Richard Weitz, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Military-Political Analysis, published a lengthy overview in the magazine Diplomatie in October on Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his article, Weitz looks at both the tools used by Russia and the effectiveness of their use by the Kremlin.
He wrote, “Although Russia’s information operations have their roots in former Soviet times, such as military fraud or maskirovka, today’s Russia has leaned more towards traditional psychological warfare, based on Soviet propaganda concepts, but also adapted to new information technology and social media. In other words, in line with the globalized world of the 21st century. The Internet, 24-hour news agencies and digital media platforms have greatly advanced Russia’s information warfare arsenal. “
Richard Weitz devotes an entire chapter to the changes in Russia’s influence activities with the COVID-19 disinformation campaigns, describing in detail, for example, Russia’s various actions to provide “humanitarian aid” and its efforts to warm up relations with China. Weitz writes, “The narrative battle of COVID-19 also strengthened Sino-Russian solidarity in the information domain. Russian officials have repeatedly defended China against Western accusations that the People’s Republic has withheld information about the virus and contributed to making the pandemic global. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov condemned Western criticism of Chinese and Russian humanitarian aid and alleged disinformation campaigns as a “new manifestation of Russophobic and Sinophobic mindsets” and an attempt to solve the West’s “internal problems with external enemies.”
According to Weitz, Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the West were not very successful. He points out, that an additional factor reducing Russia’s effectiveness in COVID-19 information operations has been the fact that Western targets, which have had to endure Russia’s disinformation tactics for years, are now better prepared for this. “For example, the Italian press obscured the ‘With Love from Russia’ campaign by condemning the propaganda motives behind the aid and pointing to the poor quality and inadequacy of Russian aid. In addition, the European parliament has warned that Russia is using the pandemic to run “reputation campaigns” to lift EU sanctions. They confirmed, that the sanctions have not prevented Russia from receiving medicines or medical equipment, „wrote Weitz.