The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), a US-based nonprofit organization, has published an extensive report examining Russia’s non-proliferation disinformation campaigns. According to the report:
March 22, 2022 As approximately 100 diplomats walked out of the United Nations Human Rights Council in protest on March 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attempted to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by claiming that Ukraine’s so-called “fascist” government sought nuclear weapons that could threaten the very Russian state itself. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin, have repeatedly accused Ukraine’s government of seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD) with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear capabilities. These narratives have been spread on Kremlin-friendly media channels and online to rationalize the country’s invasion. Even though specific claims about Ukraine seeking WMD are blatant falsehoods laced with inconsistencies, they should not be dismissed as inconsequential; they muddy the waters, making the truth more difficult to discern. Consequently, such false claims are wholly consistent with the aims of Russia’s broader disinformation strategy: to undermine global nonproliferation norms and institutions. Furthermore, US and allied intelligence suggests that Russia could take drastic action to follow up on its deceptive claims about Ukraine’s intentions, perhaps even preparing to use chemical weapons in a “false flag” attack after which Russia would try to pin the blame on Kyiv.
Read the rest here.
The BAS report explains that Russia’s nonproliferation-related disinformation has included:
- Publicly questioning the United Nations’ determinations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people
- Implying that COVID-19 is a US-developed bioweapon
- Evading accountability for Russia’s use of Novichok-class nerve agents against Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK
The BAS report also points out that Russia’s goal is not to persuade audiences to believe a specific Kremlin-approved version of events but to challenge observers’ ability to trust any narrative regardless of the supporting evidence—or lack thereof.
Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, have a long history of non-proliferation disinformation. According to a recent study by a US academic, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China in January 2020 prompted a greatly expanded Russian-government bioweapons-related disinformation effort. According to the paper’s extract:
October 21, 2021 From 1949 until 1988, the Soviet Union conducted a nearly continuous campaign of false allegations of biological-weapon (BW) use by the United States. In 1995, senior Russian military officials revived this pattern of false allegations, which continues to the present day. Russian officials amplified the campaign after the US government funded the transformation of former Soviet BW facilities in the Commonwealth of Independent States under the Nunn–Lugar program. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in China in January 2020 prompted a very greatly expanded Russian-government BW-related disinformation effort. This paper aims to present a reasonably comprehensive account of these activities and to assess their significance. The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated open disdain for both the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Read the full paper here.
The Global Influence Operations Report has extensively covered Russia’s bioweapons-related disinformation and continues to monitor developments as the Ukraine war unfolds.