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Russian intelligence agencies mounted an online disinformation campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer and Moderna's COVID vaccines, US officials say

 Russian intelligence agencies have been working to undermine public confidence in Western coronavirus vaccines for months, according to a new report citing US officials.  

The Wall Street Journal report published Sunday describes how the Russian intelligence agencies mounted a disinformation campaign through online publications that posted numerous articles questioning the development, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, including those from Pfizer and Moderna.  

The US State Department's Global Engagement Center (GEC) identified at least four outlets that have served as fronts for Russian intelligence, an official leading the probe told WSJ.  

The articles published by the outlets injected 'false narratives' about the vaccines, the newspaper reported, in part by highlighting the speed of Pfizer's development process and playing up the risk of side effects.  

While the outlets' readership is small, the official said the articles helped amplify those false narratives in Russian and international media. 

Russian intelligence agencies have been working to undermine public confidence in Western coronavirus vaccines for months, according to a new report citing US officials (file photo)

Russian intelligence agencies have been working to undermine public confidence in Western coronavirus vaccines for months, according to a new report citing US officials (file photo)

'We can say these outlets are directly linked to Russian intelligence services,' the GEC official said.  

'They're all foreign-owned, based outside of the United States. They vary a lot in their reach, their tone, their audience, but they're all part of the Russian propaganda and disinformation ecosystem.' 

The outlets have been used by the Russian government to spread disinformation on a range of international issues, not just vaccines, the official said. 

Two of the outlets - New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review - are controlled by Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, the official said. 

They portray themselves as academic publications and target their commentary on the US at audiences in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. 


Another outlet, News Front, is 'guided' by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) - the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

News Front produces content in 10 languages and had nearly nine million page visits between February and April of last year, the official said. 

The State Department indicated last fall that News Front had ties to Russian security services and was funded by the Kremlin, but did not explicitly say that it was directed by the Russian government.  

The fourth publication, Rebel Inside, is controlled by the GRU, the intelligence arm of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff. That site now appears to be dormant, the GEC official said.  

The State Department's Global Engagement Center identified at least four outlets that have served as fronts for Russian intelligence, an official told WSJ. Two of the outlets - New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review - are controlled by Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR. Pictured: Vladimir Putin is outside the SVR headquarters in December

The State Department's Global Engagement Center identified at least four outlets that have served as fronts for Russian intelligence, an official told WSJ. Two of the outlets - New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review - are controlled by Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR. Pictured: Vladimir Putin is outside the SVR headquarters in December

News of the alleged vaccine disinformation campaign comes as the US and other countries continue rushing to get jabs into arms amid significant public distrust. 

Polls show that concerns about the speed of the development process and potential side effects are among the most common reasons that people are wary about getting vaccinated.  

US officials say Russian intelligence agencies sought to exploit and stoke the distrust by presenting support for common concerns.  

The WSJ report also described how Russian state media and Kremlin Twitter accounts have been sowing doubt about Pfizer's vaccine in an apparent effort to promote the sale of Russia's rival Sputnik V vaccine. 

'The emphasis on denigrating Pfizer is likely due to its status as the first vaccine besides Sputnik V to see mass use, resulting in a greater potential threat to Sputnik's market dominance,' the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) wrote in a forthcoming report quoted by WSJ. 

ASD, a nongovernmental organization within the US think tank German Marshall fund, focuses on the danger that authoritarian governments pose to democracies.  

Russian state media and Kremlin Twitter accounts have allegedly been sowing doubt about Pfizer's vaccine in an apparent effort to promote the sale of Russia's rival Sputnik V vaccine (above in a file photo)

Russian state media and Kremlin Twitter accounts have allegedly been sowing doubt about Pfizer's vaccine in an apparent effort to promote the sale of Russia's rival Sputnik V vaccine (above in a file photo)

A spokesperson for the Kremlin denied the disinformation campaign when approached by WSJ and accused US officials of 'mischaracterizing the broad international debate over vaccines as a Russian plot', the newspaper said.

'It's nonsense. Russian special services have nothing to do with any criticism against vaccines,' spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

'If we treat every negative publication against the Sputnik V vaccine as a result of efforts by American special services, then we will go crazy because we see it every day, every hour and in every Anglo-Saxon media.'

A State Department spokesperson said the four outlets were linked to Russian intelligence through an assessment by multiple US agencies - but did not provide specific evidence.  

'Russian intelligence services bear direct responsibility for using these four platforms to spread propaganda and lies,' the spokesperson told WSJ.

'From the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, we have seen Russia's disinformation ecosystem develop and spread false narratives around the crisis.'   

3 comments:

  1. Arts degree holders must use sophistry to keep their jobs.

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  2. Undermining confidence in covid vaccines, is like saying "if you see a rattle snake don't try to pet it." Most people know better by now, the videos of the victims are everywhere except MSM.

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  3. For anyone with critical thought, the narrative is completely transparent. Who needs the Russians. Pfizer and Moderna dig their own graves with their actions.

    ReplyDelete