European Western Balkans

EU: Russia and China are running a campaign about the pandemic

European External Action Service EEAS; Photo: EEAS

BRUSSELS – Russian and, to a lesser extent, Chinese sources have been involved in the dissemination of disinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus epidemic aimed at the EU public and environment, according to a report released by European External Action Service (EEAS) Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division, with an objective to provide a snapshot overview of the current trends and insights into disinformation activities related to COVID-19.

In the period covered by the report (2 – 22 April), it was confirmed that pro-Kremlin sources and Russian state media continue running a coordinated campaign with the twofold aim of undermining the EU and its crisis response, and to sow confusion about the origins and health implications of COVID-19, it is stated in the report.

It is added that state-controlled sources targeting audiences in the EU, Eastern Partnership countries, the Western Balkans and the Middle East and North Africa region continue to portray the EU and its partners as ineffective, divided and cynical in their response to the COVID-19 and as such, the pandemic is repeatedly presented as a weakness of democratic systems to effectively deal with the crisis.

“Kremlin-backed disinformation on COVID-19 continues to proliferate widely on social media, even if it contradicts official WHO guidance and the content policies of social media companies. There is also evidence of a coordinated push by official Chinese sources to deflect any blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and publicising announcements and deliveries of bilateral assistance, with polls in certain countries showing China being perceived as more helpful in fighting the pandemic than the EU”, reads the report.

Factual reporting is present in Serbia in BiH

When it comes to the Western Balkans, factual reporting is also present in Serbia and BiH, despite the strong presence of pro-Chinese and, to a lesser extent, pro-Russian narrative in Serbia, the report said. The authors asses that the negative narratives about the EU will continue in the WB, “although factual reporting on the arrival of EU assistance seemed to counterbalance the negative narrative in the region”.

StratCom notes that conspiracy theories have come across “a fertile soil in the Western Balkans, where disinformation that the 5G network is causing the epidemic has spread on social networks and portals”.

StratCom is EEAS Task Force whose job is to analyze and expose propaganda and fake news. It was set up by European Council’s decision in 2015, as stated, “to better respond to Russia’s disinformation campaign and its consequences on EU member states and the neighborhood, including the Western Balkans.”

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