UK media is reporting that Eastern Europeans’ hostility to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates can be traced back to Russian information and influence operations. According to a report in The Independent:
December 15, 2021 Adrian Onciu had a tough time finding somewhere to publish his coronavirus vaccine stories. The Romanian journalist’s reports alleged nefarious ties between European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and the Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, as well as schemes by American firms and officials to manipulate media on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. His pieces were rejected by just about every news outlet in Romania, including one website that recently featured an article about chewing gums that ward off Covid. But Mr Onciu, who conceded in an interview he had no documentary evidence to substantiate his claims, eventually found a platform that would not only publish his work but prominently promote it as a multi-part series on its website: Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news service, which is seen as a propaganda tool of the Kremlin. […]
Russia is also seen as influencing or backing several far-right political parties with anti-vaccination agendas. One pro-Russian Bulgarian group called Revival of the Homeland managed to win enough votes in November elections to enter parliament for the first time since it was founded, drawing votes from opponents of the country’s vaccination mandate. […] Much of the messaging by both Russian-allied political players and propaganda campaigns is aimed at Pfizer and Moderna. Reports question their efficacy and safety as well as the agendas of the people behind them. Websites such as news-front.info, run by the pro-Kremlin journalist Konstantin Knyrik, amplify rumours and innuendo in Bulgarian, Georgian, Hungarian, Slovak, Polish and Serbian.
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The report notes the eastern and central European struggle against the vaccine hesitancy that has hampered efforts to build up resistance to Covid-19. UK media reported last month that the death rate from Covid-19 hit record highs in Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania, where only 23%, 34%, and 57% of the respective population are double-vaccinated.
Sputnik is a state-owned Russian news agency established in 2014 and operating in over 30 languages. It has been frequently accused of spreading disinformation and is monitored by the strategic communication divisions of the EU and NATO.
Newsfront is a Crimea-based multi-language news outlet that has been accused by the US of working with Russian intelligence services and which has been designated by the US over disinformation efforts and interference in the presidential elections.