Russia denies spreading fake news about coronavirus pandemic in US

29 July 2020, 17:06

A Kremlin spokesman said the allegations were a "persistent phobia"
A Kremlin spokesman said the allegations were a "persistent phobia". Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Russia has denied claims it is spreading fake news and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

According to US officials, Russian intelligence services have been using three English-language websites to spread false information about the Covid-19 outbreak in the US.

They claim the purpose of the groups is to exploit the crisis prior to the presidential election in November between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Between late May and early July, the trio of websites published around 150 articles that were either critical of the USA's response to the pandemic or were supportive of the Russian Government, one of the officials said.

Among the identified websites was One World, which posted a response that rubbished what it claimed were "categorically false" allegations.

It had been accused of working for the Russian military intelligence service and that it was involved in both propaganda and meddling.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the allegations "some kind of a persistent phobia."

"Russian media actively work to cover the situation with the coronavirus," he said.

"Indeed, when it comes to Russia, it is going through this difficult time better than many other countries, albeit not without problems.

"Indeed, all the media point to considerable problems that the United States are experiencing during this period."

He added: "So in this case, if anyone talks about some kind of disinformation, it is some kind of persistent phobia, and there is no need to blame objective and quality work of the media."

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the accusations are either "new conspiracy theories" invented by journalists or "yet another hoax of American security services."

Mr Kosachev added that "so far none of the conspiracy theories" aired in Western media have "been confirmed in real life."

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"Russia has been interfering in Western democracies for years"

US government officials said that two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow's military intelligence service, known as the GRU, have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences.

One of the headlines that worried US officials was "Russia's Counter Covid-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Detente", which implied that the US had relied upon urgent and substantial Russian aid in fighting the pandemic.

Another headline read "Beijing Believes Covid-19 is a Biological Weapon", which amplified statements by the Chinese.

The Russian disinformation campaign was described by officials as part of an ongoing and persistent effort to advance false narratives and cause confusion in Western nations.

In 2019, a specialist European Union disinformation task force identified One World as "a new addition to the pantheon of Moscow-based disinformation outlets."

It noted that One World's content often repeated the Russian state agenda on issues including the war in Syria.

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