Duodecim Astra, Issue 1, 2021, pp. 98 – 120
About the author: Adriano Rodari is a second-year student of the Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe at the University of Bologna. He is interning at the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and volunteering as a Young European Ambassador.
As the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and Europe, another spreading menace caught the attention of experts and policymakers: infodemic. The same kind of concerns were voiced by European and international news outlets, pointing the finger at Russia, which was accused of waging an information war against the European Union, or the “West” more broadly. Allegedly, Russia was profiting from the health crisis to spread chaos within European democracies and advance its objectives. This paper intends to shed more light on the intentions and might of the Russian-backed disinformation towards Europe during the initial outbreak of COVID-19. The focus is not only on disinformation per se but on Russia’s degree of commitment to such information campaigns. To do so, this work centres on the potential strategic interests of the Kremlin, outlining three relevant goals which Russia tried to achieve during the pandemic with the support of information operations. When compared to previous attempts to influence the West, the level of coordination of narratives and actors is evidently lower. Instead of being the golden age of Russian-led disinformation, the COVID-19 pandemic was revealed to be a challenging time to advance Moscow’s strategic objectives.
Keywords: Russia, disinformation, COVID-19 pandemic, information operations, infodemic