By Baiba Zile*
A while back, we frequently heard pro-Kremlin media outlets and local activists say that the coronavirus doesn’t exist, that it is a “made-up disease that the West wants to use to take control over the world”. They not only denied that the virus is dangerous, but also were certain that it was developed by Bill Gates and George Soros in order to implant chips in all people on Earth.
Such a narrative initially benefitted the Kremlin because Putin’s regime doesn’t care for its compatriots. For instance, for years Moscow’s “compatriot policies” have dealt with nothing more than language issues and discrimination against Russian-speakers abroad, particularly in the Baltics.
What concerns restricting the spread of Covid-19 and ensuring the safety of its people, the Kremlin’s actions have been rather confusing – at a time when resources are scarce and there’s a sort of a global economic crisis, instead of investing in saving its compatriots Russia is investing in the development of prohibited chemical weapons and using them against the same Russian compatriots abroad.
It seems that this is a great time for the Kremlin to get rid of its adversaries by completely ignoring international law. In other words, the Kremlin has returned to committing the atrocities of the ruined Soviet Union.
Alas, you can’t act so openly in the international arena, so despite the incomprehensible indifference and hatred towards its people, Russia hastily announced that it is desperately attempting to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 and quite recently revealed to the world a completely unknown and untested Sputnik-V.
Russia wouldn’t miss an opportunity to boast, regardless of being able to provide evidence for its statements. Russia is allegedly the first country in the world that has successfully developed a vaccine against the dangerous virus. Unlike Western countries, that actually spend countless hours researching the virus and developing a vaccine, the Kremlin’s approach is vicious and childish. Just like a school pupil who hasn’t prepared for a test, the Kremlin wants to copy/steal the Covid-19 vaccine from the West.
This is what happens when you spend all your money on chemical weapons and assassinations of opponents. This is also confirmed by the information published in early may about a Russian hacker attack against the information systems of a British university aimed at stealing data about a Covid-19 vaccine that was in development.
If Putin is truly better than everyone else, why is he forced to act like a complete fraud, just like the friendly People’s Republic in China which should be included in the Guinness World Records as the largest COPY/PASTE superpower in the world that doesn’t care for such nonsense as copyrights.
Despite Russia’s attempts to convince the world that it’s selflessly helping in the fight against Covid-19, there is evidence suggesting that in reality Russia – unintentionally, I hope – is helping the spread of the virus in other countries, especially in Latvia.
It’s true that the spread of the virus is encouraged by travelers from Russia. First, despite the lies spread by the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets regarding Latvia’s discriminative policies against Russian-speakers, these are the people that can freely move between Latvia and Russia. This is particularly the case with non-citizens who refuse to acquire Latvian citizenship as it could make traveling to Russia harder.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these people would follow common sense and follow all the security measures and restrictions. But this isn’t on their list of priorities, and this could cause irreversible consequences to the economy of Latvia because numerous local companies and their employees are at risk.
A good example is the recent death of former head of Gazprom’s Latvian office Sergei Roldugin, who died of Covid-19. Roldugin fell ill while in Latvia and was transported to Russia with a specialized Sukhoi Superjet aircraft provided by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.
It would be naïve to assume that a person infected with the virus who arrived in Latvia to due business hasn’t infected his colleagues or anyone around him. It’s possible that these people are showing no symptoms or having a mild form of the illness, meaning that they are continuing to spread the virus further.
The Continental Hockey League (KHL) team Dinamo Riga is another good example – it returned from Russia with seven people infected with Covid-19 and these people most likely contacted countless others before becoming aware of the infection.
These are Russia’s attempts to triumphantly introduce its Sputnik-V vaccine. If everything was so great as portrayed by the pro-Kremlin media, our hockey players and other travelers wouldn’t return from Russia infected. The same can be said of diplomats and Russian businessmen who regularly arrive in Latvia and then return to Russia without observing any kind of self-isolation or quarantine – all of them help in spreading the deadly virus.
Even though I would like to believe that the virus is being spread unintentionally and due to carelessness as a result of the Kremlin’s propaganda campaigns, we cannot rule out the possibility that the Kremlin is doing this deliberately. It could be a strategic maneuver aimed at inciting the Latvian public against the government and causing an economic downturn.
The Kremlin’s disinformation strategy has been carefully established a long time ago – any facts and counterarguments regarding Russia’s approach to combating the pandemic and the effectiveness of the Sputnik-V vaccine will be met with allegations that the West is launching an information war against Russia.
One of the best examples of the modus operandi of the Kremlin’s lie agencies is the incident that took place in late summer when Aleksey Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. Despite leading German, Swedish and French laboratories confirming that Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine continued denying Russia had anything to do with the incident. Instead, the Kremlin argued that there was in fact no poisoning and that it was fabricated as part of the West’s information war against Russia.
One of the most discussed recent cases, also the apex of the Kremlin’s propaganda, is the narrative that a British vaccine will turn people into monkeys because the vaccine is developed using monkey DNA. With this, the Kremlin’s propagandists want to kill two birds with one stone – the public begins distrusting Western vaccines, the number of people who are categorically against vaccines increases and animal rights activists become agitated. These are just some of the examples of the Kremlin using different long-established propaganda tools to spread disinformation among the public.
However, there’s a bit of irony in all this – the Kremlin’s spies try to steal the vaccine from the West, which according to pro-Kremlin media has developed a “monkey vaccine”. Russia’s attempts to present itself as the one who saved the world from Covid-19 by trying to steal other countries’ vaccines reminds me of a saying my grandfather loved very much: “Monkey see, monkey do!”
*Baiba Zile, independent Latvian journalist
Trust and Distrust in the USSR: An Overview
Russia was first to develop a vaccine:
Russia’s attempts to steal the formula of the vaccine:
Gazprom – Roldugin