Russia’s COVID-19 propaganda has not been subtle heralding the decline and fall of Europe and presenting Russia as the true champion of Western health and safety. But even the best-laid plans for turning a global pandemic into an opportunity for “active measures” haven’t always succeeded, mainly because of the Kremlin’s operatic overreaction to exposure and criticism of its influence operations, turning even its well-wishers against it.
Russian falsehoods on COVID-19 have taken a number of forms on the continent. In several cases, Moscow has simply outsourced its disinformation to German neo-Nazis, ever happy on both ideological and electoral grounds to whip up racist or xenophobic sentiment in a country host to over a million refugees. The Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, formerly the official organ of the youth division of the Soviet Communist Party, has repeatedly commissioned and published Eugen Schmidt, an activist with the far-right AfD party, to portray stateless migrants as major quarantine violators even though there is no evidence that this is so.
The Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab analyzed several cases of Russian disinformation, all tied to the portrayal of a Europe divided and lost and Russia as its maligned but willing savior.