First, some big news.
On Monday the US Justice Department indicted six GRU officers working for Unit 74455. According to the Justice Department, the Unit, dubbed in the media as “Sandworm”, is responsible for at least one billion dollars in damages. The indictment further concedes that the group “deployed destructive malware and took other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia” against the governments of Ukraine and Georgia, the Novichok poisoning investigations, the 2017 French elections and 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Six wanted Russian officers displayed left and FBI Special Agent Michael Christman, Assistant Attorney General John Demers, and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, October 19, 2020. Image: AFP.
Vaccines: nothing but a monkey business
As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across Europe, so does disinformation on the pandemic. Take, for example, a story claiming that Ukraine will buy a Russian vaccine and that the purchase will be made via European Union Member States. In reality, experts fear the approval of the Russian vaccine was premature. According to the Lancet, one of the world’s best-known medical journals, at that time the vaccine had not even started phase 3 trials. Another difficulty with this claim is the fact that none of the Member States had announced their intention to buy it.
The story is part of a broader narrative asserting that Russia fights the pandemic more effectively than Western democracies, boosting the credibility of a Russian vaccine and undermining that of other (Western) vaccines.
How do you erode the credibility of Western vaccines?
An old trick is to administer a lie packed in a larger truth.
Successful campaigns often “shield a forgery under the armour of a larger truth”, explains disinfo scholar Thomas Rid. His acclaimed book, Active Measures, showcases a spectacular example of World War II, the forged Tanaka Memorial. This document (allegedly from 1927) was instrumental in convincing many states that Japan elaborated a military strategy to achieve world domination. It was not authentic though.
Why was this false narrative so effective? Because it was rooted in Japan’s actual assertive foreign policy of that time.
How do you apply this larger-truth method to Western vaccines?
To undermine the credibility of these vaccines, the pro-Kremlin media took part of the truth (the Oxford vaccine is developed using chimpanzee viral vector) to rebrand it as “the monkey vaccine”. This enables the pro-Kremlin media to suggest that the British vaccine will turn people into monkeys and also tap into criticism of animal rights supporters and anti-vaxxers.
However, a point of no small irony: the principles behind the Sputnik V vaccine are, in most respects, the same as Oxford’s. Monkey see, monkey do?
The monkey narrative tries to erode the credibility of the Western vaccines. Despite all this ambitious monkey business, one should remember a good old Jamaican proverb: the higher a monkey climbs, the more exposed he is.
Old wine, new bottles
This week we also saw some old disinfo wine poured from new bottles. A few examples.
We again witnessed some recurring Kremlin narratives on Navalny. For instance, poisoning the Russian opposition leader was intended to help the West attack Russia. Or, the Kremlin could not be behind the attack on Navalny, because an assassination order from the Kremlin is not probable, because he is just a insignificant blogger.
On MH17, once more we saw the assertion that the Joint Investigation Team is ignoring proof provided by Russia. Allegedly, the criminal prosecutors ignore Russian raw radar data. In reality, the “raw data” consisted of a video combining primary and secondary information. This narrative has been recurring since 2016. Another MH17-narrative claims “the Germans” supported Russia’s withdrawal from the MH17 consultations. Through which research method did they determine this German support? Quite simple. Through three comments below an article of Die Welt.
On Belarus, again, we noticed narratives claiming the protests could not have happened without foreign (Western) influence. This is part of a recurring campaign, accusing Western countries of interference and portraying the protests against electoral fraud as a Western-led colour revolution.