refuse the vaccine, while citizens are sceptical. A few articles have accused the EU of launching an ‘information war’ against the Sputnik V vaccine in order to defend Western pharmaceutical companies.

Conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine sentiment tend to be minimal in Belarus mainly because of strict government censorship. But pro-Kremlin media outlets in the country promote the efficacy of Russian-made vaccines and underline “the absolutely helpless and divided EU, adding that the European Union is being transformed into a totalitarian empire.

In Azerbaijan d isinformation tends to come from the local version of the Russian Sputnik channel, Sputnik.az, and other more marginal sources. Their narratives tend to mirror those in other outlets: promoting the Sputnik V vaccine and denigrating Western vaccines. But as the Azerbaijani government exercises tight control over the media environment and has announced it will import four million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are not prominent in the country.

Find out more

Read the full story: The battle for shoulders – which vaccine should be injected?

EEAS: Building immunity to disinformation

EUvsDisinfo: Big lies, little lies and vaccine vilifications

EUvsDisinfo: Telling half-truths is also lying 



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