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EU slams Russia, China over vaccine disinformation

April 28, 2021

A new EU report found that Beijing and Moscow are seeking to undermine trust in Western coronavirus vaccines — and intensely promoting their own.

A healthcare worker displays a vial of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia
The EU says Russia and China are using the bloc's rising cases to cast doubt on democratic institutionsImage: Artyom Geodakyan/dpa/picture alliance

China and Russia are engaging in campaigns to erode trust in the European Union's coronavirus strategy as well as gin up skepticism of Western-developed coronavirus vaccines, the EU's foreign service said in a report published Wednesday.

The report also raised concerns that the countries are using these efforts to particularly exert influence on the Western Balkans.

What did the EU say?

The findings stem from a report published by the EU External Action Service (EEAS) on disinformation concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, "state-sponsored disinformation" efforts have intensified since the beginning of 2021, as vaccine rollouts have started to pick up pace around the world.

While China and Russia have increased efforts to promote their own state-produced vaccines, they've been using the promotions to "undermine trust" in Western vaccines and EU institutions.

To do this, both countries "are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media, including official diplomatic social media accounts, to achieve these goals," the report said.

In Russia, state media outlets have been trying to "cast doubt" on the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and accusing the body of delaying the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Where Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has been approved for use

China, meanwhile, has been propagating "misleading narratives" about the origins of the coronavirus as well as the safety of certain Western vaccines.

A Russian sovereign wealth fund responsible for marketing Sputnik V said the disinformation campaign is actually against Russia and its vaccine.

"We will continue to fight disinformation campaign against Sputnik V in the interests of protecting lives around the world and avoiding vaccine monopoly that some vaccine producers may strive for," it said on Twitter.

Sowing discontent

According to the report, Beijing and Moscow's "vaccine diplomacy" strategies have been particularly targeting the Western Balkans in an effort to exert influence.

The report voiced concerns that the rise in coronavirus cases in the bloc and sluggish vaccine rollouts are being spun by Russia and China as examples of a failure of democracy and open societies.

Although the EU has been criticized over its slower-than-expected vaccine rollout, the bloc says that a boost in deliveries means it's on track to vaccinate 70% of adults this summer.

Still, Hungary broke with the rest of the EU and has been administering vaccines from both Russia and China.

In March, the EMA launched a rolling review of Sputnik V. If given the green light, it would be the first non-Western produced coronavirus vaccine to be approved for use in the bloc.

rs/sms (AFP, dpa)