Disinformation and propaganda in the management of the COVID-19 crisis in the Republic of Moldova

CRPE Policy Brief No. 45,
Authors: Alexandru Damian, Vlada Subernitchi

The Republic of Moldova remains one of the European countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 4,900 cases per 1 million inhabitants
. By comparison, Romania – where the number of cases is also trending up – is reporting three times fewer cases relative to the size of the population, while also testing almost twice as much. The distrust in the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has been fueled not only by disinformation campaigns originating in Russia, but also by the fact that politicians such as President Igor Dodon and members of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova endorsed these messages, as did representatives of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, pro- Russian mainstream media or numerous other obscure religious or nationalist sites. Together, these actors disseminated not only anti-European and pro-Russian narratives, but also conspiracy theories.

Chisinau remains a testing ground for Russian influence in Eastern Europe

Local politicians and local media is promoting Russian and anti-European narratives. Moldova has no immunity to fight Russian propaganda, being one of the countries most exposed and most vulnerable to Kremlin’s information war. Two main narratives dominated the disinformation campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic: the widespread promotion of conspiracy theories, and the use of the health crisis by Russia and, secondarily, by China, to promote their own agendas and undermine European solidarity. A significant number of media portals, marginal politicians, conspiracy movements already existing in Chisinau or religious figures have taken over and disseminated conspiracy theories that refute the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. All these lacked any clear or sustainable reactions from the authorities, mostly because the same authorities promoted pro-Russian and even anti-European narratives.

The anti-Western disinformation in the Republic of Moldova is an increasingly danger for Romania as the assimilation of Chisinau into the Russian space would represent the moral failure of Romania’s foreign policy. Russian propaganda uses similar messages both in the Republic of Moldova and in Romania, but it does not have the same vehicles to promote them in the latter. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there were also various movements and groups rejecting the severity of the pandemic in Bucharest, including movements opposing compulsory vaccination or the installation of 5G antennas, which were intensely promoted by pro-Russian websites such as Sputnik.md. Russian disinformation campaigns remain much less impactful in Romania, in the absence of relevant local multipliers, but the narratives disseminated remain similar.

CRPE identified eight answers to shed some light on the reasons and manner by which lies, conspiracies and anti-Western narratives were circulated in the Republic of Moldova, who facilitated this dissemination, and the potential effects in the medium and long term concerning the relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union, but also whether the disinformation in Chisinau can be a threat for Romania.

The full report in English can be found here
Raportul complet în limba română poate fi accesat aici.
Анализ на русском языке можно прочитать здесь.

This report is part of the project Deconstructing and exposing Russian fake news campaigns and propaganda during the Covid-19 crisis in the Republic of Moldova and the broad Black Sea region implemented by CRPE – R. Moldova in partnership with Report.md and financed by The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation of the German Marshall Fund.

The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Black Sea Trust or its partners.