Both the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the EU’s External Action Service have identified a myriad of stories in pro-Kremlin media and social accounts that have sought to discredit the policies and performance of the Western democracies while painting Russian actions in a most positive light.1 According to the State Department, during the pandemic, “the full Russian ecosystem of official state media, proxy news sites, and social media personas have been pushing multiple disinformation narratives”.2 These narratives have aimed to validate the Kremlin’s standard talking points about the alleged fragility of the US-led liberal rules-based international order, the benefits of national autonomy, and the ineffectiveness of democratic regimes and institutions.3
However, Russia’s disinformation campaign during the pandemic has diverged in important respects from that of earlier Kremlin-backed influence operations. Major novelties have included sizeable foreign medical assistance operations; more targeted manipulation of existing social media debates; greater coordination with China’s foreign-influence operation; and an overtly focused effort to secure relief of sanctions on Moscow and its partners. The current information warfare domain is “offence-dominant”—it is easier to create malign content and apps than it is for governments and social media platforms to identify and counter these threats. Nonetheless, the campaign has failed to obscure Russia’s own COVID-related setbacks, induce even Russian aid recipients to relax their economic restrictions, or gain visible high-level official support in Moscow.
Read the full report in International Centre for Defence and Security