The United States has accused Russian intelligence agencies of spreading disinformation about Western vaccines against the coronavirus in an attempt to undermine global confidence in their safety, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The State Department's Global Engagement Center, which monitors foreign disinformation efforts, told the newspaper that four websites it claims are associated with Russian intelligence have been publishing articles questioning the efficacy of the vaccines and raising questions about their side effects.
The websites accentuate actual international news reports that cast a negative view of the vaccines without providing contradictory information about their safety and efficacy, the newspaper reported.
Western vaccines were approved after stringent trials that demonstrated more than 60 percent efficacy, and in two of the three cases, more than 90 percent. The Western vaccines compete with Russia's Sputnik V, which also recently showed efficacy of greater than 90 percent in a mass trial.
The websites identified by the Global Engagement Center include New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review, which it says are Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and News Front, which it claims is run by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). News Front is based in Russian-occupied Crimea.
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The fourth website, Rebel Inside, is controlled by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, according to the Global Engagement Center. However, it did not provide specific evidence linking the publications to Russian intelligence.
The websites are niche, without a large following. New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review focus on an audience based in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Rebel Inside appears to be dormant, the center said.
U.S. social-media companies have removed the accounts affiliated with the four websites, though some non-English-language accounts remained active earlier this year.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Russian intelligence agencies were spreading disinformation about Western vaccines and said the United States was trying to blame Russia for the resulting international debate on coronavirus remedies.
The United States has long accused Russia of spreading disinformation on medical issues, going back to Soviet times, experts told The Wall Street Journal.
A Soviet KGB campaign claimed that U.S. military biological labs unleashed the AIDS epidemic.