Trust in Medicine – Tool of Russian Influence
Previously established trust in Soviet and Russian science and medicine is used as a means of political influence, especially in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccines
Author: prof. Mirjana Najcevska, PhD, an expert on the rule of law and human rights
Trust is a powerful tool in spreading Russian influence in North Macedonia.
In the case of Russia, it is a trust that has been built for decades and that can, but does not have to, be based on real elements. It is usually a trust based on the perception of high development and great achievements in the development of science, especially in medicine in Russia (formerly the USSR). Trust based on the perception (again regardless of whether there is relevant data and factual elements) that Macedonia has the support and assistance of Russia (despite the always problematic and dubious behavior of “Europe” and Western countries/democracies in general and “their double standards“).
This trust is promoted on social networks and by prominent professors in North Macedonia (and the real developments are ignored, which do not correspond to the given statements):
An interesting example of a specific way of Russian influence in Macedonia based on trust is the media coverage of the pandemic declared in connection with the spread of Covid-19.
In this case, too, it is mostly information that is shared on social networks and in a limited number of portals and media, but they also find a place in established media (where the low level of trust of the citizens of North Macedonia in the media, in general, should be taken into account). The impact that such news has on the general public can be recognized in the phrases, words and explanations that are spread, which in full or in many respects resemble those promoted through openly pro-Russian oriented portals.
When it comes to trust in Russia as one of the ways to spread Russian influence, this trust should be correlated with distrust of Western European countries and the United States (as the other side of the coin) embedded in the information itself.
In this case, three sets of information/texts can be identified through which Russian influence penetrates (which seem to be even contradictory to each other but are ultimately based on trust in Russia and lead to the strengthening of this trust).
Conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 pandemic
The first group of texts refers to the denial of the pandemic, the existence of the virus and especially the problematization of the way of dealing with it (based on information shared by the Russian media or referring to Russian doctors/scientists).
Denial of the pandemic is often straightforward and very open:
After Britain and Russian Medicine with the Same Attitude: Covid-19 Is Not A Particularly Dangerous Infection – Panic Is Fabricated!
But it is often not direct, but very subtle. However, it very clearly indicates the intention of the “western countries” to use the “pandemic lie” in order to reduce the rights and freedoms of the people:
The panic of the “highly transmitted” mutated virus spreading across European countries – including Germany, Denmark and Ireland, among others – has prompted governments there to lock down these nations once again.
The denial of the existence of the virus is garnished with quasi-analyzes, which offer political explanations for the way the pandemic is used in the world. Usually, this kind of “analysis” is mentioned by an analyst/scientist from Russia (in many cases even with a misspelt name or surname), for which there is no evidence that they are in any way relevant to the given field:
A prominent analyst at the Russian Center for Military-Strategic Research at the General Staff of the Russian Federation – Colonel Vladimir Kvatkov, analyzed the world psychosis caused by the coronavirus.
The pandemic, which does not exist, is a global strategic special operation. It is an exercise in command and control behind the scenes, in order to gain complete control over humanity. This is the background for the appearance of coronaviruses. The world of backstage, especially the financial one, aims to reduce the country’s population. According to them, there are too many of us on the planet. There should be about a hundred million or more servants, a maximum of about one billion on earth.
The rhetoric of such conspiracy theories, which portray the pandemic as a means by “western” centers of power to kill part of the world’s population, and to use survivors as “servants” or “slaves”, by anonymous authors and hidden impressium, then spills over into political discourse.
Glorifying the Russian role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic
The second group of texts is a glorification of Russia’s achievements in the fight against the pandemic, the manufacturing and efficacy of the Russian vaccine and the progress in the discovery of medicine against Covid-19.
This line is further developed in criticism of the government for the late establishment of a request to Russia for their vaccines, even by current politicians / MPs:
Hey, is it true that the Russophobic idiots from the Government ignored the direct offer of a Russian vaccine, so they applied through the COVAX mechanism of the WHO. And, oh, they again got the Russian vaccine!? What a colossal incompetence, – writes the MP from the ranks of the Left Party, Dimitar Apasiev.
Similarly, on social media, the government is openly labeled as Russophobic, accusing that such a relationship stems from the desire to be part of NATO and the European Union (EU) and that it is about:
… servile slave courtship of NATO and the EU.
The message is reinforced by pointing out the countries that have already done so (procurement of the Russian vaccine), expressing concern over the state’s silence, and in particular information on the appropriate actions of the Serbian authorities and the friendly response by Russia:
I am not fully aware of whether a request for help came from Serbia. In any case, there is no doubt that this request will not go unanswered, especially because it is an important, allied and brotherly country, said Peskov.
Tensions are constantly rising and heating up with the release of data on the “huge” and “selfless” aid that Serbia is receiving.
Representatives of parties that openly spread misinformation and at the same time promote the Sputnik V vaccine appear on social networks as the only sure thing in dealing with the pandemic:
First, many countries in Europe and the world have banned the use of the Astra Zeneca vaccine because of the catastrophic consequences of receiving it. Second, the so-called Covid mechanism is a system of the World Health Organization, which receives free vaccine vaccine to distribute to incompetent countries that can not manage themselves.
Interestingly, even certain doctors (perhaps unwillingly) come in support of the Russian vaccine:
“I think that the Sputnik V vaccine will not reach the country again, that is my personal position due to the political problems with Russia,” Dr. Nikola Panovski told Fokus.
According to him, this vaccine has proven to be one of the most effective in the fight against the coronavirus and citizens to be vaccinated with “Sputnik V” may have to travel abroad again to be vaccinated with a third dose.
