DISINFORMATIONRussia and China’s Influence Campaigns During the War in Ukraine

Published 21 March 2023

Within weeks of the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin began pushing a conspiracy about U.S.-backed bioweapon laboratories in Ukraine, claiming that the labs were handling “especially dangerous pathogens” (including the coronavirus), that they were trying to make bioagents capable of targeting certain ethnic groups, and that they were training birds to deliver bioweapons to Russian controlled territories. These false claims were amplified by right-populist U.S. commentators such as Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon.

The Alliance for Securing Democracy released a report on the Russian and Chinese disinformation during the Ukraine, which focused on disseminating lies about U.S.-backed biowarfare research in secret labs in Ukraine. This disinformation campaign was amplified by far—right American commentators and politicians.

Here are three sections from the report:

The Long Tail of Kremlin Conspiracy Theories
As with prior Russian information campaigns around the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, Kremlin-linked messengers have also turned to conspiracy narratives to muddy the information waters. In early March, Russia’s Defense Ministry began pushing a conspiracy about US-backed bioweapon laboratories in Ukraine. Kremlin-linked messengers claimed that the labs were handling “especially dangerous pathogens” (including the coronavirus), that they were trying to make bioagents capable of targeting certain ethnic groups, and that they were training birds to deliver bioweapons to Russian controlled territories. US commentators, including Tucker Carlson at Fox News, amplified the conspiracy. That success prompted Russian propagandists to build on the conspiracy narrative throughout 2022. Eventually, the Kremlin tied the biolabs to Hunter Biden, the Democratic Party, a range of US government agenciesGermanyPolandPfizer, Moderna, and a host of other individuals and organizations.

Through 11 months of war, Kremlin-linked accounts have tweeted, retweeted, or quote tweeted the terms “biological” or “bioweapon” more than 3,000 times. Tweets by Russian accounts containing those phrases brought in more than 161,000 retweets and 311,000 likes. China, which supported the Kremlin’s claims, was the fourth most frequently mentioned country in tweets by Russian propagandists that mentioned the conspiracy—following only the United States, Ukraine, and Russia.
Amplification of Biolab Disinformation
The opportunistic dimension of China’s support for its Russian ally in the information space is further evidenced by China’s sustained amplification of disinformation about US-backed biolabs in Ukraine. Diplomats from Asia to Africa and Europe, supported by China’s full arsenal of global state media outlets, have actively promoted the Kremlin’s claim that the United States is running more than 30 bioweapons labs in Ukraine. During the first 11 months of the war, Chinese officials and state media outlets mentioned “lab” and “Ukraine” in more than 500 tweets.