As countries around the world struggle with the spread of the coronavirus, Russia is carrying out an "influence operation" in Italy inconceivable under normal circumstances, the codastory.com website has reported.
According to an article entitled "The Influence Operation Behind Russia’s Coronavirus Aid to Italy," experts as well as diplomatic, military and government sources in Rome and the European Union’s Brussels headquarters have warned that the Kremlin is taking advantage of the crisis to weaken NATO and the EU.
The warnings were issued after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent military personnel and aid to Italy, Europe's worst coronavirus-hit nation, the authors of the article, Natalia Antelava and Jacopo Iacoboni, said.
The writers argue that, since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Moscow “has seized soft-power opportunities by dispatching aid to hard-hit nations, while broadcasting propaganda on state and social media.”
The article cites an Italian analyst as saying that Moscow’s aid mission to Italy, dubbed From Russia with Love, “is a half-propaganda, half-intelligence operation.”
The analyst, Sergio Germani, director of the Gino Germani Institute for Social Sciences and Strategic Studies, a Rome-based think tank, is quoted as saying that Moscow is using the Covid-19 outbreak “to strengthen anti-EU feelings and to reinforce the impression that the EU is crumbling, to make propaganda gains and gather intelligence at the heart of NATO.”
Meanwhile, Western chemical weapons experts have warned that Russians could be using Italy as an opportunity to test new equipment and to gather intelligence about both the virus and a NATO member state, according to the article.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Thursday that NATO is worried over disinformation being spread by Russia amid the global virus outbreak.
Poland’s foreign ministry last month summoned Russia's ambassador to protest at an “absurd” claim that Warsaw had refused to let Russian planes carrying aid to virus-struck Italy pass through Polish airspace, according to a report.
A Polish security official last month warned that Russia was seeking to destabilise other countries while trying to boost its own international profile amid the virus crisis.