Many media outlets are sensationally placing articles talking of high confidence in the vaccine (and in English) and building the impression that it is widely present in neighboring EU member states:
Croats occupy Russian embassy, want to be vaccinated with Sputnik V
In articles in the Macedonian media or on social networks, the “Sputnik V” vaccine (made in Russia) is at no time associated with any form of negative intentions, side effects or imagined ways of control (chipping, killing), which has repeatedly been linked to vaccines made in Western European countries. This as information is especially shared through social networks:
The Russian Sputnik V vaccine has already proven its safety and efficacy. After receiving the vaccine, almost no unpleasant, side effects occur, unlike other vaccines used in Europe and the United States.
Very few Macedonian media outlets report and explain why the Russian vaccine is not recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and health and government authorities in a number of countries – because the manufacturer did not provide complete production and clinical trials to the WHO.
There is a lack of more detailed information/analysis on possible adverse reactions to the vaccine or long-term consequences, unlike such information on other vaccines (developed by Western European countries). This does not prevent the media from formulating messages that can be perceived as a recommendation regarding the Russian vaccine.
The information is further upgraded and expanded even in media that have a relatively high rating and have existed for a long time:
Almost all of the key vaccines produced in the West have problems. Either the problem is in the production (and delivery) process, or it has been determined to be available late (and Europe has no time to delay), or new studies suggest that these vaccines may be less effective in creating immunity to new coronavirus variants that emerged as part of this pandemic.
Suddenly, the vaccines that “should not even have been mentioned” are not only good, but are also praised especially China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V (after the study was published in the medical journal The Lancet).
These media even conclude that there is direct pressure on Russia by the West:
One thing has been constant in recent years, for almost ten years – Western pressure on Russia.
It is also no secret that all this time Europe has been the bearer of American policy towards Russia, a policy that comes down to “isolating and surrounding” Russia.
But Europe “wants to interfere” in Russia’s internal affairs.
Without any real data, information is spread that even Western European countries (EU member states) require Sputnik V vaccines (as the least harmful, but with other better properties):
Some EU members are turning to Russia and China, and even French President Macron is wondering if AstraZeneca vaccines (and other Western vaccine makers) are worth now.
Difficulties in delivering and storing the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, combined with unanswered questions about vaccine efficacy and safety, are causing demand to decline, not only in the UK but across Europe.
As a result of all this, a large part of the citizens of North Macedonia is in favor of the Russian vaccine, as described in the article entitled “Sputnik V, where are you? Macedonians dream of Russian vaccines!”
Despite the fact that in our country a large number of citizens would like to be vaccinated with “Sputnik V”, as shown by the Makfax poll, according to which a third of the surveyed citizens opted for the Russian vaccine, but also according to the information that Macedonians that were vaccinated in Serbia chose the vaccine of the Russian manufacturer, the Macedonian authorities cannot provide it,” the article reads.
The claim that “Sputnik V” is a better vaccine continues to this day, and there are claims (completely unconfirmed) that this vaccine protects against the emerging variants and subvariants of the virus:
Sputnik V provides better protection against omicron than the Pfizer vaccine
All this is updated with articles describing medicine for Covid-19 promoted and already used in Russia, and even officially registered:
Russia has registered a spray against Covid-19, patients recover in just eight days
The mosaic is complemented by a number of articles promoting specific findings by Russian scientists helping to fight Covid-19, such as “Scientists at St. Petersburg State University: TB vaccination could reduce the spread of Covid-19 and facilitate recovery” and “Russia is developing a unique coronavirus vaccine”.
Russian scientists are working to develop a unique vaccine that will simultaneously protect against the flu and the coronavirus, the director general of the Almazov National Center for Medical Research, Evgeny Shakhto, said on Wednesday.
In general, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the number of COVID-19 cases is currently declining, and “the pandemic is really gradually receding.”
The third group of texts builds/confirms the trust in Russia in the case of dealing with the pandemic on the claim that Russia cares about people, not about profit.
They say that Macedonian citizens can get access to the Russian vaccine if the government decides to purchase the Russian vaccine, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund is ready to start negotiations, including the delivery of the vaccine, which “will certainly be available at the most competitive price“.
There is no information in the media on the profit of the pharmaceutical companies in Russia, the state or individuals related to the vaccine against Covid-19 (there is an impression that this is an act of goodwill or a minimal fee), in contrast to the large number of such information relating to other vaccines.
The perception that Russia works for the greater good, and not for profit, is reinforced by statements such as:
The scientist noted that Russia can be an efficient and economically profitable donor of vaccine deliveries to countries that do not have their own vaccines with the sole purpose of protecting the world population from Covid-19.
Abuse of trust as a means of political influence
The impact that trust uses as a tool can be very powerful and difficult to detect.
The pandemic and dealing with it opened the door for two lines of influence of Russia through the media and social networks in North Macedonia.
The first line focuses on strengthening existing trust in Russia and expanding and upgrading it, using the direct promotion of Russia’s involvement in dealing with the pandemic, indirect input of completely unverified information about Russia’s place in efforts to deal with the pandemic globally, and direct accusations by the current government of North Macedonia about the lack of greater cooperation with Russia.
However, much more problematic and frightening is the second line of influence which is based on comparing Russia and the EU and the US in order to build elements of distrust towards the EU and the US according to one-sided, incomplete and/or non-existent data, their dehumanization and creating constant suspicion about manipulation and evil intentions and/or a simple desire for profit.