Russia has rejected accusations it is spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in the US.
US officials told The Associated Press that Russian intelligence services were using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the pandemic, seeking to exploit a crisis that the US is struggling to contain ahead of the presidential election in November.
The three websites published around 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the US between late May and early July, one of the officials said.
One of the identified websites, One World, posted a response, denouncing as “categorically false” allegations that it worked for the Russian military intelligence service or was involved in propaganda or meddling.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the allegations “some kind of a persistent phobia”.
“Russian media actively work to cover the situation with the coronavirus. Indeed, when it comes to Russia, it is going through this difficult time better than many other countries, albeit not without problems. Indeed, all the media point to considerable problems that the United States are experiencing during this period,” Mr Peskov told reporters.
He continued: “So in this case if anyone talks about some kind of disinformation, it is some kind of persistent phobia, and there is no need to blame objective and quality work of the media.”
Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the accusations are either “new conspiracy theories” invented by journalists or “yet another hoax of American security services”.
Mr Kosachev added that “so far none of the conspiracy theories” aired in Western media “has been confirmed in real life”.
US government officials told the AP that two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences.
Among the headlines that caught the attention of US officials on the websites were “Russia’s Counter Covid-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Detente”, which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to the US to fight the pandemic, and “Beijing Believes Covid-19 is a Biological Weapon”, which amplified statements by the Chinese.
Officials described the Russian disinformation as part of an ongoing and persistent effort to advance false narratives and cause confusion.
In 2019, a European Union task force that studies disinformation campaigns identified One World as “a new addition to the pantheon of Moscow-based disinformation outlets”. The task force noted that One World’s content often parrots the Russian state agenda on issues including the war in Syria.