Russia has been accused of spreading disinformation on coronavirus vaccines in an effort to protect the reputation of its own Sputnik V jab.
According to the Wall Street Journal, four online publications that served as fronts for Russian intelligence had been identified by the US State Department’s Global Engagement Centre that monitors online disinformation campaigns.
“It’s nonsense,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Wall Street Journal.
“Russian special services have nothing to do with any criticism against vaccines,” Mr Peskov said.
“If we treat every negative publication against the Sputnik V vaccine as a result of efforts by American special services, then we will go crazy because we see it every day, every hour and in every Anglo-Saxon media,” he added.
The Global Engagement Centre official who spoke to the WSJ said websites were being used to mislead international opinion.
The New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review were allegedly directed and controlled by Russia’s foreign intelligence service the SVR.
A Crimea-based publication called News Front is given guidance by KGB successor the FSB as it racked up nearly nine million page visits in three months across 10 languages.
A now seemingly dormant site called Rebel Inside was allegedly controlled by the Russian Armed Forces General Staff intelligence directorate the GRU.
“Russian intelligence services bear direct responsibility for using these four platforms to spread propaganda and lies,” a US State Department spokesman told the WSJ. “From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, we have seen Russia’s disinformation ecosystem develop and spread false narratives around the crisis.”
Russian state media has also reportedly “made overt efforts” to raise concerns about the cost and safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being used around the world, in an apparent attempt to protect against a threat to Sputnik V’s “market dominance”.
Vaccines have now begun being administered in Australia, where the coronavirus pandemic is less dire than in other countries, but there are still concerns here about the rollout.
The Morrison government has set a goal for everyone to receive at least a first-dose of the vaccine by October